I knew what motivated my friend, Jeanne, to devote as many hours as she did to her volunteer job at our local, municipal, animal shelter: her deep love of animals and belief that each pet deserved a loving home. It wasn't an easy gig. The shelter, at the time when I first volunteered there, was in a hideous, run down, roach-infested, airless building, bursting at the seams with unwanted pets. Jeanne was the fiercest advocate for those pets, and in many cases, the first kind person they had ever encountered. Jeanne could see the beauty in the most raggedy-looking, fly-bitten "junkyard dog" and often was able to assess their temperaments faster than anyone else. She saved countless dogs from being euthanized by calling rescues, enlisting the help of other volunteers, pleading with the on-staff veterinarian, and taking them home herself. Jeanne could often be found in the volunteer office at the shelter, spending time with a dog who she found cowering in the back of a cage; so convinced was she that all the dog needed was time and love.
Rather than recount the stories of tenderness and kindness about Jeanne, because I couldn't pick just one, I choose most often to re-play in my head the scene that, to me, was the most indicative of Jeanne's humor, creativity, and determination.
On a gorgeous Spring Saturday, I met Jeanne early at the shelter. We made our walk-through together, attempting to get a jump on our day by seeing which dogs were new to the scene, talking about their demeanor and what kinds of homes we thought would be perfect for them, and making note of the ones Jeanne thought were in the greatest danger of not getting adopted. Those were her mission. A sunny Saturday always meant it would be busy. Spring is kitten and puppy season, and they came in by the dozen, and if we were lucky, the adoptions were brisk, too. This particular day, a couple in their mid-70s came in to pick up a dog they had adopted, and who they were claiming after spay surgery. They recognized Jeanne right away, and in a very excited tone, the woman said, "Is she ready to go?" Jeanne smiled and said we'd go get their dog for them, and as we turned to go to the back and get the pup, Jeanne said to me, "Ya' gotta' watch this one, she's a runner." Jeanne told me that she had tried to gently steer the couple toward an older, more docile dog, but this young, energetic one had caught their eyes and their hearts, and there was no deterring them. I went to the dog's cage, leash in hand, and opened the door carefully. She was darting all over the cage, wagging her tail furiously, and smiling with her long, pink tongue hanging out the side of her mouth. She let me put the leash around her neck and practically yanked me down the hall, headed toward the lobby and the certain freedom she could tell was awaiting her. Jeanne was laughing hard as she watched me attempt to calm this creature and deliver her to her new family. The couple was so happy. They named her "Peony" and crouched down to greet her, and the dog jumped all over them, almost knocking them down with her enthusiasm. Jeanne said to them, more than once, "Make sure you have a good grip on her now" as the dog dragged them through the door and toward the car. But as they opened the door to put her in, that dog took one look at the wide road, the perfect spring day, and bolted. I mean she was FAST. That dog took off like a bat outta hell and left her people standing in the parking lot, dumbfounded and dismayed.
Jeanne and I watched this nightmare unfold from inside the shelter, and she shouted at me, "Get your keys! Get in your car! We're going after her!" I did as instructed, and the two of us took off, screeching down the road in my wagon, chasing this dog who was running on the grass, the smell of emancipation filling her nostrils. We followed that dog for a couple of miles, when she seemed to start losing steam. Jeanne told me to slow down but not stop, and as I did, she rode, door wide open, calling to the dog: "C'mon, girl, get in the car. Get in, sweetie, c'mon. Here, girl, here, girl... Aw COME ON, DOPEY, GET IN THE DAMNED CAR!!" The dog trotted along beside us, happily waving her head and flapping her ears, and ignoring Jeanne. If we stopped, she'd dart off into the brush, and we were back at square one. This hilarious one-act play carried on for several minutes, with the lead actor evading our advances, until we saw two teenage boys walking along the road, enjoying the weekend. All of a sudden, Jeanne said, "Hey, you have any money? Any money at all?" I told her to rifle through my purse til she found my wallet, and she pulled out 2 twenty-dollar bills. She leaned out the car window and yelled at the boys, "Hey! Y'all! Wanna make some money?" The kids looked at each other, and then back at these two old broads, driving like lunatics and offering them cash out the window of a moving car, shrugged their shoulders, and said, "Sure!" We stopped, they came over and got the money, and we said, "GET THAT DOG!!!!" pointing at the damned dog who was darting in and out of the bushes on the side of the road. They set chase after her, we set chase after them, and all of us went charging down the road in hot pursuit.
At a point, the dog turned around, the boys pivoted, and we pulled a u-turn, and we all high-tailed it back toward the shelter. The boys gave out and gave up; the dog kept running, and we were able, miraculously, to get the dog, put another leash on her, and hand her back over to the old couple who were still where we left them, empty handed, in the parking lot.
On March 24th, I texted Jeanne at 9:10 a.m. She didn't reply. At 11:21 a.m., in a message unrelated to my text, I learned of Jeanne's sudden, unexpected death, in her home, with her rescue pups by her side.
For a million reasons, I'm so sad that Jeanne is gone from this world, but she will forever live in my memory, silver hair flying in the wind, on a clear spring day, chasing down a dog and laughing.