July 1, 2011

The Short, Happy Life of Charlie the Dog

Sam and his nearest and dearest were enjoying a balmy Saturday night in the yard, lighting fireworks, enjoying time together as the sun's last rays slipped away.  Charlie, I can only imagine, was full of boundless energy, smiling, and running his people ragged with that puppy spirit that made him such a treasure to begin with.  This 1 year old puppy was a rescue dog, adopted from the humane society and given a loving new home.  I imagine he had a yard to play in, squirrels to chase, a rope to play tug of war with, and a warm soft bed to sleep in at night.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Charlie snuck food from the table, and when caught, used those huge puppy dog eyes to avoid a scolding.  (Those same eyes would work on me.)  On cold evenings, I can imagine him curling up on his person's feet, providing warmth and company.  I bet any windows facing the front door are covered with nose prints, and his talent was in getting someone to pay attention to him, especially when they're feeling down.  Charlie was full of vim and vigor, bursting at the seams and in a hurry to live his life.

I knew Charlie in life for about 3 seconds.  In that time, and the gut-wrenching hour afterwards, I came to learn how special he was.  My evening had been previously spent sharing dinner with one of my closest confidants at a local pizza place.  We'd spent about an hour or so talking Big Ideas, laughing at absurd things, and generally enjoying each others company.  We were headed home on a major street in town.  It's two lanes each way, and I was all the way to the right.  My friend and I were talking, the music was on low, and the windows were down so we could enjoy the night.

Twilight had set in, and it was somewhere between 9:30 and 9:45 PM when Charlie, in all his enthusiasm, darted out from the neighborhood  into traffic.  Like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit, he was a streak in the shadows.  I didn't see him till he was in front of my right headlight.  Before my friend could finish exclaiming "Look out!" I had jammed my feet on the brake and clutch.  I wasn't able to avoid Charlie, and his body collided with my hood and grill.  I was able to stop quickly though, only pushing him about 9 inches across the pavement.  However, because my car is so small (It's a MINI Cooper) and low to the ground, I wasn't able to clear him, and I'm afraid the undercarriage may have further injured him.  I will never know if the initial impact, or my trying to get the car off of his body was what caused his death.  For his sake, I hope it was the first strike.  In my dreams, I tell myself that it was fast.  Nobody deserves the pain of a lingering death. 

Not knowing what the damage was, I pulled my car off the road and into the closest parking lot.  I didn't know if I'd get it started again when it came time, and I didn't want to tie up a major street.  After getting out and inspecting the front end for damage (there was what seemed to be very little, and at the time, assumed it to be drivable.) I walked back down the block to the scene of the accident. 

By this time, people had gathered around, and who I first assumed to be the owner was standing there, looking mournfully at the body of his pet in the road.  I was shaken, but neither of us were hurt.  The impact wasn't enough to set off the air bags (which is good since I don't much care to look like I went a round with Mike Tyson.  That, and there's no way I could have driven away since when they deploy, it disables the car.) and no other cars were involved.  In terms of people damage, it was minor.  In terms of emotional damage to Charlie's humans, I have no words.

I spoke briefly with the older man who was first on scene.  I apologized to him, saying I was so sorry to have hit his dog.  (I've never hit an animal before.  The bird who kamikase'd into my windshield at 17 doesn't count.)  He told me there was nothing I could have done.  He just bolted from their yard and took off full tilt.  When he heard the thump and the brakes, he knew he'd been hit.  I don't remember when it was that Sam and what I took to be his girlfriend arrived.  I could tell he was devastated.  I wanted to comfort him, tell him that I was so sorry about his dog.  I was afraid I'd be the evil driver who murdered their dog, but did it anyway. 

Sometime in the next hour, I made several calls.  The time is awash in lights, reports, and sadness.  The first was to 911.  They sent a cruiser with two of the area's finest to take a report.  They also sent the Humane Society to collect the remains and discuss the next steps for the owners.  I called my insurance agency to report the loss so I could get the claim started.  My companion inspected the damage to my car to see if I could drive it away.  Perhaps it seems cold, thinking about the authorities, insurance, and how I was going to get home in that moment, but someone had to do it.

While we waited, there were tears, hugs, and apologies.  I hugged Sam and his girlfriend, told them that I was so sorry for their loss.  Mine is only in time and money.  Theirs is in companionship and love.  Mine is nothing in the face of that.  They told me that I shouldn't blame myself, that Charlie was just wild and in the moment, and there was nothing that could have been done differently.  I was not to blame. There was hugging, crying, and the first stages of mourning.  Sam stayed with his dog, hand on his head, grieving the loss of his best 4 legged friend.  My heart broke for him.  That kind of love is rare, and to see it in person in such a time of loss can really be hard to watch.  I may have no maternal instincts, but I wanted to comfort this stranger in front of me anyway I could.

Not knowing that the police would exchange our information for us, I handed the older gentleman one of my calling cards with my contact information on it telling him to please send me his name and contact info because I would like to make a donation in Sam and Charlie's name to the Humane Society.  It might not be much, but I want to do something since, without my being on the road, the night might have ended differently. 

In the end, I don't know what happened to Charlie.  When I left to go look at the car a little more, the animal rescue officers were discussing cremation and had Charlie wrapped in a blanket and moved to the side of the road.  I hope he was afforded a dignified end.

Donovan, my Mellow Yellow MINI Cooper ended up with a dent in the hood, a couple broken pieces to the grill and hood, and a damaged radiator and AC condenser.  Sam's lady friend asked if we were alright to drive, or if we'd like her to give us a ride somewhere.  (I was floored by her generosity.  Say what you want about Omaha, but we have big hearts when you come right down to it.)  I politely declined, thinking it would be fine to get it the mile or two down the road.  I had about 2,000 miles left on the warranty, so I was able to get the car towed to the repair shop from my friend's house.  It was about midnight when the flatbed showed up, and I'm sure the neighbors were curious why their street was full of flashing lights.  But, I got all of my valuables out of the car and bid Donovan goodbye. 

Gary from Markel Collision called me bright and early on Monday.  We discussed what was wrong with the car, and told me that he'd be in touch with a prognosis and an estimate.  Later, when he called back, I was told that it was best that I hadn't driven it farther than the mile or two to get it back to my companion's house since there was damage to the radiator and compressor after all.

I was able to borrow a car for the time he's being worked on, so that's good.  I haven't done more than commute from work to home since I don't want to burn too much gas in the little Honda I've been driving.  I'm thankful to have the wheels.  It's Friday of the following week, and my Donovan is coming home from his little Plastic Surgery adventure good as new.  I missed my little buddy. 

I'm still planning on making a donation to the humane society.  I know this has been tougher for Sam and his family than it has for me.  I would like to at least minimize that if I can.  If you're interested in participating with me, here's the web site.  Even if you don't want to donate in Charlie's or Sam's name, they're a fantastic organization.  All of my pets have been rescue animals (I'm a rescue human after all, it makes sense to support that cause).  They can use any and all help they can get.

*Edit.  It is March 13th, 2012.  In an unrelated conversation with my insurance agent, I came to find that the deductible that I paid for the initial repairs was recovered by my insurance company the day prior.  I should see that check in the mail in about 7 days.  The irony here is that as of today, my dog is at the vet with a UTI and I was worried how I was going to pay the bill.  It seems that I will be able to use these funds to care for my own dog.  The universe works in strange and mysterious ways, if you listen.  

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