I started my day like always. I walked my dog before work. The weather was uncharacteristically cool so I knew where we would end up. He would choose his longest route, up our Grange hill and down. At the top, we walked across the flat, blacktop. I caught a glimpse of a notice pinned behind the bulletin board glass. Lost Dog.
I could only identify the general direction of the address listed. I figured it must be people who didn’t know any better since no one frequents that community bulletin board for anything time sensitive. Items are posted there to fulfill legal requirements only.
I ended my day the same as always. I went to the gym. When I got in my car after the workout, I checked my phone. My aunt texted me, frustrated. She described a strange dog in her yard. He frightened her cat, and they missed the cat’s vet appointment. I put the phone away and shrugged. I didn’t connect the two dogs. One was lost, which meant sad and in need of help. One was strange, as if its intrusion was intentional and not to be trusted.
By the time I got home, my aunt was on the phone with my dad. They were discussing calls to neighbors and the dog that kept circling back and forth between my aunt’s house and our own. The intersection hit me. Lost or strange. Lost and strange. These two dogs were the same dog.
The dog’s owners arrived, continuing to track the dog with a drone. My dad met them at the door and took them around our yard and buildings. I assumed it would end quickly. Once the dog saw them, the dog would be relieved, overjoyed, saved and go home. I sat on the porch with my own dog, expecting to see the family appear with the dog on a leash. They returned alone.
My aunt texted, “The dog is out in the middle of the field now.”
Why? My dog would come running to me. My dog would come running to anyone he knew, and likely would slowly walk towards anyone at all. What had happened to the dog? What had the people done to the dog? In short, what did we need to fix?
The answer would be slow. The dog was not lost, nor strange, but we would struggle over the following days to select the correct adjective. The most disconcerting part was the connection between my description of the dog and my assumptions and emotions.
I was angry that they didn’t know how to take care of their dog. I was angry that this awful moment, their moment, was happening in my moments. I wanted to be unaware because there’s nothing I can do. Not nearly enough I could do. Metaphoric lost dogs were the reason I didn’t watch the news.
Confused dog. Misunderstood dog.
I was sad that the dog was wandering, without shared understanding of the path home.
I tried to temper my lack of empathy for them. I pushed away feelings of disappointment in them because my dog has gotten away before. I had no choice but to leave him with friends when I traveled for work. They only told me later that he got away. I was lucky they got him back since they weren’t me. There must be some piece of the context I did not understand.
Ignorant, insensible, irrational dog. Mostly I was scared that I when I saw the dog, it would be lifeless along the road.
I made the turns into my neighborhood squinting because this might lessen the horror of what I could see. I expected to see. I anticipated that it was only a matter of time before this dog made the wrong choice and was hit by one of the quickly speeding cars. How could she know any better?
The family set a cage behind our barn. My dogs checked it. Never any change. The family claimed a camera caught her returning. We saw no sign of it. Maybe, she was gone. We’re told she’s sighted a few towns over. I breathed a sigh of relief. I cringed because the release of feeling was not for her. It’s for me. And then, work forced me to make that drive.
I drove there with my stomach clenched. It’s unwarranted. She was not here, nowhere, anywhere. This responsibility and anxiety I believed my own were imagined. This undescribed dog made her choice and appeared capable of living with the choice. The idea of protection by some over others was a construct. She never really needed me to worry at all.
The family hired someone to ‘catch’ her. Over the weekend, I spoke with him. “She’s one of the strangest dogs, but she keeps coming back. As long as I have a site, I’ll keep working it.”
Strange dog. She was back to being strange. Though not the dangerous kind. Instead, the kind that didn’t do the expected, didn’t fit in, didn’t act the we expected her to.
“I have a six by ten cage,” he added.
“Hmm, so she would enter and not even know it.”
The man continued, "Not all dogs spend a lot of time in their homes. They spend time in kennels or shut in other spaces. So, it's not odd that when they get a chance to run, that's what they do."
The dog eventually did enter the cage, the small one.
She must have been hungry enough, tired enough that she knowing accepted her trade.
I acknowledged the condescension of the phrase on the posters. Each of those descriptions were ours not hers. They were part of the cage so large; it was invisible to all of us. Except, we were the ones who built the cage.
Blog posts About Development Work
It is most common that an observation of the natural world or an interaction between humans and the natural world triggers a need to revisit my conclusions about my time in development work. Below are several more examples: