Honey wasn’t racist. She didn’t have a racist bone in her body. She was merely the product of a sheltered upbringing, rarely exposed to unfamiliar people or places during her formative years. Like most, she had inherent fears and anxieties about the world around her that seemed to pre-date memory or reason. Circumstances beyond her control often left her feeling vulnerable and threatened. She much preferred the familiar surroundings of her home, her people. She was simply scared.
As I crouched in front of her, attempting to extract her 80 lbs of wide-eyed, trembling, ears-pinned-back, tail-tucked Pit Bull Terrier from under the bench in the exam room where she cowered, I silently prayed she wouldn’t lash out. Several minutes, much coaxing, and dozens of treats later, she reluctantly emerged. Her owners, slightly embarrassed by the drama, explained that she was terrified of the vet’s office … and white people. I didn’t take it personally.
We escorted her to a run where she was scheduled to spend the weekend while her owners were out of town. The family bid farewell and went on their way. Honey was petrified. She sat in the back corner of the run, mouth closed and lips tight, on high alert, watching and listening to every movement and every sound. After lunch, my kennel attendant, Angie, decided Honey might enjoy a little time outside in our fenced area. Honey hugged the walls and darted through every opening on her way from the run to the play yard, her toenails extended like talons clamoring for traction on the hard tile floor and having the opposite effect.
Dogs were not allowed to be left in the play yard unattended for a reason. Angie let Honey have a sniff of the area, slipped off her leash, and watched her creep around inside the 6’ chain link fence investigating the entire perimeter. In her scramble to get out of the run, Honey knocked over her water bowl and soaked her bed. Angie thought this would be the ideal time to toss it in the washer and grab her a dry one. It would only take a second. It was just a few steps away. Angie glanced one last time at Honey, sniffing and patrolling the new area, and she shut the door to run back inside and switch the beds. When she returned 20 seconds later, I heard a scream. I was in the exam room with a client. A door slammed. Hurried footsteps came toward me up the hallway. Angie’s eyes were wide as saucers. Her words came in short bursts through deep, rapid breaths.
“Honey escaped!” She exclaimed. “I tried to stop her! I only left her for a second!”
Panicked, I excused myself from the exam room and hurried to the kennel area. I burst through the back door and immediately saw the gap at the bottom of the chain link gate, its frame bent and twisted on the hinges, hasp still closed and locked. The tiny gap, normally 2” wide when closed, now a good 6” wide, with little tufts of Honey-colored hair clinging to the edges of the wire. Breathlessly, Angie described how she went to change the bed and when she came back, she saw Honey wedging her head into the tiny gap and pushing with her powerful body. She ran to grab her collar, but that only increased Honey’s resolve. With one last powerful shove, she forced her oversized head in the gap and squeezed the rest of her body through. Angie tried to grab a back leg just as her hips squirted through the sliver of an opening. She was gone.
Damn it…my mind raced. We had to get her back. Which way had she gone? I grabbed a handful of dog food and ran to my truck. Our clinic was situated on a busy four lane highway with a divided median. Home Depot, the Post Office, a gas station, a strip club to my left. A Huddle House, Chevy dealership, car wash and an auto parts store to my right. I stopped to check traffic before pulling out onto the highway and glanced to my left. Oncoming traffic was veering wildly left and right, slamming on brakes, darting off the shoulder and into the median. Car horns blared and tires screeched. Then I saw her – tail tucked, ears pinned back, eyes wide, head up, frantically looking side to side for anything familiar – running at top speed down the middle of the turn lane. I accelerated into a tight left hand turn and swerved in and out of traffic to catch up, my heart pounding. I kept an eye on her running down the middle of the road while weaving between cars like Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. Traffic in my direction kept slowing to avoid passing her. I pounded my fist on the steering wheel.
She’s gonna get killed. I thought to myself. If I could just get in front of and stop her, or at least turn her off this busy road.
An opening between cars allowed me to change lanes and speed ahead. I passed her at what felt like light speed, whipped it into the median and stood on the brake pedal. The truck screeched to a halt. I flung open my door and jumped out, feet shoulder width apart and arms wide in ready position, like a linebacker in the “A” gap waiting for the full back to burst through the line. Passing motorists slowed to gawk at my driving, and at me, in my white lab coat, khakis and loafers, posturing in the middle of the road like a WWE wrestler before this fleeing dog. Honey took a single glance at me, got the dog equivalent of an “Oh shit!” expression on her face, spun on her haunches and sped away in the opposite direction.
I jumped back in the truck and threw it into reverse, following her backwards down the turn lane. Honey saw a break in the cars and veered left into the parking lot of the cigar bar across the street from the clinic. She disappeared behind the building. I did my best version of a Hollywood stuntman reverse 180, narrowly missing cars that had stopped in the right lane, fearing for their safety, and sped into the parking lot behind her.
