I didn’t expect to have anything in common with the cab driver.
She picked me up at my hotel in Delray Beach Monday morning. We could have been the subjects of a fashion magazine story on divergent styles of dress and presentation. I’m the girly-girl character, in my Mary Jane shoes from MooShoes and a flippy little black skirt and ruffly top from my favorite New York City boutique (Suzanne Splann, 90th & Madison). She, on the other hand, is doing the androgyny thing with short, spiked hair, jeans, and several tattoos. I figured we’d talk about general stuff—the weather and how hard it is to decipher a phone bill. And for a while, that’s what we did. But somehow the phone conversation segued into how much she enjoys sending photos from her phone, especially pictures of Old Girl, her dog who passed away.
The driver (I’ll call her “Angie” because I never got her name) ran into Old Girl — literally. Several cars had stopped to avoid hitting the little stray, who darted out from under Angie’s car and greeted her like a lifelong friend. It was late: Angie took her home, gave her a flea bath, and went to bed. The next morning, she took the sickly orphan to the vet who advised her to put the dog to sleep. “She has thousands of dollars worth of problems,” he told her. No one had ever removed her puppy collar and it had grown into her neck to the point of damaging her ability to swallow. Her nails were ingrown. Her teeth were rotted. Her immune system was compromised, and she was both blind and deaf. Angie asked about fixing the problems one at a time, but the doctor told her that if Old Girl was to live, he’d need to fix the bulk of them right away.
“Well, how old do you think she is?” Angie wanted to know. The vet said, “About three.” Not such an old girl….
Angie responded, “Well, I wouldn’t kill my three-year-old child just because it would cost money to save her life, so go ahead.”
The vet performed several surgeries to deal with the collar and throat issues. He extracted all her teeth but six (“She could only eat wet food and no dog biscuits unless I soaked them”), got her claws back to normal, and even did a corneal transplant on one eye so she had some limited vision. The deafness Old Girl would simply have to deal with, and the immune insufficiency meant that she wouldn’t be able to fight off disease the way another dog her age could. But none of this kept her from greeting Angie every time she came in, from being her guardian and buddy, and teaching her about acceptance and boundless love.
Now, Angie is not a rich woman. She’s a single mom raising two daughters with no help from her ex or anyone else. She drives a taxi for a living. Spending thousands of dollars to save a dog she’d just met was no small commitment, but she did it. And for four years, until cancer claimed Old Girl, the little dog, a kind of canine Helen Keller, paid her back in spades.
By the time we got to the airport in West Palm Beach, there were tears on my face. Angie heaved my bag out the trunk and met me on the curb, saying, “Look at this.” She leaned down, lifted the leg of her dungarees, and showed me the tattoo: Old Girl’s actual paw print, with some loving sentiments surrounding it. Then we hugged.
I live in New York City and I travel a lot. I’ve been in a great many cabs. This is the first time a driver and I ever embraced. And it wasn’t just the two of us. Old Girl was there for absolute certain. And Aspen, the 15-year-old rescue who taught my daughter and me why dog is God spelled backwards: because God is Love and dog is too. Aspen is getting chemotherapy for lymphoma. We don’t know how long she has, but she has today.
And so do we. It’s a good day for connecting — with a pet that needs a home, with someone who’s sad because a loved one is ill, or with a person you think you’ll have nothing in common with, but who may turn out to be angel just the same.