Change of Pace: The Day Everything Changed – A Dog Story


(While horses and donkeys drive 99% of what we do at Habitat for Horses, many dogs pass through these gates as well. Sometimes they are the result of a seizure in a county without an animal shelter, sometimes they simply show up and make themselves at home. Whatever the cause, the result is usually an adoption by an employee or volunteer. Sara Tenenbein, the wife of the writer, asked me to share this story with you. Needless to say, she’s proud of her husband, as well she should be. His reaction to a little lost dog is an inspiration to all who care for living creatures other than themselves. The original story can be found on Facebook – Jerry

10814_10152789478825604_1972056211_nToday was the day that everything changed.

Just before noon, my wife Sara and I stopped in Modesto for lunch. I was driving us from San Francisco to Visalia, and couldn’t find a viable healthy restaurant on the way. Traveling with our dog, Bea Arthur, limited our choices to just those with outdoor seating. And Bea spending most of the trip whining increased the urgency of getting out of the car.

We finally settled on what we thought was a cute café. Once seated, we discovered the place had the menu of a Denny’s with three times the price, and the one open table was next to three women who made the cast of Sex And The City look well adjusted.

The women were actively complaining that their boyfriends were paying too much attention to them. Keep complaining, ladies. That problem will work itself out.

On top of that, it was cold out. We ate fast and got back in the car. Many miles and a two stomach aches later, Sara finished a delayed conference call and I pulled over so Sara could finally drive. And that’s when we saw him.

There was a mutt that couldn’t have been more than ten pounds, running around a gas station. I threw the car in park and Sara started chasing the dog. He was extremely fast – Sara couldn’t come within ten feet of him. I grabbed Bea and started chasing as well. We watch a lot of Animal Planet and this was not as easy as they make it look. I’d imagine I’d also be shaking my fist at HGTV if we ever renovated a house.

Someone from the gas station yelled to us that Animal Control had been trying to catch the dog for weeks. “Not trying hard enough,” I thought. I was not going to let this ten pounds of cute outwit me. I noticed the dog was going in circles around the gas station so I had Sara chase it into the station’s retired car wash tunnel as I ran to the other side.

When I was in college, I played tackle football with no padding every January. In a game of ultimate frisbee, I ran into someone so hard it took my face three weeks to heal. I once caught a Spring Training home run ball with a slide on concrete. But I have never been so proud of a tackle as I was today. Partially because it’s been ten years since I’ve exercised with any sort of regularity.

With Bea’s leash in my left hand, I got my right hand on the mutt’s back enough to stop it from running. The poor dog was terrified – it peed so much I felt like I had squeezed a water bottle. Sara took Bea from me and I tried to feed the mutt a few treats. It was too scared to eat. In fairness, if something 18 times my size scared me so much I peed on myself, my next thought wouldn’t be “oooh, snacks!”

Having found the dog in a car wash, I decided to call him “Suds MacKenzie.” Sara grabbed a blanket from the car and we did what we could to clean Suds off and wrap him up. After ten minutes of heavy petting, Suds finally started eating. Again, I was reminded of college.

We drove to a nearby Petco and bought $50 worth of supplies. We figured we’d be back home in LA in two days – we could stop by a vet in Fresno to have Suds checked out, and then find a no-kill shelter in LA or a neighbor in need of an adorable friend. We bought a collar so we could walk him, some wipes to finish cleaning him off, a bunch of Nature’s Miracle to make sure our hotel would be fine, and some wet food since Suds’ teeth were mostly gone.

Suds wouldn’t walk in the parking lot, probably having never been on a leash before, so I carried him back to the car and tried to find something more conducive to calming a dog than a strip mall. According to Google, the nearest dog park was back in San Francisco. But I saw a patch of green on the map and headed for it.

Then something amazing happened – the patch of green was a dog park, and it was the nicest dog park I’ve ever seen. It was large, covered in grass, and empty. Meanwhile, the 60-degree day had magically warmed up to 68. This was order in the universe.

The cosmic nature of what was happening hit me. Bea’s whining, the terrible lunch, Sara’s delayed conference call – it all led up to us finding this amazingly sweet animal. And I was wrong – this dog’s name was not Suds. It was Carlin. It had to be. Part for the play on words that I met him in a car wash. But mostly because he inspired me to re-appreciate the universe in an entirely nonreligious way.

There is also something amazing about having a dog named Bea Arthur towering over a dog named George Carlin.

We let Bea explore while we fed Carlin and tried to get him to drink water and get some exercise. But even off leash, he wouldn’t walk. He ate a little bit – but he wouldn’t drink any water. We tried coaxing him by putting some of his food in the water bowl, but nothing. We tried getting him to walk towards the food, and he refused. He tried a few times, but his legs wouldn’t let him.

Something was seriously wrong. When we first picked him up, we attributed Carlin’s twitching to fear, his weakness to hunger, and his missing teeth to a life on the streets. It was becoming increasingly clear that Carlin was very sick – and a lifetime of running had only made it worse. He was so scared when we found him that even starving and with bad legs he still outran us. It was simultaneously impressive and sad.

But he wasn’t running from us now. He trusted us enough to just lay in the grass, alternating between eating and sleeping, two things he wasn’t able to do with any sense of certainty just an hour earlier.

