His name was "Buddy." I didn't get his owner’s name but from the few moments I saw them together, I could tell they were tight. Buddy was a hefty chocolate lab; his owner, a 6'4", 240 lbs. burly, fit young guy. They looked like they belonged together the way people begin to look like their dogs after a while.
I was at Starbucks – a daily ritual of mine. Starbucks sits in the front of a four-story apartment building. The back of the store has full-length windows and a glass door leading to a courtyard that scales the building and looks up to the sky.
Waiting for my drink, I heard a collective gasp and a lot of commotion. People were huddling in the courtyard over a dog lying on his side on the ground. He had on a red leash that was extended as if someone were still holding it.
Several of us called 311. One guy had the wherewithal to call a vet only one block away. Some people said prayers. Others kept looking up toward the roof and sky as much for a sign of the dog’s owner as a sign of hope. One guy started petting the lab’s head while another lightly stroked his torso. I caressed his back leg with two fingers. He was breathing but couldn’t move and his eyes kept looking behind him the way children do when they are exploring the world but need the reassurance of knowing their parents are there, giving slack but still “holding onto the leash.”
A guy peered over the roof edge in horror and someone looked up and yelled, "Hey, is this your dog?" The guy came tearing downstairs. When he reached the scene, he was a mess. It was his dog. He was trying to comfort him in the midst of his own shock and burgeoning grief.
It was mind-blowing to realize what happened: The dog had accidentally fallen off the roof of the building. It was a terrible accident, a heartbreaking one. One that I am sure changed all of us in the courtyard that day.
Two guys from the vet arrived with a white towel and gently wrapped the lab in it. It took both of them to carry him in the makeshift sling to the clinic. The dog’s owner was walking slowly behind, not apathetically, but in a way that suggested he was trying to postpone the inevitable that would be awaiting him at the clinic.
I walked with him. I patted his back like a mother comforting her child. He turned and hugged me hard, as if pushing some of his pain onto me might ease his own. I ask him his dog's name. He said, "Just ‘Buddy.' He’s my buddy.” He told me he had Buddy for seven years. They were just visiting friends in the building who said dogs run around on the roof all the time. But, there are no guardrails on the roof and Buddy, in his exuberance, didn't understand that.
When we got to the clinic, he hurried straight to the back to be with Buddy. I slipped away, knowing that an excruciatingly private and sacred moment was about to take place and they needed to be alone together.
The next morning, I went to the clinic and asked if Buddy had somehow miraculously made it. The receptionist quietly and respectfully told me that he did not. I cried and walked out of the clinic with a grieving heart.
What happened to Buddy was a tragic, heartbreaking accident and life is filled with them. But, this story has life lessons for everyone. A group of 11 strangers, who happened to be in the same place at the same time, came together like an orchestra. Everyone worked in synchronicity with love, compassion, sympathy, sadness, urgency, and strength. Those grueling 20 minutes held the worst of one unimaginable condition, but showed the very best of the human heart.
I have looked up to the heavens many times since this happened. My tears blind my vision, but somehow, I can see Buddy running around, his red leash pulled slightly taut and every so often, glancing behind him, just to make sure.
Yes, Buddy, we’re all right here.