Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Drive Home

She sits in the driveway now.

Her paint is faded and scarred. The mirror on the driver's side is bent. The windshield is badly cracked; the passenger window doesn't roll down. She wears thirty-odd stickers, magnets and logos that have adhered to the metal and can never be removed. She will never run another mile. But her heart still beats.

I am filling cardboard boxes with chewys and treats, bowls and water bottles, blankets and baby wipes...the detritus of a decade. This old girl had a calling.

Her odometer passed 195,000 some time ago, miles earned flying directly into enemy territory, the puppymills of Missouri. This was one helluva warrior.

Countless times we traveled deep into the night - sometimes all night - to bring back a precious cargo. Frightened, sick, wafting the scent of old barns and chicken coops, they were all welcomed. The moment her door closed behind them like a powerful arm separating them from their greedy captors - this was the moment they first became safe. I looked at the two canine carseats in the second row, remembering how many pugs had sat in those seats looking out the window, watching the old world fade away with the highway.

Now, her time had ended. Her life was honorable, her rest well-deserved. She had not another mile left in her, not one. But maybe, I thought, just one more story.

I never look at those old carseats without remembering how they got there. A decade ago, when the Pugmobile was new to us and had a mere 55,000 miles on her, I got a call asking me to take two senior pugs. Their names were Butchie and Blair.

Butchie and Blair were fawn pugs, 10 and 12 years old respectively. They were atypical of the pugs we normally rescued in almost every way. They had never seen the inside of a puppymill. They had been well-loved and had had excellent care since they were puppies. They were social and housetrained, for crying out loud. Why were they here?

Their owners had a baby. And the baby was having severe allergic reactions - not little sniffles, but the kind where the trachea can actually swell up and impede breathing. Allergy testing had brought the worst news home.

"I did not want it to be them," she said. "Anything but them." Of course, it was them.,

Butchie and Blair's owners sobbed when they met me for the drop-off. They were a rare gem of a couple who, I think, would have donated one arm apiece to be able to keep their pugs. They brought a huge tub of clothing of every kind: Harnesses, leashes, t-shirts, sweaters, shampoo, vitamins, toys and Halloween costumes. 

Butchie and Blair also had their own carseats. Their owners carefully strapped them into the van and showed me how to secure them using the seatbelt, and how to attach their own smaller seatbelts to their harnesses. 

I felt like a cab driver. Blair, a one-eyed grand dame, sat directly behind me and mostly slept on the way home. Butchie was another story.

In the carseat directly behind the empty passenger seat in the van, Butchie was 100% alert. He did not bark. He made no attempt to leave his seat. But his eyes were wide open and they missed nothing.

As I drove, I felt those eyes boring into my back. I would turn around and see Butchie sitting there, staring directly at the back of my head.  Another few miles, I'd look back to check. There he was, in the same position, staring unblinking at the back of my head. All the way home from St Louis, Butchie never moved, and he never let me forget he was watching me. He was not frightened, nor did he seem upset. Just puzzled...curious. Perhaps a bit judgmental, as if he wanted to be sure I was competent to chauffer the two of them. I can picture it still, as clearly as if it were a week that had passed rather than a decade.

Butchie and Blair proved to be wonderful pugs. Both were lovable and adaptable. It was, I think, a tribute to their upbringing that they held no fear of anything. They both fully expected to be loved and catered to - nothing more. In due time, a friend of a friend offered to foster them. Bobbie owned a little country shop where she sold produce and wine. Butchie and Blair went to work with her, where they proved to be capable ambassadors and quickly won a following. Bobbie said many folks commented favorably on the necklaces with St. Francis medals I had made for them, and these later became a trademark of our rescue. To no one's surprise, a kind lady fell in love with Butchie and Blair. She adopted them together, and their lives continued in grand style, uninterrupted.From rescue home, to foster home, to forever home, Butchie and Blair's special carseats went right along with them. 

I liked the carseats, and noted how the pugs seemed to enjoy sitting at window height. So I bought some for the rescued pugs, too. Many other pugs had ridden in these over the passing years, but they all owed their comfort to Butchie and Blair. So funny, I thought, the things I remembered just cleaning out a broken-down old van.

As I reached in to remove the second carseat and store it in the shed, I gasped! In the seat was a bright-eyed little pug, eying me quizzically. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?", they seemed to ask.

In a blink, he was gone. Butchie was not there in the old van. He and his sister had gone to the Rainbow Bridge years ago. There was nothing there anymore but memories.

The van was empty. It was getting dark. Time to call it a day.

I turned toward the house, away from the past and toward an uncertain future.

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