One month ago, to the day.
The heat radiating from streets and buildings in the late afternoon sun. Long shadows and the whisper of a breeze providing some relief, a small dog lay in an unlikely position, in a quiet private road. On approach, he lifted his head, sensing strangers, sighed and rested his head once more. I initially saw the pale bundle as a misplaced jersey or towel, dropped on the return from the beach. As we drew closer, my children could see it was a Jack Russell type of breed, and seemed to be resting, eyes open, unable to move on. With the gentle touch from an unknown human, the animal sighed and tried to respond.
Windows open, but no other people in sight, and a collarless, fragile dog.
Silence broken by a whine from above. Looking up, above the garage doorway, a larger dog stood watching from the glazed screen. He seemed somehow invested in the scene below. The sole witness, unable to speak. My ears ringing, understanding this as an emergency but unsure how to respond, who to call and where to go for out of hours veterinary support. Could I just drive off with someone else’s dog? Might I be accused of causing the injury? Whose dog is this anyway?
We tried knocking on doors, without success. Doors unlocked, yet nobody home. A couple on the balcony looking on, clucked sympathetically. The tenants living in the quiet house, which loomed three stories over us, had only been there a few days. This was quite possibly their dog, but nobody knew how to contact them. I stepped backwards to gaze at the third storey railing. An open bedroom door. A curtain billowing gently. Had the animal squeezed through the balustrades and fallen?
A car approached cautiously, our family crowded around the bundle on the road. I recognised a neighbour, the property manager for some rental units and enquired whether she recognised the dog. Some frantic searching for contact details, with phones going unanswered. Living so close to the ocean on a hot summer’s evening, anyone could be anywhere now, and who needs a cellphone in paradise? I called a Good Samaritan neighbour, the kind of mother hen who rescues any living creature with unconditional love. She was choked, on the phone, telling me her cat had been found dead in the main road, only that morning but arrived immediately to help, with her daughter, in tow. This child instinctively wrapped the dog in a blanket and cradled him, while a small crowd began to gather.
Friends consulting expert friends. Guidance on where to take the dog now. Was this a hit and run? Was it a fall? Or, as one reptile expert suggested, was this dog bitten by a venomous snake?
Personalities exaggerated under tension, I observe my family stepping further into the shade as louder voices take charge of the situation. We err on the side of pragmatic realism, and lean into the theory of ‘dog falls from ten metres’ over ‘hit and run maniac’ or ‘snake bite’. The dog is barely breathing, eyes misting. Hope seems misguided, yet over the phone, a veterinary expert advises bringing him in for an immediate IV drip.
I remain on the spot, unable to help, unable to move. My children are passively transfixed, feeling it would be insensitive to walk away and equally useless to add anything. We are just concerned neighbours, caught up in a brief chapter of a longer story. Our family were only heading out for a walk, at low tide, with a full moon rising. Our energy and enthusiasm drained away with the shallow breath of the dog. Another car pulled up at speed, parked skew, and the female driver lurched out, falling to her knees. I wanted to look away, step back, give her space. Other neighbours crowded in, murmering: “I can drive you to the vet”, “how old is he?” and “I think he’s on his way already, I am so sorry”. The dog lay limp. Somebody gently eased his eyelids closed. The lady gathered her small bundle and rocked, sobbing. A life passed. My children looked pale, and I could see them processing her grief, imagining how it would be to lose a loved one so suddenly. We recently adopted a rescue cat and already see how strong the bond is between animal and child.
The small gathering of neighbours enveloped the new resident, gently touching a shoulder, offering sweet tea. The evening air hung heavy with platitudes. A kindness of strangers who know they will now be bound together in other ways, as a community. A single tragic event, yet life continues in banal predictability, layers of interaction, daily greetings and neighbourly irritations.
I feel a gnawing sense of shame at my own dispassionate response, conflicted as to what more I could do in a crisis. Would I be any more capable in a different scenario, or am I always the quiet observer? Is my need to be involved a kind of virtue signalling? Is my presence, and willing, ever enough?
As the darkness creeps in, people make their way back to their homes. We decide to still walk in the moonlight. I have nothing to say; we stroll in silence, barefoot on damp sand. Waves gently ripple repetitively calming my thoughts. Lights twinkle across the bay and behind us the full moon rises. Tears release, for the dog, for the owner, for my children witnessing the scene, for the loss of past and future loved pets, for the cycle of life and death. It is beautifully painful, to love deeply. Only in death are we released to embrace the quiet within.