I jogged in place while waiting for the stoplight to change and idly wondered what the reward was as I looked at the picture of a rather elderly-looking German Shepherd. As I took a closer look, I realized I’d actually seen this dog – or one that looked just like him – during my run. It was a few streets over. The light turned green, but I stayed rooted, trying to recall exactly where it was I’d seen the dog. Was it on Markham? No…maybe it was on Chestnut. Yes! On Chestnut, near the white brick townhouse.
Snapping a picture of the poster, I turned to retrace my steps. So I wouldn’t get the rest of my run in today…I’d make up for it tomorrow. It would feel great to reunite a concerned owner with their dog, right? Endorphins from a different source, but endorphins just the same. The doctor says endorphins are an important part of my healing process.
Once I reached the location where I remembered seeing the dog, I slowed to an amble and began peering behind fences and into yards. Nothing. Damn. I walked a little farther, craning my neck to see both sides of the street. The dog could be anywhere by now. He could’ve ventured into someone’s back yard and be blocks away at this point. Feeling defeated, I turned and decided to head for home.
Wait a minute…what was the dog’s name? I looked at my phone. Otto.
“Otto,” I called. “Otto! Here, boy!”
I began retracing my steps, calling out every few feet.
I sensed, rather than saw, movement to my right. Hidden behind a hedge was a dog. A large German Shepherd. His tail wagged once, twice, as I approached.
“Hey, Otto. Your family is looking for you. Want me to take you home?”
It was only then I saw the unusual angle to Otto’s back leg. It was badly broken. He’d obviously been hit by a car and somehow managed to drag himself here. But he wasn’t going anywhere else on his own. Sitting down next to him, I began stroking his head. He laid his head on my leg and let out a big sigh and I felt him relax next to me.
Fumbling for my phone, what was the number? I made the call.
“Hi, my name is James and I found your dog… Yes, I’m with Otto. Look – he’s been hit by a car and needs medical attention and I have no way of moving him. Can you come get him?”
Turns out, the owner – Sam – lived only one street over. I gave him the address and he said he would be there in five minutes.
“Y’hear that, buddy? Help is on the way.”
One, two thumps of the tail.
In no time, a white SUV pulled up and a man jumped out and approached us.
“Otto! Oh, thank God you found him and thank you for calling me. Now let’s see the leg…oh no, he’s not able to walk at all with that. I need to put him in the car but I hate to jostle that leg…”
“He needs a tourniquet. I was a medic and I’m an old hand with those. Let’s see… If we can find a small straight stick…” I stood and began looking around.
“Here’s one that’ll work.” I broke it to the right length and took one of my shoe laces and fashioned a tourniquet to stabilize Otto’s leg. We were then able to lift Otto and put him in the back of Sam’s car.
“I can’t thank you enough.” Reaching for his wallet, Sam pulled out a few twenties.
“Oh no…I don’t want anything.”
“Oh but it’s only right—”
“No. Really. I – would it be okay for me to call you in a day or two…just to see how Otto’s doing?”
“Absolutely. Thank you again.”
And off he went with Otto. My heart did this weird twist when the car pulled away. Man, I hope he pulls through. Through the rest of the day and days following, I found myself thinking about Otto and hoping he was all right. It felt good to be concerned about someone else for a change…even if it was a dog. Finally, I made the call.
“Sam? Hi, it’s James. I was calling to check on Otto. I hope he’s doing okay.”
“He’s doing really well. He had to have surgery on his leg, but the vet is hopeful he’ll get full use back.”
“Man, that’s great. I’m glad.”
“James…I wanted to ask you – you mentioned you were a medic. Where was that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Army. 25th Infantry Division. Most recently stationed in Kandahar. I – I got injured and was medically discharged a couple years back.”
“Oh wow. That’s amazing. I guess you have no idea who Otto was in his former life.”
Sam laughed. “Well, not in a reincarnation sense of the word, but – well…” He took a deep breath. “Otto was a bomb-sniffing dog in Iraq.”
I listened, incredulous.
“He’s credited with saving countless lives over his ten year career. He was my brother’s war buddy. Otto came home, but–" Sam's voice faltered. "–unfortunately my brother did not. I was able to adopt Otto.”
I felt tears sting my eyes. “Man. I’m sorry about your brother. I lost a lot of friends over there too.”
“Thanks. I’m just glad you were in the right place at the right time to find Otto…to save him. Thank you.”
Hanging up, for the first time in a long time I felt a…what was it? A lightness, maybe. A lessening of the guilt over the fact that I came back while so many others didn’t. A feeling that maybe—just maybe, things were going to be all right.
Lacing up my shoes for a run I had an idea. Maybe I’d run by the local animal shelter. Maybe find my own Otto. Or Daisy. As I locked the door behind me, I found myself whistling.