A boy and his dog, we know, is a beautiful thing.
My son, Chance, is a college student in Colorado. He recently traveled to Italy for a study-abroad term. En route, he had a four-hour layover at Dulles International Airport, 15 minutes from our home.
I knew he didn’t really want to see me, he just wanted to see his large brown dog, who we’ll call Natalie.
I had other taxi service that day, the timing was tricky.
The only way to make it work, I figured, was if I could just take Natalie, to see Chance at the airport.
I did my research. Only service dogs allowed.
A few years ago we bought a doggy backpack for a 5-day hiking trip in California. A well-designed, bright red pack, with removable paniers.
It’s not like we’d be leaving unattended baggage somewhere or remaining stationary at the curb while not unloading.
So I planned to park in short term parking then head straight in Door One, walking with confidence and purpose … and wearing the “I just had cataract surgery sunglasses” that somehow ended up in our junk drawer … I would not look at the security guards.
Younger brother, who we’ll call “Seth,” aged 16, was having no part of it.
“Don’t ask me to bail you out of jail,” he said.
Everything was fine until I actually succeeded in walking straight through the automatic sliding glass of Door One at Dulles International Airport with Natalie obediently at my side.
But once inside, I couldn’t find the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet.
After walking the length of the main terminal, I broke down and took off the dark glasses; it was pretty dark in there. And I had to consult my phone for directions.
“Yeah, not looking very blind right now, Mom,” I imagined my son commenting.
I followed my phone’s clues to the meeting place.
There was my son.
Joy, joy, joy.
Two happy puppies.
“Is that a service dog, Mam?” the waitress inquired.
Hmmm. I didn’t want to lie outright.
“Well, technically, she’s off-duty,” I said. “Can we have that table?” I pointed to the outermost one and without pausing we settled in, Natalie responding to my snapping fingers with obedience if not outright grace. On two snaps she was lying at our feet beneath the table.
But that restaurant smelled pretty good.
We ordered Chance a hamburger (so he could drop some of it on accident,) and I a beer. I needed it for my nerves; Son number two would not be bailing me out of jail.
All went well until the three women at the next occupied table decided it was picture time for their toddler.
“Natalie!” A woman holding a camera crooned, trying to get the attention of the toddler.
“No way,” I looked at my son, incredulous.
“Natalie, Natalie!” The woman called out again, “say ‘Cheese,’ Natalie.”
The dog was sure someone was offering her a cheeseburger.
Our Natalie weighs almost 100 pounds and the power in her legs can project her body with amazing force and precision. But she only has eyes on the front end of her body. I’ve seen her leap into action, her nose and jaws in pursuit of squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, propelled by the complicated set of muscles, tendons and sinew all designed to get those jaws to a desired location with incredible speed. Anything in the way will be brutally knocked aside or flattened.
I have personally experienced three earthquakes in my life and have developed a modest sense of the scale used to measure such temblors. By my estimate, the café table on which my beer bottle, glass and my son’s hamburger had been placed, suffered the equivalent to 14 points on the Richter scale.
But Chance was quick and so was I.
He lunged for the dog and I snatched my beer from its mid-air flight.
Later, after Chance had headed to his gate and Natalie and I were waiting to get out of short-term parking, my younger son, Seth, texted me, asking if I’d been arrested.
I realized in that short moment that he was having second thoughts. If I had gotten arrested, I wouldn’t have even asked him to bail me out—whatever that meant -right?
I texted back: