Sunday, August 14, 2011


The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows looked lovely. Blue skies, green grass – such a peaceful place. A heat wave was keeping most folks indoors, but that was to be expected. Not much anyone could do except keep cool and tough it out. It was a mostly uneventful Wednesday and a routine scan of the area was going well, when suddenly God spotted a problem.

Francis!” shouted God. “Do you see what I see?”

A monkish fellow in brown robes peered over the clouds in the direction of God’s finger. “Si”, he replied, scratching his beard thoughtfully. “That no look good.“

Do we have anyone we can send?” asked God, flipping through radio stations.

Francis’ sharp eyes quickly settled on an older beaten-up mini-van chugging dutifully along in the right direction. “Good luck is with us!,” he answered brightly. “We do!”

Send ‘em over,” replied God. “Five more minutes and that dog’ll be toast.”

I had left work ten minutes earlier and was driving down 15 on my way to the vet’s office in St Louis. I was looking about a half-mile ahead to size up the rush hour traffic. To my surprise, I saw a young deer standing at the edge of the highway near my exit. My stomach immediately knotted. The animal was clearly considering trying to cross. As I got closer I could see it was no deer at all. It was a big dog in grave danger.

Highway 15 is a four-lane. In the center of this section is a tall median. I envisioned the dog running across the first two lanes only to hit the wall of that median and have to turn back. By that time, the traffic would be on him.

I slowed down and pulled onto the shoulder. The dog turned away and ran about twenty feet, far enough to observe, but no further. As I got out, the sweat immediately began to pour down my face, stinging my eyes. It felt like a sauna. The air was heavy, the humidity oppressive.

The dog stood in the big green sphere between the highway and the ramp circling upward to 255. There were no houses anywhere along here, only the Flying J, and I wondered how he managed to get himself into such a predicament. He was drooling and panting rapidly – not good signs. He stood there looking at me, not about to come closer. He was big. It was a bit intimidating for someone accustomed to small dogs, but when his eyes met mine and held my gaze, I saw something there. I walked toward him, speaking in a soft, calm voice, hoping he would not run. As I edged closer, his tail wagged tentatively. He gently sniffed my outstretched hand and allowed me to scratch his head. Coaxing him along, I placed one arm around his shoulders. Walking back toward the van, he stayed right beside me. When the hatch opened, he jumped in and immediately lay down, exhausted. I got in the driver’s seat and, turning the AC up full blast, we hit the highway.

At the vet’s, we picked up Logan and Ruby, a pug and a Brussels Griffon respectively. They sat in the carseat beside the dog from the highway, peering curiously at the new critter in the van. His tail thumped and they touched noses a couple of times before his big head hit the deck again. He looked terrible. I realized he must be suffering from heat exhaustion. Recalling the picture of him standing beside the highway, I wondered how long he had been there baking in the hot sun, and how much longer it would have been before thirst and sickness drove him to try to cross.

At home we discovered he was actually a she, a big Lab mix about a year old. We called her Rosie, in honor of a dear friend who’d recently had surgery and was in the midst of a painful and difficult recovery.

An attempt at a cool bath ended with me hanging onto one foreleg while Rosie clambered out of the bathtub. This dog was definitely a pacifist. If she would have bitten anyone, it would have been me as I hung on her foreleg in a futile attempt to keep her in the water.

“Ok, you win,” I said, ruffling her ears. “We'll call the groomer in the morning.”

Although the bath had been a failure, I managed to get her fairly wet. She collapsed on the floor of my bedroom and I set two fans blowing directly on her. We had to get her temperature down. Eventually the panting slowed and Rosie fell asleep there under the cool air.

The next day, the groomer and I relieved Rosie of at least 50 ticks. The groomer, being a pro, was able to finish the bath and brushing I had clumsily started. Rosie had no tags or even a collar, nor was she microchipped. She was underweight, but not starving - someone had at least been feeding her. All in all, she appeared healthy. On the way home from the grooming shop, I picked up a bucket of chicken for dinner and sat it on the stove while I showered. When I returned to the kitchen, the empty bucket lay in the center of the kitchen floor. I looked at the only dog in the room tall enough to have reached it. There would be no repercussions. What could I say? I'd have done the same thing.

Knowing we now had a counter surfer, all food went into the empty oven or into cabinets. Funny, I thought. I had not heard a sound from anyone while they were feasting on the Colonel – no barks, no growls or skirmishes. I realized Rosie must have shared and I had to smile.

Rosie was housetrained, but knew no commands. The first two she learned were “SIT” and “OFF”. She followed the pugs everywhere. If one of the small dogs growled or barked at her, she simply looked at them curiously. One day, I turned around to see her crawling through the 12” pet door. Rosie adapted.

Except for her coloring, and her eyes being a tad smaller, she looked exactly like my heart dog, Malachi, who had died in 1998. Malachi had been a big, handsome yellow Lab. I still thought about him and missed him almost daily. He and Rosie shared a rare and beautiful trait: The gentlest of hearts. My roommate, Kevin, and I watched as Rosie played on the floor with 18 month-old Logan, a vision-impaired black pug. She put his whole head in her mouth, and released him without a scratch. Logan immediately wrapped both paws around her huge muzzle, tail wagging furiously. Maybe having a big dog around again would not be such a bad thing, I thought.

“I'll be glad when we find a foster for her, “said Kevin. “She'll make someone a really good dog.”

I kept my eyes on the dogs on the floor, poker-faced, aware that Kevin was watching for my reaction.

“Then again,” he said, “she really doesn't have to go anywhere”.

Stopping for her was a good decision, I thought silently. I tried to remember that moment. Had I made a conscious decision at all, had I? I didn't think so. Nope, just pulled right over the minute I got close to her, just like Rosie was a magnet and the van her direct target.

Rosie stood up, walked over and nudged my hand for a head scratch. Yep, I thought. Funny how things fall into place.

God looked down and smiled.

Nice job, Francis. That worked out perfectly.”

The monkish man nodded, his hand stroking the head of a large yellow dog.

I thought it might,” he answered.

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