Last year in September we vowed: “no more kids.” No matter what. We simply do not have the space, or the time, to devote to the four we already have. True, they’re all adopted, and at least three were originally intended as foster children, a temporary situation that sidled into permanence without us really noticing. But we love them intensely; even Cor, who believed for years he was allergic to them (until Panchita arrived to prove him wrong). I’m amazed at the wonderful dad he’s become. I never thought he had it in him to wake up in the middle of the night for them, or cut a party short because it was feeding time, or retell their escapades like a proud father. Amazing, truly.
So yes, we decided no more. So what, I keep asking myself today, is that little white furball, all teeth and growls and terror-stricken eyes, doing in the corner of my porch?
It began like it always does, a homeless urchin arriving, by sheer luck or word of mouth, we’ll never know, to the parking lot of the office building where I work. But whereas Panchita, the first one, was allowed to stay for months before the threat of the pound became imminent, each subsequent time the grace period has narrowed further. This time it was a mere four weeks, and Sasha, as her (hopefully) soon-to-be-mom baptized her, was nowhere near ready to get close to a human being. But we had no choice; the alternative was something none of us wanted to think about.
I tried to get close to her, tried to convince her, the way I’ve done with all of them, that I’m a different human, that my hands don’t hurt, that I can provide safety and love. But Sasha was having none of it. Last Monday, with the pound arriving at any moment, I resorted to drugs. I bought a dose of tranquilizer pills at the vet and dug one into an irresistible piece of liverwurst, which was, predictably, wolfed down in a single gulp. An hour later she was woozy and unsteady, and I thought, “piece of cake.” But Sasha, in spite of her tiny size, found previously untapped sources of strength and ran. I chased her around the building three times, more embarrassed each time I went by the windows where the workaholics that populate the building must have been watching, amused and bewildered at the madwoman of wild windblown curls pacing around the building with a leash around her neck. But I wouldn’t give up; if I didn’t get her then, she’d never let me close again. But I had to, eventually, because as night fell, Sasha eventually found a hiding place I couldn’t discover. I packed up my liverwurst and my leash and my cigarettes, and called it a day.
But yesterday was different.
“If I grab her for you now, what will you do?” Claudio’s expression always has a tinge of fun in it, a bit of well-intentioned mockery. It’s hard to tell when he’s serious.
“Take her home.”
Sasha, looking as harmless as a toy poodle (if perhaps a bit dirtier and less curly), was tucked between a steel column and the pane of glass of the cafeteria’s floor-to-ceiling windows. We could box her in, in theory.
“Ok. You stand on that side, I’ll stand on this one,” he said, throwing his cigarette away and moving slowly into position.
“I’ll get the leash.” I ran to the car; maybe we’d get lucky, but I didn’t dare get my hopes up.
“I’ll check if there’s any leftover sausage,” Cor said, dashing inside.
Claudio fed her the sausage, at a distance so she wouldn’t panic. If he tried to get too close, she made as if to bolt, so he backed off quickly. When she was hooked on the sausage pieces, we made our move in unison.
Sasha, sensing the greater potential for violence in his male scent, bolted towards me, and she almost made it. For an instant I thought she’d sensed right: I was weak, I didn’t want to hurt her, even for her own good, and as my fingers closed around her tiny body and she struggled, I almost let go. Almost. But I didn’t.
Her panic was immediate, and loud. She screamed, literally; I’d never heard a dog scream. She twisted and pawed frantically, snarled and bit, peed all over us and the tile floor, all the time screaming, and all the time, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t let go. I kept shifting my hands around her, grabbing hold wherever I could and staying away from her snapping sharp little teeth, but one caught in the meaty part of my palm, between my thumb and index finger. I didn’t feel pain, but I saw her white fur tinted red. Hand wounds are always so scandalous.
People were coming out; it was the hour when moms went to pick up their kids, when the childless ran errands, or the finicky eaters, having rejected the cafeteria menu, opted for a quick dash to the nearest takeout.
“Keep walking, people. Please, keep walking.” Claudio’s voice said somewhere above me, but all I saw were feet passing by; I was bent from the waist, all my concentration directed at not letting go, at not hurting this terrified little being, but not letting go.
Claudio bent closer and pulled the leash from around my neck.
“Careful,” I panted.
He fit the looped end around her jaw, just barely avoiding her teeth. I thought he’d never get it past her head, but suddenly it was around her neck. Before I could relax, she bucked harder than ever, her voice a high-pitched keening that made us all cringe.
“What’s wrong with her?” Some ignorant soul asked in a bored voice. I rolled my eyes; God, I hate ignorance.
“She’s scared,” Cor said, his voice barely tremulous. I snuck a glance at him and caught the concern in the way his eyes were tight.
“Dushi,” he said, “you’re bleeding.” Sasha’s front paw was slick with my blood.
Finally she surrendered. She lay panting, eyes wide with terror, feet clenched immobile. I ran my hand over her dirty fur, murmuring what I hoped were sounds of peace.
Cor backed my Ford Escape into the terrace and opened the back glass hatch.
“How are you going to get her inside?” He asked.
“You’re going to have to drag her,” Claudio said.
“No,” I shook my head. “I can carry her.”
“She’s going to bite you, bite your face.”
But I slid a hand to her chest and hefted her. Sasha didn’t even flinch.