We began again.
For weeks, we had been spending a good part of our evenings in this way. I called her. She crawled, inch by painful inch, toward where I sat on the floor with my hand outstretched, palm up. She was only a few feet away, but the effort — not so much of dragging herself along on her belly as resisting the urge to run and hide — exhausted her. She paused now and again to pant and cry. I kept my face carefully averted, my body relaxed, my voice quietly soothing and encouraging. She would get close enough to allow me the barest of gentle touches before dashing away, trembling and drooling in her terror, before summoning the courage to crawl toward me again.
Sachi, my Golden Retriever, laid nearby, anxiously watching our slow progress. Her faith in me was complete, so she was confused by this fearful dog. Didn’t I make sure they had plenty of fresh water and food? Didn’t I frequently and freely give belly rubs? Didn’t I take them for long, daily walks? Why was this dog so…broken?
I glanced at Sachi from my position on the floor. Her soft, brown eyes were bright, pleading. Fix it, they said. You know how to fix everything. Please, please fix this.
The problem was that I wasn’t sure what, exactly, I was fixing.
Coyote had come to Sachi and me as a rescue. For several months her rescuer, Chris, had seen her chained to a porch, with no shelter from the elements and a hard-packed circle of earth indicating that she’d been tied there for some time. As the months went by, that suspicion proved out: Rain, sun, or snow, the little grey-brown dog was there, stoically enduring her exposure to the open sky.
The house she was tied to was dilapidated, emanating an air of stagnant desperation, as though its inhabitants had simply given up. Sometimes small children played in the overgrown yard, as dirty and shabby as their home.
Then one day something felt different about the place. The dog was still chained outside, but something felt…off. Another day went by, and another, before Chris noticed the gaping front door, swinging on its hinges, and the realization hit her: The inhabitants had abandoned the house, along with many of their possessions.
The dog lying on her packed circle of dirt was one of those possessions.
Chris cautiously gathered up the half-starved, dehydrated dog and took her to get help. At the veterinary clinic, they cleaned her up, finding that, beneath the grey-brown filth that matted her soft fur, she was a glowing white, with a faint tan streak running down the length of her back. Her ribs protruded and her pointed, velvety ears were scarred by fly bites. When they spayed her, they found she was pregnant.
She was terrified of men.
And, even after five months of being loved back to health by Chris, she was also terrified of me.
I don’t know her full story — no one really does. All I know about is where our stories co-mingled. I know that, despite her fear — her certainty that, when she finally arrived at the place on the floor where I sat calling her, a terrible, dangerous trickery would occur — she continued to crawl toward me.
I could imagine all kinds of abuse. I could tell myself that her neglect was intentional, that leaving her behind was an act of cruelty and not — as it might have been — in the hope that someone would find her and feed her because the family could no longer afford to. I could believe that the chain that bound her was a mean-spirited choice and not a landlord’s mandate.
Or I could simply celebrate that, all those years ago, this pretty little husky trembled and whimpered and dragged herself — just one more time, sweetie — toward the love she saw me lavish on Sachi, toward the bond Sachi so badly wanted to offer her, toward the new life we both wanted to wrap around her as a sanctuary. Whatever she might have suffered, she was still willing to be vulnerable. It wasn’t easy, but she was trying so very, very courageously.
It was months before Coyote learned to trust me. There were times I wanted to give up on her. But there was something in her eyes — that heartbreaking, beautiful hope — that made me keep trying. And the day eventually came that she greeted me at the door with her sister, wagging her tail and smiling up at me.
We fixed it, Sachi. You and Coyote and I fixed it.