Frank was a red dachshund I met one morning when a man I know brought him to the shelter, tucked under his arm. The dog had no collar and no identification. The man was Chester, a local college administrator.
“Hello, Chester. What can I do for you?”
He looked startled when he recognized me and stammered, “Oh….I forgot you worked here. Uh, I need to get rid of this dog.”
“Is he your dog, Chester?”
“No, he’s just been around my house for a while.”
I took the wriggling dog from him and carried him to one of our open pens, leaving Chester to fill out the release form. When I returned, I saw that he had left parts of the form blank. One of the questions he hadn’t answered was “Has this animal bitten or scratched anyone in the last ten days?”
I asked him about this and he said, “Yeah, that’s why I need to get rid of this dog.”
“Who did the dog bite, Chester?”
“He bit my daughter who was running in the yard.” He added that it was a small bite and not serious so he hadn’t taken his daughter to the doctor.
Whether serious or not, any bite or scratch that breaks the skin of someone means shelters have to comply with Texas state laws and quarantine the dog. After more paperwork we would have to move the dog out of a stray pen into a quarantine pen, to be watched for ten days from the date of the bite.
I asked when the injury occurred and filled in the information, telling Chester to check with us on the date the quarantine was up. If the animal got sick before that, we would contact him. Almost as an afterthought I asked him if he wanted to adopt the dog if no one claimed him.
The answer was a very emphatic, “No, absolutely not!” He left and I finished the paperwork.
About mid-afternoon, I was called to the phone. It was Chester. He was agitated and blurted out, “You’ve got to help me. My wife can’t find out I took that dog to the animal shelter. She would KILL me. Is there any way you could tell her it was picked up by Animal Control?”
Hearing his desperation, I agreed that if his wife called, I would tell her the dog was brought in as a stray by someone who found him in the vicinity of Chester’s address. It seemed harmless fudging at the time and I thought it wouldn’t matter if I helped him out. It was, after all, a shelter policy not to reveal names.
What I didn’t know was why Chester was so desperate to keep his role secret.
Not long after that conversation, his wife Bea called. Having met her several times, I knew she was a large, powerful, formidable person. In contrast, Chester was rather small, artistic and mild in nature.
Bea spoke forcefully, “I want to know if you have picked up a small red dachshund today.”
I told her yes, that one had been brought in. She asked who brought it in and I told her we don’t release that information. I also vaguely described a location close to her neighborhood where the “mystery person” had found the dog. She thanked me and said she would come down to see the dog.
It wasn’t long until she arrived. I took her back to the kennel area to look at the dog and she said, “Yes, that’s my dog.” I told her she would have to fill out the redemption form and pay the usual fees to redeem the dog.
As she was filling out the form, the Animal Control Supervisor Annie passed through the office and overheard the conversation. She looked at me and said in a low voice, “Is that the dachshund in quarantine?”
Oh lord, I hadn’t remembered to tell Bea that the dog couldn’t be redeemed until the quarantine period was up. Bea, overhearing Annie, looked up from the paper and said, “Quarantine? For what?”
I sheepishly said it was for biting a child, but omitted saying it was HER child. I nervously babbled that since we didn’t know if the dog had its rabies inoculation, it had to be kept in quarantine.
Bea looked puzzled. “But Frank’s had his rabies shot.”
Hmm. So the stray dachshund had a name. “Uh, when did Frank have his rabies shot?”
Okay….now I’m officially flummoxed. “How long have you had ‘Frank,’ Bea?”
Oh jeez. Trapped in a vise of falsehoods. Now I knew why Chester had been so desperate.
Bea cocked her head. “Just who did Frank bite?”
I couldn’t tell her it was her own daughter and her husband who reported it, so I said, “A child at the video store, but it wasn’t a serious bite.” Hoist on my own petard, twisting at the end of my own rope.
Scrambling, I dialed her vet, took a deep breath and tried to regain my footing. Sure enough, Frank had been faithfully given his annual shots for six years. I excused myself briefly to speak to Annie in the back of the shelter and explain the “non-quarantine” situation. Gratefully, she understood. Clearly, there was never a bite at all. It had been part of Chester’s story, his rationale for getting rid of Frank. I could almost picture him thinking up what he was going to say to the staff on his way to the shelter to blamelessly accomplish his dumping of Frank.
As much as Chester deserved to pay for his deceit, I couldn’t back out now. I had entered into the conspiracy and would not be able to convincingly explain my own participation. I returned to the front and finished Bea’s redemption process. When I brought Frank out to her, she said, “Where’s his collar? It had all his tags on it.” I answered truthfully that he had no collar when he got to the Shelter. She left unhappy, huffing out of the building with Frank shoved under one arm like a purse, his wagging whip of a tail punctuating her exit.
The next morning, I called the college and asked to speak to Chester. When he answered, he said, “Oh my lord. I never thought anyone would know I had taken Frank to the shelter. I forgot you were there. I don’t know what I’ll do if Bea finds out. I just HATE that dog. I’ve always hated that dog, and he hates me. He sits on the bed and growls at me whenever I try to get in to sleep. Sometimes he bites me. I’m the only one he bites. I really hoped I could get rid of him. I thought no one would know.”
Taking a breath, he continued, “I had to teach classes out of town until late last night and when I got home, the family had already gone to bed. I tiptoed into the dark bedroom in my pajamas and the first thing I heard was growling. It scared me so bad I almost had a heart attack. Bea was already asleep, but I just KNEW she had found out what I did and would wake up and KILL ME. I didn’t sleep at all. Thank you for not telling her.”
Laughing, I asked, “Chester, what did you do with Frank’s collar?”
He paused then quietly said, “It’s here in my desk drawer.”
“Chester, you better do something with the evidence.”
(Note: all names have been changed in this story.)
Great story, whitherward. Your descriptions pull me in and your language is rich, decisive and to the point. Thank you for sharing your life experience and stories with compassion and intellect. A beautiful blend.