There were these three country dogs who decided to spend their weekend in the city. It wasn’t an actual city because it was Dalton City, population 600, or so the sign reads. But the dogs didn’t care that it wasn’t an actual city because…well…they’re dogs. They were just three pals who wanted to have a little fun.
Friday night was their highlight as they got to frolic in a torrential downpour. But by Saturday morning, Dalton City dried off and got back to being itself. The dogs got bored and so began to drift back toward their country home.
(This is where I entered the story.) I was cruising southward on Route 121 when I spotted a tall brown dog galloping across that busy highway. The bright green collar tipped me off that this was someone’s pet. In previous years, my habit in such a scenario is to slow down, avoid the dog, whisper a vague prayer to a vague god that it not get hit by another vehicle, then drive on.
But not this time. For you see, in May of this year I had a conversion experience. It all started with Fitz, my daughter’s dog.
Alison was traveling out of town for a few days and her friends were dog-sitting Fitz. But on the third day, Fitz decided to jump the fence in the back yard and strike out on his own in the city. The friends were aghast when they got home and discovered the back yard empty. So they called Alison, who panicked, then got behind the wheel of her car, then dashed toward Chicago, four hours away, determined to search for Fitz herself. She called me en route to tell me the news. I had trouble piecing the story together at first, due to all the sobbing. But when I finally comprehended, I immediately hopped in my car and headed for Chicago. I had no idea where to find a rambunctious dog in a city of 3 million people. But I needed to comfort my daughter.
I’d gotten about an hour up the road when I got another call: that Fitz had been found…alive. He was rescued in the middle of a busy intersection in south Chicago, about six miles from where he had escaped. An anonymous woman had been driving through that intersection and seen him. She reckoned correctly that this animal needed help and that a bereft human, somewhere, was in distress. She stopped, coaxed Fitz into her car, and drove him several miles to the animal shelter. I think it was a miracle that Fitz finally made it back to Alison. But it took an exceptionally bold and generous woman to cinch that miracle. “I call her Miracle Lady.” That was the day of my conversion. I decided that if I ever came across a lost dog, I too would befriend it and try to find its owner.
So return now with me to the countryside outside Dalton City: dog with domestic collar crosses busy highway, I slam on my brakes, do a U-turn, and drive back to where said dog had appeared. But there was no dog: he or she had evidently disappeared into the corn field next to the highway.
So I parked the car, put on my emergency lights, crossed the highway toward the cornfield, and started trying to woo the unseen dog. I could not, however, think of any good pick up lines that would entice a canine hiding in a corn field. All I could conjure was, “Hey dog, come here.” I am obviously no “dog-whisperer,” and soon felt a little ridiculous standing there apparently talking to a corn field.
Just as I was about to plunge into the corn myself, to search for this lost dog soul, I turned around and spotted another large brown dog trotting across the highway toward me. I could see that this one had a brown collar that read, “Call Nancy.” And there was a fading phone number.
So I grabbed the collar, to secure the dog… and as she squirmed, I tried to make out the phone number. As I pulled her closer to read the number, it immediately became clear that this dog was soaking wet, drenched from recent rainstorm. Determined nevertheless, I awkwardly drug the dog back across the highway to my car to get my cell phone.
When we got to the car her tail started wagging wildly. She evidently assumed I was taking her for a ride. WWMLD? (What would Miracle Lady Do?) I knew that the kindly Miracle Lady would put this dog in her car, just to keep the vulnerable creature safe from the heavy traffic. But I would need to give this a second thought as my conversion had not yet matured to the point of letting a large wet mutt into my car. I think Miracle Lady would understand my need to think this over. (Although people who are excessively kind to animals are often contrarily impatient with humans. So here I am beside a busy highway, using one hand to grip the dog collar, the other hand to work the phone, and my torso to body-block this wet mongrel, hoping she would soon get the idea that she was NOT getting behind my steering wheel.
“Nancy” answered on the third ring and seemed slightly confounded that I was trying to rescue her “country dog” out there in the country. She quickly decided, however, to indulge my altruism. She asked me if all three dogs were together: two browns and a black. I told her I had one brown dog in hand and one brown dog in a corn field, but hadn’t seen the black one. She said that the dogs ran into to town occasionally and usually found their way home. But she would send her husband out to me right away to pick them up this time.
As we hung up I saw the black dog. Reaching down to welcome the new arrival it became instantly evident that this third one had been in a tussle with a skunk. Of course, he too started trying to get in in my car. Again I recited my mantra: WWMLD? I knew in my heart that Miracle Lady wouldn’t hesitate to let Wet Mongrel in her car. But Skunk Dog? Miracle lady may be a saint but she isn’t stupid! No way Skunk Dog gets in the car.
My new problem was how to keep the two dogs from running way. Of the three of us there by the dangerous highway, Wet Mongrel, Skunk Dog, and myself, I felt the heavy burden of being the only responsible adult. So I frolicked with the two dogs by the roadside, away from my car, awaiting their owner. What of my responsibility to Corn Field Dog you ask? Well…she was on her own. I quickly reckoned that her running away was the Lord’s way of not giving me more than I could handle.
Last week I preached a sermon on the lone sheep that got lost from the ninety-nine. The good shepherd leaves behind common sense in order to exercise compassion and save the loser sheep. I ended that sermon by pompously directing my congregation to practice irrational love on behalf of the most pitiful. Then Skunk Dog shows up six days later? I wish I could discern the divine epiphany in this twist of the narrative. But so far all I’ve got is this: God really must get a buzz out of toying with self-righteous preachers.