The day started beautifully. The air was a flat and crisp 19 degrees C, which turns out to be the temperature that perfectly enhances the taste of a morning coffee. The big Alberta sky was clear and blue, and the bright sun shone down upon Calgary’s Mission district. Purple and yellow flowers lined the street in gorgeous contrast with the leafy green of the trees. It was one of those dawns that all but beams you the message that: ‘today will be a good day.’
I am working this summer in landscaping and heavy downpours usually augur grass growth. Mowing thick lush grass in perfectly straight lines is a satisfying, even soothing, activity. Yellow parched grass on the other hand tends to kick up a lot of dust and never seems to mow nearly as straight. Heavy rain on the job also means shorter work days and while this is usually a nuisance during the week, when those rain clouds started forming that Friday afternoon it hardly felt like an inconvenience. By 14:00, the temperature had dropped and massive clouds that seemed to emerge from nowhere blotted out the sun. Clapping thunder heralded the start of what turned out to be an epic prairie thunderstorm. The rain fell in weighty thick drops and our team of three quickly piled into the company truck to call it a day. It was coming down so fast that in my rush to jump in the car I forgot my mug and thermos on the worksite.
It happened while our truck was stopped at a busy intersection between two inner-city highways. Our team was having a typically male conversation about the merits and downsides of planning in great detail complicated multi-phase schemes to asking women out versus the so-called ‘direct and honest’ approach favoured by our boss, James. Outside the rain was torrential and the sky was dark. Visibility was limited. It felt like a tropical thunderstorm, although in that warm truck with the rain as our backing track we were all pretty cosy. Then, as if he were responding to the last point made in our lively conversation, James said ‘oh no.’
‘No. Aww…no.. fuck.’
‘What? Why are you sayi–’
‘No! FUCK! SHIT!’
I looked ahead and saw an animal—irrationally my first thought was a deer—sprinting full tilt across the intersection. A fraction of a second later whatever it was was slammed into by a black SUV cruising the full 60 km/h speed limit. The collision made a sickening thump, similar to the sound a heavy moving box makes when dropped on the ground. It was not what I would have expected from an animal made of flesh and bone. Perhaps the dog—it was a dog I realised—yelped but I can not now be sure. It seems unlikely, though, given the speed of the collision. Part of the car broke off and ricocheted away, while the animal was sent spinning into the air, doing a full rotation before landing on his side with one back leg awkwardly stretched out at an obscene angle. His body shuddered for a moment but then lay still.
‘Was that…a dog?’
‘Fuck…yes. I don’t know where it came from! Fuck! People! Are you really driving around the dog!?’
The traffic lights had changed and the next set of cars had indeed begun to cross the intersection. I have no idea if the driver that hit the dog had come to a stop. But clearly the other drivers had seen the dog, because they were slowly and callously weaving around him. James swore again and ran out of the truck into the rain, yelling at people to stop. I quickly left the truck as well and ran towards the dog. Two women from across the intersection were doing the same.
His breathing was shallow when I arrived. He was probably not older than five and was a German shepherd, I think. His golden and black fur coat was soaked from the rain. There was no blood, but the speed of the impact must have broken his body and ruptured his internal organs.
One of the two women is already running back to her car. The other tells me: ’My sister has a board. We’ll load him onto that and take him to the vet’s.’ She crouches beside him and she puts her hand on his neck and softly tells him that it will be okay. She chokes back her tears. I look into the dog’s eyes, which are wide open and buggy. The whites are intensely bright. They are full of terror but are powerfully, urgently, alive.
Whose dog was this? No owner was immediately apparent. I did not see a collar, but he looked too fit and healthy—possibly a purebred—to be a stray. And strays are a rarity in Calgary anyways. No, he must have had owners. There is a doggy-day care near to this intersection. My mom takes her dogs there. Perhaps his owner dropped him off before work, and now, today, the dog finally made a valiant escape attempt. Or maybe the owner left his house this morning in a rush and forgot to check if the back gate was closed. Whatever happened, someone, somewhere, was taking care of this animal. He looked loved.
I wondered whom it could be. Perhaps the dog was taken in by a young man like myself, keen on raising and training a puppy. A companion to see him through his mid-20s and 30s. It could be an idyllic story. Maybe the dog was there when the man proposed to his girlfriend, on some gorgeous Rockies locale that the man first discovered while hiking alone with his dog. Maybe now the couple has young children who have also come to adore this animal. They love how he exuberantly tackles them whenever they come back from school. They get a kick out of throwing the ball for him in the park and they find it so funny when he hurtles himself into the river chasing a stick. Maybe this dog is a bit of a family legend for his silent but lethal farts or for his voracious appetite, exemplified by the time he stole the Christmas turkey. Or it could be that he is the bearer of secrets. A silent witness to teenagers sneaking out at night, to furtive midnight snacks, to marital indiscretions or to a hidden smoking habit. Perhaps his owners offload their confessions, anxieties, and hopes onto him. Because he listens and he loves unconditionally and does not judge. Because he, like all dogs, is in fact instinctually wise and far sighted. Because he knows deep down that to be happy all one really needs is a roof over the head, some kibble in the belly, and plenty of walking time.
Whomever he is, he is dying. I can tell by his eyes. The intense luminosity of the whites has diminished. Whereas moments ago he seemed to be in a state of a strained shock, now it looks as if his consciousness is retreating from behind those eyes and dissipating into an unknowable void. His jaw is slackening. He will pass away here, soaking wet in the pounding rain on the utterly indifferent cement of an inner-city highway, comforted only by the touch and soothing voice of a strange woman. Her sister comes back with a plastic box cover and we load his limp and smashed body onto the board and carry him to their car. James and I walk back to our truck in shock. I can not remember if we said anything. We wait for the light to turn green and drive away, with the image of that dog’s stretched and terrified white eyes forever imprinted upon our memories.