THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER PART III: HOMECOMING
6 August 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 1500 Hours
Animal Control Facility
“Could you not be sad?
Could you not break down?
After all, I won’t let go…
Until you’re safe and sound.
Until you’re safe and sound.”
(Sheryl Crow – SAFE AND SOUND)
I arrange to leave work a little early today in order to pick up the dog. Mindy and I spent the weekend discussing our plans, and she had even bought a dog bed and some bowls to feed her once we got her home. The plan is to get her checked out by a vet, then try to find her a good home. But just in case we end up keeping her for ourselves, Mindy said that she wanted to name her Bailey, like the Irish Crème. We even joked that our family would think we were alcoholics because we have a cat named Guinness; because we rescued her the day before St. Patrick’s Day and because she is a black cat with green eyes; but Mindy always wanted a dog named Bailey. So it was to be Bailey. Thinking back on it now, I am certain that we already knew she was going to stay with us. Little did I know what would happen when I got her out of the Animal Control Facility.
I arrive at the facility, which is located down near Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium. I am in my full uniform as I just worked my shift, and it is another hot afternoon. I am excited to finally be rescuing this dog… yet again. I jog inside and ask for Caroline. I see her seated at her desk near the back wall, a short blonde haired woman that does not fit my image of her. We talk for a minute or two and I fill out the adoption papers. Then an assistant disappears into the back to retrieve my new dog. As I wait in the lobby, I can hear the yelps and cries of hundreds of animals… dogs, cats, etc… and the sound is deeply saddening. I picture Bailey, locked in a cage listening to this horrible noise, and I have to step outside. I am directed to a side door where the assistant will be bringing her out.
As the door opens, I see her again for the first time in a full week. Her reaction is amazing and immediate: She gazes up at me and she smiles. Her tail begins to wag vigorously back and forth and she almost jumps up in excitement. She would have had she had enough energy to do so. I can tell right away that she recognizes me. Her nails have been clipped and she looks slightly less thin. She has obviously been eating. She has also been given a bath and her coat looks much healthier. And the most remarkable change that I notice is that her limp is gone. She has improved by volumes. But she has a long way to go.
The assistant leads her to my car on a short leash and we load her into the back. I am driving a 1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse hatchback, and the dog settles into the trunk area, lying on the folded down seat backs. I shake hands with the assistant, who I notice is the same man that came to take Bailey from that wretched house to begin with.
“She remembers you.” he says with a smile.
“Yeah.” I can barely speak; I am so overjoyed.
“She make a good pet. She trust you for life now. You saved her.”
“I think she’s gonna have a good home now. Even if it is for a short time, she will have a happier life then dying in the house I found her in.”
“Yeah, I remember that place.”
We both pause for a minute, looking into the car at Bailey. She just sits there in the back, panting and wagging her tail and waiting to go wherever I intend to take her. She seems to be saying: “Come on LETS GO!” So we do.
I drive her gingerly out of the city and head for the Dunloggin Veterinary Hospital in Ellicott City. My Dad and Mary Ellen take all of their pets there, and we had discussed over the preceding weekend that it was going to be expensive to get Bailey back up to speed, so they offered to help in any way they could. Mary Ellen wanted to meet me at the vet in order to pay for the bill, and Mindy and I agreed to at least let them chip in. We are not the richest people, mind you. And vets are expensive.
On the way to the vet, Bailey becomes very nervous about traveling in a car, and she throws up. She follows this by going to the bathroom on the seat backs. And I don’t mean number one, although that would soon join us in the car as well. I am not upset though. I am prepared for the possibility that she is going to need a lot of care for a long time.
We pull into the vet and I stroll inside to find a leash to use. The assistant at the Animal Control had taken his back inside with him, and Mindy and I have yet to buy one for Bailey. The assistant at Dunloggin finds one for me and I bring Bailey in.
The assistant tells me that she needs a stool sample to check for worms, etc. I smile.
“I have all the samples you need in my car. Vomit, stool, you name it.”
She is pleased. She thinks I mean that I have these samples in a container.
“Oh no. I have them IN the car.”
Just then Bailey urinates again, this time right on the floor of the lobby. I am only slightly embarrassed, and I feel bad for making her so nervous… but this is natural and I am prepared for it. What I am not prepared for is what the actual vet tells me.
I clean up the mess in the lobby while the assistant retrieves the required samples from the back of my car. I apologize for the mess in the car and she just laughs.
“I’ve seen worse cars just from people that don’t have pets.”
Mary Ellen arrives and we convene in the area where Bailey will be examined. As the doctor enters and I begin to tell my saga of this poor dog, Mary Ellen comments that Bailey looks frail.
“You should have seen her when I found her.”
They weigh her. Bailey weighs thirty-two pounds. A healthy dog of her age and size should weigh around seventy. The vet looks her over as I list the litany of problems that Caroline told me about. I explain that I am prepared for the worst, but that I don’t want to give up hope until a real vet has looked at her.
“She is approximately ten years old,” I start. “She probably has hip dysplasia. She has worms, heart worms, fleas…”
I notice that the vet has started to chuckle as I speak, and I stop.
“What’s so funny?”
