January 14, 2008

Just Like a Person

My kids asked us for a dog again this past Sunday morning. The only objection I have to getting one is that no one will be around to care for the poor thing while we’re out all day. My wife isn’t a big fan of dogs, or cats for that matter; and that is another factor to consider. My family had two dogs when I was growing up, and my dad has a chubby, little beagle. Yet, this morning when my son and daughter pleaded their case for a puppy for the umpteenth time while my wife and I read the Sunday paper together, I remembered another dog I encountered a long time ago.

Back in the summer of 1991, before we had our first child, my wife and I were visiting friends in their new home. It was early Saturday afternoon and we were seated in the living room at the front of their home. Our friends, Debbie and Dave, had a large bay window, which overlooked their front lawn and offered a view of their quiet, suburban street. I was seated on a sofa facing the window, next to me was my wife, and they sat on the couch by the window. We chatted for a while, enjoying our conversation and Debbie asked us to stay and share and early dinner with them.

I was the first person to notice that there was some sort of commotion across the street. A middle-aged woman was screaming, running across the yard of the house directly across the street with a broom in her hand. She came to a tall, wooden gate leading to the backyard, heaved it open, and disappeared from view.

Dave stood up and turned around. The woman’s shrill voice was loud enough to be heard above the air conditioner and my wife and her Debbie heard it too.

Dave and Debbie were still new on the block and hadn’t been introduced to everyone on who lived on the same street as they did yet, but Dave knew the folks across from them.

Something’s going on the Dawson’s house.” He said, and then he looked at Debbie. In a second, all of us were peering through the window and we watched as a man ran into the backyard of the home where the woman fled, and then more neighbors, apparently husbands and wives came from the surrounding homes, all running to see what was going on.

You’d better go.” Said Debbie. She held Dave’s arm, but she looked at me. I was the cop, and it made sense that I go investigate. She didn’t have to tell me twice and I headed out the front door with Dave in tow.

Hon, be careful.” My wife called after me. She always calls me “Hon”, short for “Honey.”

Part of me was peeved for having to deal with some off-duty nonsense. The other part of me hoped that it was nothing serious and I can do my best “Nothing to see here, folks, go on home” routine and get back to my beer, which was getting warm.

As we approached the gate, the same one the woman charged through, I could hear the collective sounds of a lot of people chattering. The woman’s screams were the loudest, and it pierced through the clamor of the others. I rounded the corner of the house and saw a group of about ten or so people standing in a half-circle by a five-foot high stockade fence, looking grim. Many had come from the homes on the other block over the back fence. A woman who looked to be in her sixties had taken the woman with the broom who was screaming aside near a screened-in porch. The older woman was holding her hand, comforting her as she sobbed.

Dave said something to me and I waved him off. Without thinking, I stepped through the crowd saying “Excuse me, excuse me” in my deepest, most commanding voice. The people stepped aside. What I saw at the center of the throng was a large German Shepard laying on it’s side, lifeless.

A man spoke up when I approached. “She took off after a cat, jumped the fence, and her collar got hooked on one of the fence posts.” He was tough looking; a hard working type, with weather worn, tanned skin, which comes from toiling outdoors for decades. His eyes were moist, and whoever I was to him, he was asking for help.

I kneeled beside the dog and touched it’s side. The animal wasn’t breathing and I moved it’s front leg and put my ear to the dog’s chest. Everyone was staring, watching, and they fell silent. What could I do for this poor dog? I didn’t know, but I could still hear sobbing, muffled, barely audible crying coming from that porch to my left. It was her dog.

Katie, oh Katie,” said the woman.

No heart beat. No breathing. I picked up the dog’s head and cupped her snout in my hands. I puffed into her mouth with my lips pressed against my thumbs and I saw her rib cage expand. “My God it works,” I remember thinking.

After some klutzy maneuvers, I developed a rhythm of giving one breath to every fifteen chest compressions which I managed to do by moving the front leg up and pushing down on where I believed her heart to be, one hand over the other. It didn’t take long to become winded, and soon I was dripping in sweat.

Katie, oh Katie” I could still hear the woman.

Then, someone tapped on my shoulder. I stopped and looked up, the sun blinded me momentarily, and I saw a woman dressed in surgical scrubs standing over me. Her nametag, which also had her photo, said “Nurse.”

Is it just like doing a person?” she whispered. I nodded. “Yeah. That’s how I’m doing it.

She kneeled beside me. “I’ll do the compressions,” she said.

Apparently she’d been watching me because she placed her hands like I had mine and waited for me to breathe into Katie’s snout again.

We kept this up until I couldn’t breathe any longer. At one point, I took my glasses off and tossed them on the ground by Katie’s head. The man who first spoke to me was on his knee on the other side placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy. Take it easy.” I looked at him. What he wanted to say was “I think you did all you can do.

The nurse looked at me, I poked my head up and saw the woman by the porch. Her hands were clasped together, and the older, gray haired woman who comforted her was watching me.

Could you go a while longer?" I asked the nurse. “Yeah, just tell me when to stop.

I tried. I tell you I breathed and gasped and cajoled young Katie, but she was gone. My heart raced and I had beads of sweat dripping into my eyes. Finally, I gave the nurse a nod. It was over. I remember the nurse saying something like “We did everything” and pursed my lips. Using the fence for support, I stood up, pulled my tee shirt down, and found the distraught woman at the back of the crowd.

Her eyes said it all: “Go back, try again, and keep going, why aren’t you doing something?” I could read her mind. As I drew near, her shoulders sagged and she wept aloud.

I’m so sorry Ma’am. We did all we could do. I’m afraid she’s gone.” She fell into the arms of the other woman and I turned and walked away. As I did so, I was stunned to see two, solemn looking Suffolk County police officers stationed near the dog. I learned later on that the older, gray haired woman called them while I was doing CPR on the dog.

Hey, what happened?” One of the cops asked. I told him about the cat, the fence and her collar hanging up. It was the man’s yard, the woman’s neighbor who found Katie dangling there and took her down. He called the dog’s owner and told her what happened and she ran over, screaming, with her broom still in her hand. That’s where Dave and me came into the picture.

You’re a better man than me, doing CPR on a dog,” said the other officer. I eyed at him to see if he was being sarcastic. But, he wasn’t. He looked down at Katie’s body and shook his head. There was to be no investigation. No crime scene. There would be no notifications made to any other agency. The officers weren’t even required to write a field report. It was a dead dog. They could call in the job to the dispatcher and go to lunch. In the background, a woman could be heard wailing.

Back at Dave and Debbie’s house, my wife and her friend waited by the door.

What happened to you?” My wife looked frantic.
It wasn’t good,” said Dave.

Oh my God. Go, go the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror.” My wife put her hand over her mouth as I walked past her. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was too dazed to argue. I could hear Dave tell them what happened as I walked into the bathroom and turned on the light.

The whites of my eyes were filled red dots, as well as my face, which was covered with them. I looked like I was beaten with a sack of quarters. All I could think about was I had to report to work the next day and explain my complexion to my superiors and tell the story of how I performed CPR on a dead dog. I was in for a lot of teasing, and I’d be dishonest if I didn’t regret doing what I did at that moment as I gazed at my startling appearance in the mirror.

I never saw that woman again, as much as we still visit Dave and Debbie. Yet, every once in a while, such as when the kids tug at my wife and I for a puppy, I see Katie.

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