Three days into spring, just as the mounds of dirty snow had melted into tiny rivers that forked through the hollows of our Michigan woods like country interstates, we found a dog.
Our neighbors, who own the blueberry farm and acreage that backs our woods, actually found it, calling us early that evening, just after daylight savings time, when the sun was still perched high in the sky. “We just found a dog lying in our compost pile. Think it’s dead.” Gary trudged over with a leash and a towel, green waders up to his knees, and a load of optimism. Gary is an optimist. One of those dirty, stinking, the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow optimists. And, despite my tone, I love him for that. He is the anti-me.
Ten minutes later he was back, leading the wobbly dog, which still had part of a rotting cabbage head in its mouth. The dog was a dirty, dingy, pee yellow, and there were burrs and cuts and dried blood strewn throughout its fur. Its nails were so long, they had curled and bent and grown into his pads, which were infected and raw. His eyes were matted shut. And the dog’s ribs were showing — it was dust bunnies on bones, really — its midsection so thin, I could nearly encircle it with both my hands.
I wanted to cry, and puke, and scream, and immediately put it out of its misery. I wanted to strangle those who had done this, who could do this. But instead I said to Gary, “You’d kill for a waistline like that,” because that’s what he needed to hear at that moment, especially since he looked just like a kid who, for the first time, was seeing the grim reality of the world, of the woods. Gary smiled through his tears.
Gary and I are country kids who moved to the city and then returned to our rural roots. We had grown accustomed to sprawling suburban yards and well-groomed purebreds with vanity collars who drank out of Pottery Barn ceramic dog bowls decorated with bones.
This dog was barely breathing. Gasping for air. Its teeth were chattering.
As it lay on its side we held some water to its face, and it smelled for it, its broad snout knocking the bowl from our hands. Its jaw released the cabbage head and its teet
h began to chatter even more violently.
“Aren’t you thirsty, boy?” I asked in a sing-song voice, my teeth chattering, too. “Aren’t you thirsty, big guy?”
With every ounce of strength it seemed to possess, the dog willed its matted eyes open and looked up at me. He was blind.
And then the dog licked my hand, rested his head on Gary’s lap, and seemed to stare directly into my eyes. He could see nothing, it seemed, but straight into my heart. I named the dog Wonder, for many reasons. Most obviously, it was a wonder he had survived, managed to make his way through the woods, in the dark, dying, for God knows how long. And he was blind, like one of our favorite singers, Stevie Wonder, whom I had, ironically, been listening to on my iPod when our neighbors called:
“Everybody needs somebody. Everybody needs somebody — I need you.”
Those were the lyrics to “Everybody Needs Somebody” that Stevie was singing when I saw Gary trudging back through the woods with this dying dog.
Never name a pet you don’t intend to keep. That’s the first mistake. It bonds you to it emotionally, in a way that seems forever. But I couldn’t help it.