A Stranger’s Quest To Give A Lonely Dog A Flea Bath: Part Two

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2.25.15 - A Stranger's Quest To Save The Barber's Lonely Dog - Part One2


To read part one of the saga, click here.

Leslie Smith is a volunteer at the Berkeley Animal Shelter in California, and originally posted this piece on The Dodo.


The barber’s dog has fleas.

This is a recent development and the situation has begun to impact our time together. We used to while away the lunch hour playing a game. (I toss a treat through the fence. He sniffs around earnestly to find it. Repeat.) These days, he’s only good for a few tosses before he goes back to biting at his hind legs. Or wriggling on his back against the gritty cement.

When he’s close enough for me to assist, I reach in and scratch that flea-infested dermis. I doubt a veterinarian would say that’s the healthiest approach for him in the long run, but I’m desperate for the barber’s dog to know some relief.

Even if it’s just temporary.

I rarely see the people who live above the barber shop, so a few months ago, I left them a note. It was full of exclamation points and happy sounding words to drive home the point that I’m harmless. In no way a crazy person or a bleeding-heart busybody or a mildly peculiar middle-aged woman with nothing better to do. It said, basically:

Thanks for letting me visit your awesome dog each day on my lunch hour! It’s the highlight of my afternoon! If you ever want someone to take him for a walk, why I’d be glad to do it! Here’s my phone number! And my email! I’m a real wiz with a leash!

No one ever got in touch. I should probably just be grateful they don’t order me away from their property or call the police the times they do spot me with my hand through the fence, petting their dog or tossing treats. Instead, they ignore me as I smile and try not to look too ingratiating. It’s awkward.

I read on the internet that for every flea you see on a dog, there are fifty fleas you don’t see. And why would the internet lie? The barber’s dog is crawling with fleas, so even if there is just one flea for every flea I see, that’s a disturbing number of insects having a time of it on the dog’s back. So I leave flea treatment at the barber’s place and opt again to include a merrily punctuated note:

Had a bunch of extras! Feel free to use on Fella!

Maybe I should have just tried to apply the stuff directly on the dog myself. Stick my hand through the chain-links and just go for it. Of course, there are problems with a plan like that. What if the barber’s dog is actually allergic to flea treatment and I make things worse? Or what if I’m caught red-handed interfering with a person’s “private property” and I’m ordered to never come back. It seemed a gamble no matter which way I went.


2.25.15 - A Stranger's Quest To Save The Barber's Lonely Dog - Part One6


The other day, when I was sitting with the barber’s dog and his fleas, a kid came by on one of those kick scooters. The barber’s dog jumped to his feet. I figured he’d start barking any second, as that’s what my dogs do when someone rides by on a scooter. (Or stops to say hi. Or stands quietly across the street minding his own business.)

“Oh, uh… I’m not sure how he is with kids,” I say to the kid.

“It’s okay. He knows me.” The kid says.

“He knows you?”

The kid tosses a Milkbone through the fence. “Yeah, Fella knows me. I come by here every day with treats.”

For a minute I thought I might be hallucinating. “Wait. You come by here every day with treats?” I ask the kid.

“Uh huh,” he says.

I really try to keep it low-key and nonchalant, but I’m not fooling anyone. “I come by here every day with treats!” I may or may not have suppressed a squeal. “Wow, that’s so crazy! And great!”

The kid nods politely.

“I’m just so happy Fella’s got another visitor!” I tell him. “Another friend!”

I didn’t think to get the kid’s name or find out where he lived or how long he’d been coming around. But I did ask him, “Can I take your picture?”


2.25.15 - A Stranger's Quest To Save The Barber's Lonely Dog - Part One5


The kid lets me take a picture. Then: “I gotta go now.”

He tosses the last of the Milkbones through the fence and finishes with a rawhide. The barber’s dog takes it between his paws and settles in to work on it. I sit down on my side of the fence.

“You didn’t tell me about the kid,” I say to him. “You didn’t tell me you have your own Milkbone delivery service, you little secret-keeper.” The dog slobbers and licks at the rawhide but shoots me a look every so often to let me know he’s listening.

There are days — many — when the sense of unfairness is so paralyzing, I hardly know how to proceed. Not just the situation with the barber’s dog, but all over. On many levels and in increasing degrees of harshness.

On this day, the kid helps me forget some of that. He even imparts a bit of optimism. I feel it.

Even if it’s just temporary.


To read part three, click here.