Bo lay at the base of the old oak tree. His heavy, rusted chain wrapped around the sturdy trunk and fell heavily to the dirt alongside the broken-down shelter where he slept. Fifteen feet in the other direction, another dog, Sam, sat perched, hopeful, hunched over, waiting. Waiting for someone, anyone, to pay him attention. Eternally he waited, stretched to the very edge of his chain. Sam’s worn path and his shelter rested opposite from Bo’s, and beneath another old oak.

The two worn and barren circles they had carved with their feet were separated by dried patches of grass. Their circles would never meet. Sam and Bo slept each week, every night, under the stars, in the freezing cold, in the heat of a summer’s day, but their noses never met.

Years I traveled this road, sometimes four times a day – dropping children at school, driving to the store, picking kids up, doing errands– but one day it occurred to me. It was dusk, in January, it was 10 degrees and Bo’s stooped-over, slim silhouette stuck out as the sun set behind him. I was struck with the beauty of rural Maine and then was flattened by the truth: These two were never not there.

This realization was followed by a deep sadness that made it hard to travel this road. It was particularly hard in the months when the snow was heavy and the temperatures dipped into the negative numbers. There were other times in the summers when there were warnings about dogs being left in cars because they’ll get overheated. People are watchful and ready to release a dog from a hot car. Yet the vague definition of “adequate shelter,” a long enough tether, fresh water and provision of food allow a dog to live outside for 365 days of the year.

As years went by I wrote children’s stories in my head for Bo and Sam, as I named them. I said hello to them as I passed. I called the animal control officer multiple times, yet was assured they were cared for enough. Enough. I spent hours dreaming of how I would drop off two insulated doghouses one day with a note and a bag of food. And then one spring, Sam was not there. The grass in his circle started to grow, but Bo still sat hunched in the sunset all season long.

Today I drive by. The two dying old oaks remain, yet the grass is now full under both, and the trees’ dried remains await new spring growth. I still yearn for the silhouetted forms of Bo and Sam and wish I’d had enough courage to drop off two doghouses and a note.

 


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