I heard the door slam, signaling it was safe for me to get out of bed. Scott had left for work, and I now had the apartment to myself. I stretched, embracing the emptiness. It had been almost a year since we’d moved into the apartment in North Las Vegas, and things had indisputably improved between us since the move away from Henderson, Nevada. Yet, I still had grown to relish Scott’s absences more and more as the months passed by, looking forward to the times in which I would be left alone in peaceful solitude.
I got out of bed, shooing my dog and two cats out of my way as I meandered toward the door. I wanted to check the mail to see if my new books had arrived. It was Wednesday, one of my days off work, so I would have all day to read if they had. I grabbed the mail keys and stepped out into the desert sunlight. It was barely 9:00 AM and it was already topping over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I loved the desert. I felt like a lizard slipping out from under its rock to bask in the sun’s splendor. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. My terrier-mix, Henry, began hopping down the stucco-steps, one-by-one. He was eleven years old with a bad knee, and it usually took him half a Winston to get to the bottom of the steps. Speaking of which-I lit a cigarette, inhaling the thick smoke deeply. Squinting into the courtyard below, I watched Henry hobble his way to the nearest bush to relieve himself before I began my own descent.
Approaching the mailboxes, mail keys jangling noisily in my hand, I felt watched. Pausing in the shade of a mesquite tree, I scanned the courtyard behind me. Henry was busily running from tree to tree, lifting his leg uselessly (his bladder had emptied three pisses ago), but nobody was in sight. Giving a mental shrug, I turned back towards the mailboxes to continue my journey, but a movement from one of the apartment patios to my right side caught my eye. Peering over the waist-high fence, I took in a patio empty of all but a single, emaciated dog. The dog was a white, male pit bull, and though he was filthy, I could tell he was completely white except for the two large, brown patches on his back. The extent of his suffering was impossible to ignore. His entire skeleton was visible, his pelvic bone, spine, scapula, and ribs. Feeling the sweat beading on my forehead, I scanned the patio again for a water bowl. No water. No food.
Realizing I’d stood there too long, I glanced behind my shoulder and hurried back to my apartment, Henry trailing on my heel. Inside, my phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID. It was Scott. I considered answering for a moment, but instead I hit ignore and lit a cigarette. I had to feed that dog or he was going to starve to death. The only problem was the neighbors. The apartment complex I lived in wasn’t known for its friendly neighbors. It was riddled with gangsters and drug addicts, and that particular unit, where the dog was located, was a hotbed of unsavory characters and illicit activities. Tossing the phone aside, I started digging through the fridge, pulling out some cold cuts to toss in with some dry dog kibble. The hard part would be getting some water over the patio wall without being seen. If I was seen…well, that could be pretty bad. I could hear the phone ringing again, but I ignored it.
After about an hour, my kitchen looked like a miniature atom bomb had ruptured. I threw out the dry kibble idea and switched over to wet dog food, reasoning it would also help with hydration. However, I kept the cold cuts, as I could just toss those over without the need of a bowl. As for the water, there was no way to avoid leaving behind evidence-unless I wanted to leave the dog without water-my hope was they wouldn’t notice, or they wouldn’t think too much on it. I had found an old bucket with a handle that I would be able to lower in with a piece of yarn tied to the handle. Now, all there was to do was to walk right on over there, toss in the food, and lower the water bucket onto the porch without anybody seeing me. Stepping outside my front door, it was immediately apparent to me that this would be impossible.
Sitting on the steps, I tracked the passing hours by the steadily increasing temperature. In the courtyard below, I watched as some of the children below valiantly fought in a water balloon fight, water exploding in crystal sparkles across their smiling faces. I knew it was just after 2:30 PM when my neighbor Carrie came around the corner carrying a grocery bag. The sun had lowered behind me, edging slowly toward the western horizon, but the temperature had continued to increase well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Hey lady,” I said.
