I was checking out after this week’s grocery run at Target tonight when a nervous-looking woman, who had left the store only moments before, came back in with her two young kids and a cart still full of groceries. She approached my cashier and asked if they “do anything about dogs in the parking lot.” I figured there was a dog roaming loose.
The cashier asked a few questions and came to find out the dog was in the back of a pickup truck next to the woman’s car, it had barked at her, she didn’t know if it was restrained, and she was worried it was going to jump out of the truck and attack her and her kids. She seemed a little embarrassed as she said, “Sorry, I don’t do dogs.”
The young cashier didn’t know what to do, what with dog-wrangling not being a required skill there. I was about to pay and leave, so I offered walk out with the woman and her kids, and check out and/or distract the dog. Both the woman and the cashier were grateful, and I felt confident a vicious dog would not have been left unrestrained, anyway.
As we walked out, I asked her where her car was. When I looked in the direction she was pointing, my heart skipped a beat — there was an enormous dog in the bed of the truck, staring at us from 30-40 yards away. It was white and shaggy, and I swear to God, I thought it was some ghostly creature standing on the other side of the truck, so all I could see was its torso and head facing us. I imagined a Yeti waiting to gut any poor Tibetan villagers careless enough to cross into its territory, and rethought my previous bravado.
I walked ahead of her. My car was in the same row, so I left my cart with it and continued to walk. I noticed there was no car next to the truck, but there was one two spaces away. I asked if that was her car, and when she said yes, I walked just past the car and stopped to assess the situation. The dog didn’t bark, but we stared each other down while the woman hurriedly put her kids into her car. This huge beast looked a little like a Newfoundland, although I’ve never seen one that was all white.
Remembering the calm demeanor of the last Newfie I’d met, I cautiously approached, speaking in a low, friendly tone and holding out my hand for the dog to sniff. This thing could have bitten my hand off and swallowed it whole without breaking a sweat, but I felt like we had an understanding. It tentatively sniffed my hand, then looked me in the eye with an expression that said, “You may proceed.”
I kept talking as I placed my hand on the dog’s head and scratched behind its ears. It was like putting my hand into a bag of cotton balls. The fluff! The sheer fluff of it all! I began to pet the dog with gusto as I saw the woman practically run her empty cart to the corral and skitter back to her car and her kids. She thanked me as she jumped in, still watching the dog apprehensively. I wished her a good evening without breaking eye contact with the giant velour blanket that was currently engulfing my hand.
She drove away. I stayed there, talking to the dog and petting as if my life depended on it. It seemed grateful. I felt more grateful. Other people came and went. I finally broke contact when a couple parked next to the truck and got out, only to stop and stare at the dog. I think maybe they were waiting their turn, so I let them take it. I walked back to my car and the full shopping cart next to it, wondering if it seemed weird to them that I hadn’t emptied my cart yet, but had ventured further into the parking lot than I’d needed to.
People don’t usually do that, do they? Aren’t there rules? When you’re done shopping, you must minimize time spent in the parking lot, and avoid contact with other living beings? Then, watching them dive up to their elbows in that dog’s fur, I figured they probably didn’t think it was weird, after all.
I put my groceries in the car and walked my cart to the corral, which I’m happy to say was on the other side of the dog in the pickup. The couple had gone into the store, so the dog watched me walk by, put my cart away, and come back toward the truck, perking up when I finally slowed down and held out my hand again.
I stayed for another few minutes, petting the dog and talking to it, marveling at how I’d thought I was doing that woman a favor, but how she’d probably been doing me one. When I finally left, I drove by the back of the truck, making eye contact with the dog one last time as its gaze seemed to say, Yes, the favor was all from her to you….