There was a fence behind the building, covered with ivy and trash, but it only bordered two sides of the rear parking area. It was too much open area. For a moment she hesitated, not knowing which way to turn. I threw the still rolling truck into park, cringing as the transmission made horrible grinding sounds and jumped out to try to corral her. For a split second we were locked in a death stare.
“Easy Honey,” I spoke her name softly, soothingly, moving slowly in her direction. She sized me up, and in a nanosecond blew by me at warp speed. I heard tires screech as she crossed the four lane highway again and headed up the street beside the clinic into the neighborhood behind us. I jumped back in the truck, did a hasty three point turn and followed in hot pursuit. My technician and receptionist had been watching the drama unfold from the parking lot of the clinic when Honey darted past.
As I bounced through the intersection, my technician, Misty, pointed in the direction Honey had gone. I slammed on the brakes and told her to jump in.
“She went up this street then turned right there,” Misty screamed, still pointing.
I floored the accelerator, roaring between parked cars and mailboxes, careened around the corner and down the neighborhood street in the direction she indicated. Up ahead a couple hundred yards, I caught a glimpse of Honey cutting between houses off to the left. When I reached the house where I had last seen her, I screeched to a stop and jumped out to follow on foot. “Take the truck!” I yelled in Misty’s direction as I sprinted through yards belonging to people I had never met in the direction I thought Honey was headed.
The neighborhood trash truck making its rounds, now blocked by my abandoned vehicle, hurled obscenities at Misty as she fumbled with the controls, struggling to slide the seat forward far enough for her four foot nine inch frame to reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel.
My heart pounding in my temples, sweat rolling down my face, chest burning, I darted between houses, through yards and across driveways, oblivious to any potential threats from property owners, totally focused on my quarry. As I reached the last row of homes in the neighborhood, I rounded the corner of a small brick house and there was Honey, pacing back and forth in the backyard. An ancient, overgrown fence along the back of the property had thwarted her escape. She saw me just as I saw her. I froze. We locked eyes again.
“Easy Honey. It’s ok girl.” I called her name softly, soothingly and ever so slowly moved in her direction. She hesitated, moved left, then right, gave me the side eye, then with a magnificent exhibition of athleticism, launched herself through a tiny sliver of light at the top of the fence where the weight of the vines had caused the chainlink to sag a few inches below the top bar.
I vaulted the fence and gave chase.
The fence separated the neighborhood from a vacant commercial lot that fronted the four lane highway where the pursuit originated. It was grown over with beggar’s lice and briars and littered with broken bottles and household garbage. Half running, half jumping, I plowed through the vegetation, hands in front of my face, thorns tearing at my clothes. Honey was half-way across before I got over the fence. She made it back to the four lane. I saw her turn right and head down the side-walk. I heard a horn blare and I cringed – no collision. Then, miraculously, maybe because she was avoiding the on-coming car, or maybe the universe – witnessing my desperation and sensing the hopelessness of my situation – decided to grant me mercy. She turned into the parking lot of the car dealership and ran around behind the body shop that happened to be bordered on all sides by a 6 foot chain link fence – with a gate and in good repair.
I sprinted as fast as I could to close off any means of egress. Once the gate was shut, I surveyed the lot. Neat rows of wrecked cars in various states of repair lay before me, but no Honey. Exhausted, desperate, covered with beggars lice, soaked in sweat and out of breath, I walked between the cars, slip leash in hand, calling out, “Honey…come on out. It’s ok. Just relax.” I looked over and under, around and through. No sign of her. Then, as I made it to the last row of cars at the far back corner of the lot, I saw her, inspecting the bottom of the fence, nose down, back and forth, searching for the slightest gap or sag.
“Hey there girl,” I called to her softly. “Easy now. It’s ok.”
She turned to face me, sides heaving, tongue lolling from the side of her mouth, eyes still panic stricken – me, I’m certain, looking much the same. Hemmed in by cars on either side and the fence behind her, she had no easy way out. I crouched and moved slowly in her direction. I fished a few remaining pieces of the kibble from the pocket of my lab coat and held it in my outstretched palm. She gave me the anxious side-eye. I diverted my gaze and moved slowly in her direction.
To this day, I’ll never know. Maybe she was just too exhausted to flee anymore. Maybe she sensed my desperation and took pity on me. Or maybe, just maybe, we established some sort of detente, a truce, between the strange white man and the petrified Pit Bull, in the aftermath of our chase. She sniffed the food in my hand, as I slowly, gently lowered the slip leash around her massive head and neck. A wave of relief swept over me. I closed my eyes, muttering quietly to no one and anyone, “Thank God…”
As I opened my eyes – I can’t be certain – but for a split second, the grin on her face made it seem like she was awfully proud of herself…