East Nashville and a pittie named Elvin
I knew I loved East Nashville for its sidewalks, ripe with block parties and chance meetings. I knew I loved it for the constant flow of young couples with strollers, and the countless dog walkers, the beautiful people with beautiful puppies. I loved that I could step out my front door every day with my goofy, kind-hearted pitbull, Elvin, his butt wiggling gleefully as he surged out into the world. We could walk for miles, discovering new scents and new sidewalks, making friends along the way. We stopped regularly to say hello to the adorable black and white pittie on 12th and Forrest, the firefighters hanging out in front of the historic firehouse on 16th and Holly, and the ducks swimming at Shelby Park.
On the night of October 7, 2011, I went on a walk with Elvin and my husband, Ken. We traced the sidewalks from Five Points to the park on what would be our last walk together. I didn’t know that night would be the last time I would tuck Elvin into bed and lay my head down next to his, listening to him breathe as he drifted off to the train whistles in the distance. If I had known, I would have kept right on walking, in the hope that I could fend off the sun at daybreak.
The following afternoon I was sitting in our guest room, sorting through some paperwork. I called Ken over so we could stare lovingly at our Elvin through the window overlooking the back yard. We watched him circle, around and around, in search of the perfect spot to land, and when he found his resting place, my heart swelled. I turned back to my work and never saw him again. He disappeared from our backyard that afternoon, made an appearance at a bar up the street, and then vanished into thin air.
Ken and I lost our minds. We thought the rest of the world might think we were nuts for the depth of pain and loss we were feeling and the lengths we were willing to go to get him back.
We were wrong. Before nightfall, we had an army of people looking for him, hitting the streets and posting flyers all over the neighborhood. I was beside myself, trying to manage a growing sense of dread. I looked around and realized that our living room had filled with friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers — kind, selfless, animal-loving strangers — ready to help us implement a fully developed action plan to find our boy.
When a stray dog is seen wandering the streets of East Nashville, he or she is generally picked up by a random dog-loving citizen and reported to East C.A.N., Camp Chaos, Dogs Deserve Better, or Labor of Love. Within hours, information is disseminated throughout the puppy-power underworld of the east side, through social networks and on the East Nashville listserv. The dog is returned to his or her owners, and a happy ending ensues. If an owner can’t be found, there are dozens of foster families who love and care for the dogs until forever homes can be secured. The rescuers even go into homeless camps to bring dog sweaters and provide needed veterinary care. They brave dark alleys and respond to reports of dogs chained outside season after brutal season. They make East Nashville a safe place for dogs and the owners who love them.
Just yesterday, almost four months since Elvin went missing, someone forwarded me a Facebook post written by a stranger. The man said that when he speaks to people all over the city and beyond, he tells them he lives in East Nashville and they say “Elvin!” Our boy is famous; the good people of East Nashville made sure of it. Every time the phone rings with a new lead, we are encouraged. We are still looking and so are the hundreds of people who have reached out to us in support.
Since losing Elvin, Ken and I have learned about the kindness of strangers. We’ve made treasured new friends. We’ve learned that we live in a close-knit, compassionate community. We’ve learned that we must always find ways to reach out to people around us who are in need, and we know now that we cannot take our time together as a family for granted. We have also learned that the train whistle late at night can be a lonely, scary thing when one member of the family is lost in the world.
You can come home now, Elvin. Your dad and I have learned our lessons, and we have many, many new people and puppies waiting to meet you. I still walk the sidewalks everyday looking for you, and I still have your favorite rawhides in the pantry. Please come home, buddy. We miss you.
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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