The Runaway Dog

Do these daily life ethics tests find me, or do I look for them?

I think they look for us all. Some just can’t see them.

It was almost 11 PM here in Alexandria on a dark night, trying to rain. I was on the way home from an annoying 7-11 errand for my wife, knowing that upon my return, Spuds would need his last walk of the day. As I drove down a neighborhood side street, I saw a small indistinct figure ahead in my headlights: it was a dark and scruffy dog. He froze for second as my car slowed, then took off running into the darkness behind me.

I started to continue home, and saw a heavy-set middle aged man walking quickly in the same direction the dog had been running. On a hunch, I pulled over and rolled down my passenger side window.

“Was that your dog?” I called out to him.

“Yes!” he said.

“Do you need help?” I said.

“Yes!” he said again.

I parked my car by the curb , got out, and jogged after him. He told me his family was leaving on a Foreign Service assignment out of the country this weekend, and the dog, freaked out by the packing and commotion, had jumped the yard fence. A woman walking her own dog gave us two theories of where the escapee seemed to be heading. It is a dangerous area for dogs, with a busy street just a block away from where Duncan —that was his name–was last spotted, and a highway not far from that.

After looking for Duncan  the Dog on foot and losing track of his owner, I decided to go back to my car and cruise around, hoping to see a running canine. After about ten minutes, it seemed hopeless. Now I was looking for the dog’s owner.

I found him! I pulled over and again rolled down the window.  “Did you find him?” I asked.

“I did!” he replied.  Then he went on and on about how grateful he was that I stopped to help him.

I accepted his thanks, but wouldn’t anybody do that? And if not, why not? This is the purest of Golden Rule situations, isn’t it?  Wouldn’t anyone want to have a stranger offer to help in an emergency?

Or did he expect me to quiz him about who he was supporting in the election before deciding whether his dog was worth rescuing?

Based on the signs I see around the neighborhood, that wouldn’t be so far-fetched.

14 thoughts on “The Runaway Dog

  1. I don’t get out much anymore (health reasons), so almost all of my ethics tests involve situations inside my house with either my wife, my dog, or both – or my blog-following.

  2. If the dog runs off, lie down and, most time, the dog will think you’re in trouble and run back to you.

    That’s what used to work with Lucky.

    You’re a good person to help a stranger in need, regardless of where his vote is headed.

  3. One of my arguments for conservativism used to be that people who were rendering assistance to strangers – stopping to help on the road, searching for lost kids, giving a lift to someone – were extremely likely to be conservative, because liberals had insulated themselves from such situations and developed a mindset that helping consists of a set of beliefs. I never imagined then that we’d reach a point where people would even express that they’d help this one but not that one, depending on what side they had chosen.

  4. Humans that care for animals and truly love them know empathy. Our animal friends are the catalyst for bringing people together.

  5. “I accepted his thanks, but wouldn’t anybody do that? And if not, why not? This is the purest of Golden Rule situations, isn’t it? Wouldn’t anyone want to have a stranger offer to help in an emergency?”

    Actually, I can think of a lot of reasons why not. I spend a fair amount of time in a city mostly comprised of people of color, many of whom are very hostile to people like me. I don’t trust people I don’t know personally, and I don’t want people I don’t know personally getting involved in my personal business if it isn’t their job to do so. If a pet runs away or a child gets lost, that’s what the police are for. How do I know a supposedly helpful stranger isn’t going to try to get me off my guard so he can beat me up, rob me, or otherwise take advantage of the situation?

    The same goes for offering help. My first responsibility is my own safety and that of my family. I don’t have a wife or kids waiting at home, but if I did, who would take care of them if something happened to me? My first responsibility would be to get myself home safely to them to provide and to father another day. That’s why I pass up disabled motorists, tell panhandlers to get lost, and brush off attempts by strangers to talk to me on public transportation (the phrase “not interested in making small talk with you, sir/ma’am,” usually does the job, repeated if necessary).

