She wasn’t a stray, she was always too well fed to be a stray, but she was one of those dogs who wander, and I never did know who she belonged to at all. Back then, there were fewer cars, less traffic and people walked more and children all rode bicycles. It was safer for a bridle Pitbull girl dog to walk to school with kids or visit them at lunch. She was one of those odd dogs who learned to bare her teeth not in a snarl but a grin. I never knew her real name but because she was striped, blacker than orange, I called her Tiger.
I remember Tiger appearing one day when we were riding our bikes to school, and it’s odd that so few kids ride anymore. As I’m going to work I see cars parked at the end of driveways, driveways mind you, to drop their kids off closer to the bus. We walked, we rode out bikes, and if we ever got on a school bus all the kids would group together at one place at one time. I see school buses stopping at every other house now. My father would have rather seen me walk in the rain than ride me to school. I thought this was how it was supposed to be when I was growing up. I think that taking kids to the end of the driveway is a bit much, though.
So there was Tiger. Smiling, wagging her stump of a tail so hard her rump swung her around like a comma. I remember a kid telling me Tiger would bite me because she was showing her teeth but that body language told me that she was a kissy dog. I was right about Tiger, kissy dog she was, too, and she loved attention. She trusted strangers which is something I can’t bring myself to do today or ever for that matter.
The need for young male humans to show themselves to be hard or capable of cruelty or wantonly stupid was strong when I was growing up in South Georgia. By High School I learned not to show that I liked something or, heaven forbid, love something, because someone would try to destroy it. I had to be very careful when Tiger came around and she sensed that there were times she should approach me and times when other people might be mean to her. Girls loved her, and that kept most of the truly stupid from trying to hurt Tiger, but she was never save around humans. None of us really are.
It’s odd that even at a very young age I was being taught to hide what I liked. I was being conditioned to conceal what I loved for fear of others destroying it. It was, and it still is, a legitimate fear. Were it not there would be no animal shelters and there would be no pets destroyed by uncaring alleged human beings. At this point in my life I am two different people, at least, to the world. I am Mike Firesmith, foster dog dad and writer. To the rest of the world I am just someone with a job and who owns dogs. My constant need to subdivide my life has followed me deep into adulthood and I am not quite certain how to break the walls down.
I have no idea what happened to Tiger. I cannot remember when I noticed I hadn’t seen her in a while. She came and went at odd times so it wasn’t unusual for us not to see her for a week or so but that day came, when I realized she had been gone for a very long time. I remember a day I saw her in the parking lot and I went out to greet her. We hid between two cars and I shared my lunch with her. In a world filled with cruelty where there were no kind words spoken or heard, Tiger was the only person I could have shared a moment of humanity with at that time.
So there was a Brindle Pit, female, and her last day had arrived. Either someone took her in or she would die. Sam is so totally weird right now I cannot image trying to foster another dog, and who knows how Lilith would react to another female? But there was Tiger looking at me and a small and very scared and very young man inside of me reached out to share a moment of kindness and happiness and joy, and yes, I will take the bridle girl dog and I will save her.
I didn’t make it back into Valdosta to get her today. I was neck deep in work and six was here and gone before I could break away. But tomorrow when the vet’s office opens I’ll get to meet her, at last, and maybe she will be able to sense in me there is a debt I have to pay, in kindness and in love, for a bridle that shared my lunch with me and allowed me, for just a few moments, to be who I really wanted to be and who I really was and am.
I can make this work. I can get Lilith to, at worst, accept Holly into the pack, and get Sam to stay away from her, and Lucas will love her. I can do this. For no matter what else has happened in my life they have never failed me. They have always been there for me. They have always kept my love true.
And maybe, one day, if I save enough of them, and they keep teaching me how to love without conditions or fear or hesitation and without any regard to anything but the heart, maybe I can be just one person, one day.