Small town life; the return of a lost pet

The return of a lost dog is hardly front page news. But as I considered the part I played in the return of a frightened Yorkshire terrier to her grateful owner this week, I felt compelled to write about it. In fact, this might be the most important story of my year.

As I pulled out of the driveway to take my son to school, a teenager flagged me down. He asked if I could find the owners of the lost dog he held in his arms so he could get to class on time. He said it should be easy, pointing to the dog’s collar that held practically the dog’s weight in tags. I agreed.

My son and I laughed as the teenager passed this creature smaller and lighter than my cats through the driver’s window. The dog was shaking with fear.

My son and I assured her, “Don’t worry, we’ll find your owner.”

I dropped my son off, and headed home to do just that. I offered the dog food and water, and she seemed to understand I had good intentions. Elvira, my own lab, even contributed to the rescue by not eating our guest.

I looked though the lost dog’s tags. None contained the dog’s name, or the owner’s name or number. The only leads I had after five calls were the dog’s name, the owner’s first name and an off-Island local phone number that had been disconnected. I assumed that the owner recently moved to the Island, and in the confusion the dog was lost.

I tried to think like someone who had lost a dog. The vet! They might call the vet. I called the first vet in the phone book and explained that I had a lost lap dog and I was trying to find her owner. I expected the vet employee, Debbie, to take my name and pass my number along should the owner call.

Debbie had a different plan. “I’ll call the owners of all the dogs in our practice with the lost dog’s name,” she suggested. Sure enough, she found the owner, who was within a block of my house. I was treated to the owner’s look of joy as the little dog returned to her rightful place in her owner’s arms.

This happy outcome was the result of the combined efforts of strangers. The teenager could have walked right by this dog without noticing it was lost; he could have headed off to school, assuming that someone else would take the responsibility for finding its owner. The vet employee could have just taken my name and waited for the owner to call her. Both of these people jumped in to help a stranger and a lost dog because they knew how much it mattered.

My own small part in this reunion offered a moment of revelation communicated, in part, by the timing. This week I mark the two-year anniversary of my house fire. This lost dog helped me understand how far I’ve come since this a life-altering event.

The first year after the fire felt like a time of crisis management. By the end of the year, I was back in my rebuilt house that was filling with replacements for items lost in the fire. I spent this past year settling back into my life and making my house a home. If the theme of the first year after the fire were picking up the physical pieces, this past year it would be picking up the emotional pieces. Surprisingly, the second year after the fire spent rebuilding relationships and recapturing lost professional momentum was harder than the first.

I have come to this point of recovery by receiving the help of many generous people. The more I settle back in, the more time and energy I have to invest in efforts not directly tied to my family’s basic physical and emotional needs and the most compelling business tasks.

The lost dog’s story brought me to a dramatic realization. I had healed enough to begin to give to others outside of my immediate personal and professional circles.

The little lost dog reminded me of a basic truth that I have come to understand more deeply over these past two years: We’re surrounded with open-hearted people who quietly reach out to others and make the world a better place.

Not everyone can make a difference in a big, bold newsworthy way. However, anyone can stop and notice the pain of others, as this teenager did when he noticed the lost dog. Everyone can take a small step, like asking for the help of a stranger to solve a problem. When you do, you will undoubtedly uncover the generosity of those eager to help, like the vet employee who made her phone calls.

As I look back over these past few years, I see that sometimes the smallest efforts made the biggest difference. I remember days when a smile from a stranger helped me get through the next moment or the next hour.

That’s the lesson from this little lost dog.You can contribute to the healing of the world. Sometimes all it takes is a smile or a phone call.

Yes, indeed, this is quite a story.

Vicki Rackner M.D. can be reached at www.Dr.Vicki.org.

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