Every dog has a story to tell. Unfortunately for us, we're not able to hear most of those stories. Every once in awhile though, a dog comes into our lives and makes us a part of their story. This is what happened to me, and though I don't know the beginning or end of this dog's story, I was lucky enough to be a big part of the middle. This is the story of Cutter.
Each night, between the hours of 9 and 10, I take my dog Sonny out for a walk. Last night was no different, as we headed out the front door just after 9 pm. Sonny is normally a pretty mellow dog. Sure, he is just as excited about his walks as any other, but he usually plays it cool until we get off our property at least. Last night however, he bolted out the door and down the steps, almost tearing his retractable leash right out of my hands. Assuming there must be a cat in the road I followed along, trying to retract his leash to a reasonable length. But once I got onto the sidewalk I froze. Staring at me from my front lawn was a very surprised looking male pit bull.
My eyes immediately scanned the streets and sidewalks, expecting to see some frantic dog owner chasing after their escaped pup. But the streets were void of any activity and this dog still had its eyes set squarely on me. I gave a quick analysis of the dog and could tell that he was wearing a collar, though he was not well fed. He didn't seem too concerned by my barking pudgy 25 pound Corgi mix (even though Sonny is pretty certain he is a 120 pound stallion). I could tell by his body language that he was not considering attacking me so I knelt down and let out the slack in Sonny's leash to see how the dog would respond. His response said everything I needed to know. He gave an obligatory sniff of Sonny's rear, then got down in a playful stance ready to play a game of pounce and chase. Sonny didn't seem to mind too much so I let them play for a minute, expecting that frantic owner to come running down the street at any moment. But when they didn't show up after 5 minutes or so, I decided we would go about our walk and hope that the dog went on his own way.
However, the dog apparently thought a walk sounded like a splendid idea, so he joined us as we made our way down our usual route. He followed along nicely, deviating only to water a few bushes along the way. The dogs were doing so well together that I let Sonny off his leash in a large grassy area at the outskirts of our neighborhood. They sprinted around happily for awhile until I decided I better go find this dog's home before it became too late at night. I noticed he had a tag on his collar with a phone number so I gave it a try. It was the number to the Tacoma pet shelter and they were closed for the night. So, we went back home and I put Sonny in the house so I could head back out with this dog, hoping I would either run into that frantic owner or the dog would recognize familiar turf.
At this point in the story I should mention that I live in a master plan community with over 1000 homes. There was no chance I could make it to all those homes, or even all those streets, before midnight. But I gave it a solid effort. With this new companion strutting confidently off-leash next to me we hit the streets. We came across several people, but none claimed to recognize the dog. We began to head back toward home when I noticed a woman with 2 children walking toward me. For a moment I thought this might be that frantic owner, then quickly my hope dissipated as I could tell they were just out for an evening stroll. I asked them if they recognized the dog, to which they of course said no, but the dog must have thought they looked familiar because he took off after them (much to the horror of the mother). Figuring I was off the hook I continued toward home. But as I turned onto my block, the dog came flying around the corner, tongue waving, and proceeded to jump on me and give me ferocious kisses across my face.
If you are a dog lover like me then you know that this is where I realized I was going to be keeping this dog overnight. I took him through the side gate and let him roam the back yard while I slipped inside to let my wife know what was going on. She snuck a peak at him through the window and commented on how cute he was, then turned around and apparently sensing my strange bond with this beast said "you can't bring him in the house, you know". I did know, so the dog remained out back as we sat down and turned on the TV. But before we could even find a show to watch, the dog began howling. Not a cute, whimpery howl either. No, this was a full-on howl at the moon wolf cry. With neighbors close by at all sides, and the clock now reading 11:00 pm I decided that this would not be acceptable. I went out back and led the dog around to the front yard. I didn't want to release this poor dog to the wild where he could be hit by a car or be scared and attack someone, but I also didn't want to wake the neighbors or invite him in for a sleep over. So, I sat on the front porch with him for a few minutes and gave him a good ear scratch. The appreciative snorting sound was quickly followed by closed eyes and the next thing I knew the dog was fast asleep on my welcome mat.
I snuck inside, thinking I was home free. But soon the howling began again. We ignored him for 5-10 minutes and he eventually gave up. I didn't check to see if he had run off for fear that I would just make him start up the howling again. Instead I just went to bed.
I woke up this morning, assuming that since I hadn't been woken up to howling during the night that the dog had gone on its way. I went to the front door to check, and was both shocked and somewhat relieved that the dog was right where I had left him, curled up on the welcome mat. He immediately perked up, looking for more of the ear scratching that I had left him with the previous night. I laughed and gave him a quick scratch. Then I sat with him, drinking my coffee, until 8:00 rolled around so I could call back to the Tacoma Pet Shelter.