The vet looks up. He is an older man, maybe forty, with black hair and a kind smile, but he seems to be looking at me as if I were an idiot.
“Mr. McGowan, this dog is between five and eight years old and she does not have hip dysplasia. Not yet anyway. Now she may get it in five to seven years…”
I am stunned. Five to seven years? That means she’ll live for how long? She’s only how old? No hip problems? This is all happening very fast now and I have to shove my confusion aside and focus in order to get it all because he is still talking.
“…her stool sample looks good and I don’t see any signs of anything that can’t be controlled by a healthy diet. There is nothing that this dog needs that a little love and some food won’t cure.”
I don’t know what to say. I try to sound professional, but I am not sure how it comes across.
“Well, that is what they told me was wrong with her and that is why I brought her here… so you could tell me if they were right.”
He continues to smile.
“No, Mr. McGowan. They were definitely wrong. Your dog is going to be fine. I expect she’ll live at least another ten years.”
This is the most amazing news I could have hoped for. Not only were Caroline and her “Vet Techs” wrong, but I have managed to save Bailey four times over! I cannot stress this point enough, and it still haunts me to this day:
The people that work at The Baltimore City Animal Control are NOT trained veterinarians. This lack of training and care almost caused Bailey to be put down when nothing… NOTHING was medically wrong with her. God only knows how many more animals have been carelessly killed for lack of adequate housing and care. I am sure Caroline Marchowski knows. I am not sure how she can sleep at night.
I bring Bailey home. She is weak and tired when we arrive, but in good spirits. But in all of my excitement over this dog, I forgot about the cat. Guinness is our only other pet and she is very selfish of her territory. Every day and night when I arrive home from work, Guinness is there waiting at the bottom of the steps as I enter the house. This day is no different.
I open the door with Bailey on the leash that Dunloggin had given me to borrow. There is Guinness waiting for me and only me to enter, when I lead in this huge dog in front of me. Guinness starts towards me, then freezes, then backs up, then hisses.
I should have come in first without the dog. Oh well, too late now. Bailey wags her tail and we walk in past the cat. I unhook the leash and Bailey flops down in front of the couch. There she lays. Safe. She is home.
I think she knows she is safe now. I think she knows she is home.
The next several hours are interesting to say the least. The ordeal is finally over, but a new chapter is beginning. I sit on the couch and began thinking back to the past week’s challenge to get Bailey home with us. It had finally happened, and I feel such a relief wash over me. In the weeks and months that will follow, I will think back to the first moment I saw Bailey in that row house on St. Ambrose Avenue, and it will tear me up. Looking at her now, as she lays still on the floor of our air conditioned, clean, fresh new house, I feel sure that I had been meant to find her. She was the reason we received that anonymous call to the vacant row house. She was the reason I noticed that sound coming from the upstairs bedroom. I have done something good here and I feel proud.
I have showered and changed since coming home, and in that time, Guinness has become accustomed to sniffing around Bailey. Both are getting used to each other. I explain to Guinness that Bailey is very sick and needs a place to stay for a while, and I explain to Bailey that this was Guinness’s house first. Yes, I talk to our pets. They are as much a part of our family as children will be someday. We take them on trips with us and play with them and keep them close to our hearts because it keeps us young. And because animals feel just like we do. I knew that from a very young age, and I knew it even more when Bailey looked up at me in the parking lot of the Animal Control Facility. She remembered me. And she was glad to see me.
Today is Mindy’s twenty-eighth birthday, and I have gotten her an amazing gift. Not just the dog, but an actual gift: an electric guitar autographed by her favorite artist, Paul Simon. It has been specially framed and it is waiting for her when she arrives home from work at around 1800 hours. Bailey and I are sitting downstairs, her in the same spot on the floor and me on the couch. Before Mindy arrived home, Bailey had begun to shiver and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that she must not be accustomed to air conditioning, after living in that sewer of a bedroom for so long without any. So I turned the AC down and wrapped her in a quilt. She immediately licked my hand and the shivering ceased. This is one grateful dog. Mindy walks in. The guitar is wrapped and sitting on the floor beside the couch. But it is not the first thing she sees when she comes in the door. Bailey is.
”She’s so cute!”
Bailey looks up and starts wagging her tail again. But she does not stand. She can’t. She is just too weak. I think Mindy may be crying, but she turns her head away briefly.
“Oh, she is so cute!”
Not much more needs to be said.
That night, and for many nights after, I carry Bailey up the four flights of stairs that lead to our bedroom. She barely struggles against me. She is simply too weak to make the journey herself. Once upstairs, I place her down on her new “bed.” She immediately makes a mess right on it, partly out of having to go, and partly out of fear. This is all so new to her. I had warned Mindy about the possibility of this, so neither of us are that surprised. We know it would be a while before house training takes effect. But we are surprised at how quickly she adjusts to life with us.
That night as Bailey sleeps peacefully for the first time in a long time, I joke to Mindy that I am guaranteed a spot in heaven for this one. After all, I have saved her four times over… how can I not be?
Bailey is home. She will not leave. There will be no attempts to find another home for her. It will not even be discussed. And I knew that the moment she walked out of the Animal Control Center. I think I may have even known it the moment I found her in that dingy room on St. Ambrose Avenue.