Christmas Day Dog

In response to The Daily Post writing prompt on February 11, 2013.

Prompt: What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?

I haven’t had very many experiences that I would categorize as surreal. I experimented with a few substances in college that provided some interesting evenings, and I’ve had a few dreams that have stuck with me. But one of my most unbelievable experiences is when we found a stray dog on Christmas day.

We’d just adopted Franklin, a basset hound-pointer mix, and we’d started to volunteer with the rescue organization. I was very excited and a little over-the-top, trying to be involved in everything. And driving home from my mom’s, another dog ran in front of the car. We were less than a block from our house, and this was another chance to help a dog.

We brought the collarless big, black and tan mixed breed into our backyard and went into action. Microchip check, fliers, phone calls, updates to the Pet FBI database – we were going to find this dog’s home. Though we hadn’t seen this dog before, we walked the neighborhood putting up the fliers and asking anyone we saw if they knew anything about this dog. By the end of the day two things were clear, Franklin and the dog, now called Rusty, did not get along, and Rusty was going to stay for the night. So we created a spot in the basement.

This went on for 3 days or so. We were starting to have conversations about fostering Rusty through the rescue organization until we could find a home. Because Franklin and Rusty didn’t get along, we’d developed a routine for yard time, an elaborate sequence of steps that Daisy, our other dog, and the two cats, Bert and Dino, watched with curiosity. We thought we could make it work until we could find a good home for Rusty.

The next night, while half asleep, my wife got up to let Rusty out. Two minutes later the screaming started. I leaped out of bed and ran into the kitchen to find blood splattered across the oven, and Bert in Rusty’s mouth as Rusty shook his head back and forth violently. I released Bert, we wrapped him in a blanket, and rushed him to the vet. By the time we got to the vet, Bert had passed away.

The rest of the day was spent crying, cleaning, and trying to find someone who could take Rusty. We weren’t able to find anywhere to take him, so we called the animal shelter. When they came to get him, they asked us if there was anything they needed to know, and we told them what had happened.

Two days later, on my way home from work, my cell phone rang. It was a man looking for Rusty. They’d been to the shelter looking for their dog, seen a flier with my number on it, and called. Rusty was no longer at the shelter, and they were hoping he was still with us. When I explained to him what happened, he chuckled and said, “Yeah, he really hates cats. When he was a puppy a cat attacked him and scratched him up pretty good.”

We learned a lot of lessons over that week, including the need to test an animal before bringing him into our home. Bert was old and sick and lived a good life. We were starting to discuss whether or not it “was time” for Bert to pass, and sometimes we rationalize that Rusty came to help Bert’s suffering end. I don’t really believe that, but it is a comforting idea. Six years have passed and we still cry sometimes.

I still have a hard time remembering details about the day Bert was killed. The kitchen, the drive, and the rest of that day are a blur. It still seems like a really bad dream. Like the kind of dream that when you wake up it feels real.

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