This little brown dog with a red scarf is Frannie. She was my inspiration for starting an animal shelter.
I first saw her many years ago one rainy gray afternoon when I was volunteering at an animal shelter in Oakland, California. She was being dragged into the shelter by an elderly gentleman, who was straddling to keep a grip on her collar as he held a wooden chest drawer of puppies.
“Some kids was chuckin’ rocks at her and her pups behind the coliseum,” explained the exhausted man, as he wiped his brow. “I chased ‘em off and brought her to you.”
I thanked him for his kindness, set the drawer on the counter and gently moved the pups into a box – five chubby, brown and black fur balls. The mother dog anxiously watched my every move. She was gaunt, terrified, soaking wet – but her eyes never left her puppies. “Don’t worry,” I told her as I coaxed her into a cage. “We’ll take good care of them.” I decided to name her Frannie in honor of St. Francis, the patron saint of all animals.
Over the weeks, the pups flourished and grew into healthy happy little dogs. All of them quickly found homes. Not so for Frannie. When people passed her cage, she would cower in the corner and tremble. I would bring her treats daily and eventually, she began to wag her tail ever so slightly. I wondered if she missed her pups and thought of how lonely she must be night after night in her empty cage.
Like most big city animal shelters, Oakland had a tremendous number of animals brought in every day and the sad truth was they simply could not keep every animal indefinitely. All too soon, Frannie’s time was up…but there was one last chance – the Pet Parade. Every month, volunteers would line up in front of a crown of potential adopters and march dogs around the shelter grounds. The parade had been the launch site for a lot of adoptions and I hoped that Frannie would be one of them.
On the morning of the pet parade, Frannie put on her best public performance. Sue, the kind-hearted shelter director, even selected her to lead the parade! Prancing proudly beside me, Frannie held her head high and wagged her tail. At the end of the parade, the people flowed onto the shelter lawn to meet any dog that had caught their eye.
Frannie and I sat on the green grass, drinking in the soft sunshine of the afternoon. One, two, three dogs were led into the adoption room, accompanied by their new families.
Frannie wasn’t one of them…I knew that meant she would be euthanized. As if she understood, Frannie turned to me and ever so gently lifted her paw to me to say good-bye. Quietly, accepting, resigned to the sad little life fate had dealt her. That did it. An hour later, Frannie sat on my kitchen floor. She was mine.
Over the years, it turned out that actually, I was hers. Captivated by her soft brown eyes, her endless devotion, her gentle offering of her paw, I came to love her in a hundred ways. She was terrified of strangers, ran from other dogs at the dog park, shook in fear at new situations. But Frannie was never more than a few feet from me and she shyly learned to play little games, like the “Touch Me” game. I would walk away from our porch, thinking she was behind me, then turn to see her sitting, her tail wagging, on the front step. I would then walk up and touch her nose, and she would bolt down the steps, wagging her tail wildly. It took so little to make her happy.
One frosty, autumn morning, I was one my way to work when the phone rang. A friend stopped by to borrow a rake – he was going to clean up his summer cottage. Would Frannie like to go? I looked at her, sitting quietly watching me. “Sure, why not? It would be better than sitting in the house all day.” I reached down and patted her head for what would be the last time…
When I returned home from work, I was a little surprised no to see Frannie’s face in the window, watching for me like she always did. When it grew dark, I called my friend – no answer. Eight, nine, ten o’clock…Something was wrong. Finally the phone rang – it was the police. There had been a terrible car accident…my friend was in the hospital, injured but alive. “Had anyone seen the little brown dog in the car?” I asked. One police officer said he thought she had jumped out the window, frightened by the sirens of the ambulance.
I drove into the frigid night and started looking near the scene of the accident. Miles away from home, terrified, – where would she have gone? I drove through alleys, parked the car and walked the streets, calling her name. When the light of dawn came, I prayed someone would call, but no one did. Freeways, intersections frozen ground, cars whizzing by…how terrified she must be, trying to find me. I stapled posters, asked people but no one had seen her…
Someone once told me nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. Sure enough, about 2:30 the following night, the phone rang. Frannie was dead, hit by a car. Her body was lying in the causeway, about twelve miles from home. A passerby had stopped and taken the time to call the number on the collar. I drove to the scene and there she was, lying on her side, still warm. There was not a mark on her. I cradled her in my arms, looked up to the frozen stars and pledged that she would not have died in vain, that some day, I would make an animal shelter for all the beautiful little spirits like her that are lost or frightened, confused and alone.
And so it came to be that Great Lakes Humane Society was established. Over the years, we have seen hundreds of cats and dogs come through our doors, all with their own sad stories. But there will never be another dog like Frannie. She is with me always, reminding me of how great the spirit of a little stray dog can be.