I was watching the hurricane forecast coverage on CNN several days ago, and they featured a lady from the coast of North Carolina who was not obeying the evacuation orders because of her seven rescued dogs. My sister, who is definitely not a dog person, thought she was crazy not to evacuate. I understood immediately that the lady could not leave her dogs. I thought maybe she was crazy for having rescued the dogs in the first place, living in an area prone to hurricanes. Now that the hurricane and flooding have hit, I haven’t seen any further reports on the lady and her poor dogs. I think of them often. I rescue my dogs in Indiana, which is securely tucked away from the coasts, thousands of miles from the San Andreas Fault, and not quite in Tornado Alley. My dogs have been through enough, I figure, without having to worry about natural disasters. I tend to rescue misunderstood dogs, dogs who have a bad rap, like Chows and Pit Bulls. I rescued one poor puppy at the Indianapolis Humane Society whose only crimes were having super-big paws on his tiny body and an identification tag which read, “Expected weight: 200 pounds.” He was half Rottweiler and half Saint Bernard. There was only one name we could have bestowed upon him: Maximus. Max, for short, and after a couple of months the name was the shortest thing about him. But he found his place in the pack in my 984 square-foot home, a pack of five dogs that someone once likened to a carpet: wherever I went in the house the carpet heaved itself up, followed me, and threw itself down at my feet in the new location. Including, yes, the bathroom, if I didn’t get the door locked in time. Some of the carpet inevitably ended up in my bed each night, usually the Pit Bulls, who have no personal boundaries.
Most of the dogs that made up the carpet have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, Max included. But as I’m worrying about the North Carolina lady and her seven dogs tonight, each incarnation of my various dog packs over the years is coming back to me. I’m perhaps wrongfully applying that dread label “Crazy Dog Lady” to the North Carolina lady because I think if you can’t make provisions for seven dogs during a hurricane, maybe you shouldn’t have seven dogs. But I’ve had packs of dogs during times of strife: graduate school, single motherhood, a long stretch of disability. We made do. We—the kid, the dogs, and me—always ate, always got our shots on time, always had a roof over our heads. It’s not inconceivable, though, that people have applied the “Crazy Dog Lady” label to me. I guess I’d say to them what the North Carolina lady would probably say to me: “If you just knew these dogs, you wouldn’t blame me for having them.” And she’s probably right. Who could blame me for rescuing the puppy Bear, my first Chow, from the end of his chain in a backyard where the little kids beat him with sticks and threw rocks at him? Bear, who caught Parvo between the first vaccination and the booster, and I told people that President Clinton saved my dog because I spent $1100 of a federal student loan paying for his hospital bills? Who, when I was pregnant with my son, charged me barking like crazy because when I rose out of the lake where we were swimming he thought there was a giant monster hanging off my ribs? Who stood up on his hind legs when I brought the baby home and began licking him like a mommy dog, and didn’t stop licking him—or me—until the baby was three months old? Or Bobo, who was an escape artist and ran away from home one night during a thunderstorm, and ended up spending the night in a neighbor’s bed alongside their dogs Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt? Or Fern, so-named because she baptized all the fern plants between the puppy mill in South Carolina to the Chow rescue in Holland, Michigan where I found her? Or Goober, the Pit Bull, who has no concept of Self and Other, and crowds me further and further into a corner of our queen-size bed (yes, “our” bed—his and mine.)? Goober was dumped out of a car in the parking lot of the Indy Humane Society. Who could do that? What if Goober had tried to follow his people home? And, even though I’m a lowly writer eking out an existence on a freelance platform, who can blame me for rescuing him? Does the fact that I forgo cable television to pay for his flea and heartworm medicine make me a “Crazy Dog Lady”? I don’t think so. Each dog, like a child, brings with him an entire universe. Each dog in all my various dog packs over the years stretched my patience and my capacity to give of myself to a being who didn’t always know how to give back. And each dog taught me a little more about love. Who knows what each dog in the North Carolina lady’s dog pack suffered before she rescued them, and what they’re bringing to the lady tonight, in this dark and dangerous time? Are they all huddled together in an attic as the storm surge advances? I wish CNN would locate them again and ascertain their status. I wish there were some emergency shelters in areas prone to natural disaster that would allow residents to bring their pets inside to safety. I know I’m not a “Crazy Dog Lady,” and after a long night of reflection I no longer think she is either. Godspeed, North Carolina lady and dogs. I hope to see you on the other side of this storm.