This post is written by Jim Riis.
I’m driving down the coast of Northern California. Somehow Nancy, Muji, and I have managed to leave town in between winter storms. Yesterday the snowline dropped, today it lifted. There’s promise of wet but fair weather during the time we need to be gone. Our neighbor, Chuck, will care for the chickens. Friends obligingly accepted cancellations of dinner plans. All the necessary “doors” opened smoothly.
Our exit was hasty, pivoting around a phone call a few days ago letting us know that we have been cleared to adopt a newly rescued miniature schnauzer, named Annie by her foster human. Annie’s foster family live about 8 hours away in the flat central Valley.
Annie was apparently found in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, roaming alongside the roadway with a six-week-old puppy. She was matted, full of ticks, and had a number of cuts and scratches. The puppy was emaciated. Annie had no collar or tags, no known story.
As I drive, I think of the irony of giving Annie a home on Annie Lane. We are the only home on Annie Lane, named after the woman who owned the property before us. There’s a fair chance, if all goes to plan, that this little schnauzer with a new name may find a new home on her own lane.
One could say, I suppose, that Annie would have no way of appreciating this bit of synchronicity. One could also say that she will enjoy it through our welcoming her into our lives. These are pleasant, loving thoughts as the landscape rolls by, thoughts that feel like prayer beads passing through the fingers of my mind. I then think of the first of the five thoughts we recite before meals: “We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come…”. It’s true about schnauzers too.
Muji showed up, for example, as a medical rescue at the Mt. Shasta Humane Society 13 years ago after we were at a retreat at Shasta Abbey. We were staying with friends and talking about getting a small dog. It’s easy to say one thing led to another and that’s true, but the chain of events – the call to the Humane Society, the emotional support from Kate and David, the incredible staff at the shelter, Kate and David’s dogs teaching Muji to play – was really an expression of love and compassion, the thread that holds the prayer beads together.
Muji’s now in the backseat looking out the window as we roll into Laytonville. We stop for a break and I take him for a short walk in an empty lot. We’re both a bit stiff with age, but I think my hearing is better.
I consider the course of Muji’s life, at least the parts I’m aware of. Of our friends who’ve taken care of him, of the Doctors who have helped with his health issues, of our love and care for him. The ways and means…
Several friends who have watched Muji age have suggested we get a younger dog, that it would boost Muji’s energy and vitality and he would be happier. Others have expressed concerns that Muji would have a hard time adjusting to not being the “only child”. When Annie surfaced at 3-4 years old, she seemed like just the right age. But I wonder…and I know that we are willing to work with whatever arises.
We’re back in the car now, with Nancy at the wheel. I think about Annie’s journey, how little we know. About whoever it was that stopped and picked her up with her puppy and who took the trouble to find a rescue organization. The ways and means…
As Nancy drives through Hopland, we talk about the different options for routing our trip. We’re headed tonight to her sister, Diane, and her partner, Tom’s house. Another bonus of this trip. We haven’t been to Diane’s for a long time and fetching Annie brings us within an hour of her house and a chance to see them and rest up a bit.
We have left the comfort of our home to travel long distances into an unknown that will change our lives and possibly benefit ourselves and another being: we are not on a mission, we are on a pilgrimage.
Tom places some beautifully cooked omelets in front of Nancy and me. Tom knows that we are anxious to get on the road. From Diane and Tom’s home in the foothills of the Sierras, we’re a little over an hour to Annie’s foster family.
We are excited to leave and sad to go. Our visit with Tom and Diane has been full of good talk, good food, camaraderie, and the good company of their dogs, Tiffany and Jake. Jake, a beautiful chocolate lab, was a perfect gentleman when he snuggled with Nancy, Muji, and I last night. This has been a replenishing way station in our pilgrimage.
The route to Lockeford, where Annie is, takes us through California gold country. We are skirting rolling green hills and blue-green lakes snaked by the lifting tule fog. The openness of anticipation and the immersion in natural beauty make me feel young.
Time and the road slip by evenly, without a hitch. I am now pulling into a driveway and watching a tall man emerge from the workshop end of his garage. I’m comforted, shaking hands with someone who has sawdust on their glasses.
A collection of dogs greets us at the front door, Annie amongst them. She is energetic, curious, and loving despite having been spayed the day before yesterday and still being a bit groggy. Her foster mother puts Annie in Nancy’s lap and we all talk.
There is no definitive story of Annie’s background. The foster mother, Dorothy’s, best guess is that Annie was a bitch from a puppy mill whose latest litter wasn’t up to par and she was turned out. Hence, no collar, no tags. Then again, she could be another of many dogs abandoned because of a house foreclosure.
Dorothy had apparently spent hours in the area where Annie had been picked up, checking the bars and convenience stores for postings of a missing dog. She found no notices or anyone who could identify Annie.
Now it’s time to fill out the paperwork, so I get to hold Annie. We are quick friends. I meet Elliot, Annie’s puppy. Elliot was adopted right off by Dorothy.
Both Dorothy and her husband fill us in about the local dog rescue scene. They themselves have been fostering dogs for 15 years and have taken in hundreds in that time. There is a cadre of local veterinarians and dog groomers who treat and clean up the dogs. Annie has been de-ticked, groomed, given her shots, spayed, had her teeth cleaned, and given a microchip. The ways and means…
Dorothy did not know who initially picked Annie up, the first step in this compassionate event-stream that now has Annie in my lap. I find myself thinking there are ancestors here in all this, and we will take our steps in their good company.
Again I find myself anxious to leave and sad to go. We go out to the front yard with Annie to meet Muji. We spend ten or fifteen minutes talking and letting the dogs sniff, ignore, sniff, pee, sniff. Dorothy gives us a blanket with Elliot’s and the foster household’s smells on it as a transitional object for Annie. Then she places Annie in Nancy’s lap and it is time to go.
I’m driving north, navigating through Sacramento, hooking up with Interstate 5, the north-south freeway that bisects most of California. The traffic is light, the weather continuing to brighten. Nancy and I are in a pleasant glow of non-thought, listening to a book on tape, grateful for our good fortune.
We come to a rest stop and get out to take a stretch. Muji and Annie walk together well on leashes. When it’s time to go, we put Annie in the back seat with her blanket, next to Muji.
Annie, on the left, and Muji during a stop for fuel
Finally, we are home. Everyone’s exhausted. A bit numb, we check in with the neighbor, feed the dogs, feed ourselves. Too tired to talk much, Nancy and I curl up on the bed with Muji and Annie. Just for awhile, of course. But it doesn’t take long to drift off in the nest of schnauzers while wondering how life will change.