It was still dark at 6 a.m. in early February when Charles "Chuck" Cunningham was on his way from his home in Westminster to his job as a government cartographer in Rockville. Traffic was brisk along two-lane Route 97 in Brookville but ahead of him he could see cars swinging out and around an object on the road which, from his distance, looked like a bag or a box.
As he approached, he saw that the driver of a car ahead of him had stopped and was in the road trying to wrap his coat around the object. It was an injured dog, snarling and in pain.
Mr. Cunningham pulled over to help. A small, buff-colored female cocker spaniel had been struck, and the other person was trying to help her. He intended to move her off the road and out of traffic.
But Mr. Cunningham knew he couldn't leave her there. So he suggested they both put their coats over the dog to subdue her enough to lift her into the trunk of his car. ''The first motorist retrieved his coat, but my husband looked at his jacket, trapped under the snapping, snarling dog, and decided not to dispute its temporary custody,'' says Peggy Cunningham.
He drove the dog back to Westminster. ''I took her to the Westminster Veterinary Hospital on Main Street where Dr. Douglas Chilcoat has been taking care of our pets for 18 years,'' Mr. Cunningham explains.
It was too early for business as usual at the hospital, but a worker there called Dr. Sharon Kaschenbach, who was on the emergency roster for that day. ''She arrived at the office within a short time, her hair still wet from the shower,'' Mr. Cunningham recalls.
Hospital workers muzzled the dog and took her out of the trunk. Chuck Cunningham was late for work. His coat was still in the trunk.
An X-ray revealed that the dog had a severely dislocated hip and lung injuries, but she would live.
An identity tag gave her name -- Molly -- and address. She belonged to a family in Bowie, far from where she had been found. When Dr. Kaschenbach called, she learned that Molly was not wanted because, they said, she had bitten their 2-year-old without provocation. The family had given her to a relative who let her run loose but who also did not want her.
The owner came to the hospital to identify Molly and paid for the first day's emergency care. The Cunninghams agreed to take on the medical expenses, believing the small dog deserved another chance. Mrs. Cunningham, in Molly's defense, thinks the 2-year-old might have been unsupervised and might have provoked the bite.
''I've often been tempted to bite a 2-year-old,'' she says.
Dr. Kaschenbach also agreed Molly deserved a chance, so she took her home. The Cunninghams have several pets already and could not take Molly with them. At home, the veterinarian planned to observe Molly's recuperation, as well as her disposition, and also help save hospital space and cost. Within a short time, it became apparent that Molly required a hip operation, which Dr. Kaschenbach successfully performed.
Meanwhile, a friend of the Cunninghams heard the story and was able to find a prospective owner for Molly.
Two weeks ago, Dr. Kaschenbach told the Cunninghams the little dog would be ready to go to her new home within a week. The new owners planned a trip to Westminster to meet and adopt Molly. Everything was in order for a happy ending.
But the story doesn't end here.
With all the dogs she handles daily, who could have guessed Dr. Kaschenbach would fall in love with the small dog that needed her, the one who followed her every step at home and who was a soft, cuddly bedfellow.
Dr. Kaschenbach realized she could not say goodbye.
''Molly,'' she says, ''had been uprooted twice and injured. The trauma of uprooting her yet again and the inability to explain to her that it will be all right and that it may be the last time she will have to give her trust and loyalty to a new human is too much to ask.''
Even Molly's prospective owners understood.