You can also listen to this story on Tri States Public Radio: https://www.tspr.org/post/commentary-glimmer-light
A stray dog showed up on our farm a few weeks ago. At first, he only came around at night, lurking in the shadows as we sat around the fire pit after supper. He was tricolored and as tall and lanky as a colt. I did an internet search and discovered he was a Treeing Walker Coonhound. He was young and puppy-like, probably about a year old, and judging by his aversion to being touched, he had likely been living on his own for a long time. Was he lost? Or was he dumped in a field by some heartless person who couldn’t be bothered with him?
I called several local vets and posted a notice on social media. People as far as five miles away had seen him, but no one claimed him. When we learned he had been making the rounds, we began referring to him as Rounder.
He continued to show up at our place, so I left food out for him. Soon he enough, instead of slinking away under the cover of darkness, he stuck around for breakfast. He joined us on our walks with our other dogs, napped on our porch, and stayed for supper. This went on for about five days. Having fostered animals before, I knew what was happening: Dogs adopt you and not the other way around. It’s how we came to have our other two dogs, a chihuahua from Arizona and a Spaniel mix, who turned up in Doug’s barn one January morning 17 years ago. They show up, you show them kindness, they stay. But just as we had gotten used to the idea that the coonhound was joining our family, he got spooked when our neighbor’s dog came through our yard and ran away.
I couldn’t call for him, because he didn’t know his name. And I couldn’t drive around looking for him, because he had taken off across a cornfield. When night fell, there was no point looking for him anyway. Distraught, my friends assured me he would be back by morning, but he wasn’t.
The world is already such a dark place these days, filled with unprecedented trauma and loss—the loss of almost five million lives due to the global pandemic, the decimation of everything from whole cities to whole species due to the climate crisis, and the dismantling of our American democracy due to a self-serving, uncompromising, win-at-all-costs mentality. And that’s just the big stuff. It doesn’t include all the personal grief, like the loss of parents, loss of income, and, ultimately, loss of hope for the future. All of this combined is so overwhelming, so unfixable, and so depressing, that we rely on little glimmers of light to keep us going. I can’t save the world, but if I could just save this one dog, it would give me that welcome glimmer of light, that helpful spark to restore some faith in life.
Rounder had seemed so happy with us, so eager to be part of our pack. And though we didn’t need another pet, I was happy with him, too. After less than a week, I had already formed a strong attachment. But he was gone, on the run again. My mind spun with all the bad things that could happen to him in rural Iowa. We live a mile from the four-lane highway; he could get hit by a car or a semi. Hunting season is starting; he could be mistaken for a deer and get shot by a hunter. Or, as it happens too often in rural areas, he could get shot or poisoned by a farmer who doesn’t want him on his land. Equally concerning, he was already so skinny and underfed, with winter coming, he could starve or freeze to death.
The second night he was gone I lit another fire in the fire pit. It’s what had attracted him to us in the first place, so maybe the smoke signal would lure him back. I held vigil for six hours, adding more logs and constantly looking in the direction where he had first appeared, but he never showed up.
When I finally stopped crying long enough, I reminded myself to take solace in the fact that we had gotten a few good meals in him, along with de-wormer and a flea and tick treatment. There was nothing more I could do but pray for the thing I wish for every stray animal—that he would find some other compassionate person to give him the safe home he deserved.
The next morning, when it was still dark, I heard a loud howl beneath my window. I’m used to be woken up by animal sounds on the farm—cows bawling, coyotes yipping, owls hooting, raccoons cussing. I would normally put a pillow over my ears and go back to sleep. But I knew this sound, this voice.
I smiled, jumped out of bed, and ran downstairs. I passed through the kitchen, where the Sunday paper was spread out on the table, every headline indicating the world was still a mess—another mass shooting, another GOP member downplaying the January 6 insurrection, another unvaccinated person infecting others with COVID-19. But for the moment, none of that could bring me down, because right outside the door was a long-legged coonhound waiting for breakfast. A glimmer of light brighter than the sun, Rounder was back.