I was meeting my fiancé after work at the movie theatre to catch the matinee. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a white SUV drifting across the empty spaces. The driver was looking at something, and her vehicle was following her eyes. She noticed me and sped out of the parking lot, and I drove over towards what she'd been looking at. It was a dirty yellow Toyota truck. There was a bulldog hanging over the side of the bed, its paws off the ground. I thought I saw it twitch.
I threw my car into park, jumped out and grabbed the dog. Its head rolled over to my shoulder, but its cold fur told me it was too late. I lifted it back into the bed of the truck and laid it down.
The sky was darkening and it had been raining off and on for days; the parking lot was wet and as I stood there, stray drops touched my face and arms. The dog was tied to the bed by a thick rope looped around its neck with no collar. The owner had apparently left the dog there while he or she went inside to watch a movie. Maybe it had tried to jump out of the truck, and the rope was just short enough to keep it from reaching the ground.
A sticker on the back window of the truck said, "No Warranty: As is." There was trash in the bed, empty cans and fast food wrappers. I circled the truck, but there was no license plate. And the driver had left the headlights on.
I didn’t know what to do so I decided to go to the theatre proper and alert the manager. As I approached the building, two men came out, talking. One was obviously a manager.
"You say it's a yellow truck?" He was saying.
The other guy nodded. I stopped them and we went back to the truck. The manager went back inside and called the animal services and the police. I sat in my car, watching the truck, waiting for the authorities. The only thing I could think to do for this dog was make sure the owner didn’t drive off.
* * *
This was the second time I had come upon a dog hanging in the air like this. The first had been during my freshman year at college. I was coming home after an overnight DJing shift at the college radio station somewhere around dawn. I lived in a cheap apartment as near the college as I could afford. They had balconies on the second floor that hung about three feet off the ground. As I approached the door to my building I noticed something hanging from one of the balconies, twisting like an upside down weathervane. It was a Chihuahua. A nylon rope was tied to the balcony, attached to its leash. It was alive, eying me, terrified. I stared at it for a moment, and then scooped it up and set it back inside the slatted rails of the balcony. The Chihuahua was tied by a long cord near the sliding glass doors, which I couldn't reach to untie. I went inside the building, banged on the door until the dog’s owner answered. I didn't know the lady's name, but I'd seen her on the bus. She was small and looked older than she acted.
"Your dog nearly died," I said. "It was hanging by its leash off the ground."
"Yeah, he does that," she said, smiling.
It was very early and I was tired. I didn’t know how to handle this woman so I tried to reason with her. "If you keep it tied to the balcony, it'll choke."
"If I don't tie it up, it'll run away," she said. “It barks when we keep it inside.”
Finally, she brought the dog in. It had been such an odd experience that it kept my interest. Every day for the next few weeks, I found myself entering and leaving by the door nearest her balcony, but I didn't see the dog outside anymore.
The more I saw this lady, the more I became convinced that there was something mentally deficient about her. She told me stories about how she owned a McDonalds, about how the entire football team from the local college broke into her apartment and raped her the night before. My roommate openly ignored her, even when she tried to talk to him; he just walked away. Even after I moved; I still saw her. I would walk out of a grocery store or a gas station, hear someone calling, "Hey, You," and there she'd be, grinning. She never learned my name, and I never asked hers. I never saw her dog again, but I wondered what happened to it.
* * *
The animal services people showed up at the movie theatre a few minutes later in a big white van and parked directly behind the yellow truck. As I was giving my statement, my fiancée arrived and I filled her in. A policeman showed up and I gave him a statement as well. As I was talking to them, my eyes kept going back to the stain on the pavement below where the dog had been. I kept seeing, in my mind's eye, how its tongue had been sticking out like it was going to blow a raspberry.
The animal services man took the body away, and we walked towards the theatre.
"The movie's probably already started," I said.
"Well," my fiancée finally said, "Do you want to just go home?"
I really didn't, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. As we approached the door of the theatre, the ticket seller piped up; "Free for good citizens." He was a tall guy, lanky with long blonde hair. I recognized him but couldn't place him till we were inside; several seconds later, then I realized that he used to live in the same old apartments with me and the Chihuahua lady.
