For a good part of my life—16 years —I had a dog named Lala. During our time together, she was stolen from me three times. Now, Lala was not any kind of pedigreed canine, but rather, a small mixed-breed, part Chihuahua, part Dachshund and part something else, possibly German Shepherd. She looked like a miniature German Shepherd—blonde with black tips—and weighed around 11 pounds. She was undeniably appealing—dark, expressive eyes and chronic joyousness—but she was not the kind of dog you could fence for money.
With people, Lala was the friendliest, most loving dog imaginable; I’ve never met another dog with so purely affectionate a nature. She, in turn, inspired affection and even goodness in the most unlikely and even unlikable human beings. Although when it came to other dogs, Lala was fearless and ferocious.
I used to say that her motto was two-fold: come from love and kill big dogs. If she’d had a different kind of owner (if, indeed, she’d stayed with her second captors) she might have become a bear dog, a fyce (as Faulkner calls them), one of those little yappy things who runs right up to bears, barking and nipping, but is too small and too close to the ground for the bear to reach underneath and eviscerate with a claw swipe. As it was, I once had to pry an Airedale’s teeth off her throat. Lala antagonized other dogs, especially those larger than herself.
Ah, but humans, Lala adored and trusted indiscriminately. Once, in a supermarket parking lot, she shot out of my car and ran across two aisles to greet a family of strangers as though they were her own long lost kin. She made human friends wherever we went.
I found her at a small sawmill in the Southern Sierra foothills where I routinely stopped to fill my trunk with scraps for my wood-burning stove. One day, a small puppy with an infected eye came up and licked my ankle. “Whose dog is this?” I asked the owner.
“Yours,” he said. Then added, “Somebody left three puppies in the ditch. Please take her, or my wife will.”
I took her. And drove directly to the vet, who pulled a foxtail out of her eye, gave her puppy shots and said that she was around four months old. Maybe two weeks later, she was stolen from me for the first time.
I was living in the country, amoung the oak- and grass-covered foothills outside a small town I’ll call Mayville on the banks of the Chula River. (I’ve changed names to protect the guilty—and to protect myself from the guilty.) On Memorial Day, I drove into Mayville to see my friend Fanny. Her back yard was on the river. We spent the hot afternoon walking several hundred yards up the bank, then floating downstream in inner tubes. Fanny’s two dogs and Lala ran up and down along the bank with us. People were in their yards, barbecuing, and cooling off in the river. Lala made friends left and right, with families and retirees and an old hermit, and was an instant hit with a small pack of eight- to 10-year-old boys. The dogs were always there to greet us as we pulled ourselves out of the water. Then, at one point, Lala wasn’t with them.
Fanny and I spent the rest of the afternoon scouring Mayville, calling and whistling, to no avail. I came across the pack of boys who’d befriended Lala. They’d seen her, but couldn’t say exactly where, or when, or agree which way she’d gone. I gave up searching after dark, and had a very bad night.
The next morning, Fanny called from work; she was a teacher’s aide at the local school. One of the little boys, she said, had had an attack of conscience. He’d admitted that he and his friends had stolen Lala and put her in an outbuilding behind his house in Mayville. Fanny gave me the address, directions and the eight-year-old’s description of the place. I drove into town.
I found the address easily—a house on an acre of shady land with at least five outbuildings on the property. Nobody answered the door of the main house, so I walked around to the back. Three sheds were locked, and another was an old outhouse filled with gardening tools. The last building was a small substandard dwelling —Mayville was filled with uninsulated shacks and shanties that people once vacationed in—and I was heading toward it when a woman came out of the main house. She was slim and good-looking, with black hair in the big, sprayed style of a cocktail waitress. “What are you doing?” she said. Not friendly.