I met Belle before I actually met her owner. She was an Austrian Ridgeback—a beautiful dog.
Sometimes, by just being available, you get blessed. I was outside the QuickTrip sitting in my truck and eating a late night snack. I have long been drawn to people on the streets, so I was also trying to be available to whatever opportunity might come.
I saw the dog first. Her owner was looping Belle’s leash around the pole in front of the truck. I got out to pet the dog and talk to him. Johnny was a Vietnam veteran who was now homeless. After thirty seconds, he asked if I would watch his dog. I told him I would, and then shouted to his back as he hustled away, “What's her name?”
I sat down next to Belle, and she proceeded to lay her head on my lap and roll belly up, which means means, “Love me, I'm a dog.”
After fifteen affectionate minutes I started to wonder about Johnny. Soon I was worrying. I wondered if Johnny had abandoned the dog into my permanent care.
I decide to go in the QT. In the bathroom, I saw Johnny’s shoes in one of the larger stalls. I went back out. Belle was happy to see me. Johnny reappeared shortly.
We talked. I learned that Johnny needed a ride to retrieve his campsite (“homesite”) in order to relocate to another area. Sure! Belle hopped in the back and Johnny up front. We drove and I parked in a nearby empty lot. He disappeared into a cluster of trees. As I gently talked to Belle her eyes never left the spot where Johnny had vanished. When he emerged from the woods carrying all his possessions, she relaxed at the sight of him.
I drove them back up the road close to where they would set up camp. Johnny and his best friend. As I was shutting the door, Johnny said, “Here, I want you to have this.” He handed me his leather bomber jacket. “I won't be needing this anymore. I'll be dead from cancer before it gets cold.”
It was one of the hottest nights in a hot August, but I proudly put that jacket on and, holding back tears, gave Belle one last pat. “I’ll be around,” I told Johnny as I buckled my seatbelt.
I visited them often. One day, I noticed Johnny's head was red like a beet. I asked about the prized Marine Corps hat that he always wore. He looked down and confessed that he had lost it. I gave him the Navy cap my son had given to me. “My boy would want you to have it.”
We had become friends. I savored the pleasure that beautiful dog got from my visits. And Johnny was extremely grateful for the small ways I was able to help him. Mostly he was happy that I took the time to listen and care.
A week or so after I gave him the hat, I saw Belle with someone else. No sign of Johnny. A young homeless lady named Janet was panhandling next to the road and Belle was with her.
“Isn't this Johnny's dog?”
Janet said, “Yes, but Johnny was arrested, and he asked another girl to bring the dog to me.”
I offered to find a permanent home for Belle, but Janet assured me that she would take good care of her.
From time to time, I saw them when Janet was out begging. Belle was the same loving affectionate dog as always. I could tell Janet was taking care of her.
One day I saw Janet without the dog.
“Dead,” she said.
Someone had poisoned Belle at their campsite while Janet was out looking for food and money.
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