“What are you doin’ out here? It’s hot as hell. Why aren’t you inside in the AC?”
“I’m tryin’ to wait for all these people to go away.”
“All these people. I need to go over to that apartment and feed this dog, but I don’t want anybody to see me.”
Carrie glanced over her shoulder at the laughing children.
“Well, you know nobody goin’ to be inside ‘til well past midnight, hunny.”
I knew she was right. Once it got passed noon at our complex, everybody woke up and nobody went to bed until the early morning hours. That was Vegas for you. Nobody ever seemed to sleep at night here.
“What you tryin’ to feed some dog for anyhow?”
“There’s a dog over there. He’s starving. No food or water. And you can see all his bones.”
“Well, shouldn’t you call somebody?”
I froze. The thought had never even occurred to me. Who would I call? The police? That seemed like a bad idea. Something about calling the police on known gangsters made me shiver. Then again, here I was conspiring to trespass on their property. Maybe animal control? But what if they euthanized the dog?
“I don’t know, Carrie.”
Carrie brushed the bangs out of her eyes and shifted her weight so she could turn towards the courtyard. She was a large woman, twenty years my senior, but we’d developed a solid friendship since I’d moved in.
“Well, I guess I’ll help you.”
With Carrie acting sentry, I shimmied behind the bushes lining the back wall of the unit so that I had relatively good cover. I had thrown over the cold cuts first. This was good since the dog, previously lethargic and unwilling to move, immediately exploded into a flurry of hyperactivity upon the sight of sliced turkey.
“Calm down!” I whispered to him, glancing worriedly from side to side. This dog was going to get me killed, or worse.
“What’s going on?” Carrie whispered from the other side of the patio.
Opening a can of dog food, I squatted and pushed it through the small opening between the grass and the patio wall, feeling the dog’s hot breath as he grabbed the can from the other side. Sensing stillness from the patio, I peeked over the edge to see him standing in concentration, holding the can with his front paws as he licked out thick, gulps of wet dog food. Good. I took advantage of the dog’s relative calmness, and lowered in the water bucket.
Mission complete. Or so I thought.
“Why does that dog bark whenever you walk by?” Scott asked one evening as we were watching a movie together.
“The dog, by the mailboxes. In that apartment with all those thug-lookin’ dudes.”
“I don’t know. Didn’t notice.”
But I had noticed. Every evening as I got home from work, Spot (as I had so aptly named him) had started barking up a storm before I even exited my car. It wasn’t good. Of course, I had continued to feed him (and he was looking better for it), but the barking was drawing undue attention to me. Maybe it was time to call animal services. But every time I picked up the phone, I visualized the scars on his muzzle and I hung up. I didn’t want him euthanized. It wasn’t his fault. So I kept feeding him, and I ignored the barking. And I ignored Scott’s suspicious eyes. And that seemed to work for a couple of weeks, until Spot escaped.
It was like Spot had memorized my schedule and he was waiting for me. I had just opened my car door and thought, “that’s weird, he’s not barking” when BAM! There he was, covering me in paws and slobber, wagging his tail as if this was the happiest day of his life. He was hugging me, and I was hugging him right back-and for a moment I wondered how easy it would be to just drive away with him. But from all directions I saw eyes trained on me. It was prime time and there were dozens of neighbors trolling the grounds, selling drugs or whatever they do. Sh*t.
I started walking toward my apartment, noticing Spot galloping happily behind me without any coercion, and I pulled out my cell phone to call Scott.
“Hey, come outside.”
Scott waltzed down the steps, eyes darting back and forth between me and the dog like I’d finally been caught red-handed. Feeling anger at his smugness, I suppressed the urge to get smart and instead began telling him Spot’s story. He wasn’t impressed.
“Take the dog back.”
“They’ll kill him, Scott.”
“They’ll kill us, Jade.”
