Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sasha Number One

[Originally published in Quiet Laughter on July 27, 2011]

Cor and I had vowed, “no more kids.” No matter what. We simply did not have the space, or the time, to devote to the four we already had. At least three of whom were originally intended as foster children, a temporary situation that sidled into permanence. But we loved them; even Cor, who believed for years he was allergic to them (until Panchita arrived to prove him wrong). I’m amazed at the wonderful dad he’s become. I never thought he had it in him to wake up in the middle of the night for them, or cut a party short because it was feeding time, or retell their escapades like any proud father. 
Thus, we decided no more. So what, I keep asking myself today, is that little white furball, all teeth and growls and terror-stricken eyes, doing in the corner of my porch? 
It began like it always does. A homeless urchin, by sheer luck or word of mouth, arrives to the parking lot of the building where I [used to] work. But whereas Panchita, the first one, was allowed to stay for months before the threat of the pound became imminent, the grace period has since narrowed. This time it was a mere four weeks, and Sasha, as her mom-to-be baptized her, was nowhere near ready to get close to a human being. 

We had no choice.
I tried to approach her, to convince her, the way I’ve done with all of them, that I’m a different human, that my hands don’t make pain, that I can provide safety and love. But Sasha was having none of it. In desperation, with Animal Control around the corner, I resorted to drugs. I dug a dose of tranquilizer pills into an irresistible piece of leverworst which was then, predictably, wolfed down. An hour later she was woozy and unsteady. Piece of cake.  

But Sasha, in spite of her tiny size, found previously untapped sources of strength and ran. I chased her around the building, more red-faced each time I went by the windows where the workaholics were watching this madwoman of windblown curls hurtling around the building with a--what's that, a leash?--flapping around her neck.  

I couldn’t give up; if I didn’t get Sasha now, she’d never let me close again. But eventually, as night fell, Sasha found a hiding place I couldn’t discover. I had no choice but to pack up my leverworst and my leash and my cigarettes.
At lunch a few days later, we saw her lounging outside the big glass wall of the cafeteria. "I thought you were going to take her home," someone said to me. Feeling like a loser, I told the story of the chase.
Note to self:
Small & cute doesn't always mean
piece of cake.
“If I grab her for you now, what will you do?” Claudio’s expression always has a tinge of fun in it, a bit of well-intentioned mockery. It’s hard to tell when he’s serious.
“Take her home.”
Sasha, looking as harmless as a toy poodle (if perhaps a bit dirtier and less curly), was tucked between a steel column and the pane of glass of the cafeteria’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Where we might box her in. 

In theory.
“You stand on that side," he said, "I’ll stand on this one. When she runs, we grab her.” 
“I’ll get the leash.” I didn’t dare get my hopes up.
“I’ll check if there’s any leftover sausage,” Cor said, dashing back inside.
Claudio threw his cigarette away and edged into position. He fed her the sausage Cor brought at a distance so she wouldn’t panic. When she was hooked on the sausage pieces, we made our move.
Sasha, probably sensing the greater potential for violence in Claudio's male scent, bolted towards me. She almost made it. She’d sensed right: I was weak, I didn’t want to hurt her, even for her own good. As my fingers closed around her tiny body, as she struggled, I almost let go. 

Almost. 
Her panic was immediate, and loud. She screamed. I’d never heard a dog scream. She twisted and clawed, snarled and bit, sprayed urine everywhere (including over us), all the time screaming, and all the time, as much as every instinct protested against the cruelty I was inflicting, I didn’t let go. I kept shifting my hands, grabbing wherever I could and away from her sharp little teeth. Inevitably in this game of hot potato, one of those sharpies caught the meaty part between my thumb and index finger.  I didn’t feel pain, but I saw the white fur on her muzzle and neck turn red. 
People were coming out; it was the hour when parents picked up their kids, when the childless ran errands, or the finicky eaters opted for a dash to the nearest takeout. 

All of them stood watching.
Sasha, just after I brought her home.
She refused to let us close enough
to take the leash off, so she kept it for a couple
of days (you can see the frayed end where
 she tried to chew it off). 
“Keep walking, people. Please, keep walking.”  Claudio’s voice came from somewhere above my head, but all I saw, and barely registered, were feet. 
Claudio pulled the leash from around my neck.
“Careful,” I panted.  
He looped it around her jaw, her teeth snapping. He’d never get it over her head. Suddenly it was around her neck. Before I had time to relax, she bucked harder than ever, her voice a high-pitched keening that made us all cringe.
“What’s wrong with her?” Some ignorant soul asked in a bored voice. 
“She’s scared,” Cor answered. I snuck a glance at him, caught the concern in his eyes. “Dushi,” he said, “you’re bleeding.” One of Sasha’s front paw was slick with my blood.

"Doesn't matter. Here. Take my car keys."
The little dog lay panting, eyes wide with terror, legs clenched stiff. I ran my hand over her dirty fur, murmuring what I hoped were overtures of peace, while Cor backed my Ford Escape onto the terrace and opened the back glass hatch.
“How are you going to get her in the car?” he asked.
Claudio looked at me. “You’re going to have to drag her.” 
But I was done torturing this terrified baby. “No. I'll carry her.”
“She’ll bite your face.”
I slid a hand to her chest and hefted her. Except for the mad heaving of her little chest, she might've been a stuffed trophy. I held her close--forgive me, forgive me--and deposited her in the back of the car. "Cor, will you tell Iris I'm taking off the rest of the afternoon?"
And so began Sasha's journey home.

Sasha, chilling in the living room
on a Sunday morning.
Some three weeks later,
her forever family took her home.
Sometimes happy endings are warranted.


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