About ten years ago I found a black dog cowering under the deck at my parents' cabin in the middle of nowhere. Starving and terrified, she wolfed down the scraps we gave her but snarled if we got too close. Her fur, or what there was of it, was ragged and discolored and I could see the outline of her ribs on blotches of her skin.
I reported the news to my parents and they came out the next day.
My mother was crouched under the deck offering the poor creature bits of turkey when Animal Control pulled up in the driveway. Two men jumped out of the truck with all manner of dog-catching apparatus and announced they'd gotten a report of a stray dog at this address.
"There's no stray dog here!" my mother said authoritively. "This is my dog!"
My father just looked sheepishly at the animal control people and shrugged.
It took them a while to lure the feral dog into the car, and the newly-named Anna gave Dr. Chris Keller a run for his money. Anna was no easy pet. Devoted to my mother, she was suspicious of my father (for good reason – animal control was on his speed dial), and aggressive toward everyone else, including grandchildren. Her coat was patchy and dull, and she was literally skin and bones. She was terribly destructive, tearing up the new sprinkler system triumphantly, proud of the protection she gave my mother against the threatening, hissing monster in the garden. She riddled my mother's new car with so many long claw scratches there seems to be a unique striee pattern on the driver's door. She's nibbled all the bedspreads, and the corner of the damask sofa.
She panics when it rains, whirling in desperation like some kind of possessed dervish, and seems to have psychotic episodes in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason.
Anna is not the ideal house pet; she is much too destructive.
But it doesn't matter. She's my mother's dog.
Earlier this summer when she ran through her electric fence because she was afraid of the workmen, we searched for her night and day. We looked north and south, east and west. Up the mountain. Down the mountain. People everywhere were on high alert, combing the mountain and calling her name. The UPS man, regular walkers, everyone at the post office...We canvassed the caves at the natural bridge, the walking trail at Craven's house, the Humane Society, McKamey. Nothing. Not a sound. Not a glimpse.
She had vanished. After five days, I told my mother I thought she'd died. And I convinced myself she had. There was not a trace of her.
I took my mother to the pound to get a new dog, knowing that was the only way to heal her grief. She walked slowly through the kennels, not considering any other dog, but just looking for Anna. "I feel like she's trapped somewhere, waiting on me to rescue her," my mother said, tormented.
On a Sunday afternoon, seventeen days after she went missing, Dr. Ernie Minges said he wasn't coming inside until he found the animal faintly whimpering near his home. He'd been hearing it for days, off and on, but couldn't tell where it was coming from. That Sunday he walked up and down the street until he finally realized the dog was trapped underground. He called the Lookout Mountain Police and Dr. Chris Keller and within minutes a fire engine, Officer Bob Zendejas and Dr. Keller were on the scene, and together they hoisted the mostly dead animal from the ground. 80% dehydrated and septic from multiple wounds that went down to her tendons, Anna was barely alive when Elizabeth Martin walked by and asked what the commotion was about. Elizabeth had been looking for Anna for days and knew immediately she'd been found. She stopped the first person she saw, commandeered their cell phone and called her husband and told him to call the Kelly's', that Anna was found!
I rushed to The Mountain Hospital for Animals on a Sunday afternoon, just in time to watch Anna have a seizure and code on the table. I watched Dr. Keller pick her up by her haunches and easily flip her from one side to the other. She weighed about fifty pounds when she ran away, and she seemed to be about as heavy as a piece of fur now. Or a stuffed animal with no stuffing left in it.
I was waiting in the hall with the Martins when my mother got there. We strained our ears for sounds, any hint at what was going on, then heard a series of exclamations, and knew it was good news.
She was alive, but on a respirator. Dr. Keller gently told my mother that Anna may have brain damage, and too poor a quality of life, but they would cross that bridge later.
Anna lay limp on the table, an empty shell of a creature. Her eyes were rolled back in her head, and the stench of necrosis from her wounds were terrible. The smell of rot was so strong I had to cover my nose. But my mother stroked the dog's head and told her what a good girl she was, until Dr. Keller and Dr. Arnold finally sent her home. He checked on the dog through the night, calling the next morning to say she was still alive, but cautioned she was not out of the woods.
Monday morning she was off the ventilator, but still not moving. Dr. Keller pulled a chair up for my mother, and she spent the day rubbing Anna's head and comforting her.
"It's a miracle," someone who had been in the operating room said.
"I'd come back from the dead too if Mrs. Kelly would take care of me," someone else said.
Monday afternoon, Curtis Harvey and Richard Harrison, the wonderful techs at Mountain Hospital for Animals, propped Anna up and she wolfed down a can of food.
By Tuesday, Anna and my mother were 'receiving' on Dr. Keller's front porch, but there was too much stimulation for the traumatized animal and she had two seizures. Disheartened, my mother sat by her kennel all afternoon, doubting the dog could survive.
Wednesday morning my mother called me, ecstatic. "She pulled out her I.V. in the night!" she said. We were thrilled she noticed there was a needle in her hind leg, that it bothered her and that she had the where-with-all to do something about it.
Thursday my mother gushed that she was a different animal, sitting up like a sphinx and looking around. She rushed over the part about Anna being blind, and completely crippled.
I wondered how my mother was going to take care of a crazy blind dog that was now apparently paralyzed, but I didn't say anything.
After a week or so, Dr. Keller thought Anna should have an outing and come home for a few hours. So we loaded her up and hauled her out to my mother's garden on a cool summer morning. She lay on a blanket in the shade, and two hours later was in a crisis from the heat. Dr. Keller explained she couldn't regulate her temperature, and that the condition was very serious. They cooled her down, and my mother was beside herself.
Anna was hydrated now, and back to her weight of 50-plus pounds. There was no flipping her around in the air but back-breaking lifting her to take her outside and change her position. Her legs seemed to have atrophied completely. On top of that, the infection was a major problem. Every joint was scraped down to the bone so that a two-inch diameter was visible.
I didn't sleep for two nights after she was found. I never thought to look down when we searched for her. It turns out, Anna hid in a drain a few yards from my mother's house, but couldn't back out. So she just crawled forward, day after day after day. For seventeen days she was squeezed so tight the hot metal scraped her skin off.
We set Anna up in my mom's art studio on a cushion, and my parents took a break to eat dinner in the kitchen. My father says he thought my mother had seen a ghost. "Her face just went white all of a sudden, and I turned around to see what was the matter, and there was Anna, standing in the kitchen!"
After thirteen treatments in the hyperbaric chamber at R.I.V.E.R and antibiotics and I.V.'s, she is a regular dog again. I would say she is back to herself, but she is not. The Anna of old ran away in terror when confronted with anyone besides my parents, especially men. She even used to be suspicious of me if they weren't home and I popped by. She was so frightened of my grown sons and my husband that she just retreated to the art studio anytime they came by.
Anna's wounds are completely healed and she runs now, albeit a little stiff-legged. But she has changed. When my boys go by to see their grandparents, Anna greets them enthusiastically, sniffing them and wagging her tail. And she keeps her head in my husband's lap when she sees him, and gazes up at him with semi-crossed eyes that can see clearly.
And as for my father, the man who originally called animal-control about a stray dog on his property, he lay on the floor with Anna when she couldn't move at all, nose to nose with her. And sang softly to her. Day after day.