Someone who looks a lot like Elsie (I found this girl on Wikimedia, and it turns out she was born 10 years after my Elsie and lived in Budapest). Her name was Elza (1981-1996).

Today I was having a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment where I wondered what difference my life will have made in the world.

Suddenly, there was Elsie’s face. A beautiful German Shepherd that I haven’t seen for more than 35 years.

In the summer of 1973, I rented an apartment from a local Methodist church. The old clapboard house itself was offices (1st floor), Sunday school rooms (2nd floor), and my groovy little apartment on the 3rd floor.

When word got around (small college) that I was staying in town for the summer, I heard from a boy who had plans to go to Europe between semesters. He asked me to keep his dog. I soon heard from others that this boy used to kick his dog and generally treat her badly. Elsie’s countenance matched that description. She was nervous, skittish, bowed, and apologetic about everything.

At any rate, I felt very grown-up and as if I was starting a new life. I had my own place and my own dog.

At first, Elsie posed a small problem. I didn’t know how to care for a dog.

Elsie didn’t know that. I found a tennis ball and every day I spent hours, literally hours, bouncing the ball off of the church’s walls in the neighboring courtyard, to Elsie’s sheer delight. I took her everywhere. I don’t even recall that this fellow had given me a leash. But Elsie didn’t seem to need one.

I brushed her, gave her hose water, every attention that a dog could love.

It was a lonely summer for me. My roommate had taken up residence with her boyfriend most of the time. I worked for the college mowing grass for most of the summer — a good friend and I had convinced the school that we should be the first female maintenance employees.

Nights belonged to me and Elsie. I wrote at night, and then, when the heat broke a little — sometime near midnight,  I would ride my bicycle at breakneck speed down the hill to the Chester River. I taught Elsie to run on the sidewalk next to me. (Bad things could’ve happened, but they didn’t.) She swam in the river and was dry by the time we got home. We did this every night, rain or moon.

When fall came around, and I moved back into the dorms, Elsie’s owner came to claim her. At first, he didn’t recognize her. He smiled, crookedly, in disbelief.

In fact, I heard from his dorm mates that Elsie was a completely new dog. Confident and loving. She held her head high now. She was somebody. Still, Elsie took the boy right back.

I visited Elsie a few times in the boy’s dorm. One day after Thanksgiving, I ran into Elsie’s owner on campus. He told me that he had forgotten to bring her back to school after the holiday. I was stunned and broken hearted. How could you leave your best friend behind?

In fact, Elsie never came back to school again. I can only hope that this boy’s parents kept that beautiful girl for the rest of her days.

And so, I am proud to admit that I have had a positive effect on a living creature. One that I could see. One that I could feel. And one that paid me back in full today.


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