JIM DODSON: A Surprise Mulligan Just For Christmas
My Christmas present came early this year. One beautiful afternoon last fall, I was tooling past a golf course when a small black dog suddenly darted out of the woods across the busy highway. Cars braked sharply, and the dog just made it. As I passed, the dog had stopped on the shoulder and -- crazy, I know -- gazed straight at me. Then it turned and bolted like a black streak into a park, where some boys were playing football.
I was suddenly transported back to another beautiful Friday in 1964.
One feels immortal at age 11. I was on my way to play touch football with buddies in the park. It was Good Friday of Easter weekend. My young black dog Herky, as usual, was running after me on my bike.
Herky was short for Hercules, the Greek strongman. (In those days I was hooked on Greek and Roman mythology and bad Steve Reeves movies.) He was the happiest dog I'd ever seen; he could fly like the wind.
Just as we reached the park, a car came out of nowhere and ran over my dog. The driver paused, looked back for a moment, then sped off. He was a teenager, probably as horrified as I was at what he'd done.
Sitting on the curb, I held my dying dog in my lap and cried my eyes out until it began to get dark. Several cars passed, but none stopped. Finally a car eased over. It was my dad on his way home from work.
That night, we buried Herky in the backyard, and I vowed never to have another dog.
Looking for a Home
I don't know what made me turn around and go back to the park.
Maybe it was this sad memory. Maybe it was the simple fact that I've had half a dozen great dogs since Herky and hate to think of anybody losing their best friend the way I did mine. There was also this fact: The resemblance was eerie.
The boys were still playing football when I pulled up. I could see the black streak over by the edge of the woods. I asked who the dog belonged to, prepared to issue a friendly lecture on taking care of one's pet.
"That dog don't belong to nobody," one of the older kids told me flatly. "She been hanging around here for weeks. People feed her stuff. She's real friendly -- if you can catch her."
"She don't have no home," echoed another.
A work crew was also nearby. I walked over and asked them about the dog. They confirmed what the boys had said. "People drop off strays all the time in Pinehurst and Southern Pines," one worker explained. "They know somebody will eventually pick them up. I think she's been living in the woods around one of the golf courses."
Just as he said this, the black dog streaked past us, heading again toward heavy traffic.
"Hey, black dog," I called out almost casually.
Amazingly, the dog checked up and looked at me. What happened next was even more amazing. She bolted my way, leapt into my arms, and began wildly licking my face. She was young, filthy, and thin as a gravedigger's hound. Her ribs showed through her dull black coat. She had no collar.
"That dog sure is glad you came along," the worker said with a laugh.
No Room in the Inn
I left my phone number with all the boys and the workers, in case somebody eventually turned up looking for this wild black streak of a dog.
Her tail didn't stop wagging. When I placed the wiggling dog on the front seat of my new car, she looked around with shining brown eyes, cowered a little at her new surroundings, then peed on the leather.
I drove her up to the Moore County Humane Society in Carthage. The young woman there declined to take her in.
"We have a strict policy about accepting strays," she said. "And besides, we're filled to capacity."
Then she told me about another animal shelter. So I drove there and found the same story. The inn was full. I left my number at both places in case somebody came looking for a small black dog. One of the women, I forget which, told me black dogs are so commonplace that shelters have difficulty placing them in new homes.
Finally, upon the suggestion of a friend, I drove the black streak out to a place called The Haven out in Hoke County, a no-kill shelter that accepted hundreds of animals out of Moore County last year. There were lost dogs and abandoned pets of every shape and color, an acre of fine dogs barking their heads off. But at least they were being well fed and cared for, as near as I could see, waiting for an angel to come along and offer a second chance.
By this point in the drama, the dirty little dog was sitting on the console of my car, leaning on me like we were old road pals. Every time I glanced at her, the tail thumped and she tried to lick my face.
"I think that dog has adopted you," said Linden Spear, director of The Haven, as I filled out the proper papers and watched her give the pooch a distemper shot and some antibiotics.
"The last thing I need is another dog," I said, pointing out I was the keeper of two rather disreputable golden retrievers already.
"That's one of the happiest dogs I've ever seen," chipped in my friend David Woronoff, who'd joined the rescue effort. "She acts like she's known you forever."
"Sometimes dogs just find us," said the nice lady from The Haven.
Maybe that's why I took the black streak home with me that night, thinking I'd be her one-man rescue league and find her a proper home for the holidays. She seemed to be so grateful to have found someone or to have been found.
If you lose something you love, I've heard it said, stop searching and it may eventually come back to you. That's the way the universe works, a wise person once assured me. The older I get, the more I grasp the truth of this principle and believe there are worlds both seen and unseen all around us. Anything is really possible.
In any case, I fed the dirty black streak a good meal. She threw it back up along with an impressive pile of park junk and sticks. Next I gave her a warm bath. The water turned as brown as tea, but she came out as shiny black as a sea otter. That night, when I rolled over in bed, I found the black streak snuggled up beside me on her back, head on my wife's pillow, happily snoring.
I made signs, placed an ad in the paper, checked the lost-and-found notices daily, and finally took her home to see my vet in Maine. Before leaving town, I tacked signs to trees around the spot where I found the black streak or she found me. No one ever called. I guess what they say about common black dogs may be true.
"What a joyful dog," said Sue the vet. "What's her name?"
"Mully," I heard myself say. "Short for Mulligan." The name came suddenly out of the ether.
"Isn't a mulligan something special in golf?" Sue wondered. She doesn't play golf.
"A second chance," I explained. "A friendly do-over."
I asked Sue what breed Mully might be -- or what mix of crazy breeds. She ran like the wind, jumped like a mountain goat, licked like a kid with a melting cone.
Sue looked thoughtful, then smiled.
"Oh, she's absolutely purebred," she said. "I'd say this is your classic Carolina black mutt."
Mully the mutt was malnourished and needed all her shots and a good worming. We also got her a fine new collar and legally registered her. We made her a date for spaying.
Just to prove she was still a wild black streak, though, Mully chewed up half my wife's better shoes within days. She also peed on all the good rugs, shredded several magazines, ate a few books, fully excavated the garbage can on several occasions, and helped herself to anything resembling food in the pantry. At one point, my wife returned home from shopping and found her standing on the kitchen counter, helping herself to a just-baked apple pie, happy as a housebreaker with a sweet tooth.
It's hard to say who loves Mully most -- the goldens or our four kids. By day she bosses the goldens, steals their toys, and chases them till they drop. By night she makes the rounds of every kid's room and winds up on her back, snoring happily, between my wife and me.
She's put on almost 10 pounds, filled out beautifully, and quit peeing in the house.
Keeping Her Secrets
It's been almost three months since this common black dog with uncommon gratitude crossed my path. She's been to Maine and back several times and seems to dig riding on the highway rather than streaking across it. We've become loyal road pals. She likes my taste in music and is very fond of the cheese steak from a certain roadhouse near Carlisle, Pa.
I have no way of knowing if this joyful black mutt was lost or simply abandoned, but somehow she found her way across the busy highway of life to me, and I can't help but feel the universe has finally given me something back this Christmas.
I often catch myself gazing at Mully, wondering who actually found whom. Most of the time she just looks back at me with her shining, smiling eyes and thumps her tail, happy to keep whatever secret she knows -- and I may yet discover -- about second chances and friendly do-overs.
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, writer-in-residence at The Pilot, can be reached at email@example.com.
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