GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
Now then, people want to be saved. They want to be rescued from whatever it is they find themselves in. But what if you're fine? What if you've got it together, but you stumble across an injustice? Do you walk on by? Or do you make it your problem?
SNAP JUDGMENT regular contributor Katie Mingle tells us her story.
KATIE MINGLE, BYLINE: I stole a dog once. He was a little curly-haired mutt; a small, pathetic creature. I'd been walking by him for years, and he was always there on the same three-foot length of chain. Shivering in the shadow of the dingy yellow house where his owners lived. I'd never seen anyone touch him, or walk him, or throw a stick for him. I once saw a woman open the door of the house and throw a handful of food at him, which he pecked out of the dirt like a starving chicken. The sun beat down on his head in the summer, and snowflakes gathered in his curly black hair in the winter. The days and years passed over him, and he ticked off time like a dog shaped sundial.
My friend Sonya (ph) and I fantasized about liberating the little black dog from his chain. She said she wanted to give him a better life. I don't think she thought we'd ever really do it. But one day when the owners' cars were gone from the driveway, I approached the dog. I just wanted to see what he'd do. And he wagged his tail so I got a little closer, and he stood on his hind legs hopping expectantly, his front legs like arms reaching up for me. And before I knew it, I was unhooking his chain, gathering him into my arms, and running.
We ran down the street together, my chin bouncing on the top of his head. And I whispered in his ear, you're free now little dog, you're free.
I took the dog to Sonya's house. She bathed him, and fleas fell off of him and dotted the water like poppy seeds. She fluffed him up with a towel, and we cut the mats out of his hair. He had an under bite, and cloudy eyes. We named him Frankie (ph).
I think it was Aris (ph) who got bit by him first. Since she was only six, we blamed it on her. You know kids; they don't know the right way to handle dogs. But it wasn't long before everyone in the house had been bitten. And one by one, they turned against him, saying, I'm sorry you've had such a hard life little dog, but I still hate you.
Sonya did her best to love him, but looking back on it, it was a chaotic environment for convalescence. People wandered in and out of the house with dogs in tow. Sometimes there were punk shows the living room. And after he established his bad reputation, people mostly stepped around him. Even as he looked expectantly up at them. Or begging for attention, stood up on his hind legs, putting on his very cutest act. They avoided him, saying, oh no, I've heard about you.
One day I came in to find Sonya making flyers that displayed a picture of Frankie. And below the picture, a caption that read, I'm looking for a new home. I have issues, but I could be a great dog for a patient person. In the picture, his head was cocked, and he smiled dumbly, as if the caption below him might have read, I have no idea what kind of (bleep) is about to befall me.
Like all flyers with dog's pictures on them, it was heartbreaking. You said you wanted him, I said.
And Sonya said, he's really hard Katie. I've really tried.
And so for the second time, this time lacking in any heroic spirit at all, I picked up the tiny dog and took him away. I brought him back to my own house.
For the first year of our lives together, Frankie and I got into the most bitter arguments. Most other dogs I'd known would retreat when yelled at, tail between their legs. Frankie was different. He escalated the argument like a smart-mouth teenager. I would say, no Frankie! And he would say, grrr, baring his teeth, and scowling up at me. And then I'd say, bad dog Frankie! And he'd say, grrr! This time looking more rabid, and advancing on me like, I'll take you down, you tall, skinny bitch.
Finally, I'd be forced to get the broom in an effort to whisk him out of the room. But he fought the broom too, biting and thrashing little pieces of broom in his mouth.
And so it went for the first year. He had his sweet moments, his fun moments. But inevitably, just when I'd think I'd won his trust, he'd bite me again. His bites hurt, but worse were the hurt feelings. I'd look at him surprised and betrayed, my hand throbbing. And sometimes I'd yell, (bleep) you, Frankie! And slammed the doors in our apartment.
Even in play, Frankie sounded like a maniac. Here's the only recording I have of him, happily wrestling with my other dog, Memphis.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MINGLE: (Dogs snarling) Get him!
MINGLE: You get the idea. If this is him happy, try to imagine him mad. Frankie and I battled it out for alpha status for far too long, and I often let my 14 pound curly-haired jerk of a dog get the better of me. And yet, little by little, Frankie became a new dog. One that was less like a wild animal, and more like a pet. I figured out what set him off, what made him bite. He had rules essentially, which included never touching him while he was eating, and never, ever, attempting to move him when he appeared to be comfortable. And I learned that if you obeyed his rules, Frankie was tolerable. Even good.
Frankie, in time, learned my rules too and we stopped getting in fights. We moved to the country and he spent his days lounging in the driveway and barking at the few cars that passed. He was happy.
I feel like this part should be about how Frankie taught me how to love unconditionally. How he taught me patience and forgiveness. That I could love something that was prone to fits of rage, that bit me, that bit my mom. But mostly, Frankie taught me about rules - figuring out what yours are, what other people's are, and learning to accept them. It turned out that what Frankie actually wanted more than anything, more than freedom, was a rules. It's no wonder the punk house was the wrong place for him. Frankie needed order, after all those years of having none. Of not knowing when food would come, when affection would come, he needed some sort of dependable, reliable routine. Being able to count on a walk in the morning, and food at the same time every day. These were the things that made him the happiest, that allowed him to enjoy his days in the summer sun, rolling in the grass as he sometimes did. On his back, like a beetle that got flipped over. Like the happiest dog in the world.
WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, Katie Mingle, for you have done the world a good deed. And we here at SNAP JUDGMENT certainly hope that you will learn from this, to leave well enough alone next time.
That piece, it was produced by Nick van der Kolk.
We're going to take a short break, as mandated by nameless government entities. But, when SNAP returns, we're going to go and hang out with a cat lady. And does she have a story! When SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Saved" episode, continues. Stay tuned.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.