The tag read, “I am the Hamptons kids dog. I am old. Please bring me home.”
This morning I went to the local
Market on Hwy 27 for lunch. I like to read a newspaper while I eat. For some
reason I read not only the newspaper I bought, but the one left on the table.
Then bought another and read it cover to cover as well. Practicing work
avoidance, I thought. Well, it’s Saturday, why not?
As I headed out the door, the kid clerk said, “That’s the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen.”
I shouldn’t have been there but three newspapers later I still was, and I thought, No, he’s not ugly, he’s just shedding great gobs of black hair. The gobs were hanging off him as he walked purposefully down the edge of the highway in the blazing sun at nearly 1 pm. And I thought, He’s wearing tags. I could see them all the way across the parking lot. Tags dangling and swaying as he walked with a purpose down the scorching asphalt.
I got in my truck and decided he was going home and he’d be fine. I remember thinking that, even said it out loud. I do not need to pick up a stray dog walking so purposefully, I have plenty to take care of, that’s why I was practicing work avoidance 30 minutes after I usually left the market. It’s been a long week. He lifted a leg to mark a highway sign post, didn’t lift the leg all that high, kept trudging down the road as I watched him.
Wouldn’t hurt to check the tags, would it, then I could make sure he was trudging in the right direction at least.
I got ahead of him and waited, sitting on my tailgate in the blazing sun and rolled liver treats towards him. Good boy, I said. He looked at them warily and kept plodding and panting. Around me and around my truck and kept going. He knew where he was going.
I got ahead of him and poured water into a cup and set it in his path then backed up and waited. Good boy, I said. Be a good boy, have a drink. He stood there, shifting his weight from rear leg to rear leg and eyed the cup warily, eyed me warily, and walked around the cup, me, and my truck. Still panting heavily as the sun hammered us both.
If he hadn’t been panting so much I might have given up on him at this point. Probably.
But I got ahead of him and wiggled my fingers in the cup, making a splashing noise, Good Boy, I entreated, and he sat — eased down gently into the gravel beside the asphalt — and looked at the cup warily. I set it down and backed up, saying, Good boy. He came up to the cup and drank it dry while I sing-songed and told him what a brave, good boy he was. Then he walked around me and around my truck — into the lane where a car was coming — so I stepped into the lane and waved the car towards the other lane, and the car slid over, thankfully, because I don’t want my mother getting that phone call — Sorry, ma’am, yes, it was about a dog — and the dog kept walking down the edge of the scorching highway.
I got ahead of him and this time left my truck door open, set more water down in a cup and repeated our little conversation about what a good boy he was and how handsome I bet he would be with a groom and how cool the water would taste in the heat of the early afternoon, and he walked passed it this time, walked around me, around the open truck door… and sat in front of my truck in the shade. I walked slowly around the front of my truck and he was sitting there staring at me, panting heavily. Big brown eyes staring at me.
I am a sucker for big brown eyes. I stopped going to shelters years ago because of big brown eyes — the 4mo Golden puppy, the 2yo Pyr dog, the Manchester terrier bitch, all on the short list, all who came home with me instead. The list kept growing and growing until I stopped going to shelters looking at sled dogs. I am a rescuer of sled dogs. I am a lover of sled dogs. Dogs that pull sleds. Not wary black dogs with gobs of mats hanging off them.
And big brown eyes staring at me as I crouched down. And he panted and looked at me, sitting in the shade of the front of my little truck. And I crept towards him, put out a hand — I’m gonna get bit, Rabies shots are painful, he could have some disease — and big brown eyes looked at me and I stroked his head.
He sighed and looked at me with those big brown eyes that were still wary but maybe not quite as much. What a sweetheart you are. Can I see your tag? Please?
That’s when I read, “I am the Hamptons kids dog. I am old. Please bring me home.”
Sitting in the blazing sun I feel chilled, I think I know who the Hamptons are.
Mr. Hampton has made the newspapers because two weeks ago today he was lead out of his house in handcuffs on suspicion of shooting Mrs. Hampton in the head and major league drug distribution. Swat teams, ATF, lots of commotion Saturday two weeks ago. Really tough break for their 3 kids, ages 3 years and younger. Times Free Press.
And truthfully I didn’t think much about it since then. Glanced over the follow-up story in today’s third paper where he was arraigned in US District Court in Chattanooga. No one has mentioned a dog.
And sitting there with the Hampton’s kids dog, I remember something else. The day after the incident at the Hampton’s house, the owner of the market told me how Mrs Hampton had been the previous night and was excited because they were moving on Saturday, the Saturday she would be shot in the head and her husband would be taken from the house in handcuffs. What a thing to remember about a woman. Petting her kids’ dog in the sparse shade under the front of my truck on an infernally hot day the first day of September, what I can’t remember is her name.
“I am the Hamptons kids
dog” the tag says. And I can’t leave him here on the street. I know there
is no one home anymore. Even if he doesn’t know, I do. He’s headed towards the
house right down the highway and then take a right, go half a mile and there
would be the empty house but there will be no one home when he gets there.
So, I petted him some more, stroked his head, and smiled into his big brown eyes. The matting is only really on the back half of him. The front half isn’t so bad. He’s got 3 ticks on his face that I take off and toss into the roadside grass. His wide strong head and silky black coat remind me of an English Shepherd we had when I was a kid, wonderful dog that one, looked a lot like this old gentleman. He licks my hand.
Oh, that tears it. I eased off, kept talking to him, and grabbed a slip lead from my truck — I always carry water and leashes, who doesn’t? — and he was waiting for me in the shade on the burning asphalt under my truck. I eased the leash over his head and he just looked at me, resigned, it seemed. He walked with me to the back of my truck and I opened the tailgate. He wagged his tail and looked at me as if to say, You don’t expect me to jump, do you? So I gave him a boost and he went right into the crate that’s always in the back of my truck. And I checked the tag one more time and closed the door.
