By Tim Wohlforth
Hemlock Street? Never heard of it. Somewhere in East Oakland. Yet I was driving down it as if I knew where I was going. I had taken a wrong turn while seeking a short cut from the Oakland Airport to my home in the hills above Montclair. I found myself surrounded by small cottages with ill-kept lawns, occasional boarded up deserted homes. Chain fences and bars on the windows of the better kept up houses suggested a high crime area. I passed two scrawny alley cats hissing and fighting. I had no intention of stopping to ask for directions in this neighborhood.
I spotted a black object in the middle of the street. Moving. I slammed on the brakes. I was going to stop here after all. I climbed out of the front seat to take a look. No one was outside. Not even a car passed me. I walked to the front of the car. The black object didn't move. As I approached I began to make out the shape of a very small dog.
A miniature dachshund sat in the middle of the street chewing away on a fragment of a very old bone. It seemed so thin, ribs showing through its shiny coat. Fur like a seal. A touch of brown above each delicate eyebrow. "Points," I believe they were called. Long snout with brown on the bottom. Floppy black ears. Could be a prize-winning pedigree if it had been given a little more to eat. It paid me no attention.
I stood over the little creature trying to figure out what to do. Would it bite me if I picked it up? Seemed to be a gentle animal. Not a pit bull or a mastiff. Nothing to fear.
The dog noticed me. Clinging to the bone with its long set of teeth, she - I could now see the dog was female - rolled over exposing her tiny brown tummy. She gave me no choice. I squatted down and rubbed her belly. She wagged her little tail. She had me hooked.
She wore a collar. Good. Someone owned her. I noticed an identification tag. This was going to be simple. I would drop the dog off at her home and warn the owner not to let her out into the street. I looked at the tag. "Sophie." Yes, she looked like a Sophie. But only a phone number. I could have started to knock on the doors along Hemlock Street. I scanned the homes again. No signs of inhabitants. A war zone. No, I didn't think knocking on doors was such a good idea.
I picked Sophie up and put her on the passenger seat of my car. I decided to drive to my house and then call the owner. I passed through that desolate neighborhood until I stumbled on a street I had heard of. Then made my way to the freeway and back home. Sophie lay contently in the seat next to me, long head resting in my lap. She was in no hurry to be found.
I took her into my kitchen and gave her a bowl of water. She lapped it up as if she had been hiking in the Mohave. Then I found in the frig some leftover pot roast and roast potatoes. I cut up the food, heated the mix for a few seconds in the microwave, and put the plate out for her. She gobbled up the food. Then looked up at me for more. Not begging. Not jumping on me. Just capturing me with her soulful eyes.
I reached for my phone and dialed the number on her tag.
"Whatya want?" A gruff woman's voice answered. Slight southern accent.
“I have your dog, Sophie."
"You a dog thief?"
"I found her lying in the middle of Hemlock Street. Almost ran her over."
"If you had, I'd sue you."
"I took her home."
"You got your nerve."
"Instead of arguing with me, why don't you come and pick her up."
"Give me your address."
I did so.
"Way up there? You must be loaded."
"Are you coming for her?"
"Be there in a couple."
* * *
I sat on my recliner watching the evening news as I waited for Sophie's owner. Sophie had settled into my lap as if she belonged there. Long body stretched in the crevice between my legs, nose pointed toward me rather than the TV. Sophie wasn't into news. I felt like this animal had been with me always and always would be.
I had been brought up with dachshunds. Even when it seemed the whole family, the whole world, was mad at me, my dachshund remained my friend. Didn't even mind when I tried to tie her to my wagon and get the little creature to pull me. I had missed that unquestioning love over the years. I wasn't looking forward to turning her over to her owner.
I heard banging on the door. I gently placed Sophie on the recliner's seat and got up to open the door. I let in a large woman with dyed blond hair wearing a pink flower-print dress. She had a scowl on her round reddish face. Swollen varicose-vein-covered legs. She said nothing as she walked into the living room.
As soon as Sophie spotted her, the dog let out a strange high-pitched sound. More haunting than a howl. It was as if she was trying to screech in some tone way beyond the range of her vocal chords. She shivered and tucked her little tail between her legs. The lady rushed toward her. Sophie bared her teeth and growled. Then she dashed past the woman, and squiggled under the couch.
"Goddamn that mutt," the lady said.
She knelt down in front of the couch with great effort and reached in for Sophie.
"Yeow!" she shouted, as she withdrew a wounded finger.
"I suggest you leave her there. She clearly doesn't like you."
"When I get that little bitch I'll teach her a thing or two."
"You're not going to touch her."
"Whatya mean? She's my dog."
"I mean she's not leaving this house."
"Says you." She stood up and sucked her finger. "I'm going for help."
"Go bring the cops. I'll call the A.S.P.C.A."
"Who said anything about cops? My old man will fix you."
"She stays here. I'll pay you for her."
For a moment she hesitated. The thought of money seemed to sway her. Then she shrugged her shoulders.
"Bullshit you will. Sophie's AKC. Best breeder I ever seed. $2,000 worth of pups twice a year. Like clockwork. You don't get her."
She stomped out of my house, slamming the door.
* * *
Sophie poked her long snout out from under the couch as soon as her owner had left. I sat back in my recliner, called her name, and she scurried over. She hopped into my lap and resumed her former position. As if nothing had happened.
But something had happened. I had defied Sophie's owner. I didn't even know her name or her exact street address. Soon she would appear again at the door. This time with reinforcements. What could I do? Call the cops? Technically, I was in the wrong. Kidnapped Sophie. Of course, if I could prove abuse it would be a different matter. But how could I prove it? All I had was Sophie's fear. I believed Sophie. She had been abused. But would a cop believe a dog over her owner?
I had developed a new appreciation for Sophie. This trooper had been a mother many times over. All Sophie wanted in return was a little love. The reward she had gotten for her maternal efforts was ill-treatment and barely enough food to keep her alive. Sophie had become this woman's money machine.
I would give her the love she needed. Demanded. I patted her. She snuggled deeper into the space between my legs. She wasn't going back. Somehow I would prevent it.
* * *
* Story continued part 2