I reached the shelter and gave them the license number from the tag on his leash. They gave me the owner's name and number, and told me the dog's name was Cutter. I repeated the name and his ears perked up. I quickly hung up and dialed the number I'd been given. I reached a generic voice mailbox so I began leaving a message. Halfway through my message I noticed that I had an incoming call from that same number so I quickly finished my message and switched over. I answered and said hello several times, but all I could hear was some muffled noise and background voices. It was a pocket dial. I sent a text message to the same number, thinking maybe that would get their attention. Then I waited.
Several hours passed by. I sat anxiously in the back yard with Cutter, wondering what to do. Not wanting to turn him in to the local shelter, I decided to at least call down there to see if they could offer any suggestions. I got through to a man (whose name I wish I could remember because he really went the extra mile to help) and told him the story. He looked up the phone number I had been given for the owner but said they had no record of that number in their system. Then he decided to search online for the number and buried amid all the usual reverse phone lookup websites he found a business website with the number attached to it. He said there was one other person listed as a contact on the website and he gave me that number. That extra little bit of research changed Cutter's story dramatically.
I was now hot on the trail. The woman who answered when I called the new number was naturally confused and caught off guard by my rambling story, but when I mentioned the name of the registered owner and said I had her dog, she jumped to life. She remarked at how strange it was that the dog had gotten out since the owner had a fenced back yard. I asked her if she knew whether the woman lived in my neighborhood. She replied that she didn't really know the neighborhoods that well as she had just moved to Tacoma recently. I said, "well I'm not in Tacoma, I'm in Lacey." She said "Oh my!" then told me she would call the owner right away and give her my number.
A few minutes later my phone rang. When I answered, an excited voice identified herself and expressed how happy she was that I had found her dog. She explained to me that she and her two kids had adopted Cutter as a tiny puppy and bottle fed him. He was the family pet. Then, about 5 months ago Cutter was stolen from their back yard in Tacoma. She said her kids have been devastated ever since and that they were all convinced they would never see him again. I bit my lip, choked back a tear and asked her when she would like to meet to get him back. She said she couldn't meet me until after 5 when she was done with work but that she was so excited to bring him home.
In an odd way I was relieved to get to spend a few more hours with this dog. For whatever reason we had bonded and he had found safety in my presence. I loaded him in the car and headed out to get a stronger leash. He didn't mind the ride at all and sat alertly as my copilot. Part way through the ride he got fidgety though and decided the back seat had better views. I could hear him rustling around and when I turned to look back I saw him perched happily in my daughter's car seat. It was a fitting move for this gentle giant.
We made a brief stop at my office, where he layed on the floor and had a nap. Meanwhile, his owner called me back and said she was free to meet me now. We made arrangements to meet at 7:00. An hour quickly passed and I had to run out to show several condos to an interested buyer. I got Cutter out to the parking lot at my office and opened the passenger door for him. He hopped right in, but when I went around to the driver side he decided to jump over to my seat before I could get in. I opened the door and tried to bribe him into moving but apparently he felt like driving. I couldn't get him to budge. I decided to try the back door, thinking maybe he wanted to cruise in the car seat again. No luck. Finally, a client leaving my office came over and helped me coax him into the passenger seat long enough for me to hop in.
When I arrived at the condos for my showing appointment I barely was able to squeeze through my door without him joining me. I hadn't even made it to the lobby doors when the howling began. I apologized to the man I was meeting and explained to him the circumstances. He found it amusing, so we went about our tour of the building. When I came back out the howling had subsided but Cutter was now firmly planted in the driver seat. I got him out and took a stroll around the building, hoping to build enough trust that I could get him in the car without him thinking I was going to leave again. That didn't work too well as he refused to move beyond the driver seat again. Knowing I couldn't move him I decided to close the door. He looked perplexed at the swift change in the balance of power. I moved around to the passenger side and he took the bait, jumping clumsily into the back seat. While he struggled to regain his footing I rushed back around to the driver side and jumped into my seat. Acknowledging defeat, he perched his front paws on the center console and gave me a big wet kiss on my ear. I told him it was time to go home.
We headed to our meeting place and I found myself visualizing this storybook ending where Cutter comes running across a field, ears flapping, tongue and tail waving into the outstretched arms of his long lost family. While reality wasn't quite so romantic, it was clear that Cutter knew he was home. When we arrived at the meeting place and I opened the door, he quickly bounded out to greet his owner. After a big hug around the neck and some kind words from the owner he ran over and jumped into the back seat of her car, where I can only assume he promptly fell asleep and enjoyed his first happy dreams in quite some time.
While this chapter of Cutter's story has a happy ending, there are hundreds of pets each day that find themselves wandering down a strange road, not sure where home is. If one of them finds their way to your front porch, don't just ignore them and hope they go away. Take the time to help them find a safe place. You never know the circumstances of another's life so treat everyone with the kindness and respect they deserve. And perhaps most importantly, don't settle for being a passenger in life, take a play out of Cutter's book and insist on getting behind the wheel.