We knew that we had to take him to a vet or a shelter. If this was New York or LA or a dozen other places, I’d have been able to find someone who could help. But we were a few miles north of Fresno – and after a few desperate unanswered posts to Reddit and Facebook, our only choice was to bring him in. I didn’t call Animal Control – they were the same people who couldn’t bother themselves with saving Carlin in the first place.

As we drove to the SPCA, we knew there was a good chance Carlin would be put down. We might have been saving his life – but the odds were we just gave him one nice afternoon after a lifetime of fear.

Two years ago, this story would have been impossible. I grew up terrified of dogs. I misinterpreted affection for aggression, and I let ignorance get the better of me. It wasn’t until I watched Sara volunteer with strays and we eventually adopted our own that I truly got it. Dogs are a human problem – we created them and we overbreed them. It is our responsibility to protect what we shaped. I love Sara for many reasons. But showing me that my fear was nothing compared to the fear of the four million dogs who go abandoned every year? For that, I will be eternally grateful.

Carlin cuddled into Sara’s lap and fell asleep as I drove. Bea’s whining stopped, and she silently laid down in the back seat. Her new little brother was sick, and she somehow knew it was not the time to be selfish.

The Fresno SPCA knew Carlin was in trouble immediately. It was obvious to them that Carlin had an incurable condition called distemper, a disease that proves fatal in most cases. Though completely avoidable with a simple vaccination, distemper is one of the worst diseases a dog can contract, and it causes tooth loss, trouble walking, and dehydration with no desire to drink. The worst part is that, while incurable, distemper is treatable if caught in time. Had Animal Control – or anyone else – bothered to catch a scared little dog, while a long shot, his disease may have been manageable.

The optimist in me wanted to pay the several thousand dollars for a distemper test to make sure. The realist in me accepted what was happening, and gave my little gremlin one last hug goodbye.

I placed the bag of supplies we’d bought on the counter of the SPCA, muttered “keep them,” and walked away. I wish the story ended differently. I wish I could show you pictures three weeks from now, where Sara and Bea and I are all playing with my new doofy little gremlin. But I can’t.

When I say today was the day that everything changed, I don’t mean for me. Yes, I am more resigned to help any stray I see, to donate money to rescues, and to use my stage to influence others. But today, things didn’t change for me – they changed for Carlin. His life of fear ended quietly in a hospital instead of in agony in a gas station parking lot. And it ended with three things he’d never had before – love, protection, and the dignity of a name.

Not every story has to have a happy ending. Some can just have a happy couple of hours.

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • Margaret

    Such an important lesson that I’ve been learning about the past few years.

    Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for the reminder that we all need to hear every so often. Especially those of us that don’t have animals.

    April 23, 2013
  • Debbie Tracy

    Such a Heart warming story and so true poor little thing but was loved even for a little bit!! I loved how he said dogs are a human problem we created them and over breed them, horses TOO!!! Thanks for the story even if it did not end they way I wanted Carlin still had some love, finally 🙂

    April 23, 2013
  • Jade

    Angels come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and life forms. This is a shining example. Thanks for sharing, Jerry. You happen to be one yourself. Blessed Be.

    April 23, 2013
  • sherriey

    for your unselfish compassion and gracious good faith. the animals need more like you….
    may God bless.

    April 23, 2013
  • Kathy

    this same situation happened to me several years ago. I PAID for border collie puppy from one of my ‘neighbors’. After the ‘neighbor’ explained that the puppies were only 5 weeks old but he had to get “rid” of them. He also told me the mother had not had any shots….So here we have a guy ‘breeding’ dogs and not taking care of the basics. I bit my tongue and handed over the money.

    I had this little guy exactly 24 hours when he woke me up vomiting… and he never did stop vomiting. An emergency call to my vet, and I took him in. diagnosed with parvo. He died 6 hours later inspite of the vet’s care and treatments. My vet was pissed! I was too, enough so to turn my ‘neighbor’ in. And when I did they told me they had been investigating him prior.

    This poor baby never had a chance, he only had a few hours to know what it was like to have food, clean water, warmth of a house rather than a cold dirty pen…and someone to love, play and cuddle him.

    April 23, 2013
  • Debbie Stoutamire

    Thanks for sharing this, Jerry. I found out this morning that a friend and her daughter would be having their Labrador euthanized because of failing health, and it’s been with me all day. Thank God that poor Carlin at least knew someone cared about him at the end of his sad life.

    April 23, 2013
  • Leilani Clark

    Breaks my heart that this continues to happen everyday. Thank you both for showing Carlin compassion for the first time in a long time. As we say in the dog world, “good job”. Tears and more tears…….

    April 23, 2013
  • Arlene

    Tears streaming down my face, I Thank You for making the last hours of this dogs life so wonderful !!!!!! Compassion for animals is a wonderful thing many great things are implemented from it ………….. Bless all those who are gifted with this awesome word !!! Compassion !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 24, 2013
  • Marcia

    No, not every story has a long-term happy ending. But how much worse would it have been if the little one hadn’t been rescued and received the help and care of those kind people. May they be blessed for what they did and may they meet Carlin again in a place where they will never lose him.

    April 25, 2013