I parked in the shade at home and got on the phone. No one answers that number. It rings off the hook. If it is the Hamptons the answering machine may be gone, the phone may be gone, I don’t know who has their stuff. Their stuff or their kids who belong to this dog.
Called a friend of mine, also a rescuer, also an attorney ad litem who represents the interests of kids in court, especially kids in foster care. She gives me some tips. She warns me that it is a Saturday on the Holiday weekend.
And of course, she is right and no one is in their office, so I take Mr Brown Eyes some cool water, which he laps up and then thumps his tail against the crate in thanks. I consider some more, looking at him looking at me, and get my keys.
We go to the Hampton’s house and it is as I thought. Empty. Beware of Dog signs, No Trespassing signs are ugly on the pretty wood fence. Beware of dog? This dog? The one standing in his crate and staring at the house and whining? Beware of what exactly?
I stop at a neighbor’s house. “I am looking for the Hampton kids, I think I found their dog.” They don’t know anything, but what a tragedy, and we all stand there a moment and nod our heads in agreement.
I drive passed the Hampton’s house with the garish signs and see another neighbor coming home. I stop behind her as she gets the mail. “I am looking for the Hampton kids, I think I found their dog.” She tells me something I have already figured out, the kids aren’t here any more. I ask her if they were placed somewhere local, if she knows where they went? She gives me a name, Billy, on Macedonia Road.
“Thank-you,” I tell her as the sun beats down. Hope you find them, she says. They lost their mom, their dad, their home, and now their dog, too….
That’s what I’ve been thinking in the back of my head. What if they are now, as I sit here, out frantically looking for their dog. I can picture little kids crying and screaming, inconsolable. I don’t know what they look like, boys or girls, but I imagine little untied shoes and red faces contorted with screams. I will find them. I will. I will get their dog back to them. I will.
I go back to the store to the clerk who originally saw this ugly dog. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” I chastise him. “Do you know who this dogs is?” When I tell him, he is amazed. Then he amazes me. He knows the people who have the kids, on his road, Macedonia, and it’s Bobby, not Billy. He gives me directions. Down the hill, the road swoops to the right. The mailbox is knocked over, lots of horses, and dogs.
And it’s right where he says it is. Just as he described it. And after the knocked-down mailbox, there is the world’s skinniest horse. I am stunned at how skinny he is, every rib showing under his dull, dry coat. Then there are more horses, but these are plump and shiny. And there’s a plump and shiny horse saddled and tied under a tree. I realize the first horse must be a rescue, that’s something I can ascribe to. The rescued horse and the rescued kids, afterall I am a rescuer of sled dogs. I park and the brake lights go on in a minivan. The lights go out and a man steps out. There is furniture piled in trailers all over the yard. Like a household got moved suddenly and know one knew what to do with the pieces of furniture and boxes of precious things that build a home.
“I am looking for the Hampton kids, I think I found their dog.”
He looks deeply saddened. “Is it the Doberman?”
Beware of Dog signs. “No… this one is black, fuzzy, shedding.”
He nods. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that dog. We suddenly have six kids instead of three.” He gestures to the trailers full of someone’s home. The Hampton’s phone is probably in one of those boxes. “I have to clear out everything to make room for three extra kids. And that dog won’t stay put.”
I look at him standing there as he rubs the back of his neck and stares in frustration at the dog in the crate in the back of my truck.
“He’s old,” he says, “I was thinking it might be a kindness to just put him down.”
Dorothy, I suddenly remember, the newspaper called her Dorothy. So Dorothy, Dottie, or Dot, she would have been the one to make that tag, This is the Hamptons kids dog. But this dog was named a long time before these kids were born. Those are not words chosen by someone who would later shoot his wife in the head. This is Dorothy’s dog.
And I hear myself say, “Well, I have dogs, you know, I’m the one with the sled dogs up on the highway.”
He nods, frowning at the dog in the crate in the back of my truck.
I say, “I can take him.”
Billy, or Bobby, looks vastly relieved. “I was just going to have to put him down,” he says it again. “The kids don’t know him. He was an outside dog, they were mostly inside, you know, because they’re young. They really don’t know him.”
I don’t believe that. The tag said, “This is the Hampton’s kids dog. He is old. Please bring him home.”
But I do believe this is a man who has taken on a great deal of responsibility. Three kids to six in one grizzly morning. Furniture piled on trailers in the blazing sun. I believe this man has more than he can shoulder right now.
“Thanks,” he says, and turns his back hurriedly, as if I might change my mind.
“What’s his name?” I call after him.
“Oh, Tubby, tele-tubby, and he’s old, like 13.” He doesn’t look back again.
“What kind of dog is he,” I call after him, he is almost in the door.
“Old.” He nods and goes on into the small house. Where there are six kids instead of three.
Tubby. Who used to be owned by Dorothy Hampton’s kids. He is old. And he can’t go home.
-Sidney Helen Sachs 9/1/07
Rescuer of sled dogs
Update 8/1/08 — Tubby is the only dog on the place who BARKS, and he will stand for hours to let anyone, but especially children, groom him. He gets along with everyone, even the male Malamute stud dogs tolerate him. He and Clay and Jonathan are helping raise Amak & Honey, and while he thinks the whole sledding thing is horse feathers, he absolutely LUVS the water.
Update 9/15/2010 — I hated it, delayed as much as possible, but after consults with Brother Vet, it was time. RIP Tubby, you were a blessing and welcome here. I’ll miss you, old man.