I woke up at five-thirty like always and checked the temperature. Thirty-five degrees. I looked out the window at the pines glowing from the streetlights in front of my house. Not just thirty-five degrees, but raining and windy. I told myself that I wasn’t going out for my normal run even as I was putting on my foul-weather gear.
I can skip a day; I rationalized, as I put on the long-sleeve t-shirt. I can run later, I thought as I pulled on the nylon windbreaker. I can go to the gym and stay warm and dry. I pulled on a pair of gloves and a cap and headed out the door.
As soon as I opened the door, the wind hit and went right through the layers of clothing. I knew I’d get warmer as I started running so I skipped my normal warm-up walk and began jogging up the street. As I reached the corner, I turned left, heading both uphill and into the wind. The rain lashed at my face and I tried to talk myself into turning around. I had this argument with myself on many mornings, but I knew once I got started I always finished.
As I reached the hedges and trees overgrowing the sidewalk I moved as close as I could to the shelter they provided, but had to be careful not to step into the drainage culvert to my right. I had just settled into a rhythm and allowed my mind to forget about the cold, when a sudden movement startled me. A large shadow moved in the culvert, and I jumped to my left almost landing in the street. My heart was now racing faster than the running produced as I started walking backwards up the hill keeping my eye on the animal that had frightened me.
I was about to turn and start running again when a low whine caught my ear through the wind and rain. I hesitated and looked a little closer when a young Golden Retriever stuck his snout through the shrubbery and looked at me, head bowed. I stopped and crouched, calling softly to the dog.
“Hey, boy. How are you doing? It’s okay, boy. Come here.”
I had to crouch and call until my knees started cramping before the drenched and miserable puppy crawled out onto the sidewalk. His tail was curled up behind him, but I could see a slight, hopeful, wiggle to it as he pulled out toward me with his front paws. I stayed low, even though my knees and back were beginning to ache, one hand out and low urging him on.
Finally, he reached my hand, licking tentatively, and as I started to scratch behind his ears, he rolled over, exposing his belly and showing his trust in the stranger. As I stood up, hearing the cracking in my knees, he flopped back over on his feet and stood expectantly. I guessed he was about six months, getting bigger but still not grown into his legs and feet. “Where’s home, boy?” I asked, seeing no collar or tag. He just stood, tongue hanging out waiting for me to make the next move.
My run was forgotten as I started up and down the cul-de-sacs and side roads in the area, hoping to find an owner in search of a lost puppy. Getting cold and running out of time, I turned and jogged for home, the dog bounding along, playfully nipping at me legs, thinking it a game.
When I got to my house, I opened the garage, letting the dog in out of the rain while I went inside to dry off. I quickly stripped and changed, hearing the scratching and whining of the dog at my garage door. I grabbed a bowl for some water and some ham and cheese from the fridge. I took this out, fed, and watered the Golden Retriever puppy thinking what to do next. I grabbed some towels, rubbing him as dry as I could, and then made a bed out of more towels and some old carpet.
Having made a temporary safe haven for the puppy, I went back inside, showered, and changed for work. Getting my car out of the garage without hurting or losing the puppy, and then getting him back inside, proved to be a feat of engineering. At work that day, I checked the local papers and called all the shelters to see if anyone had reported the missing puppy.
Failing that, I left work at lunch and went home to check on my new resident. As I drove home, I resolved that I might be the new owner of a puppy, and decided to call him Bullet. I left the car in the drive and went in through the front door so I wouldn’t frighten him. As I went into the garage, he bounded up from his blanket and began running in circles showing me how happy he was and how proud he was of the fact that he had rearranged the contents of my garbage can.
I made a makeshift leash from a piece of rope and led him into my yard to take care of his business – a quick look around the garage showed me that someone had housebroken him. Then I loaded him into my car and took him to the vet to be checked out. The vet pronounced me the owner, at least temporarily, of a purebred Golden Retriever puppy about eight months old and in perfect health. On the way home, I stopped by the hardware and bought some supplies and food for Bullet.
Luckily, I live close to work, so we settled into a routine. Up at six, into the yard, and then he would accompany me on abbreviated versions of my morning run. I varied my routes, hoping to find a lost dog poster with a picture of Bullet on it. By the weekend, I had gave up on finding the owner and took Bullet to the pet store for a nicer bed and some toys.
Coming home, Bullet lay in the floor, curled on top of his new bed, his eyes on me, and his tail thumping against the door. As I reached the last stop sign before getting home, I waited for a mother and small boy to cross in front of me. The woman was tugging the boy, who was crying stomping his feet. “I don’t want to go home! I want to find Sherman!” he wailed, trying in vain to pull her in the opposite direction.
As the boy started screaming, Bullet’s head rose from the bed, then he jumped into the seat. “Down, boy,” I said, rubbing his back, “It’s okay.” Ignoring me, he placed his front paws on the dash and put his nose to the windshield. As I put the car in park, he began to bark furiously. This shocked me as he had not barked once since the first morning I brought him home.
“Sherman! Sherman!” the boy was yelling from the crosswalk, trying to escape his mother. Bullet was barking, now jumping from my lap to the passenger seat, looking for the way out. The woman and boy walked around to my side of the car, and I cracked the window enough to talk. “I guess this is your dog, huh?” I asked the boy.” He was laughing and jumping up and down, which wasn’t helping calm Bullet/Sherman down.
“How about you two get into the back seat, and I’ll take you home. The boy, reached for the back door, but the woman held on, eyeing me suspiciously. “It’s okay, I live over on Cedar.” I could see I wasn’t convincing her, so I put on the brake and eased out of the car on my side. I walked around to the passenger side and eased the door open, holding Sherman in with my knees as I attached the leash. He led me back around the car and knocked the little boy down jumping on him. The mother took the leash, finally trusting me. “I don’t know how to thank you. Danny’s been frantic all week. He left Sherman in the back yard after his bath, and he slipped out by the gatepost. We’ve been looking everywhere.”
I finally convinced her to let me give the three of them a ride home. When we got there, I unloaded the rest of the supplies, telling her I would bring the food over later. “I’ve got no use for them. I guess I don’t own a dog anymore.”
As I drove home, the finality of that statement sunk in. I knew that I was already beginning to miss my newfound friend. The consolation was the boundless joy I had just witnessed in both dog and boy. And besides, they lived close by; I could come visit Bullet, uh, Sherman, any time I wanted.