It's a 14-hour drive from Connecticut to South Carolina - 650 miles, in fact, a trip that can be grueling, especially in the heat of early July. We were on our way south to celebrate the Fourth at our home-away-from-home in Myrtle Beach, two Yankees who'd fallen in love with the S.C. shore. Though the drive can be miserable, we always forget the hassles of turnpikes and semis each time we greet the familiar landscape of U.S. 17.
This time, we drove by something different on the landscape, something that jumped out at me like an igloo in a sandstorm. It was a dog by the side of the road. In fact, we had already driven 50 feet past him when I said to Mike, "Did you see that?"
Even from a distance, this dog did not look good. As I got out of the car and walked toward him, his eyes were the first things to grab me, such big sad brown eyes that I knew his story, if he could only tell it, would be a hard one to hear. Thin as a twig, ticks the size of small stones on his spine, he submitted with a kind of trusting grace when I knelt down to pull the ticks off his back. When he tried to walk, his toenails curled under his feet, and as I lifted him into the car, he cried out. Having volunteered in animal rescue for many years, I am no stranger to animal neglect; this dog will always stand out in my mind.
We brought him to the Grand Strand Humane Society on Mr. Joe White Avenue in Myrtle Beach. We didn't have to say much about him; the dog's neglect spoke all too eloquently for itself. While filling out the necessary paperwork, I watched the staff examine him, and I overheard them call him a hound dog. After explaining that if no one adopted the dog, we would take full responsibility, they asked us what we wanted to call him. "Elvis," Mike said simply. We left him there, feeling that he was in good hands.
Once back in Connecticut, I decided to check on how Elvis was doing. I called the shelter, but things there must have been hectic, because no one called me back. I panicked. Had Elvis been put to sleep? I didn't know who could help me. And so I did what any self-respecting Yankee lady would do: I called the mayor.
"Hello," I said. "May I please speak to the mayor?"
When you try this sort of stunt in Connecticut, what you get is the chance to talk to about three receptionists, two secretaries and a couple of assistants to the mayor. So I figured I would hit a similar bureaucratic snag in South Carolina. "One moment, please," the receptionist calmly replied. And that's when I heard it - a man's voice. "Hello," he said, and I said, "Hello. May I please speak with the mayor?" "Speaking," he said.
Which is when I thought I was might fall off my chair.
"Is this really the mayor?" I asked.
"Yes, ma'am," the voice said.
"Oh, Mayor, I don't know how to thank you for taking my call." And so I began. Words like Connecticut, starving dog, Elvis, put to sleep, came flying out of my mouth so fast that I didn't think I was making any sense at all. Then, in the middle of it all, he gently interrupted me.
"Miss Linda," he said. "Yes?" I answered. "Take a deep breath for me, please."
I inhaled as deeply as I could, and then I exhaled. At which point, I started prattling even more furiously, thanks, literally to this second wind. The mayor said, "Now, Miss Linda. I have a rescue dog myself. So I know how you might feel about this dog. But I do have one question for you.
"What color is the dog?" I answered that Elvis was white. "Well, Miss Linda, there ain't no such thing as a white hound dog." When I meekly explained that Elvis was probably a mix with other colors, the mayor quickly calmed me down, telling me that if I would just give him five minutes, he would have this whole thing squared away. Just five minutes, he promised, and we hung up.
Four minutes later, my phone rang. It was a lovely woman named Sandy Brown from the humane society (it turns out I had been dialing the wrong number) who reassured me that Elvis was fine, doing well, and ready for adoption just as soon as some things were worked out regarding his health. While she spoke, the picture of Elvis in my mind's eye changed from the grim image of a scrawny, tick-infested mutt to the vision of a fat and happy hound dog stretched in front of a fireplace.
The happiest part of the story is that Elvis has been adopted and is presently in a lovely home. Almost as wonderful is the patience and kindness of Mayor John Rhodes, the man who helped me keep my equilibrium and make sure Elvis got a second chance.
The writer lives in Woodbridge, Conn.