The Old Girl

The Old Girl
Words by Sean Dietrich
Illustration by @alexkirsch21

She was lost. The old girl had traveled this trail before, and it always led back home. But this time she couldn’t find the right smell to guide her.

Although it wasn’t for lack of trying. She kept her nose to the ground, searching for a familiar scent. But she found nothing.

She wasn’t exactly a young pup anymore. Her nose wasn’t as good as it had been. Long ago, she could sniff a person and tell their age, weight, and religious denomination. But now she was lost.

Still, she followed the smells until she found a highway. It was a busy highway. Big machines shot across the pavement so fast it made her ears hurt.

She looked across the road. The old girl wasn’t sure she should cross. But on the other side of the highway she saw an inviting neighborhood. She could see rooftops behind all the traffic.

Those homes looked safe and happy. She needed happy. Maybe she could find someone there who would love her. Her mind was getting so confused with hunger. Should she cross this busy road? Was it suicide? Was it salvation?

She sat on the highway shoulder and thought about it. But all she could feel was starvation. The poor thing needed food and water. That’s why she’d left home in the first place.

Her owner wasn’t a very nice man. He would often go days without feeding her, which had made her lean and ragged. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even give her water, and she had to drink from ditches. Indeed, that’s why she left. She had crawled beneath the fence in search of water.

Then she got lost.

WOOSH! WOOSH! went the cars.

Big vehicles rocketed past her. She should’ve turned around, but hunger made her attempt to cross the highway.

She cautiously pranced on the pavement, hoping that the huge machines would avoid her. One car sped by so fast it almost lifted her from her feet. Then another. And another. And another.

That’s when it happened.

She heard the screech. Then came the impact. The old girl never even felt it. Her body soared through the air. The accident was over in a nano moment. She landed in the weeds.

The poor girl tried to stand, but her back legs didn’t work. They only twitched. She couldn’t even find the strength to whimper.

She was there for hours until a car came. Her weary eyes saw the headlights. A man stepped out of his truck. He lifted her with both arms. He whispered to her. He smelled like sweat and potato chips.

She closed her eyes and fell asleep against him. The pain was so intense she wanted to die.

Later, she awoke in a white room. There were tubes running from her body, and the chemical smells made her nose hurt. Lots of strangers wearing scrubs were talking to her.

She was in a crate and she felt groggy. At first she was terrified of these new people, but something convinced her they were friendly.

When she looked over her shoulder she saw the back half of her body was shaved bald, covered with black bruises, stitches, staples, and dried blood. She tried to lick her wounds, but the people in scrubs wouldn’t let her. Around her neck she wore the dreaded Cone of Shame.

“Hi there, girl,” said a voice behind her. A man’s voice. It was the man who smelled like sweat and potato chips. He was beside her. He was stroking her brow, his hand between the cage’s bars.

She pressed her nose against his hand because even though she was wounded, even though the pain was great, she sincerely hoped against hope that he might have some potato chips.

“Where did you come from, Sweetie?” the man said to her. “Where’s your collar, girl?”

Over the next several days the man visited her often. He brought treats. She grew to look forward to his visits. She wagged her tail whenever she smelled him.

When the doctor finally released her, it was this man who lifted her into the front seat of his blue truck. Then he drove her to a house full of children. She loved children.

He was gentle with her. When he took her outside to do her business, he supported her hindparts. He gave her a soft bed. He fed her twice per day.

Over the next weeks her hair grew back. In time, her legs began working again—although not as well as before. She learned to gallop through the yard, chasing kids, smiling. And she developed quite an appreciation for cheese. You might be wondering why I’ve written this story.

Because this morning I went hiking on a public trail. It was a wooded area, full of athletes and children on bikes. I met a man wearing workout clothes, walking a gray dog with a pronounced limp. I asked about this animal.

Her name was Miracle, he told me. And I just thought you’d like to know how she got her name.