This blog is usually about light hearted things and not-so-light cooking. Funny things my kids do, my attempts at gardening, and our voracious love of books. But today, I want to encourage you all to do something that no longer comes as second nature to so many of us. That’s right – I want you to look up, pay attention, and most of all – be a good neighbour. Last week, I stopped short of what the little voice in my head was telling me to do, and it could have cost a young man his life.
Our little neighbourhood is pretty close knit. When we as a group decide something, local politicians have learned that we will not back down until things are decided in our favour. The school transportation has also heard from us. We watch each other’s houses, keep the neighbours’ pets , shovel the driveway for our seniors, and raise a suspicious eyebrow when things are out of kilter. We are all digitally connected – e-mails, texts, messaging services. But you don’t have to live in this sort of modern-day ‘Leave It To Beaver’-type community to look out for one another.
You see, last week, a pretty bedraggled dog showed up in my back yard. So bedraggled, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I recognized it. Once I dug through her matted fur, I found some old dog tags and began putting the pieces together. Neighbours a few doors down had moved here from the area listed on the expired tag, a couple of years ago. I snapped a quick photo and sent it to Goose who confirmed that yes, it was the same dog that had arrived on our doorstep a few months ago, albeit in much better shape. She is known for getting out by digging under the fence in her yard.
Chuckling and shaking my head, I snapped Sir Winston’s lead on her and headed down the street a few doors. There was a car in the driveway and several of the windows were open. I rang the door bell a few times and knocked.
I took the dog back home, figuring that perhaps the son that lived there was sleeping and hadn’t heard me. I had seen him coming and going to work on his bike, wearing his safety boots and carrying his lunch pail. Who knows? Maybe he works shift. Maybe he couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. Maybe he had been partying and was still sleeping it off. Maybe he wasn’t home and hadn’t bothered to close the windows. Not my business.
I looked up their phone number and left a message on their answering machine. I secured the dog in our garage with water and a blanket.
Lunch time passed.
Bus time came and went.
I took the dog over again. I knocked and I rang the door bell. The little voice said that leaving the windows wide open when rain and bad weather were imminent was really out of character. The little voice said I should slip into the back yard. Maybe the back door was open and I could just pop the dog back inside. I quashed the little voice – hadn’t I done enough? I mean, I was already housing a dog that didn’t belong to us. We weren’t using the garage and coming in and out of other doors already. Sir Winston was nearly fit to be tied by the idea of another dog being so close by that he couldn’t play with.
I left a note on the door just before we all headed off to a meet the teacher event. The entire time the little voice kept saying ‘hurry home, something isn’t right over there’. I had made up my mind to slip in the back yard when we got back. When we got home, however, I didn’t need to.
Police, fire, and ambulance were already here.
My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach. Why hadn’t I looked in the back yard?
Turns out mom and dad were away on vacation. Their son found himself alone and in a pretty dark and scary place. He is now receiving extended medical care. He is going to be OK. But he laid there for several hours, on his parents’ living room floor, when he didn’t have to. The EMT workers told me he was alive only because he was in such good physical shape. That notion haunts me.
I still don’t know who alerted the authorities to his condition. But it took me several nights to sleep well again. What if? kept running through my head.
Another neighbour had taken the dog into their house and cleaned her up and cut out the bazillion burrs that she had collected. The daughter of the dog’s owner came to collect her the next day. When mom and dad got home, they were profusely thankful that we had taken in the dog. They couldn’t believe strangers would do that for them.
You live only a couple of doors down from me. You have for two years. How can we be strangers? That was almost as upsetting as the idea that I hadn’t done more and their son could have died because of it.
Rarely have I regretted acting. Overreacting, yes, but never reaching out to help. And I don’t want anyone else to not act because ‘they don’t want to interfere’. Interfere away. I’m not talking about the gossipy, bad-news spreading kind of interfering.
I am talking about the look up from your phone and see that small child wandering without an adult.
I am talking about noticing people coming to your neighbour’s back door when they aren’t home.
I am talking about making eye contact with that neighbour walking the dog and noticing where they live. And maybe returning the animal there instead of calling the pound.
Notice that the newspaper hasn’t been picked up from the driveway in a while. And go to the door and check it out.
Make note of the non-emergency medical vehicle that shows up on a weekly basis. And just cut the grass.
Most of all, don’t be haunted by the regret of ‘If only’.