February 14 was a perfect day to help 14 tender creatures
This wasn’t what I’d planned for Valentine’s Day—three hours in a car full of mewling animals and a quieter three-hour ride home.
But when asked by our overcrowded animal shelter to transport a sick dachshund and 13 kittens to a town near the Kentucky border, where a shelter with more room and treatment resources would take the animals, I couldn’t say no.
I loved animals, and the dachshund, afflicted with heartworm, would die without help. If I was a little late for the candlelit dinner my husband and I had planned, well—I knew my valentine would wait for me.
I glanced at the passenger seat, where Elmo, the dachshund, lay calmly in his carrier. Behind me, the kittens meowed and paced in their own carriers, unnerved at being in the car. At six weeks old, how could they know it was for their own good?
I felt the weight of responsibility.
I sped through Knoxville and the landscape became hillier—and, to my surprise, snowy. It had been cloudy and a little chilly when I’d left Chattanooga that afternoon, but not stormy at all. I’d been perfectly comfortable in my jeans, sneakers and fleece jacket.
Slush covered the highway as it curved uphill. Traffic slowed until it became a column of flashing red taillights. No turning back now. I forged on, saying a silent thanks when GPS alerted me that my exit was approaching.
The roads were even worse off the highway. My Ford Fiesta slogged through slush. The air was nearly opaque with heavy blowing flakes.
I drove slowly, feeling my heart beat faster as the road climbed uphill—again. I’d lived most of my life in the Northeast, and this storm rivaled the worst blizzards I’d seen. Businesses along the way were dark, sidewalks empty. I realized the road was now unplowed and covered with several inches of fresh snow.
I made it to the top of the hill, where I was supposed to turn left. But I made the mistake of stopping to check for oncoming traffic. When I pressed the accelerator, my wheels spun in the snow. I felt the rear of the car drift.
And then, to my horror, I began sliding downhill toward a steep drop-off on the side of the road.
“Oh, God,” I chanted as I tried in vain to steer the car.
Miraculously, the car came to a stop with only a few feet to spare.
“It’s okay, Elmo,” I said, trying to calm myself. I took out my cell phone. No signal. Behind me, the kittens mewled pitifully. I would have to get out and trudge through the snow in my sneakers in search of help.
I was about to open the door when, out of a brick and white-clapboard ranch house directly across from me, an older man and woman appeared on the porch. I could’ve sworn that house looked empty a moment before.
The couple walked toward me, holding onto each other to keep from slipping. I got out of the car and greeted them, trying to not to sound as desperate as I felt.
“I’m trying to get to the animal shelter,” I said. “I have a dog and thirteen kittens in here.”
“You’ve got a ways to go,” the man said, looking concerned. “Where’re you coming from?”
I told him, and explained about the shelter handoff.
“All that way!” the woman said.
“Are you trying to get back tonight?”
“Yes, ma’am. I have a date with my valentine.” I couldn’t wait to be sitting across the table from him—although at the moment, I feared I would never make it.
The man walked around the car. “I’m Vicki, honey,” the woman said. “And that’s Jim. Pull your hood up, it’s bitter cold out here today.” She patted my shoulder.
“Let’s see if we can get you back on the road,” Jim said. He got in, put the car into reverse, and with much spinning of the wheels managed to back away from the drop-off and turn until the car faced downhill. He set the emergency brake and got out.
“See if you can meet your shelter contact at the Walgreens on the corner of the main road,” Jim said. “That will save you going up any more hills.”
I managed to pick up a cell signal on Jim and Vicki’s porch and texted my contact. Thankfully, she agreed to the new plan. But before I could get back in the car, the tires lost their grip and the car began sliding downhill again.
“No!” I shouted. All the couple and I could do was watch helplessly as the car slid down and pulled to the right, finally stopping against the curb right in front of a neighboring house. Now what?
Jim scratched his head. Vicki put her arm around me. The three of us looked up the hill when we heard a car motor. Two pickup trucks drove down toward us and pulled over. The drivers got out, wearing insulated overalls. Jim explained the situation and we came up with a solid plan.
Jim would get in and steer my car while the truck drivers, Vicki and I pushed from the front. After a few tries we succeeded in moving the car off the curb and getting it pointed the right way.
Not taking any chances, I jumped in as soon as Jim got out. The animals, to my surprise, were now quiet, staring wide-eyed at all the helpful strangers surrounding the car.
Maybe they really did know the humans were doing this for their own good! Jim grabbed hold of my hand on the wheel. “God, protect this sweet lady and her precious cargo,” he said in his country Tennessee accent, his tone confident but humble. “Get them safely where they’re going.”
I put the car into first and started down the hill on my fishtailing, white-knuckled way. Stopping at the intersection with the main road, I looked back. My rescuers were still standing in the middle of the street in the pelting snow, watching over us.
I made it to the Walgreens, where my contact waited. “We had a time getting here,” I told her. “Elmo and the kittens have mighty dedicated guardian angels.”
Soon I was back on the highway plowing through slush, feeling a rush of profound relief that I had successfully delivered the animals in spite of everything.
There were other animal lovers put in my path to help, and what better way was there to spend Valentine’s Day? At last I pulled into my driveway and walked inside, where my husband was lighting candles on the table and placing a card at my seat. I wasn’t even late.
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