If Dogs Could Fly

In Sacred & Profane by Donna Johnsonleave a COMMENT

There are beings who are not quite earthly, who exhibit qualities a little more evolved than those of the inhabitants of this planet. They are viewed by others as odd, their main characteristic being a solitary, intense quality that sets them apart. They are generally not ambitious, for their main impulse is a powerful longing for home, to go back where they came from—although they are clueless as to where their home is. The only thing they know with certainty is that this is not it.

So it was with the wild dog I would later name Abraham, for like the Abraham from Biblical times, he was looking for a country to call his own.

It was in late October that I saw a beige, shaggy, unkempt creature galloping across the railroad tracks near Amhurst Road in Northwest Knoxville, his attention focused on only one thing: escape from the clutches of the Animal Control officer in hot pursuit. Until our eyes met.

“That your dog?” a tidy woman in the brown uniform asked. She looked tired and disinterested, except for a gleam of malice in her eyes. I already had two cats and two fox terriers at home.

“Why, yes,” I said, reaching out to touch the dog, but at my sudden movement he skirted away in a slightly lopsided lope back across the railroad tracks. The Animal Control officer looked at me.

“That’s not your dog,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been trailing that dog for six weeks. He’s completely wild. It’s gonna freeze soon and since that dog hasn’t anybody or anywhere to stay, it would be better off if we caught him and put him down, ’cause he’s liable to freeze to death.”

I gasped. It was unimaginable that this wild, wonderful creature with his fierce desire to live should not be able to do so. Abraham studied me as he paused to get his breath.

“Please, please don’t do that,” I begged. “Give me a chance to catch him and I promise he won’t cause you any more problems.”

“I’ll give you two weeks, no more,” she said, and left.

I leaned against the trunk of an old oak tree to watch Abraham, who had curled up on the porch of one of my neighbors. We didn’t move. He lifted his head a few times during the night to see if I was still there. I did the same with him. We spent the night like that, each watching the other. By the time the sun rose, this wild dog who had to struggle so hard just to have the right to exist had captured me—body, mind, heart, and soul.

Abraham’s luck was about to change in a radical way. No more garbage cans and dumpster food. I bought whole chickens from Gourmet’s Market, plus T-bone steaks and lean hamburger. This dog was eating better than I was, all the while watching me out of the corner of one shaggy eye. Each time I would come almost near enough to touch him, off he would go.

I got a large net and tried to scoop up this 90-pound dog, but he was too smart for me. Time was running out, so I went to my supervisor at the Department of Human Services where I worked and said, “I’m going to need the next week off to catch this dog.”

“You’re kidding,” she said. Everyone in the office already knew about Abraham because I talked about him all the time.

People in the neighborhood often stood on their porches and watched my efforts. At one point a man called out to me: “You’ll never catch that dog. He’s too wild.” I ignored him and soldiered on. I was getting closer, for he began sleeping on my porch, but still I couldn’t get near him. I slept in a sleeping bag at the bottom of the porch. And still we watched each other.

Three or four trucks from Animal Control came to the neighborhood but Abraham outwitted us all. They had become so attached to this marvelous creature that they kept extending his deadline.

I engaged everyone and everything I could think of. UT veterinarians came out and shot him with a tranquilizer gun. Even in his drugged state, he roused himself and fled when they came near. I got him drunk on beer while I myself drank shots of whiskey at a safe distance. All the while he watched me, eating his gourmet meals and drinking beer while I myself was eating ramen noodles.

After almost four months, he growled at a neighbor’s child who had thrown a ball at his head. Animal Control said: “We’re sorry. People are afraid for their children. We’re going to have to shoot him.”

I wept, the fox terriers howled, and the cats went into a frenzy. It stormed that night, terrible flashes of lightning, hail stones as big as your fist, and all the while I wept.

I got on my knees and told God I would read the Bible cover to cover if He would let me have this dog. And I did this—the King James version, no less.

***

Well, my neighbor was right about one thing: I never did catch that dog. Maisie did. She went into heat and I put her into the garage. Without realizing it I had left the garage window open, and when I went down to feed Maisie, there was Abraham inside my garage just getting ready to make baby Abrahams. All I had to do was slip the collar around his neck. He looked up at me and I looked back, and I finally knew that God does answer prayers. I slept the whole night with him wrapped in a blanket on the basement floor, and by morning he was all mine. And I was his.

On the day when I walked a proud Abraham around the neighborhood on a leash, my neighbors came out on their porches and clapped. I had an 8-foot fence built in the back yard and put Abraham in it, but guess what: Within seconds, he had sailed over it. That’s when I knew that dogs could fly. Abraham was a free spirit and could not be contained. But he never left me. He didn’t trust anyone else, but he trusted me with his whole heart and I gave him mine. Abraham lived with me for 16 years.

One day, he couldn’t get up and I took him to the vet to be put down. Even at the end, this noble animal fought to live. As I walked away, I shed no tears, for I knew he would be back.

Days later, I picked up a small orange kitten from a feral colony at Isabella Towers and placed him in a cardboard box, which he rocked back and forth with his small self as if to say, “You think you can keep me in this nasty old box? Well, think again.”

“Calm down, Abraham,” I said to the kitten. “We’ll be home soon.” And so we were.

Donna Johnson describes herself as a person who thrives on breaking the rules other people have made while also creating rules for herself that do make sense. “My rules do not necessarily follow the law set out by the government and law-abiding citizens,” she says. “They follow an inner law, one unto myself, and when I attempt to go outside this, to conform, disaster follows.” Her stories are often about people who are not recognized by others, who may even seem invisible, but “they often have a great truth to share if one but listens.”

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