How I Found My Dog: Roadside Assistance

By Alice Schaaf, March 2009

Jefferson Beagle

I certainly wasn’t looking for a puppy when Jefferson Beagle came along. I already had four older rescued dogs, two rescued horses, and a revolving door of foster dogs and cats from our local humane society. But on one particular drive down the four-lane interstate between Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, I found myself praying for my own rescue from my passengers. God answered in dog.

My passengers, my aunt and stepfather, were discussing death. “Well,” said Leon, “I was watching a program on the History Channel about a guy who was on the frontlines of battle for four years during World War II and survived it all and then came home and was hit by a bus.” There followed a running commentary from both on the many ways one might die, from being hit by lightning, to electrocution in the bathtub, to heart attacks.  And we were only 15 minutes into a one-hour drive. I am not overly religious, but I prayed, “Dear God, this is nuts. I’ll kill them both myself if I have to listen to this the whole way to Louisville.” 

At that instant, I spotted a small brown dog by the side of the interstate, sniffing a possum carcass. As we flew by at 75-miles-per-hour, I said, “There’s a dog.” Genius insight, I know, but my thoughts started racing. Pull over now? Go to the next exit? Where were we, anyway? My comment stopped the death discussion, as if in immediate answer to my plea, and although no one else saw a dog, I knew I wasn’t hallucinating. 

I took the next exit and retraced our route. At that point, the highway literally cuts through the miles of rock going down to and up from the bridge over the Kentucky River. There was no way to tell exactly where I had seen him, but this time we had six eyes looking. 

On the shoulder, between the high stone walls and speeding cars, and still working at the possum carcass, was the little brown dog. I pulled onto the opposite shoulder, grabbed the strap from my yoga mat, and carefully crossed the highway. My stepdad and I approached what looked like a young Beagle-mix, about 20 pounds. The dog gave me a wary look and ducked under the guardrail toward the cliffs. Confused by the traffic and the rocks and the people, he turned in tight circles. We cut off his escape routes, and edged closer. When he tried to climb into an indentation in the rock wall, I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, flipped him to his back, rubbed his belly, and told him what a good boy he was. Within a few minutes, I was able to pick him up and held him close as we returned to the car. Although both our hearts continued to race, the puppy seemed relieved and went limp in my arms.  
The puppy rode in the back of my station wagon, perfectly still, only glancing at us out of the corners of his eyes. My aunt suggested the name Jefferson, our destination county and where we would likely leave him at a humane shelter. The name stuck, but the plan did not, although we did take him to a vet for a quick check-up that day. Jefferson had no microchip and wore no collar. So Jefferson went home with me. 

Raging infections caused black drainage from his ears, which crusted on his neck fur, and he was completely deaf. It took several months for the infections to clear up, and now his deafness is only selective, and his huge, soft ears are his cutest feature. Months later, an x-ray showed a .22 bullet lodged in his neck, also from sometime before I found him. But despite whatever hell Jefferson experienced previously, he is now the happiest guy around.  My vet says, “There’s no such thing as a bad day for Jeffy.”

Jefferson Beagle loves other dogs, cats, children and grown-ups. He tells stories in his beagle howl, wagging his tail and pushing forward to be petted. He literally bounces around the yard, on and off the porch, and on to any available lap. He runs in huge circles, zipping past the other dogs with a quick “woof” over his shoulder. If he finds an idle hand, he taps it with a paw until he gets patted. He still signals any indecisiveness by spinning around in circles. He snores like a freight train. I only half-heartedly tried to find him a home. With three black Lab mixes and a Jack Russell, ages 8 to 11, our house was already full, but the addition of a five-month-old Beagle-mix puppy named Jefferson brought it to life. 

Alice Schaaf is an assistant college counselor in Lexington, Ky.