The dinner hour is approaching and it’s been raining since early morning. The ground is soaked and there’s no sign of let up. Water ponds across the street at the foot of my driveway. Somewhere in the distance, commuter traffic fans out over dark ribbons of highways and back roads. It’s time for me to go.
I’ll be smart, I say to myself as I back slowly out of my driveway. If I cut through the village park and circle around the main streets, I can get to the north side of town without any delays.
At the first traffic signal, I make a left turn and head north. The sky is still ponderously gray. Cars move fairly quickly on the two lane road. Farmer’s fields butt up against the pavement and I float in the zen of driving where nothing exits other than this moment.
Suddenly, without any warning, a large German Shepherd lopes out into traffic. He’s good-sized, easily 100 pounds or more, sable-marked and wary. I can tell from his movements that he’s startled to find himself here. He’s more cautious than panicked, looking first at a space before deciding if that’s where he should go.
Instantly, I’m drawn into a community of driving cars. Collectively, we slow down, careful to give this dog room to navigate the road while keeping out of each other’s way. It’s too dangerous for any of us to stop. Yet it’s dangerous not to. But, no one stops. There’s no safe place to pull over.
The shepherd holds his head a bit low with his tail down. Not a tucked-scared tail, but a subdued-I’m-not-quite-sure-about-this tail. Now, I see him in my rearview mirror, straddling the yellow line that splits the road into two lanes. Cars are still mindful, but the dog isn’t home free. Yet.
What set of circumstances brought this gorgeous dog to this exact place and time? Did he get loose from his yard? Did someone callously dump him out of a car farther down the road?
What will happen to him?
Where is his owner?
Why is he not safely inside his home?
These questions will haunt me for the rest of the night and tug at my heart for a long time afterwards.
I’ve got another lost dog image. Six months before my Shepherd sighting, I was driving a different route. It was early morning and I was crossing over the canal bridge on a wide expanse of road. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a shape appear out of the mists rising up from the water. This time, the dog showed no desire to step into the road. Like the Shepherd, this one was good-sized. A Weimeramer. Majestic. Standing completely still.
He stood his ground. Time stopped as we both looked at each other. I drove slowly past.
Turning around, he carefully picked his way down the incline back towards the canal path. I never saw him again.
Lost dogs. They appear out of nowhere. Just for a moment, they suspend time. Make us catch our breath. And then, just as quickly as they appear to sear their presence into our hearts, they’re gone. Fleeting reminders that we must guard what we love because there are no guarantees.
What we cherish and hold one day can disappear in a second, filling our very souls with absence.