Down the street in a dilapidated little house lives a somber, bedraggled boy. Call him Davy. He recently told me he’s 12 years old; I had figured nine or 10.
The house, whose windows are covered with plastic and duct tape and are never opened, holds Davy, Davy’s fat, unprepossessing siblings, and Davy’s harried and vaguely slutty mother. No father of course.
Davy has an air of refinement that doesn’t fit. My gut tells me that within a year or two he might be struggling with his sexual identity. But for now one of his biggest problems is that he loves dogs and wants to help them.
He can’t have a dog. Maybe because they’re renters. Maybe because they don’t have a fenced yard. But there’s something more going on between him and his mother; she’s hostile to dogs (or hostile to Davy) to the point where, when he found a lost, elderly, sickly, unneutered, dirty chihuahua mix at twilight about a year ago she ordered him to put it back out on the street immediately.
This neighborhood is surrounded by woods and heaven knows what would have happened to that ancient mutt if Davy had obeyed. Nice dinner for some coyote. Instead, he snuck over to my house with it (he knows I rescue dogs).
I kept the dog overnight, then took it to the vet where it automatically went on a three-day police hold. Nobody claimed it so it was adopted out. The sorry pooch found a great home despite being really old and needing a lot of vet care.
Yesterday Davy and his buddy Bernardo showed up with another foundling. Another chihuahua. Younger this time, but as usual no collar, no tags, not neutered. And they’d found it running up and down the highway where it was in danger of getting killed. They checked a house or three nearby but couldn’t find its owner. Again they headed to my place (and again, I later learned, it was against Mom’s orders).
If somebody brought me or I found a dog with a collar and ID, I’d look for its owner. If I couldn’t find them right away I’d keep the dog here for a while. That would be technically illegal — but obviously the decent thing to do. If I found a dog that was neutered and looked well kept despite having no collar or ID, I’d put up posters.
But an uncollared, unneutered dog running on the highway is nearly always an unwanted dog. In those cases I do the “legally correct” thing and take the dogs to the vet ASAP, even though I know it puts them into police custody. Rarely does anybody turn up to claim these guys.
And you know what? I don’t even care if the dog belongs to somebody in that case. Because much as I don’t like cops, I like irresponsible dog owners even less. Unneutered, collarless, running loose — that tells me its humans don’t love that dog. If they have to make a trip to the vet and pay an impound fee and some penalties, maybe they’ll look after it better in the future, for their own sake, if not for Fido’s.
Anyhow, I went to the vet about an hour and a half later with the dog that Davy and Bernardo dubbed “Littlefoot.” In the early evening Bernardo is out playing soccer with other neighborhood kids and he learns who Littlefoot — whose real name is Dragon — belongs to.
Can I go get the dog back for them? he asks.
I explain to Bernardo that only the owners can claim the dog now and they’ll have to pay to do it.
Half an hour later a whole pack of little Mexican kids and one older boy are at my door. I explain it all to them again. Whichever of your relatives the dog belongs to will have to go down, claim him, and pay fees.
Fifteen minutes later, Davy is at my door, wracked with sobs. His mother, he says, is demanding that he go down to the vet and get the dog and nothing he says will make her change her mind.
So, reassuring him all the way, I head for Davy’s house to explain the situation to his mother. This is awkward. I think Davy did absolutely the right thing, but how do I say that without subverting her authority? I go through the legalities. I explain what I did. I explain that nobody but the owners can claim the dog within the next three days, and that if they had just put ID on the little beast none of this would have happened. By this time, all the Mexican kids are surrounding us again. Must be hellishly humiliating for Davy, an older boy, to be bawling his lungs out in front of them. I’m feeling very responsible for all this.
Mom claims that Davy knew who the dog belonged to before he showed up at my place. Between sobs, he denies it. I believe him. Evidence says Mom is lying, though I don’t know why she would.
Anyhow, no matter who the dog belonged to, her son may very well have saved its life and the owners ought to be grateful. Whatever anybody thinks of what I did, the kid did the right thing.
So far — somewhat to my surprise — nobody has demanded that I go fetch the dog and pay its bills.
Some people reading this are going to tell me I stuck my nose into something that wasn’t my business or that I should have kept the dog around longer. It’s true that if I’d have hung onto the dog, Davy almost certainly wouldn’t have been put through that misery. Which does bother me. I’ll apologize to him for helping get him in trouble.
Yet at the same time, I wouldn’t do anything different; I can’t see myself making a big effort to return a dog to people who are likely to get it killed through their neglect. I can’t see myself keeping their pup for them until they care enough to notice it’s gone and look for it.
In any case, Davy’s a sweet, sad, well-intentioned kid who’s being punished for doing something right. I want to take him aside and tell him that what he did was good and that sometimes you do get smacked down for that, which shouldn’t stop you from doing what you believe in.
But I don’t want to put myself between him and his mother, which would be very much not-right. I really don’t know what goes on in that house. I just know that my heart breaks for that kid and I bear a lot of responsibility for what just happened to him.