    • In “Silverado,” there’s a quote (I should write a book called “Everything I know about ethics I learned from Westerns.” It’s not true, but it COULD be true.) Kevin Kline’s laconic, cynical character “Paden” says,

      “I figure you should approach life like everybody’s your friend or nobody is. Don’t make much difference.” The main difference is that society in a democracy works one way, and doesn’t work the other.

    • You said you could think of a lot of reasons not to offer or seek help from strangers, but they’re all the same: fear. I understand being wary and concerned for your safety (I went through the hassle of getting a concealed carry license and carry a gun every day – believe me, I wouldn’t do that if I wasn’t concerned for my safety), but I can’t envision not helping someone in obvious distress. I don’t interact with panhandlers and public-transit lunatics, either, but someone searching for a lost dog or stuck on the highway with a flat tire is a different story.

      Now the city where I live just recently announced that their animal services department wouldn’t be responding to stray animal calls anymore, unless the animal was dangerous, and that people just let a stray dog run loose in hopes they will return home. So much for calling the people whose job it is to help…

      I can’t even count the number of stories I have that are similar to this one by Jack. I’ve helped people recover dozens of dogs, I’ve stopped and caught dogs running loose and then searched for their owners. We used to live on a cul-de-sac that seemed to funnel dogs right to our door, and I’ll bet we rescued a loose or stray dog at that house at least once every two months. It was crazy, like the Bermuda Triangle for lost dogs.

      Just a couple months ago I spent an hour chasing two dogs around on foot, leaving behind a car full of groceries, eventually enlisting a few other strangers to help until we caught them. I took them home and posted their picture on Nextdoor, and got a call from their owners within minutes. Happy ending all around, but when I first saw them, they were walking down a very busy street at 5:30 PM. At least one of them would likely have been killed if I hadn’t stopped and herded them into a quiet residential area.

      Heck, my current dog was a roadside rescue. No tags or microchip, and nobody in the neighborhood recognized him, so this wormy, flea-ridden little puppy came home with me and turned out to be the best dog I’ve ever had. Come to think of it, the two dogs before him were rescued strays as well. I guess I have a soft spot for dogs.

      Yes, I suppose there’s a tiny chance that someone might be using a lost dog or a car breakdown as a ruse to rob someone, but I don’t think I want a society where I always have to assume the worst of everyone I see, so I’ll continue to take my chances. The alternative is way too grim for me.

      • I guess I have a soft spot for dogs.

        Ya think?

        I’ve never “lost” a dog; they were all working animals born to enjoy their jobs (or go nuts if someone tried to make a house-pet out of them), but occasionally one would go AWOL. One year we were living in town for a few months, one of our dogs jumped the backyard fence. The dogs had been getting antsy away from the horses and other living things they herded and guarded on the ranch so, alerted by the other dog’s bark, we went looking for her but couldn’t find her anywhere in the neighborhood. It never occurred to us that she would cross the road. When one of us went home to touch base and see if she’d gone back, a neighbor was standing at the front door, followed by his small daughter holding a squirming muddy puppy, a few inches of torn fabric attached to its collar. Beside them stood our mud-covered canine, her mouth open to proudly display a scrap of red cloth between her teeth, looking even more smug than usual, behaving as if she were presenting the neighbors to royalty (us). It appeared that Akbar (I know — we were ignorant of Arab gender names at the time) had gone to rescue a puppy whose soft whimpers were below human hearing who’d slid down the side of a muddy ravine across the road and got its homemade leash caught up on a low-hanging branch. No one had expected the puppy to jump their fence – it hadn’t: it had found a tunnel (it was skunk season) and gone adventuring across the road — low-traffic but high-speed — to explore the banquet of odors on the other side and then head for the yummy stream of water below.

