I was driving home last night around 9:40 after a late yoga class and grocery shopping. I was almost to the village of Free Union when I saw a white beast in my headlights, in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was a coyote, and then a wolf! But as I slowed down I saw it was a dog, a little tan and white Border Collie, so scared that it was running completely hunched into a comma shape with its tail way between its legs.
I ditched the car in the nearest driveway, which happened to be a church, and opened the door. I called to the dog, but it kept skittering down the road. I saw a collar on its neck. I called it again, using all of Patricia McConnell’s tricks to get a dog to come, bending low, making myself smaller and turning my body away so as to be less threatening, and softly clapping. The dog stopped running and turned to look at me kneeling in the middle of Free Union Road. It let me approach, and both of us had a moment of faith as I reached a hand out for it to smell, it wondering if I was a friend and me wondering if I was going to get bitten.
The dog didn’t bite me, and it let me gently take hold of its collar. In my flashlight’s beam I found a tag and learned her name was Lola. Once I spoke her name her posture instantly changed, and she let me lead her over to my car where, when I opened the door, she quickly jumped in the back seat without any extra encouragement. I was glad to see she appeared uninjured.
With Lola safe in the car I called the number on her tag. A woman answered, and she was actually speechless when I introduced myself and told her I had her dog in my car. When she regained her faculties, the woman explained that she lived in Charlottesville but was actually traveling in South Carolina. She had left Lola with her mother, who lived on the road right behind my house. The woman was so flustered that I told her I would take Lola up the road with me and call her mother to come pick her up. She agreed, and we got back on the road, Lola sitting so prettily on the back seat, looking out the window. In the dark I could hear her licking her lips, so I knew she was still nervous. But she was totally polite as we wound up the road, a sweet, beautiful, obviously smart dog that reminded me a lot of my own Tucker in her energy and spirit.
Once home I left Lola in the car for safekeeping while I got her petsitter on the phone. Within a few minutes a nice man arrived in a pickup to claim Lola. Apparently she had bolted several hours earlier, and her caretakers had been frantic looking for her before having to call their daughter to explain they’d lost her dog.
They think she was trying to get home, back to town. The man who picked her up explained that Lola was a pampered city dog, and he feared that between cars and coyotes she wouldn’t have made it long on her own. But it made me wonder—Lola had navigated five miles down three different pitch-black roads and was nine miles from home—on the right road, headed the right way—before I picked her up. It makes the movie Homeward Bound sound not entirely unreasonable.
It was after 10:00 p.m. when Lola’s owner called back to thank me again, telling me she was still so shocked. She said Lola was “like her baby” and she would have been devastated had something happened to her. I told her not to worry, that everything is okay, and to have a Happy New Year.
And with this, my dear readers, the last story of 2013, I wish you all a Happy New Year. May we all be lucky enough that adventure, heartbreak, and salvation rejoin us on the other side of midnight.