Last week, the day after Christmas, I was relaxing at home with my family when I heard my wife call my name. She was standing at our front door, urgently gesturing me to hurry over to her. I hustled over and looked out at the street below. My house is set up on a hill on a busy street in Bloomfield, NJ, where cars zoom past at speeds well over the 25 MPH speed limit. On this day, however, no one was going very fast due to the accumulating snowfall and medium-sized dog walking in the middle of the road.
I quickly threw on my coat, grabbed a slip leash, and headed out into the late afternoon snow. The dog was literally walking in the middle of the street followed by some impatient drivers and a few people on foot who were trying to coax it out of the road. As a few of the Good Samaritans drew near, the dog broke into a light jog and veered off the road and onto the sidewalk.
As I approached I could see that the dog was a light brown, female, chow mix with a little stump for a tail, and a rather confused look on her face. I wasn’t sure if it was in shock or just a little disoriented, and although it showed no signs of fear or anxiety it was a bit wary of the humans closing in.
One woman tried to coax it over with some dog biscuits, while another person knelt down and tried to verbally lure the dog in. Both approaches didn’t work and the dog turned and jogged into the back of one of the homes lining the street.
The wind picked up and the snow began to fall at a more rapid rate, and as I reached the back of the yard I realized it was just myself and one other guy left in the chase. I felt the dog was unsure but not in any way aggressive or fearful, and that I just needed to gain her trust slowly.
Behind the homes there was a small wooded area, containing a small brook. The snow covered dog ran into the tree line and moved along the water’s edge for about 20 feet, then stopped and looked back at us. I turned my back to her and started walking backwards toward her. The other guy with me saw this and asked if I had done this before. I explained that I was a dog trainer and that I was trying to make the dog as comfortable with my presence as possible.
I don’t know if it was his confidence in my ability or the cold of the wind, but the next time I looked up he was gone, leaving me alone with the dog. I knew this was actually a good thing because too many people would only frighten this timid girl off.
She went deeper into woods and I slowly followed. After a time, she came to a section of fallen trees that left her kind of trapped in a dead end. The only way out besides coming back toward me, was a small path that lead back to the houses on my street. I carefully crept forward inch by inch. When I got about 10 feet from her, she started to walk reluctantly toward me. It seemed like she was going to risk going past me to gain her freedom. I got my leash ready, knowing I may only get once chance at catching her.
When she got within arms reach, I spoke to her softly and gently tried to place the loop of my slip leash over her head. I couldn’t get it around her neck and she bolted backward. That’s when she noticed the path leading back up to the houses and went for it.
My heart sank, thinking that I just blew my one and only chance to catch her. She ran up the narrow path and I followed, refusing to give up. She reached another house and started walking around one side. I sprinted around the other side of the house hoping to cut her off before she reached the street again. It worked and I came around the corner just as she reached the two cars parked in the driveway.
We played a little game of cat and mouse around the cars, trying to out maneuver each other, but at last she hesitated a little too long and I was able to slide the leash around her neck. The feeling of relief and triumph was overwhelming.
I arrived back at my house with my reluctant companion 45 min. after I had set out. During that time another inch or two of snow had hit the ground, and the darkening sky showed little signs of slowing. I called animal control, knowing that the odds of getting anyone out here in this weather was slim, but to my surprise, he arrived at my house in fifteen minutes. When I thanked Dan, the animal control officer, for coming out in such bad weather, he simply said, “no problem, that’s what I do,” and his smile revealed just how much he really cared for the animals under his care.
That night, a blizzard covered Northern New Jersey, blanketing the landscape with two feet of snow and gusty winds. I don’t think there is any way a stray, disoriented dog would have survived the night in those elements, unprotected.
Later that night as I was cozily lying in my bed, and the little stray dog was warming up at the Bloomfield Animals shelter, I thought about what had just happened. That little dog spent who knows how long out on the streets trying to elude capture, and when she was finally leashed up by this strange human and taken into captivity, it must have seemed like such bad luck to her. She had failed – I captured and incarcerated her against her will – certainly a horrible event. However, when you consider the winter blizzard that would have probably killed her, had she remained outside, and that her human family came the very next day to take her back home, getting leashed and locked up was the best thing that ever happened to her.
So, no matter what negative things happen to you this New Year, remember that given some perspective, you may feel very differently about the situation. Storms always pass, winter always ends, and what seems like disaster can sometimes be your saving grace. Happy New Year.