        For the next few months we were there, the neighbor continued to dislike us for loving each other, but thereafter ungraciously allowed his daughter and pup (a” top-price pure-bred beagle”, he told us) to come visit Akbar. To us, whoever’d sold him the “beagle” better get out of town fast because it was well and truly mixed with another breed daddy didn’t know about when he bought the “bred-to-order: one, small”. We weren’t sure what it was yet but obviously a much larger sort of animal that daughter would still adore but that would shame her father to pieces in front of his pure-blood friends. Knowing that was enough for us. Akbar would never again disobey house- or rather, range-rules but she never stopped looking smug, and when not given enough attention, was occasionally known to go grab a washcloth or dishrag and parade around with half of it hanging out of her mouth.

    • Is it possible that the hostility you perceive by those city residents is merely a reaction to the hostility toward them they may be receiving from you. A smile and a simple hello goes a long damn way.

      It is not necessary to get overly involved to lend a bit of assistance.

      The world is not as dark as you make it.

      • Bullshit. I do my job, I mind my business, and I like others to mind theirs. Since a co-worker said, unprovoked and unsolicited, that “all you white people are racist, some of you just hide it better,” I’m suspicious.

  6. In my last neighborhood I helped or actually caught 5 or 6 dogs that had gotten loose and were running free, this definitely helps a neighbor in distress and it’s also a public service. You can help keep a dog that’s running wild safe from people that react violently towards them and keep the dog from scaring those that fear dogs. One guy laughingly called me a dog whisperer because his dog (big male German Shepherd) hates people, always growling and barking at people, and I got it to walk right up to me tail wagging in my front yard and he sat right next to me until the owner caught up a few minutes later.

    Helping others catch their loose dog is a good thing to do for the neighborhood.

    I like dogs and I truly think they can sense that they are safe with me.

  7. Out here in the country, the lost / runaway animal challenges are often a bit larger, like cattle or horses. A few weeks ago I was headed down my driveway en route to town, and encountered a large Hereford cow. No longer owning cattle myself, I knew she must have escaped from one of the neighbor’s farms. A quick phone call to my nearest cattle-raising neighbor soon brought the owner of said cow to the scene and he led her into his trailer for the short ride back to his farm down the road. It has probably been eight to ten years since our last “horse invasion,” when six mustangs being trained by another neighbor made their escape and wound up stopping at my pond for a drink. That roundup was significantly more involved, requiring the efforts of four mounted wranglers and two pickup trucks over about four hours’ time. Over the years I have helped round up errant cattle, horses, mules, llamas and even an ostrich. Most of these escapades began with a phone call, “Jim, have you seen any sign of my (insert animal name and description here) on your place?” I don’t know of a single neighbor who would begrudge the time or effort involved in these efforts, and most of us have been both the givers (often unasked) and receivers of such assistance over the years. My current mobility issues limit me primarily to motorized assistance, but I can still lend a hand via ATV or UTV. Its the neighborly thing to do.

  8. My dogs have been returned to me three or four times due to their having a collar on them reading: “Dog needs medication”.
    Plus they also have my cell number on the collar.
    All dogs are inherently hunters and like to roam, searching with their nose to find anything of interest. Most will try to find you within an hour when they get tired and thirsty. Since they always use their nose to hunt rather than their eyes, a recently lost dog might often be found by looking only straight upwind. After they tire and want to return, you might find them on the same path back or they will make a large circle to appear behind you again. Even after going two or three miles in new and unfamiliar urban surroundings they are likely to return close enough to be located. They may memorize the smells on the way out, or use the magnetic field of the earth as a GPS like migrating birds … ..There is no feeling more unsettling for both pet and owner to be separated for longer than either wants to be.
    Not all stories have happy endings. One lady adopted a dog for two days but then had to leave town for a funeral. She left it next door with her neighbor for one night, but the little guy snuck between his legs as he went out to get the paper. The guy was frantic after several hours and stopped by my place, several blocks away asking my help to find it. I had the unfortunate task of telling him that the dog had been run over a half mile away. I had seen it alive in the field on the way to coffee. It was running exactly upwind, but was struck by a car on the narrow blacktop road that I had just traveled, and saw it on my return trip.

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