by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~
When you love dogs, really love them, you need a mantra.
Not another one. Not now.
I said it over and over when I first saw the little yellow Labrador a week before Christmas 2011.
A gorgeous girl with graceful lines, a bum hind leg, and with ribs, spine, and hip bones made prominent by hunger, she was trying to finesse her way into a pack of street dogs who hung out in front of the archaeological museum in downtown Argostoli, on the Greek island of Kefalonia, right across the street from the courthouse.
A short length of rope dangled from her too-tight leather collar, a common sight in a country where many dogs spend their lives tied up, and some manage to chew or break themselves free. Then they drag what’s left of the rope or chain with them for the rest of their wretched lives—often not very long—roaming the streets or countryside.
The Museum Gang dogs approached the yellow girl with bristled fur, stiff tails, and warning woofs. She immediately flopped onto her back, wiggling all over in puppyish, tail wagging submission, as if to beg, “Oh please oh please, look at what a silly and harmless thing I am. You can’t possibly want to hurt me, can you? And of course you’ll want to share with me your charming company and maybe any food you find, right?”
His companions, hunting breed mixes who, judging from their similar black and tan coloring and size might be litter mates, were not the least bit bored. The new dog needed to be thoroughly inspected, intimidated, and mounted.
She was not allowed to stand. Whenever she tried, she was growled at, knocked over—easy to do because of that weak back leg—and kept on the ground in throat holds till she went limp.
A promise to a saint
When promises are made to husbands, especially husbands who are tolerant to the point of saintliness, one tries one’s very best to keep them. During our goodbyes at the San Diego airport, The Saint had pleaded, “I support you a thousand percent in your work to write about animal and environmental issues and to fix up our house over there in Greece. I’m happy to stay here and take care of the pack of pooches you’ve brought home in the past. But please, please, PLEASE just don’t bring me another.”
For a whole week, the “blindness” held. More or less.
Not at night, when I saw the young Lab and the Museum Gang in my nightmares, mixed in with all the other nightmares from which those of us who care about animals suffer on a regular basis.
Not in the morning, when I worked on keeping our decrepit old house on the island from falling apart, all the while remembering the ten dogs and four cats over the past four years for whom the house had served as foster home on the road to loving forever families.
The Saint and I are already overwhelmed with responsibilities: five ill and elderly human family members—at least one of them coming to live with us soon after I return to California—and as The Saint rightly pointed out, a house already overflowing with a large bunch of previous canine rescues.
Not another one. Not now.
A dark and shivery night
On Christmas Day, even while savoring a luscious vegan dinner in the home of a friend, I couldn’t help it—I wondered about Kali and the Museum Gang. Had they gotten anything to eat? Had they found any refuge from the driving rain, the biting cold, the howling wind?
Just before dessert, the power went out across the southern part of the island. My friend’s small house, old and drafty like ours, quickly lost any heat it had managed to retain, so we all wrapped up in blankets.
After dinner I hung around longer than I should have, reluctant to forge through the rain and gale-force winds back to a freezing, dark, spooky night at my own place.
Again, my thoughts went to the little yellow girl and the countless other abandoned dogs and cats on this island and around the world, spending every night in gloom and danger and worse.
Eventually, armed with pajamas on loan from my hostess, I opted for the warmth and safety of a hotel in town, where the power hadn’t lapsed. I could buy that comfort. Whip out the credit card, stroll into the room, take a relaxing shower, and slip into a cloud-soft bed.
No such comforts for the little Lab girl, or for the all the others. The least I could do, I told myself, was give them a meal.
In the morning, the gang of five lay on a patch of soggy grass, curled up tight to conserve whatever warmth they could generate, all five of them shivering so horribly it made my own bones ache. Excruciatingly painful to watch, and to imagine being so cold day after day, night after night, with no hope of warmth till summer.
And the little yellow Lab was nowhere in sight.
Maybe her family had finally come looking for her and taken her home. Maybe someone else had taken pity on her and given her refuge. Maybe she’d found another street dog pack to join. Or maybe… I didn’t want to imagine other possibilities.
When I served the breakfast only two of the Museum Gang would come anywhere near. I had to stand a good ten feet away for even those two to feel safe enough to eat. The others kept their distance, darting in now and then to bark at me and make a half-hearted show of menace.
In Greece, most street dogs I meet have mellow temperaments. These, unfortunately, had apparently undergone enough trauma to make them err on the side of caution.
This brought me perverse relief. Now it wouldn’t be hard to keep my promise to The Saint. Rescuing dogs is always a challenge. Dealing with dogs fearful enough to show even a bit of aggression is a line I decided long ago, after 50 stitches, to never cross again.
Satisfied that at least the Museum Gang had something in their bellies, I got in the car and started to back out.
Then, in my rear-view mirror, there she was.
A golden blur. Sunshine on paws. Wiggling all over, trying again to finagle her way into the pack’s good graces.
Right away they ran at her. Spooked, she dashed into the street, directly in front of oncoming traffic.
My heart stopped.
A blue Mercedes honked, swerved, and barely missed her.
I flew out of my car, held up my hands to stop traffic, and grabbed the little length of rope hanging from her collar. She snuggled happily into my arms, a pulsating bundle of puppy energy, and kissed my hands and chin.
Then, with cars honking at us all the while, she spotted a flock of pigeons and bolted.
I should’ve had a better hold on that rope. But it slipped out of my hand, and she was gone.
To be continued…
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Seen our book? Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need, by Shelley Frost and Katerina Lorenzatos Makris, available through Amazon.com.