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Me and Moby Dog

How Hot Is That Doggie in the Window? A local van, whose owner leaves his pup stuck in the hot vehicle, becomes the author's great white whale. The poor unfortunate canine waits patiently for his negligent owner to come back to greet him with gusts of cool air. Just who is the beast in this case?

Robert Scheer

Stalking an unflinching beast and his indiscriminately loyal companion

By Tai Moses

I'M STALKING SOMEONE. I have never seen the object of my obsession, at least not close up. I've only seen him furtively rounding the corners of downtown Santa Cruz in his van, looking for a place to park.

It all started one blazingly sunny day when I was walking home. A white van with a blue stripe around the middle was parked on Walnut Street. All the windows were rolled up except for a tiny crack at the top of one, and sitting on the front seat looking calmly out at me was a small gray dog. I stopped in my tracks, and the dog and I regarded one another.

I felt my gorge rise. I don't know what a gorge is, but I must have one, because it was rising. I am a peaceful person, but among the handful of things that will stir me to fury is the sight of a dog shut up in a hot car. I sat on the curb and waited. The dog jumped gracefully from one seat to the other and looked out the opposite window. Twenty minutes passed. Finally, I got out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a note:

Please do not leave your dog locked in the car! Do you know how hot a car gets with the windows rolled up??! The interior can reach 160 degrees in 10 minutes!!! If I see your dog left in this van again, I will report you to the Humane Society!!

I read the note over. It sported more exclamation marks than I would normally use in a month. It seemed like a note a crank would write. I tucked it under the windshield wiper anyway. The dog didn't notice. It couldn't care less about my efforts in its behalf.

If there was a cartoon bubble coming out of the dog's head, it would probably show a picture of the owner returning and opening the door and the dog licking his face ecstatically. This was the fantasy the dog was using to fill up its time. It had no idea it was sitting in a time bomb that could slowly be filling up with superheated air.

Later that week I spotted the selfsame van cruising slowly down Pacific Avenue. With the blue stripe around its fat white middle, it resembled a whale in a leisure suit. It turned the corner at Soquel and nudged its ungainly body into a parking lot. No doubt the driver was trying to get as far from Walnut Street as he could. Well, I thought grimly, he won't get away with it.

At the edge of the parking lot, I stood in the shadow of a locust tree, trying to look nonchalant. The white whale was trolling the lot, looking for a parking space. The driver's face was obscured by the sun glancing off the windshield. Next to him sat the dog, looking imperious and super-alert, the way dogs always do in the front seat. Finally, failing to locate a space in the lot, the van bounced out onto Front Street, and I lost him.

More Window Pain

BACK HOME, I PLOTTED and planned. I began to think of all the nasty things I was going to say if I ever got my hands on the driver. I composed an eloquent dog-defense speech for the authorities. It is possible that I have too much time on my hands, but such is the writing life.

A week later, I was driving up Walnut when I saw the van in nearly the same spot as before. The white whale! The dog was gazing out the window. But there was no place to pull over, so I rounded the corner onto Chestnut, parked and hurried back down Walnut on foot.

The van had disappeared.

I called the SPCA and described the dilemma. The nice animal-control officer explained that it wasn't illegal to leave a dog in a car, and nothing could be done unless the dog was in obvious distress. She quoted the city ordinance on animals in parked vehicles, which goes something like this: "No person shall leave any animal in any ... parked vehicle in such a way as to endanger the animal's health, safety or welfare. An animal-control officer ... or police officer ... is hereby authorized to use reasonable force to enter and remove the animal from the vehicle whenever it appears that the animal's health ... is or will be endangered."

"But," I said hopefully, "if the dog was in distress, you could break the window, right?"

The officer, a model of restraint, replied, "Well, we could break into the car. We probably wouldn't have to break the window."

I had to admit to myself that this dog hadn't looked too distressed, yet. I was far more distressed than the dog.

A friend counseled me. "Maybe you should have some compassion," she advised. "Maybe this guy doesn't have a home. Maybe he lives in his van and has to keep the dog in it when he goes to work." She created several more similarly tolerant scenarios for me to ponder. For a moment I was sucked into her benevolent world--but only for a moment.

Dogs, for the most part, are touchingly undiscriminating. Like children, they don't get to choose who they love. If a dog winds up with an inconsiderate slob of an owner, it will worship him or her the same as it would someone who treats it with love and respect. The trust they place in us is total. In return, we should strive to do the right thing by them.

In preparation for the day when I finally caught up to the white whale, I drafted a more composed note.

Dear Dog Owner (I wrote):

You should be ashamed of yourself. I can't imagine why you think it's OK to leave your dog locked in a car for hours on end. Why don't YOU spend a day inside your van on a hot day with the windows rolled up? I wonder if you would still love the person who locked you in. Your dog doesn't have a choice. He'll stick by you no matter what. You have a responsibility to live up to that trust.

I was pretty proud of this one. Not only was it a model of Socratic irony, it had a gentle chiding tone that even my tolerant friend might approve of. Although perhaps it was too gentle. Just in case, I added the Animal Safety ordinance to the note's bottom--except for the part about "reasonable force," which seemed to lack flair, so I substituted "excessive" (which seemed reasonable).

And all without a single exclamation mark.

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From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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