Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A 'Tail' of Two Friendships

I spend a lot of time encouraging people to write.  I've been known to nudge even those with little interest in writing.  We all have our stories, and I believe there is great value in putting them down on paper.  Which is why it's a little odd that I am so very glad Jan Bowden earned a BA in English, intending to write, and instead went into an entirely different line of work.

I met Jan in 1993.  I was working as a nanny at the time, in a house near the terminus of a dead-end road.  I looked out the window one morning and saw an unfamiliar dog at the edge of the property.  He had classic Rottweiler coloring, but his build and posture were something altogether different.  He was rail-thin, his head bowed and his tail tucked.  He limped, holding one rear foot high.  I knew he didn't belong to any of the neighbors.

A handful of cookies and some gentle encouragement were all it took to coax him into the garage.  Up close, I could see how scrawny he was, and that the injury to his foot was just one of many.  I went to look for his tags and made a horrifying discovery: the dog had a rope embedded so deeply in his neck, skin had grown over it.  Shaking, I found the number for the local Animal Control Officer and placed the call.

The woman who arrived in the ACO van was the definition of no-nonsense.  Short hair, L.L. Bean attire, and an air of capability that made me certain she would know what to do with the poor dog who stood between us, alternately wagging his tail and cowering if we moved too quickly.  I asked her what would happen to him.

She told me she worked for an animal hospital and would take him there immediately.  She said his injuries were so extensive, though, that it was likely he could not be saved.

"If he makes it, I'll take him," I said impulsively.

I wondered if she'd heard me.  She went about her business, securing the dog in the van.  I repeated myself.

"Okay," she said.  Her tone reminded me of the way my younger brother would snarkily say, "Yeah, right…"  Capable though she seemed, this woman was starting to rub me the wrong way.

I took her card: Janet W. Bowden.  I called incessantly to find out what had happened to the dog.

He made it.

I went to see him as soon as he was moved from the hospital to the animal shelter.  I named him Clifford, after the small red puppy in Norman Bridwell's children's books, the runt who is so loved, he grows larger than a house.  I figured this dog could use that kind of love.

Because of the indeterminate nature of his injuries, Clifford had to be quarantined at the animal shelter.  Every day, I went to walk and feed and play with him.  Eventually I figured I might as well walk and feed and play with the other dogs while I was there.  I became a regular volunteer at the shelter.

I learned that Jan Bowden, the Animal Control Officer who'd seemed brusque when we first met, was actually just about the biggest mush on the planet.  She adored animals, and in her job, she'd too often seen some horrific treatment of them.  She'd also seen more than her share of well-meaning people who promised a pet a forever home, then failed to follow through.  I learned she'd been surprised when I'd called about Clifford, and was even more surprised when I came to spend time with him daily.

Clifford healed and thrived.  Much like his namesake, he grew - not to the size of a house, perhaps, but he put on enough weight that it was a bit of an issue that he thought he was a lap dog.  (Ever have 100 lbs. of Rotti mix perched on your lap?)  He had minor medical issues that lingered throughout his life, but he managed them well.  His injured foot never healed, but running on three legs seemed fine to him.  He loved children, other dogs, and even our family cat, Licorice.  He thought boat trips on the Bass River were the best.

And Jan Bowden?  She became one of my dearest friends.  She worked as the Animal Control Officer for the Town of Seekonk, Massachusetts from 1977 until 2006, and she left her mark on the position and the town.  She fought to have a shelter with modern equipment built, and to have a state-of-the-art vehicle purchased.  She started the volunteer organization that supports the work of the ACO to this day.  And if that wasn't enough, last fall she celebrated 40 years of work at Warren Animal Hospital.

Talk to Jan about animals - her own or those who've passed through the shelter - and she's liable to get choked up.  She has so many stories, it seems she might put that BA in English to work after all.  If she ever slows down enough to sit and write, she's lived volumes.

Clifford spent nearly 10 years enhancing the lives of everyone he met.  And when he became terminally ill, Jan made the drive out to the Cape for one more visit.  Clifford had a boat ride on the Bass River, then he went to sleep at home, loved.

"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince


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