The movie had already started and it was nearly deserted. We sat and stared at it. A few minutes later, the policeman came in and worked his way down the rows, asking each person if they owned a yellow truck.
"No one will be dumb enough to own up to it," I whispered, and no one in our
screening room claimed it, though there were other screens.
I couldn't focus on the movie, it seemed loud and annoying. I kept thinking of the dog. It had been raining off and on for days, and yet someone had left this dog tied up, exposed to the elements, while whoever it was went and watched a movie. I couldn't imagine why someone would feel the need to bring a dog along to sit in the parking lot while this person watched a movie. I didn't know the circumstances, of course, but it seemed very odd. It reminded me of being a child, and refusing to go anywhere without a favorite toy. But this wasn't a toy; this had been a living being. And what child doesn’t know better than to bring its toys in out of the rain?
I grew up on a farm, around all sorts of animals. I knew that life was fragile, and that animal death was part of the package. But if one forgot the fragility of life and became careless, there would be consequences. A person had to keep their stock healthy. It was simply good business.
Death is unfortunate but the death of livestock, which would be used for food, was far different from the death of this bulldog. There was no purpose to the dog’s death. Maybe it simply hadn’t occurred to the owner to act any other way.
* * *
When I was very young, my cousin Scott had a pet rabbit. His father raised rabbits to eat, but Scott had named this one, and was trying to convince his father to let him keep it as a pet. I forget its name, but I remember that Scott was forever getting in trouble with his father because the rabbit left pellets on the carpet.
One afternoon we went to his house and he was very upset. I didn't see his rabbit and I asked about it. He took us to the kitchen, opened the freezer and showed us a package of meat.
"He says I have to eat it," Scott said. His face was twisted into a grimace.
His father had gotten tired of telling Scott to clean up after the rabbit and finally killed it. Scott's mother made it into a stew, which Scott refused to eat. I can only assume that Scott's father was trying to teach him some lesson, but it was a vicious one. The lesson seemed to be devaluing life.
My father taught me a similar lesson. When I was a kid, I had a redbone hound named Red. Red was the dumbest dog I'd ever known. My sister had a cat, and when she fed her, Red would try to steal her food. So I would feed Red. But he was still more interested in the cat's food. He would chase the cat away from her bowl, and the cat would go to his abandoned bowl. They would chew for a while, and then Red would notice the cat, eating from his bowl. He'd chase her away and start eating his own food again, and the cat would go back to her bowl. They swapped back and forth several times until the cat finally got tired of it, and clawed Red's nose. This put an end to playtime.
My father hated Red, hated all pets. I knew this, and yet I decided to take the dog when a friend offered it to me. My father hated dogs first off, because stray dogs worried his cattle. They barked and chased cows, causing small scale stampedes, which could lead to injuries. But Red, he tolerated, at first, as long as I kept him outside, tied up around back. I had illusions we’d train Red up as a coon dog. Red was a hound dog, and my father was a hunter.
My father was also a drinker. After I'd had Red for a few months, my father came in, drunk one night, late from the farm.
"Saw a skunk around back," he said, stalking into the dining room where he kept his gun rack. He loaded the gun and went outside. After a while I heard the shot. My father was gone for some time afterwards. When he came in, he didn't speak to me and quickly went to bed. The next day, I found no trace of Red.
A few years later, my father would end my pet ownership for good in a drunken rage by throttling a kitten for urinating on the carpet. I realized, then, that the pain I had caused these animals by bringing them into contact with him wasn't worth the fleeting joy of ownership. Collecting strays wasn't beneficial for the strays. When I brought them into my home, I was responsible for whatever happened to them afterwards. By naming them, I brought them under my care. These were lives, these animals had personalities. They didn’t ask to be brought into the situation I was putting them in.
This was a realization I’d forgotten, until I encountered the bulldog in the movie theatre parking lot.
* * *
Outside the movie theatre, it started to rain again. My fiancé walked me to my car, still parked beside the yellow truck.
"I wonder if the police found out whose truck it was," she said.
We came to the truck. I pointed out that the headlights were still on.
"The owner's probably afraid to come back to the truck right now," I said. "Maybe the battery will go dead," I said. "That's something, at least."