Opinion

Rescuing Raven, the Black Lab

He cowered by the side of the road, tail between his legs. Sitting, then standing, then sitting, unsure, hesitating, he looked as if he was going to attempt crossing the single lanes running North and South on Route 22. Delivery trucks, cars speeding over 55, busses headed for casinos, and occasionally an 18-wheeler rumbled past. The din, deafening, and huge vehicles grinding, stirring up dust, must have increased his fear as he crouched on the Northbound shoulder. I was driving South.

As soon as I spotted him, I pulled over, as did one or two other cars who paused, but then sped up. When the road cleared, I circled back and pulled alongside the dog.

I'm not accustomed to big dogs. I'm used to cats. I had dogs growing up, but it's been a while since I've handled one as large as this - a black lab pup (less than a year old) with a dirty green collar. I was a little afraid not knowing how this dog would react to me. But when he saw me pull up, his eyes, full of desperation, met mine, and when I got out of the driver’s side door, the frightened animal lunged towards me, tail folded under; he jumped up on me, a greeting akin with “thank God you’re here.”

He wrapped his huge paws around my shoulders, entreating “help me, help me!” I felt his immense muscles shivering as his nearly fifty pounds almost knocked me over. Thin for a lab his age, this guy was just one big lost kid! “What happened to you, poor fellow?” It took a few minutes to calm him down, stroking him, reassuring him, his jumpiness combining fear with the excess energy of his youth. I held his collar steady, and found two local numbers listed below his name, Raven.

Raven didn't pull to get away; he seemed to have every intention of staying by my side.
But the more I tried to read the numbers on his tag, the more he kept pushing against me, licking my face. Managing Raven’s energy took a lot of mine, holding him quietly enough to identify the phone numbers. When I called, the first number rang multiple times, and all I got was an answering machine that had no more room for messages. The second number I called, was answered by a high-pitched youthful voice with a snotty tone, “I don’t have a dog,” she said before she hung up. I called both numbers again, and got the same responses. The second time the high-pitched voice sounded really irritated that I had the nerve to bother her again.

So, I called the police.

“The numbers on the collar don't yield any information,” I said to the officer.
“That's not unusual,” he replied, “very often the numbers don't coincide or they’re printed incorrectly.”

I decided to get Raven into the backseat of my Subaru. He wasn't quite sure what to do. The first half of him jumped up willingly onto the seat, but the second half needed a boost to get in. As I spoke with the officer, Raven had a grand time, puppy-style, tearing up my cloth shopping bags and a bunch of cotton face masks that then littered the back seat. But he was distracted, and I didn't care; those were replaceable; his life wasn't.

I agreed with the officer to take Raven to the local vet about a mile up the road. This vet works with the police to rescue and find homes for dogs in need.

Just as I entered the vet’s parking lot, my phone rang and I recognized the number as one of the numbers from his collar. And the person at the other end of the phone, with a voice similar to the high-pitched voice I’d already heard, yelled,

“Where's my dog! Bring my dog back! What are you doing with my dog?” There was something very strange about the whole scene. I heard the nasty in her voice. I yelled back at her.

“You have some nerve letting your dog loose.”

“My sister let him out.”

“I don’t care who you blame. This poor animal could have gotten hit by a car. The police have your number; you work it out with them. You don’t deserve to have a dog.” She hung up.

The officer informed me that animals rescued from a situation of neglect or abandonment are not automatically returned to the owner. There is a process to ascertain that the home is safe enough to return the dog to.

I drove away, relieved that I had left Raven in protective hands, and perplexed at how some people mistreat the animals in their lives. Why have a dog, if you're not going to consider him a member of the family, to be cherished? If you're an animal person like me, I’m sure you wonder the same thing.

I’ve since passed the spot on Route 22 where I first encountered Raven the black lab, shivering and vulnerable, on the gravel shoulder, 18-wheelers and SUVs roaring past him, inches away. I’d like to believe that Raven’s ordeal - though probably not his first - was his last, and that he’d found a more stable forever home where he would thrive.

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