Search and Rescue

At first, it seemed clear who needed whom the most.

Illustration by Ward Saunders

Mosie came into my life a decade ago. I had moved to Richmond a year earlier after five years in Paris where I covered tennis for ESPN’s fledgling dot-com, work that sent me to exotic locales like Dubai, Rome and Moscow. But there’s no aloneness like bouncing between nondescript hotel rooms in far-flung places where few speak your language and even fewer know your name. 

I had toyed with the idea of getting a dog while still in France. I met a number of potential canine adoptees, and had a brief infatuation with a pug who’d been trained to use a small (human) toilet in an equally small apartment near Montmartre. I can’t say I’d ever seen that before, but I knew I was destined to return stateside, and passed on the pug—likely a bullet dodged. 

A couple of years later, back in the U.S. and working from home, I determined to flex my responsible-for-someone-other-than-myself muscles. They hadn’t been overly taxed in my first 42 years; I’d had a lot of me-time.

And that’s how I found myself in a slightly scruffy Richmond animal shelter. I had already been to the opulent-in-comparison, fresher-smelling local SPCA, but hadn’t connected with any of the various labra-hound, pit-doodle, golden mixes I encountered. And I could leave the SPCA confident that those exotic hybrids would eventually find homes. Not so much at the city shelter, a last resort for many a sad-eyed dog who’d seen the rougher side of life. 

The little caramel-colored bundle I found there was different: He seemed as eager to bond as I was, an impression only bolstered as I watched him flail about like a canine marionette, limbs all akimbo, while we played fetch on a small patch of wet, faded AstroTurf. There was just something about him, something hard to describe, that made me want to bring him home.

They told me he was a “hound mix,” which I later learned is shelter-speak for “we really have no idea what he is,” and they thought he was about six months old. Definitely still a puppy. Only thing was, someone had just put in an adoption claim for him and there was a three-person waiting list. Unbowed, I prodded them to expand the waiting list to four. They told me that each person ahead of me would be given 24 hours to respond. Four potential owners would need to pass for me to have a shot at taking him home. They did, and I got the call. It was meant to be.

I picked him up on an overcast Saturday afternoon after he’d been separated from vital aspects of his manhood and given half a dozen shots. He was clearly punch-drunk, stumbling around the sidewalk and getting tangled up in my feet. I could barely take a step without trodding on his little brown paws. 

I gave Mosie the equivalent of three hots and a cot, some chew toys, a cozy crate and the sort of attention someone working from home can offer. That first night, he gave me, well, a case of heartburn. Sleepless, I spent the hours second-guessing my decision to assume this whole new level of responsibility. Truth is, I wasn’t sure I was up to it. 

While I tossed and turned, Mosie dozed quietly through the night in his crate—a harbinger of the relatively low-maintenance decade to follow. 

His modest expectations tempered my initial fears about not being the world’s best pet owner, of somehow not doing it “right.” A bite to eat, some water, a nap, a nice walk, a good scratch behind the ears—it wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it might be. 

As it happened, adopting Mosie was the first domino to fall over the next 12 months: a marriage, an infant daughter and a mortgage followed. He has remained at my side—or rather, my feet—through all of it: the eventual dissolution of the marriage, my daughter’s first nine years, my own transition from carefree bachelor to dad. 

Mosie sports a healthy bit of gray around his muzzle now, as do I. For every life change I’ve walked through in the past decade, he’s remained one of the few constants. Our dialogue and routines haven’t changed much. The same key words—“dinner,” “off,” “leave it!” “good boy”—govern our world in a reassuring way. He sniffs the same familiar smells and marks the same familiar territory on our rectangular walks around the neighborhood, canine rituals that remain a mystery to me. It doesn’t take much to keep ‘ole Mosie happy. 

He “gets” me in a way that few others seem to. He’s tolerant of my quirks, like when I ask if he’d like to go for a walk and then leave him sitting by the door for the next 30 minutes, patiently waiting. 

Mosie has taught me a lot: He never holds a grudge, he lives in the moment and he doesn’t get snagged by unrealistic expectations. Dogs are good like that. 

Now, when I look down into his brown eyes, I ask myself, who rescued whom?

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