I usually went the same way to work each day, straight east on Webster Street just five blocks from my house. The dogs would hear my car pull up and undertake raucous barking that shook the walls. That particular day I left early and decided to treat myself to a bagel and coffee, which took me the other way, north two blocks to Fullerton and then east. Timing is everything, and as I approached my turn I spied a tall and regal-looking Rottweiler trotting up the sidewalk, on busy Clybourn Avenue, head high and leashless. My smile soon straightened itself out when I could see no human belonging to him. A few briefcase-toting commuters headed to the train gave a wide berth to this imposing presence in their midst. I crossed several lanes of traffic to turn after him, and because he was making good time, I zoomed ahead and parked. My Rottweiler, Maura, sat up straight in the back seat and made disapproving noises when she noticed the change in our routine.
I locked the car and looked back down the sidewalk. I saw not a strong and healthy wayward pet but an extremely thin, cloudy-eyed dog busily inhaling a piece of moldy bread from the filthy gutter.
I swallowed and approached slowly, body turned sideways and hand extended.
“Hi, big guy! Hey, sweetie!” No response, just sniffing the gutter for crumbs. His fur lay matted on his body in clumps. This dog had been on his own for some time.
I called him again, louder, but still nothing. Was he just ignoring me? I realized I had the bagel bag still in my hand. If he was as starved as he looked, he’d go for this in a big way. I waved the bag back and forth and his nose came up twitching. He saw the movement of the bag and looked at it, startled, then up at my face. He hurried over to me, eyes wide, and I saw his short tail moving steadily like a metronome. Left, right, left, right. His gaunt, gray face looked almost happy as I tore a huge piece off and dropped it down his throat without preamble. He was too frail to jump into the car but wagged at my dog when she gave him a good sniffing.
I locked the car and the three of us ambled the two blocks to my training school and were welcomed with mind-numbing barking. I looked at the new dog and noticed that his eyes were scanning the room but his ears did not lay back in reaction to the sound. I made him a bed in a large crate and put him in the office room by himself. He smacked his lips repeatedly at the sight of a brimming bowl of water and a large lump of canned food. He dove in and I got to work in the back.
Ninety minutes later I slid the heavy steel door and peeked into the front office. He was down and on his side, looking deflated and limp. I called him, and then clapped my hands loudly. After a terrified minute, I noticed his chest slowly expanding and contracting with each deep breath. His funky scent filled my nostrils. I touched the cage and wiggled it slightly. The startled dog nearly leaped up, eyes wide, but as he stood and blinked at me, the smile broke out on his face and his tail did the left, right, left thing again. He leaned against the side of the metal cage heavily, causing it to list and clank but he didn’t seem to care.
I dialed my husband and took a big breath when he answered. It all came out in a rush:
“I found an old, skinny Rottweiler on the street and I’m keeping him!”
Minutes later he arrived at the school and helped me bathe the dog. The fur came out in handfuls and all the ribs showed prominently, but the tail did the metronome thing the entire time. His old legs wobbled in the rinse cycle and we laid him on a towel in the sun. The over-ripe smell was still there, and I tried to inspect one ear only to find it nearly glued to his head with pus and mucous. We wrinkled our noses and carefully cleaned it with tons of gauze, worried about his reaction. The dog merely grunted and leaned into the pressure, one leg reflexively kicking.
Back in his new digs, he charmed customers picking up their own dogs at the day’s end. Comments like, “Oh, what a handsome guy!” and “What a sweet guy!” caused his tail to beat time, but only when he made eye contact. We did some very non-scientific experiments to determine his hearing capabilities. We shook a box of biscuits, rang the doorbell and dropped an encyclopedia covering dog maladies (including deafness) on our concrete floor. No reaction. It hardly mattered. He knew how to make noise. After a week of learning our feeding schedule, he would make his needs known with head lifted and big, resounding barks, one at a time in a rhythm with his metronome tail. We’d make serious faces and shake a finger to discourage him, but he’d just smile broadly and wag his left, right tail. We went on adventures to the beach and forest preserve, and if he trotted off to investigate a scent, my husband or I would race ahead of him to wave him down.
He acquired his name three days into his tenure with us when a couple with four children came in to see the training school. They ooed and aahhed and I popped the latch on his cage so he could greet them. I gave my cautionary tips about proper greeting etiquette, but they ignored me and instantly surrounded the dog until all I could see was feet. I went around to his front end, ready to rescue a stressed dog but saw only closed eyes and a rapturous grin.
I briefly recounted his story. One of the kids exclaimed, “He’s such a nice guy!” His mother smiled at me.
“What’s his name?” she asked.
“Guy”. It fit him perfectly.