Peaches and the Wawa Sandwiches

It was a hot, humid afternoon in January of 2019.  Harmony Chapman held tightly to both leashes, each wrist encircled by the loop at the end, as she and her two medium-sized mixed-breeds made their way around the corner and onto the familiar street… almost home now.  Peaches and Socrates still pulled too much and stopped to sniff every little thing; no amount of walking could ever fulfill their excitement and curiosity. Socrates lifted his leg to a mailbox even though he had run out of “christening spray” several blocks back.  It was the ceremony itself that was important, after all. Harmony had enjoyed the outing, but it had been a long day.  She was looking forward to donning a set of “comfies” for the night, hanging out with husband, Ted, and eating some leftovers.  Unbeknownst to her, Snowball, the neighbor’s pooch,was up ahead going about her day too.  As was customary for the sweet little Westie, she’d been attached to the spiral tie tether in her front yard for a bit of outdoor time.  Snowball always had plenty of room to roam and frolic in the sunshine and a human family member close by.  This afternoon, Peaches was the first to spy the dog. Without warning, Harmony found herself snatched to the ground and dragged several feet across the neighbor’s lawn toward a terrified Snowball.  The 125-pound woman discovered, too late, Peaches’ overwhelming strength in connection with an indomitable protective and territorial instinct.  Harmony had been aware of Peaches’ leash aggression, of course.  But the assumption that the canine could be controlled by her had been a false one.  One last yank and a sharp twist freed the four-year-old rescue who set upon poor Snowball, gnashing at the helpless pup’s hind quarters.  Luckily, Paul (the neighbor’s brother) and a male friend were nearby.  As Paul ran over and scooped Snowball into his arms, the horrified girl managed to grab Peaches’ flailing leash. Heart thumping wildly, Harmony dragged the “bad dog” and  brother  next door and into their home.  The entire attack, from first pull to separation, lasted maybe 30 seconds, but it seemed like several very long minutes.

Her dogs tucked away inside, Harmony raced next door to check on Snowball.  A quick knock brought Paul back out, the shaking and traumatized dog still in his arms.  A head to toe examination was performed there on the porch; the assessment was that Snowball had been rescued in time to avoid severe damage… just a few nips.  Harmony apologized profusely and asked Paul to please tell Stephen and Monica, who’d likely be returning from work soon, that she and Ted would definitely pay any vet billsincurred.  Later that evening, Harmony met with Monica Johnson, who assured her that a vet visit wasn’t necessary and all was fine.  However, the experience had left an indelible impression on Harmony.  Whenshe later relayed the story of the yanking, the dragging, the attacking and the utter horror to her husband, she informed Ted that there was no way she could ever walk Peaches again.  Their girl was just too strong and had obviously developed an intense hatred of the neighbor’s dog.  Peaches needed to be handled by someone who could control her.  It was decided that, going forward, Ted would be the one towalk her. This rule was never to be broken.

Adopted from a local shelter as a playmate for Socrates, Peaches had been a part of the Chapman household for nearly three years.  Early in the process, Harmony had sought to bring an older dog into the family, but after an initial kennel walk-through and selection of three possible candidates, the agency’s “dog whisperer” cautioned against the mature canine option.  At the time, Harmony was regularly caring for her eighteen-month-old nephew, Colin; it was the advisor’s strong suggestion that a puppy would be a better fit for a home that included a young child.  The reasoning was that a puppy would have more patience…. The two could grow up together.  But since the skinny, energetic, one-year-old pup had purportedly been found roaming the streets, her history was unknown.  In an abundance of caution, the process crept slowly.  Four trips were made to the shelter over a week’s time; four separate meet and greets transpired before the decision to adopt was solidified.  Harmony had made the first trip by herself, followed by a visit with Colin, one with hubby and Socrates, and the last visit with Ted’s and Harmony’s teenage son, Garrett, along for final approval.  By the time Peaches came home, the family was as certain as it could be that the rambunctious little miss was the one for them!  Peaches didn’t disappoint.  She became an instantly loyal, gentle, and protective guardian for Colin, a perfect playmate for Socrates, and quite simply the most affectionate dog the family had ever known.   Lick, lick, lickety lick! Goodness, did that girl love to lick!

