(This is part 4 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2 and 3 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)
After a fitful night’s sleep, Eleanor woke up tired, but with a plan: she’d go back to where she saw the dog the day before and see if it was still there. If it was, she’d bring it home and give it food and water, then take it to the local vet to see if it was chipped. If no chip was found, then she’d have to figure out what to do next.
She rummaged around the garage for a length of rope and an old blanket to cover her back seat. As much as she wanted the dog to be from a loving home, she couldn’t help hoping that the little pup was still where she left it. “The last thing you need is to worry about a dog that doesn’t even belong to you,” she admonished herself (or was that her husband’s voice?) as she got in her car.
When Eleanor reached the spot, she slowed down and scanned the fields on both sides of the road. Seeing nothing, she parked her car and got out. “Here, doggie,” she called tentatively. “Are you out there?” she asked a little louder. She was ready to give up when she heard a slight rustle and saw the tall grass on her left move a little. Thinking the dog could be scared or shy, she decided to sit down and wait to see if it came to her. “Come here, honey,” she cooed softly, “I won’t hurt you.” The small brown dog slowly emerged from the grass and, standing a few feet away, cautiously looked at Eleanor. “It’s ok. I won’t hurt you,” she tried reassuring the pup. Then she tried flattery: “Aren’t you a handsome fellow?” Finally, a bribe, “I have lots of food and water at home just for you.” That seemed to do the trick; the dog crept close enough to sniff Eleanor’s outstretched hand.
After a few moments of hand sniffing and having his ears scratched, the dog suddenly gave Eleanor a very wet swipe of its tongue across her face. She pulled back instinctively but then quickly reconsidered and reached forward to gather the dog into her arms for more enthusiastic kisses.
When Eleanor finally got up and walked over to her car, the dog followed right along. There was no need for the rope at all. She opened the back door and the dog jumped in liked it belonged there.
Back home, Eleanor spooned some of the leftover chicken curry into one bowl and filled another with water. Moments after putting them on the floor, the bowls were eagerly emptied. Another serving of leftovers and water disappeared almost as quickly. It was obvious that the dog hadn’t eaten for a while.
On her way to the vet’s office, Eleanor made a quick stop at the pet store to pick up a collar, leash, and a couple of cans of dog food. “Just in case he is with me for a few days,” she told herself. As she made her purchases, the clerk looked back and forth at Eleanor then the dog. “Your dog has a mask just like yours,” she laughed. Eleanor looked at the dog’s face and realized that the clerk was right. The white mark that started just under his eyes and extended partway down his throat did kind of look like a mask.
At the vet, she explained the situation to the receptionist who assured her that she’d be able to get right in. “We are always happy to help reunite lost pets with their families,” she smiled. Eleanor didn’t find the words comforting, but she knew that she was doing the right thing. The vet echoed the same assurances as she began to run the scanner over the dog’s shoulder blades.
A few moments later, the vet put down her scanner and gave Eleanor a look of disappointment. “Sorry, I wasn’t able to find anything,” she sighed. “If you don’t mind keeping him for a few days, you could put up some signs in the area where you found him. Although he is a bit thin and scruffy, someone could be missing him. Look at his cute little face; did you notice that his white fur around his nose and mouth looks a little like a mask?”
Back home, Eleanor didn’t quite know what to do. Although she realized that she had to look for the dog’s owner, she was becoming attached and knew that she’d be heartbroken to give him up. Before she could talk herself out of it, she put together a simple “Found Dog” flier with a slightly out of focus picture and her contact information and printed out multiple copies. “We’ll go out tomorrow and find your home,” she assured the dog, who didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned. In fact, he was comfortably stretched out on the sofa, looking as if he was already at home.
Dinner that evening—ramen noodle stir fry for her and Purina chicken and rice for him—was the most enjoyable meal Eleanor had eaten for years. Not only was the food delicious, she also discovered that the dog was a delightful dinner companion. He seemed to listen to her every word, and his occasional yips, snorts, and hand licks gave her the impression he understood what she was saying. It was ridiculous, of course, but his rapt attention made her feel special and interesting. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt that way.
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