There was no arguing with that. He was probably right, and all the neighbors had already seen us with the dog. I was in no hurry, though. Before returning Spot, I made sure to feed him a hardy meal by the steps. Then Spot and I just sat together for a few moments, him lying by my feet panting happily while I nervously glanced towards the unit I was to return him to. As the sun set, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. Using a pull-leash I’d gotten from the veterinarian’s office, I leashed Spot and started toward the unit.
I didn’t talk to Scott for the next three days, except to tell him about the brutes who answered the door and took Spot from me, and the drugs I saw laying openly on the table, which appeared to be cocaine. His seeming apathy towards Spot filled me with rage, and I rewarded him with the cold shoulder. Again, I was told to call animal services. Again, I refused to risk it.
Four days after Spot’s first escape, as I was leaving for work in the morning, Spot escaped again. I was getting in my car as Spot came leaping around the corner, tail wagging. I looked around. Due to the early morning hour, there was nobody in sight except for two older neighbors across the parking lot. I tried to recollect in my mind whether I’d ever seen them with the men in the apartment, knowing how tightly connections in the complex were wound, but my memory was useless. Instead, I decided to be bold.
“Excuse me,” I called out.
The man turned, staring at me with ink black eyes.
“Do you know whose dog this is?”
My question floated in the air between us as the couple considered the dog at my feet. Spot looked better than he had when I’d first met him, but he was still filthy and visibly malnourished. The man said nothing, choosing instead to just turn and go back inside, leaving the white-haired, black woman alone with me.
“Never seen him before,” she said, before also turning her back on me and going inside.
That was my cue. I rushed Spot into my silver Hyundai Accent, and we left.
My first call was to work, to tell them I wasn’t going to make it in that day. My second call was to my mom, to tell her I was headed to her house with a dognapped pit-bull in tow. I got her voicemail and left a message. She’d understand.
Arriving at my mom’s, I let myself in while Spot waited in the car and cleared her dogs out of the backyard, moving them inside the house. When all was clear, I secured Spot in the backyard and made sure he had food and water. Then I began my calls to local rescue groups. As the day wore on, my calls ventured further and further outside of Las Vegas. All of the no-kill rescue groups either refused to take Spot because of his breed, or they were at full capacity and incapable of taking him. By mid-afternoon, my calls had stretched into Utah, where I finally struck gold with Second Chance for Homeless Pets in Salt Lake City. The lady I spoke with had a dog there that they’d been trying to work at getting to a couple who lived in Las Vegas, and she agreed to take Spot on the condition that I return to Las Vegas with this other dog in order to bring the dog to this couple who had adopted her. I agreed. It being Friday, I told her I’d be there by noon the next day.
That night, I waited for my mom to get home to make sure she wouldn’t mind Spot spending the night in the backyard. Then I went home and explained my plans to Scott, who responded as I expected-in bitterness and anger.
My mom ended up driving from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City and back with me. Spot was a fantastic traveling companion, and it broke my heart when it came time to part with him. We stopped frequently during the drive for bathroom and meal breaks. These frequent stops yielded in a strong bond between Spot and myself. As the hours passed and we neared our destination, my heart began to grow heavy. I knew leaving Spot was going to be difficult. Yet, when we arrived and I finally said goodbye, I left knowing I had ensured him the best possible future. The drive was long, tedious, and, at times, torturous, but I would do it again without hesitation. My mom and I brought the couple in Las Vegas the dog they’d been waiting so long for, a beautiful white dog that resembled a giant cotton ball. And then, when it was all said and done, I went home feeling exhausted, but also fulfilled for the first time in years. As for Scott and I, we broke up. Scott, who had immediately attempted to pummel me with sarcasm as I entered the door, seemed as incapable of grasping the reason for me breaking up with him the night of my return as he had for me feeding and saving Spot. Go figure. Yet, at the end of it all I’d not only saved Spot, but in a way, Spot had saved me too, and for that, I’ll always be grateful to him. Thank you, Spot.
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