When the car door opened, she lifted her head from the backseat. Her ruby nose twitched with interest at the fresh forest air, and her curious ears heightened in full mimicry of a baby kangaroo. She crouched, inaccurately assessed the depth of her exit, and awkwardly stumbled out of my vehicle. Once standing, she froze in wonder.
Like so many others during the pandemic, I decided to foster dogs. In reality, I fostered one dog, fell in love, and adopted her. After months of medical treatment and restricted activity for heart worm, her latest blood tests finally confirmed a clean bill of health. Today, we were at the nature preserve to celebrate.
Although I have loved many dogs, I was convinced that Citron was The Smartest Dog in the World. Her perception seemed boundless. Unfazed by complexity, she correctly interpreted a range of body language, verbal commands, and hand signals in compliance with intermediate obedience. She was a bit socially awkward with strangers (though weren’t we all, by now?). Her reactions to biped and quadruped newcomers ranged from indifference to a spectacular flying leap that left her suspended midair like a cartoon puppy.
I was aware of the kinetic energy steadily gathering on the other end of the leash. Citron hungrily eyed a group of cyclists. Knowing that her two primary life goals were to eat 1) Bikes and 2) Birds, I began to question the wisdom of having brought her to a forest preserve with a cycling trail. Deciding that a missing bird would go unnoticed with less fanfare than a cyclist, I closed the car door and made my decision. With a gentle tug of her leash, we walked away from the paved trail and toward the natural forest path. She trotted alongside me, jaunty ears swiveling in perpetual woodland surveillance.
When we neared the river, my canine companion caught the scent of something that piqued her interest. In the city I often indulged her sniffing forays, believing her behavior akin to reading the local paper. After a few moments of following her nose, I witnessed a previously unknown level of Dog Intensity. The ferocity of Citron’s scent-mission began to gather strength. 40-pounds of dogged inquiry dragged me behind her at a steady clip. My heart rate quickened. Abruptly, Citron paused in her track. She made a dramatic pounce into the base of a hollowed tree, returning with the strap of a bag in her teeth.
“Oh no.” I thought to myself, fearing that whatever she dragged out would be followed by the discovery of dead body latent in the weeds. I was just out here on my lunch break; I didn’t have the heart to get wrapped up in a criminal investigation! I looked around.
Immensely pleased with herself, Citron thrashed her head from side to side before dropping the prize at my feet. I gingerly picked up the bag and peered inside. Nondescript and made from weathered canvas, the bag contained a wooden tray of colored pencils, a black ink pen, and a little black book. Dropping the bag to the ground between my feet, I flipped through the pages of the book, admiring its many landscape drawings. The art was beautiful. The most recent drawing, dated four days earlier and in a completely different style than the rest, was of the river rushing in front of me. Citron stood captive, her sparkling eyes alternating between a plump sparrow and me. Unsure if its owner was coming back, I took the bag home with me.
Later that afternoon, I looked up the nature preserve’s phone number, filed a report for a found item, and left my contact information. No one called. A week later, the bag and its contents were still in my car.
I took Citron back to the preserve. A recent rain left everything muddy. She was enormously happy and dirty, lunging at cyclists until we entered the natural wood, where she pounced on birds and dallied around the fallen trees. She gave a convincing portrayal of a Reasonable Dog Walking on a Leash before at once careening forward, pulling me forward like an unstoppable Labrador/Marsupial sled dog.
This time, her scent-trail came to an abrupt stop in front of a woman obscured at the river’s edge. Although the woman appeared unassuming, just a few years older than myself, I was startled by the sounds coming from my dog. Citron had her quirks, but she was usually pretty quiet. At this moment however, as she pulled toward the woman, every possible expression of sound erupted from her mouth. Once her nose made contact with the stranger, she began to inhale repeatedly, huffing the scent. In seconds, my dog stepped back, made eager eye contact with me, and began to bark.
“Um. Sorry.” I blurted out, embarrassed by the maniacal intensity and volume of the dog snorts. “She’s got a good nose and gets a little carried away sometimes.”
The woman replied, “It’s okay.” Looking down at Citron and scratching under her chin she spoke miserably, “Maybe you can help me find what I’m looking for.” At this, the woman looked at me, “I lost something here the other week.”
My heart dropped to my stomach. “Can I ask what you lost?”
“My favorite uncle just died. When I was cleaning his house, I found a little black sketchbook of his. I always knew he was an artist but had never seen this particular book. Anyways, I took it out here with some pencils to try a landscape drawing of my own and think about him, but I was so upset I ended up leaving without my bag. I’m devastated. I'm coming out here every day to comb through the trail. I feel like I lost him twice. I know that doesn’t make any sense but…” She trailed off.
“No, that makes sense…” I paused. “This is really weird, but I think your book is in my car.”
Her eyes narrowed.
I explained what happened, and in seconds her expression softened from distrust to delight. We walked back toward the parking lot together and I handed her the bag from my trunk.
Her eyes welled up, “Thank you so much. That was so lucky. I don’t know how to repay you.”
She paused, heartfelt. “You know, I don’t have much money right now, but a few years ago as a joke my brother got me a bunch of Gamestop stocks. I was going to sell them anyways, but can I transfer them to you in payment? They’re not worth a lot, but I want to give you something. This notebook really means a lot to me.”
“Sure… thanks.” I was amused by this barter-and-trade and accepted her offer. We exchanged information and parted ways.
True to her word, she transferred 41 Gamestop Stocks to me (valued at $2.97 per, totaling $124.74). A short while later, on January 28, 2021, I sold my stocks for $483 each, unwittingly contributing to one of the greatest short-selling schemes on earth. I walked away with $20,286.
After selling the stocks, I contemplated my new-found circumstance while scratching Citron behind her ears. She pressed herself against my legs then melted to the floor, conveniently providing the opportunity for an extended belly rub.