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The Dog Behind the Two Story House


I don’t remember when I first noticed the dog behind the sagging, two-story house. His

classic orange and cream-colored coat, folded ears, and bobbed tail marked him as a Brittany Spaniel, although he seemed a faded version of himself: underweight, his coat dull and flat; his steps halting. Someone was always leading him up or leading him down the broken back steps, holding tight to the 6-foot leash until he peed or pooped, then leading him back inside.

At least three times a week I looked for the dog behind the two-story house as I walked to

work at Clarion University. Each time I saw him my chest tightened. “I wish I could rescue that dog,” I would think in my heart. I wished I had a pair of flying monkeys who could snatch him away. Instead, I would pick up my pace, and redirect my gaze; I was always grateful for each sighting.

Soon the school semester ended; summer arrived; I stopped walking past the dog behind

the two-story house; I turned my attention to hikes in local game lands with my own dogs

running joyfully off-leash; I stepped up my volunteering at Tri-County Animal Rescue Center,

helping with intake and adoption, caring for dogs in the kennel, fostering; I was writing dog

descriptions for online adoption sites, and transporting rescue dogs on weekends. “You can’t save every dog; focus on the ones you can,” is a mantra I learned in the rescue community. The dog behind the two-story house dropped off my radar screen.

There were more than enough other dogs in crisis to grip my attention. Towards the end

of July police officers brought 2 dogs to Tri-County Animal Rescue Center. The police had

rescued the dogs “during a raid on a Meth house,” we were told. In my mind I pictured the dogs being dragged out of a run down, single wide trailer; I imagined it reeking with fumes, busted up and falling apart along some remote dirt road in the back hills of western PA.


Hippie was a lovely, sweet female Pit Bull, younger and in better shape. Montana was

another Brittany Spaniel with bald patches covering his body from fleas and allergies; his

toenails were so long they were growing sideways, his ears were gunked up, he tested positive for Lymes and whip worms, and he had a bad urinary tract infection. At the shelter we would wince as we watched him strain to squeeze out 2 or 3 drops: drip, drip, drip; he stared past the fence as if in a fog most of the time; because his health had been compromised by inhaling stovetop meth he seemed older than he really was. Months later we would learn that lung scarring from the meth required him to have regular nebulizer treatments.



We had seen photos of Montana and Hippie in better years: the adult Montana curled up on the couch with Hippie as a puppy, the puppy Hippie and the adult Montana looking out a sliding glass door together. Now two of our volunteers had to go to the local jail to collect signatures from the owner for the dogs’ surrender papers. Without surrender signatures we could not even take them to the vet for a wellness exam. I talked to two shelter board members about surrendering Montana to the National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network (NBRAN). As an NBRAN transport driver, I knew that NBRAN would find Montana a wonderful home through their loyal following of Brittany lovers. Shortly after the surrender papers were signed, the shelter surrendered its custody of Montana to NBRAN. Because NBRAN is an extensive community of volunteers who care for rescued Brittanys in their homes instead of in a centrally located dog kennel, the next step in Montana’s rescue came in the form of a question to me: “will you foster him?”

“Yes!”

With better nutrition and medical care Montana improved exponentially. At home with

my own dogs he was a gentle walking partner for my blind Beagle mix, Jackie; he wrestled

playfully with Liberty, leaped into the air to catch his green Sprong ball, and kept up with River and Gabe in the game lands while tethered to my waist on a long lead. At the end of the day he happily curled up on the couch afterwards.



One day before fall classes started I was in the English Department at Clarion University making copies and talking to our secretary about Montana, brimming over about what a great dog he was.

“They said he was rescued from a drug house,” I was telling her, shaking my head, “can

you believe it?”

“Well, you know which house it was, don’t you?” she asked me; Deb reads the local

newspaper but I do not.

“No,” I said, “I just figured it was out on a back road somewhere.”

“It’s that house on South and Fifth,” Deb told me, “the one with the air conditioning unit lying on the grass; the cops must have just torn that right out the window trying to get inside.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, staring at her, “you’re kidding, right?!”

I knew that house well: The house at South and Fifth was the sagging, two-story house

that I walked past on my way to school; when I realized that Montana was the dog behind the two-story house I couldn’t speak; I had been so focused on summer rescue work that I just never made that connection.

Those of us who foster do it for the love of the animal; we know our bittersweet purpose

is enabling that cat or dog to thrive in a new, forever home; ultimately it means letting go.

Driving Montana to Clearfield in the early morning dark and rain on the Sunday we turned our clocks back, I was sipping coffee from my purple L.L.Bean thermos and playing a Johnny

Mathis Christmas CD in my car. It was only October, but Montana was beginning his journey to a new life in New England, and that felt like Christmas to me. Out of dozens of Brittany

Spaniels that John and Jenny could have picked they chose Montana. In his new life Montana would have continued good nutrition and medical care, a female companion Brittany his age named Java, woods to explore, walks along a local lake, the loving attention of people who worked from home, squirrels and chipmunks galore--a dog’s dream come true.

As he usually did, that morning Montana had insisted on the copilot’s seat, alternately

staring straight ahead through the front windshield or turning his head to look out the passenger window; he wasn’t quite comfortable sitting upright in the seat, so every so often he would flatten himself and stretch out towards me, but he was so curious about what was happening outside, that pretty soon he would pop up again like a jack-in-the-box to look out the window.

At the Clearfield Arby’s I walked Montana before handing him over to Bridget, a friend

and fellow transport driver; I had asked Bridget if she could sign up for the leg after mine

because I couldn’t imagine handing Montana off to a stranger. When Bridget pulled in I gently tousled Montana’s now creamy white and orange fur, “Good-bye my beautiful boy; I’m so proud of you; have a safe trip buddy” I told him; “I love you Montana . . . . Enjoy every moment of your new, wonderful life!”



And then just like that, the dog behind the two-story house was gone, pulling out of the

Arby’s parking lot, headed for the on-ramp to I-80, eastbound. I put my car in drive, feeling

stunned once again that something I could only imagine and long for a few months before was now Montana’s dream come true. A warm torrent of wonder welled up inside of me, filling my eyes with tears and spilling over, flooding my heart with thanks.



Origonally published in the Fall edition of The Watershed Journal, Issue #6, a local, grassroots publication.



Juanita teaches writing courses at Clarion University including a course she created called "Authors and Animals." Her poetry appeared in the October 2021 issue of Honeyguide. She has published poetry and nonfiction prose in local venues including the Pennsylvania Wilds website, The Watershed Journal, The Bridge Literary Arts Journal, and Tobeco. She credits her 5 rescue dogs and her one-eyed rescue cat for leading her to the places of discovery and joy from which she writes.

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2 commentaires


Monika R. Martyn
Monika R. Martyn
16 févr. 2022

Balling my eyes out. What a heartfelt story. I felt I was right there seeing Montana and feeling the pain on every level. Thank you for what you do and writing about it.

J'aime

wonderful story. i have rescued the joy of several dogs in my life. from puppy to 13 yr old. each has become not only my best friend but The best friend to all my family. thank you for your compassion

J'aime
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