Who can say no to an all expenses paid trip in a free rental car? True, there was a complicating factor in the form of a 50-pound pit bull (officially marked down as a terrier mix for liability purposes) named Annie who required delivery, but that was a relatively minor inconvenience. Also true, she needed delivery to a truck stop in North Carolina and we would be staying in a hotel in Roanoke, Virginia. And, of course, traveling gave the dog gas...
Emily drove the rented van down. I was not permitted the pleasure of taking over for her, mostly because I think she prefers to be in the driver's seat, but also because I think she doubts my ability not to get us hideously lost on the set of Deliverance and panic when the inbred approach our car, calling me Hambone. Therefore, since my navigational abilities were in doubt, I took it upon myself to keep her awake in the least obnoxious way possible. Any slight, annoying misstep in the pouring rain that dogged us from New York could result in our skidding from the road and having our crispy fried spleens gnawed on by our cargo and the denizens of a Wafflehouse.
Once we get to the hotel and release Annie from her crate, she jumps around and tries to attack us both with her kisses. I won't deny that I imagine Annie will have no real memory of the family that was forced to give her up when they moved, who discovered once in the South that pit bulls are nearly a way of life. Emily repeatedly hypothesized on our drive down, especially when we stopped so Emily can walk her, that Annie now considered us her family and believes that we had rescued her from yet another night in the animal shelter that would eventually have ended in her euthanasia because she was doing so poorly without a family to love her. Were I her, I might be a little thrilled, beyond the joy of apparently believing my steel toed boot shod foot was her favorite chew toy.
After the ten hours of driving the day before, it was another four to get to our destination truck stop. Tellingly, the truck stop was advertised as one of the largest within three states. More tellingly, there were two on either side of the exit. Most tellingly, it no longer existed but as an overgrown concrete field as far as the eye could see, surrounded by concrete barriers to dissuade trucks from reappropriating it for its intended purpose. We make a quick call to the family we will be meeting to turn over our dog, redirecting them to the adjacent Denny's parking lot.
I am surprised at the dedication of the shelter. This mission to reunite Annie with her family cost the shelter upwards of $800, all told, little of which they would be getting back. They did this simply because it was the right thing to do. Though so far above and beyond the call of duty, it was exactly in line with their organizational ethics to provide the best life possible for the animals in their care, even when that means trying to seize animals from their owners. Most shelters would have destroyed Annie in the year before this family initially adopted her or the five months after she was surrendered. While there is certainly a plethora of unwanted pets in this world, I have no doubt that removing Annie would also have erased a bit of goodness from the Earth.
We take Annie for her last walk with us and I find myself curiously sad to see her go. Since the death of our greyhound Quest, Emily and I have talked about getting another dog but set the limit for when we are more settled in our life. Once we are going to be staying somewhere for more than a year, when we both have steady jobs and can dedicate time to having a dog, we'll think about it. The final years of Quest's life felt so cramped and, though we loved him the best we could, it was so limiting and built so much resentment from all sides.
Annie is not like Quest. She is younger, for one, but is otherwise living and playful. She is as one imagines a dog and not as people choose to imagine pit bulls. Even when she was leaving teeth marks on my boot, she was affectionate and sweet. Though she has endured abandonment by her original family, months in the animal shelter, ten hours the day before and four hours today (both justified by saying that she would soon have such a good life that we could keep her boxed and miserable for a few days), she was a happy dog and just wanted to frolic and love us, her new family to the best of her knowledge.
The family comes after half an hour of our sitting in the strange rust colored earth in the Denny's parking lot. I was wrong, she knew them or at least recognized enough what elation looked like that she responded by jumping and wagging her tail. Her inner monologue may have screamed "MY FAMILY!" or it may simply have said "More happy people! Life is awesome!" We won't know, but we do know that she will be happy with them. She will finally get the life she deserves, rather than one of fright and cages. The mother hugs me repeatedly in her delight, though I am just there to take pictures with the animal shelter's camera. I am honored to be a part of the moment, though I quietly concede that I exist more as a traveling companion and chronicler than anyone who is a part of the experience of returning Annie to people who love her.
Soon in Xenology: Halloween.