In the late afternoon of Friday, March 8th , 2019, Ted harnessed up Peaches and Socrates and set out for a walk around the neighborhood.  Harmony glanced up from the SUV she was washing in the couple’s driveway and beamed at her husband coming out the front door, both leashed dogs secured in one hand. Ted turned toward the house, pulling the door closed with his free hand.  Two seconds of diverted attention was all the powerful, protective pooch needed to snap free.  Her quarry sat unsuspecting and unprotected just one yard away, staked to the ground and held in place by a ten-foot leash.  Harmony impulsively screamed out as she scrambled down from her step-stool.  Monica, out in her yard this time, grabbed Snowball tightly to her as Ted wrangled with Peaches’ leash, but each was too late.  Snowball had now been victimized for a second time, her hind-end chewed by an overly-territorial dog.  Ted removed Socrates and Peaches from the equation, leading them down the road, creating space for the moms  to figure out the damage done and how to move forward.  Monica took Snowball inside while Harmony waited in her own front yard.  Within a few minutes, a clearly shaken Monica returned, her hands cradling her pallid and shocked face.  As she approached, Harmony clearly sensed the unmistakable heaviness in her steps and upon her heart.  During the compassionate conversation that followed, the secret that Monica and Stephen had not previously shared was finally revealed.  Snowball had , in fact, required a vet visit, plus minor surgery after the first assault. “Oh my God!  Why didn’t you tell me this?” Harmony wailed.  We would have paid for that!  We need to do that now!”  Monica, as completely distressed as she was by what had just happened, managed the grace and composure to assure the neighbor that no compensation was sought, nor would it be accepted.  As the two women stood in Harmony’s lawn, a mixture of raw love, sympathy, and dread surrounded them in a bubble of sisterhood.  “I understand the seriousness of what I am asking you to do,” Monica offered with both apprehension and gravity in her shaking voice.  The time had come.  Peaches could not be trusted.  She simply could not stay.  Harmony recognized this, of course.  She really did love nearly all animals and Snowball hadn’t done a thing to provoke either attack.  Harmony couldn’t allow the love that she and her family held for Peaches to wholly color the situation.  The love that Monica and Stephen (and their THREE boys…. they had three children!) had for Snowball was just as real and true.  Harmony assured Monica that she would talk to Ted when he got home and that they would do what was necessary.  As Monica walked away, Harmony could feel the worry emanating from her neighbor.  Would Snowball ever be safe?  Would the Chapman’s come to a decision that would protect her family?

The soul-crushing search for the right answer began that very evening around 6:30 p.m. with calls to Sarasota County Animal Services, The Humane Society, and any other animal refuge or shelter Ted and Harmony could think of or find on-line.  The most immediate response available was through Sarasota Animal Services who offered to pick Peaches up within hours and likely keep her in a cage until Monday (possibly later) at which point they’d euthanize her. That option was just way too cruel and never considered. The couple did manage to speak with some shelters during the weekend, but all were either full to capacity or completely uninterested in accepting a dog who had attacked another (who could blame them?). Messages were left everywhere, exhausting all resources, until the two finally agreed to do follow-up calls starting early Monday morning, when most animal agencies would re-open. Around 4 p.m. Monday, they had the answers needed to make an informed decision. Only one shelter had agreed to take her, but by that time the Chapman’s had been warned by their vet and others that Peaches’ territorial nature and fixation on the neighbor’s dog had a potential for escalation. Ted and Harmony had been informed that their loveable and faithful pet, who had never EVER harmed a human being, may just end up doing that very thing. Surrendering Peaches meant not knowing if she’d be adopted and whether a new family (or individual) would be safe from her unpredictable behavior. Perhaps she’d simply sit in a cage indefinitely, after being well-loved for almost three years. Either scenario was unacceptable. The Chapman’s made the excruciating (and responsible) decision to have Peaches euthanized in their vet’s office the following day, with her Mommy and Daddy there to ease her transition.

Tuesday morning was alternately tearful and staid, the couple doing their best to keep it together. But Harmony knew that Peaches had sensed something grim was about to transpire. When the three entered the car without Socrates, Peaches became sedate, almost resigned to her fate. She walked solemnly into the veterinary clinic and cooperated like the good girl that her family had always known. She didn’t really fight what was happening to her until after the first round of drugs had been administered and failed to work properly. Peaches lay on the table, staring at Harmony, her body jerking but her head too paralyzed to move. Unable to go until a second dose was prepared and given, her suffering was needlessly prolonged, the betrayal perceived. Ted would be forever scarred by the image of Peaches’ tongue that used to lap his face with such fervor, now lolling out of the side of her mouth… her once bright and vivid eyes fading into nothingness as he looked into her devoted, trusting face….

The following morning, Ted went off to work, as usual, and Harmony typed a letter to her next-door neighbors, letting the family know what had been done and that it was once again safe for Snowball to claim the playland in her own front yard. Tucking the note behind their screened door, Harmony skulked back home to nurse her utterly broken heart, along with her still battered and bruised body. The next day, to her astonishment, a bouquet of flowers arrived with a simple note attached: We are so sorry for your loss.

We know you loved Peaches.

