The call came at a bad time. I was on the phone, trying to solve a problem that had come up with a work project. But then I heard my daughter's voice say, "Mom?"
I knew work would have to wait. I can always tell, just by the tone in either of my daughters' voices, when something is wrong.
So I brought the business call to a swift conclusion, switched to the other line, and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Can you please look up the animal control office number for me?" Jen asked.
I told her I would, but I wanted to know why.
"I'm out in the middle of nowhere, and there's a pregnant dog – she just wandered out of the woods, and she looks like she's starving. Someone's got to help her. I'm afraid she's going to get hit by a car."
She went on to describe a brown dog, dirty and pathetic, wandering along the side of a ditch.
I searched for the number on the Internet, and while I scrolled through links, I told Jen to stay in her car.
Having graduated from college recently, she works for a foster-care organization, so she drives all over this city, a city that happens to be the largest in land area in the contiguous United States. At least that's what the city's official website says.
At the moment Jen was in an area known for factories and frequent murders. I found the number for our city's animal control agency and gave it to her.
After we hung up, I thought about how many unfortunate animals my family and I have tried to help.
There was the pregnant cat someone dropped near our house when Jennifer was small. I fed the cat, who maneuvered through a hole in the bricked-in crawl space under our house to have her babies.
My husband twice crawledto her on his stomach to bring the kittens out. When she took them back under there for a third time, rejecting the nice back-porch bed we'd made for her, he declined a third attempt.
When the kittens emerged, Jen and I made a flier and posted it at businesses and veterinarians' offices. She asked her friends at school; I trolled for cat lovers at church. We found every one of them a home.
Then there was the apparently dead mockingbird we found one afternoon during a heat wave. The bird was sprawled on its side on pavement hot enough to melt a flip-flop.
Both my daughters immediately begged to take "her" home with us. They decided her gender on a whim; no science was applied.
I said we could take her home, but it looked as if we were too late to save her. Then I bent over to pick up the bird.
I still remember two tiny eyes opening ever so slightly – two dark slits, really, and the almost imperceptible beat of a very small heart.
At home we ground dry cat food to powder and mixed water with it, feeding it to the bird through a medicine dropper. This was on the recommendation of our veterinarian.
We made a nest in a shoebox, lining it with scraps of cloth and punching air holes in the lid and sides. The girls gathered some leaves to make it seem more like home to our ailing guest.
We took turns feeding her around the clock. We discovered that a baby bird eats constantly.
A week later, when our patient began to make constant escape attempts, we took the mockingbird outside and lifted the lid. She flopped around on the ground for a minute or two, and then lifted herself, clumsily at first. Finally she gathered enough speed to fly to a branch of our apple tree out back.
The girls watched the yard constantly after that, believing that every mockingbird chittering angrily at our cat was our rehab patient.
My husband has often said if there were a hungry or sick animal within 50 miles, it would find me. I suppose he's right. We've cared for turtles, a number of cats, a possum, and a chicken. I've no idea where any of them came from. We still have the chicken.
When Jen eventually came home from work the day she had called me about helping the pregnant dog, I took one look and knew she'd had a rough day.
She can't talk about the children she assists, but she doesn't have to. I'm her mother; I can read her eyes. She said hello and went straight for the phone. I listened as she recited the case number that the animal control people had assigned to the dog and then inquired about how she was doing. Jen spoke with the officer for quite a while.
There are special days in a mother's life when she can celebrate the things her children do – school awards, sports medals, prizes for academic competitions.
But one of the most prized days this mother has had was the day her daughter came to the assistance of a pregnant dog, after she'd taken care of a number of needy children. No award can top that.