Maybe it was because he was so ill-suited for the Las Vegas heat—a thick-coated husky—that I fell for him. Or perhaps it was his Paul Newman eyes. Or the pitiful but resourceful way he licked the sprinkler heads in the suburban park across the street from my house. I looked up and down the road for his people and saw none. He was a runaway, or a cast-off. I’d read about people leaving their pets behind when they abandoned their foreclosed homes; Newman could’ve been one of those. Poor bastard. And with nothing but this fur coat to wear! When I approached him, he just sat there and waited for me, unthreatened, maybe even hopeful. I knelt down and felt his hot, matted hair; I searched in vain for a collar in the rug of thick fur around his neck. He was panting, drooling. Obviously, I had to take him to my house and turn my life upside down for him. I had to save him—if not from the mean streets of Summerlin, then from his fashion sense. A parka? In Vegas?
Within minutes he was at my house lapping water out of my pissed-off-dog’s bowl. He’d look up and smile at me in between slurps. Thank you. I filled it up again and wondered how long he’d been on the streets, betrayed by his people, dressed inappropriately. I fed him dry dog food from my hand. My own dog—a female mutt named Sid Vicious who was now contained in the bedroom—whined something I couldn’t understand. Maybe, You bitch. Newman ignored her and licked my hand clean. You saved me. He might’ve starved to death. Poor, neglected, absurdly dressed dog. I let him into the backyard, under the shaded porch, set him up with more water, and then I hopped in my car and went looking for Lost Dog signs on community mailboxes and light poles.
There’s something about lost dogs. If you have any empathy at all, you can’t just turn them away. Dogs are so loyal. If they’re ambling around solo, they’ve either been betrayed, which is inexcusable, or they’ve fled, which is tragic. Either way you can’t just pat one on the head and give him directions to the nearest social service agency or buy him a ticket to Frisco. You have to accept your destiny, your role in saving a four-legged soul. There’s some cosmic alignment that brings together lost dogs and foolhardy people, and I’m proud to say I rose to my calling. Newman was equipped to sniff out persons with malleable boundaries, as lost dogs are, and I fell for his tragedy immediately.
There were plenty of Lost Pet signs in my neighborhood; dogs, cats, even a ferret. I wallowed a little on behalf of the entire animal kingdom, but stuck to my assignment—one overcooked husky. (I will say that I was profoundly grateful that the rat-like ferret didn’t find me first. Egad.) But none of the posted signs was for a husky or anything so overdressed for the desert. I began asking people who were walking down the street if they were missing a dog; I approached children at the playground and the gardener in the median. No one had anything to offer.
At home, Newman greeted me with the grateful eyes of someone granted a fresh start. I took a photo of him—and I swear he was smiling— and posted it on Craigslist: Found—Husky-ish dog in Summerlin park. When night came, I went to bed, leaving Newman in the backyard because Sid slept inside and was not feeling as empathetic.
Understandably, the poor, fur-entrapped Newman whined. It was hot, and he was lonely. I lay in my bed feeling slightly inconsiderate, and, of course, 100 percent freaking nuts. But it was hot out there. Shortly his whine turned into something bordering on a howl, and not only was it keeping me up, but I could almost hear the neighbors scribbling out complaints to the homeowners association. So I took him to the garage, which was hotter and only served to amplify his howl. Finally, I locked Sid in the bedroom again, with a little speech about being grateful for one’s blessings, and brought Newman into the living room, where I thought he’d sleep on the rug. But he whined more. His deep fear of abandonment echoed in the hollow room. “You’ll be OK,” I told him. “Don’t worry.” I sat on the floor with him, assuaging his pain. He lay down and put his head on my lap, finally shush-ing. I pet his matted coat, pulling out chunks of extra fur, and wondered what kind of hideous people could have abandoned this big, beautiful, lavishly dressed dog.
In time, I tipped over onto the rug next to him, and slept there till sunrise. The morning sun revealed a living room coated with ragged white dog hair. When I went to work, I left him in the backyard with three big bowls of water, and kept Sid in the house.
When I got home that evening, Newman was gone. Just gone. At first I thought maybe he was heat-sick and lying under a bush, but I shuffled through the hedges and did not find a giant husky. Sid wouldn’t say a word. Could Newman have jumped the standard-issue suburban wall? Once again, I searched the neighborhood, to no avail.
I dealt with my failure to save the hot dog by doting on the pet I actually owned. Days passed, and Sid forgave me, but I couldn’t help but think of Newman every time I walked Sid in the heat. He was probably dehydrated by now, running the scalding Vegas streets in a parka. And then one day, one fateful, fateful day, as I was pulling into the neighborhood, I saw a girl sitting in her yard playing with a Chihuahua. Behind her was a big husky.
He was lying on the grass in her front yard, smiling, laughing, playing with the girl and the stupid little dog. I veered over and rolled the window down.
“Hey! Is that your dog?”
She drew back, and looked at the Chihuahua and said, “Yes.”
“Not that one. The big one. The big, furry one.” She looked back. “Oh no. That’s one of the neighbor’s. He always runs around free in the daytime and just knows to go home at night.”
I looked at him, and he at me. He smiled. He smirked. “Liar,” I said under my breath at him, and the little girl picked up her Chihuahua and backed away.
Yep. I held my neighbor’s dog hostage. After eating my dog’s food and drinking my dog’s water, he had been ready to go home with his badass wandering self. So he had whined all night because he wanted to go home. I’d slept on my living room floor with my neighbor’s husky and hand-groomed it, much to the dismay of both my own dog and my living room.
I’d like to claim heat craziness. But I think the moral here has more to do with dogged foolhardiness. Here’s to Newman, a classic Vegas fast-talker.