Monica, Stephen and the boys

Harmony couldn’t even fathom facing her neighbors. She was so thankful for their grace, completely dumbfounded by it, really. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand why Monica and Stephen had been so completely decent. These neighbors were just that… neighbors. They weren’t friends. They were so different from Harmony and her family, or so she had always thought. Stephen was a Marine who had fought in the first Gulf War, which certainly earned Ted’s and Harmony’s respect. However, the Chapman’s considered themselves pacifists (at least most of the time). Monica had given birth to THREE boys, all still at home, while Harmony’s one had already left the nest. Both women were hard workers, for sure, so that was a commonality. But the Johnson’s were Christians who ascribed to right-wing policies, while the Chapman’s definitely lived a secular life and supported a left-wing agenda.

Polarization in America had been the norm for so long, Harmony simply could not process that people so ideologically different from her and her family could still be HUMAN. This shocking revelation stuck to her, following her everywhere she went, forming a continuous loop in her head. She had often seen politicians, in particular, classify groups of people as “sub-human” and she detested the practice. Was it really possible that she’d been doing that herself? Why? Why had they been so completely understanding and forgiving?

Four or five days passed before Harmony caught sight of Monica sitting with Snowball in the front yard. It was early evening and a perfect opportunity to stroll over and sit a minute. Harmony wanted Snowball to understand she could trust her and not to be afraid. Time to go give a pet and some reassurance. She also wanted to thank Monica for the flowers. The two women sat in the grass with the fluffy white dog, chitchatting with surprising ease. Harmony mentioned the charity she had been volunteering for and that Streets of Paradise fed the homeless population up in Sarasota behind the Salvation Army on (then) Thursday nights. “Do you ever need food donations?” Monica asked. “Oh sure, we are always cooking. I’d be glad to share whatever you have to donate,” Harmony answered. “No, I mean ready-made sandwiches,” Monica countered. “I recently became a manager at the new Wawa in Venice. We already have a charity that collects our overage three times per week, but we need someone for the other two days.” Within a couple of weeks, Streets of Paradise was officially set up to receive a sizeable assortment of breakfast sandwiches, hash browns, doughnuts, pastries, and muffins, two times per week, every week. This has not only enabled us to add to our weekly food share (now held on Wednesday nights), but has also allowed us to feed folks on Saturdays as well. We have since added another Wawa pick-up in Sarasota and are distributing those sandwiches weekly too! An Outback overage has recently come our way through this association as well. Our organization is so grateful for these opportunities. Even so, sometimes, while serving sandwiches, a telltale tear will slide down Harmony’s cheek. Peaches loved people. She tried to always protect, even in her misguided way. She had paid the ultimate price for that, but what was done was done. Through upheaval, important revelations were brought to light about what it means to be a good neighbor. Connections were made that otherwise would not have been. Harmony and her husband had had to make a painful sacrifice in order to ensure Snowball’s safety, but silver linings could be acknowledged on a couple different fronts. The Chapman’s had been fully and unexpectedly exonerated for Peaches’ transgression. And Harmony was doubly rewarded with a large, consistent food donation for Streets of Paradise. Those who might not have something to eat, now do because of Peaches. As much as it hurts, Harmony does understand that the greater good is being served. About a month after Peaches’ passing, Harmony spied Stephen, the quiet and somewhat elusive husband, outside. He, Monica and the boys were just returning home from church. Harmony worked up her nerve, walked over and approached Stephen, who was standing on the side of the family’s car closest to her. She looked him in the eye and said, “We are ready to pay Snowball’s vet bill. Please just let me know the damages and we’ll work it out.” “Nah, we won’t take any money for that,” he returned. “Well, then, I am going to keep after your wife until she says ‘Yes,’” Harmony insisted. “She won’t let ya either,” he responded calmly but looking as if he wanted to escape. Monica had headed into the house with some packages from the car. Harmony held the gaze of this man who had hardly said “Boo” to her in a decade’s time. “You know that what you’ve done is very unusual. I don’t know of a soul who would’ve given a free pass like you and Monica did.” “Sure, they would’ve…” He paused. Sure, they would’ve,” he repeated, and then walked into the house.

Since that day, Harmony often wondered to herself if Stephen’s experience seeing war up close made him crave peace within, peace with his family and peace with those around him. It really wasn’t any of her business and she never asked. But she definitely managed to learn something of extreme value from the tragic experience that had unexpectedly connected neighbor to neighbor: Most of the time, everyday people try to go about their lives doing what they think is right. For the devout Christian, that might be a little different from the obedient Muslim. The agnostic, atheist, Jew, Hindu, and Buddhist will have distinctive perspectives too. The Democrat, the Republican, the Independent… value systems are always going to vary… and some values would forever remain impossible for Harmony to swallow. But BASIC HUMANness (humanity) is usually much the same from person to person. It is easy to demonize each other when we have been handed little instruction pamphlets on who to be, forcing us into boxes, tiny prisons… But what if we didn’t have to stay in those boxes? What if we didn’t have to obey the rules? What if we just spoke our heart’s truth and acted upon it? The good news is: We can.

#homelessness, food, helping, kindness, wawa

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