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Special Stories About Old Dogs




nikki

"THE PUPPY EXPRESS"

The Topps stood on the shoulder of the road and watched as their truck's engine shuddered and died. Nancy and Joe, their two children, Jodi, twelve, and Matthew, fifteen, and their elderly dog, Snoopy, were 1,500 miles from home, stranded on a highway in Wyoming, with the old truck clearly beyond even Joe's gift fo repairs. The little dog, peering around the circle of faces with cataract-dimmed eyes, seemed to reflect their anxiety.

The Topps were on the road because five months before, a nephew had told Joe there was work to be had in the Napa Valley and he and Nancy decided to gamble. Breaking up their home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, they packed up the kids and Snoopy and set out for CA. But once there, the warehousing job Joe hoped for didn't materialize, Nancy and the kids were very homesick, and gamble lost, they were on their way back to Fort Wayne.

The truck had taken them as far as Rock Springs, Wyoming, but now there was nothing to do but sell it to a junk dealer for twenty-five dollars and hitch a ride to the bus station. Two pieces of bad news greeted them at the station. Four tickets to Fort Wayne came to much more money than they had, and dogs were not allowed on the bus.

"But we've got to take Snoopy with us." Nancy pleaded with the ticket-seller, tears welling in her eyes.

Joe drew her away from the window. It was no use getting upset about Snoopy, he told her, until they figured how to get themselves on the bus. With no choice but to ask for help, they called Travelers' Aid, and with kind efficieny, the local representative arranged for a motel room for them for the night. There, with their boxes and bags piled around them, they put in a call to relatives back home, who promised to get together money for the fare and wire it the next day.

"But what about Snoopy?" Matthew said as soon as his parents got off the phone.

"We can't go without Snoopy," Jodi stated flatly. At seventeen, Snoopy, a beagle-dachshund mix, had a bit of heart condition and some kidney problems, and the family worried about her.

Joe picked up the little dog, "Snoopy," he said, tugging her floppy ears in the way she liked. "I think you're going to have to hitchhike."

"Don't tease, Joe," said Nancy shortly.

"I'm not teasing, honey," he assured her, tucking Snoopy into the crook of his arm. "I'm going to try to find an eastbound trucker to take the old girl back for us."

At the local truck stop, Joe sat Snoopy on a stool beside him while he fell in to conversation with drivers who stopped to pet her. "Gee, I'd like to help you out," one after another said. "She's awful cute and I wouldn't mind the company, but I'm not going through Fort Wayne this trip." The only driver who could have taken her picked Snoopy up and looked at her closely. "Naw," the man growled, "with an old dog like her, there'd be too many pit stops. I got to make time." Still hopeful, Joe tacked up a sign and gave the motel's phone number.

"Somebody'll call before bus time tomorrow," he predicted to the kids when he and Snoopy got back to the motel.

"But suppose nobody does?" Jodi said.

Joe answered, "Sweetie, we've got to be on that bus. The Travelers' Aid can only pay for us to stay here one night.

The next day Joe went off to collect the wired funds while Nancy and the kids sorted through their possessions, trying to decide what could be crammed into the six pieces of baggage they were allowed on the bus and what had to be left behind. Ordinarily Snoopy nosed at the idle hand, asking to be touched, to be held.

"She knows," Jodi said, cradling her. "She knows something awful is going to happen."

The Travelers' Aid representative arrived to take the belongings they couldn't pack for donation to the local thrift shop. A nice man, he was caught between being sympathetic and being practical when he looked at Snoopy. "Seventeen is really old for a dog," he said gently. "Maybe you just have to figure she's had a long life and a good one." When nobody spoke, he took a deep breath. "If you want, you can leave her with me and I'll have her put to sleep after you've gone."

The children looked at Nancy but said nothing; they understood there wasn't any choice and they didn't want to make it harder on their mother by protesting. Nancy bowed her head. She thought of all the walks, all the romps, all the picnics, all the times she'd gone in to kiss the children goodnight and Snoopy had lifted her head to be kissed too.

"Thank you," she told the man. "It's kind of you to offer. But no. No," she repeated firmly, "Snoopy's part of the family, and families don't give up on each other." She reached for the telephone book, looked up "Kennels" in the Yellow Pages, and began dialing.

Scrupulously, she started each call with explanation that the family was down on their luck. "But," she begged, "If you'll just keep our little dog until we can find a way to get her to Fort Wayne, I give you my word we'll pay. "Please trust me, Please."

A veterinary clinic, which also boarded pets, finally agreed, and the Travelers' Aid representative drove them to the place. Nancy was the last to say good-by. She knelt and took Snoopy's frosted muzzle in her hands. "You know we'd never leave you if we could help it," she whispered, "so don't give up; don't you dare give up. We'll get you back somehow. I promise."

Once back in Fort Wayne, the Topps found a mobile home to rent, one of Joe's brothers gave them his old car, sisters-in law provided pots and pans and bed linens, the children returned to their old schools, and Nancy and Joe found jobs. Bit by bit the family got itself together. But the circle had a painful gap in it. Snoopy was missing. Every day Nancy telephoned a different moving company, a different trucking company, begging for a ride for Snoopy. Every day Jodi and Matthew came through the door asking if she'd had any luck, and she had to say no.

By March, they'd been back in Fort Wayne six weeks and Nancy was in despair. She dreaded hearing from Wyoming that Snoopy had died out there, never knowing how hard they'd tried to get her back. One day, having tried everything else, she telephoned, the Fort Wayne Department of Animal Control and told them the story.

" I don't know what I can do to help," the director, a man named Rod, said when she'd finished. "But I'll tell you this: I'm sure going to try."

A week later, he too had exhausted the obvious approaches. Snoopy was too frail to be shipped in the unheated baggage compartment of a plane. A professional animal transporting co. wanted $665. to bring her east. Shipping companies refused to be responsible for her. Rod hung up from his latest call and shook his head. "I wish the old-time Pony Express was still in existence," he remarked to his assistant, Skip, "They'd have brought the dog back."

"They'd have passed her along from one driver to another. It would have been a Puppy Express," Skip joked.

Rod thought for a minute. "By golly, that may be the answer." He got out a map and a list of animal shelter in Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, and began telephoning. Could he enlist enough volunteers to put together a Puppy Express to transport Snoopy by stages across five states? Would enough people believe it mattered so for a little seventeen-year-old dog to be reunited with her family that they'd drive a hundred or so miles west to pick her up and another hundred or so miles east to deliver her to the next driver?

A week later, Rod called the Topps. "The Puppy Express starts tomorrow. Snoopy's coming home!" he told Nancy jubilantly.