I woke up at 2:37am to the sound of paws padding the carpet. Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I slowly propped myself up on my elbows and the down comforter slipped down from my chest. The cool night air brought goosebumps to my skin. I squinted to make out where the sound was coming from and heard more padding paws, then panting and a scratch at the door.
My eyes adjusted to the black night and I could make out Amelia’s silhouette: her floppy ears perked, brown eyes wide, tongue out. Her spine sloped down towards her hips. The arthritis must have been bothering her.
“You gotta go out girl?” I asked softly, so as not to wake up Zach, whose warm body was curled against me.
I lifted myself up out of bed. Amelia nudged my hand with her wet nose as I clumsily fiddled with the doorknob. She followed me to the front door and slipped through as soon as I cracked it open. I crossed my arms across my chest and we both stood on the front porch in the still night for a few moments, taking in the damp spring air.
Amelia descended the three steps to our porch and limped off into the yard. I couldn’t see her but I knew where she was headed. The old girl had only been with us for a week but she had already developed some habits. Every time she went out, she would descend the stairs, turn to the right, and slowly sniff her way around the edge of our lawn, which wrapped around the house. She’d pass behind our stockpile of firewood in the backyard and then climb up the driveway back to the front of the house before coming back in.
This night, she took her time and I didn’t rush her, instead choosing to appreciate the stars peeking out from between clouds, the sound of the Pacific Treefrogs chirping in the woods, being outside in the middle of the night without having to worry about leery neighbors or shadowy strangers. By now, Amelia was somewhere behind the house, about halfway through her loop. I breathed softly, ran my toes over the worn grain of the wooden deck, and listened for the sound of her paws on the gravel driveway.
Eventually she emerged from behind Zach’s car. I could see the white moonlight shining on her yellow fur. What contrast from when we found her last sunday, dirty and brown. Her paws were almost black from dirt, and the fur on her legs and belly was matted down with grit. The fur on her back was wet and clinging to her bony skeleton, where every rib and vertebrae was visible. She had wads of pricker seeds tangled in her fur. Her teeth, we saw when she panted, were ground down to flat nubs from chewing rocks.
Despite her sorry physical state, we could tell right away that she had once been someone’s pet. When I first locked eyes with her, I was running around Cain Lake and she was trotting towards me, in the opposite direction. She ran right up to me, buried her face between my knees, and allowed me to pet her. When I began to run again, she tagged along. I figured she belonged to a family that lived on the lake, but as we passed each house, she’d take a few steps down the driveway then turn around and catch up to me.
As we neared the end of the road — a turnaround at the end of the road that leads to a small stream — I took a closer look at her. I noticed how dirty and skinny she was and how she had started to limp badly, favoring her hind legs. When we got to the stream, she climbed down the bank and sat in it, gazing at me with hesitation in her eyes. When I turned around to jog home, she tried to follow me, but her back legs collapsed. She was stuck in the stream, unable to climb the short bank up to the road.
I got a bad feeling in my gut that this dog had either been lost for a long time or was abandoned. I called Zach and told him I’d found a stray and was worried about her. He picked us up a few minutes later, scooping up the dog and gently laying her in the trunk of his Jeep. We drove around the neighborhood for half an hour or so, asking folks if they recognized the dog or knew anyone nearby missing their pet. We got blank stares and shaking heads, so we took her home.
I gave her a bath out by the pump house, spraying her down with the hose and gently massaging baby shampoo into her scraggly fur. She shivered violently when I rinsed her off and I saw how emaciated she truly was. When I was done, she and I laid in the grass together drying off. Once her fur was dry, she looked like a new dog: one much younger than we’d originally thought, with a thick healthy coat and bright kind eyes.
I put up “Found Dog” posts on Craigslist and Facebook early that week, but each time she came up and nuzzled me I felt more and more sure that this was our dog now. Whoever left her in this condition didn’t deserve to have such a sweet, loyal friend.
So, when she returned to me on the porch at three in the morning after a midnight potty break, I felt grateful that she wandered into our life. Under different circumstances, I may have felt frustrated that I had to let her out at two in the morning, annoyed with the disturbance to my fragile and precious sleep. Yet, as she attempted to climb the 3 steps up to the front door and collapsed, my heart swelled with love. I kissed her on her head as I scooped her up and carried her back to bed.