Six-year-old Emily showed up at our house because she was hungry, and she didn’t know where else to go. Her stepfather had told her to always be out of the house before daylight, and to never come home until after dark. I started feeding her every day, and she became a wonderful part of our lives. But when she asked me if she could go to church with us, I knew it was time to visit her home.

I worked with a young man named Henton, and he and I made our way over to Maple. We turned and headed down the street, looking for 423. The further we went, the rougher the neighborhood grew. We looked out of place in our suits, and the few people we passed on the street stopped to stare at us. When we stopped at 423, an interesting sight met our eyes.

The grass was about a foot tall, probably never having been mowed all summer. Beer cans littered the walk and front porch. There was trash everywhere. An old broken couch with stuffing coming out of it sat under an old tree.

As soon as we stopped, two large dogs came running toward us, snarling and growling. Henton jumped behind me. The dogs stopped at the edge of the property, daring us to come any further.

I turned to Henton. “You ready for this?”

He shook his head. “If you’re going to the door, you’re going alone.”

I was determined to get the needed permission, so I steeled myself, took my umbrella in my right hand to defend myself if necessary, and stepped forward. The dogs jumped toward me, but as I moved my umbrella threateningly, they backed off. As I made my way to the door, they circled me. When they would act like they were going to lunge, I’d move my umbrella toward them, and they would retreat.

I finally made it to the porch. The dogs stayed on the steps, snarling. I kept an eye on them while I knocked on the door. When the door opened, there stood a fat, slovenly man, dressed in ragged shorts, no shirt, and holding a beer in his hand. He looked at me standing there, glanced at Henton on the street, and spoke with a quivering voice.

“Hey, look. I don’t want no *#&@ trouble. Tell Dexter I’ll get him the money. He’s got my word.”

“I don’t know any Dexter,” I said.

He sized me up for a moment, then spoke again. “You’re a cop, ain’t you? Look, you ain’t got nothing on me. Not a *#&@ thing.”

“I’m not a cop,” I said. “I’m a friend of Emily’s.”

“Oh, I see,” he said. “Well, we take good care of her. We don’t need no Family Services check.”

“I’m not with Family Services,” I replied.

“Well, who the *#&@ are you, then?” he asked.

“I’m just Emily’s friend,” I replied. “She asked if she could go to church with us, and I wanted to get your permission.”

He looked like he had been hit by a truck. “You came all the way here, past my dogs, to ask me if Emily can go to church with you?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“Sir?” he choked. “Well, don’t that beat all. Ain’t no one ever called me that before. Sure, you can take Emily with you, as long as she stays out of trouble, and no one comes here a preachin’.”

“Would you mind signing a permission slip?” I asked.

He shrugged. He couldn’t find any paper, so he ripped a piece of a cigarette carton and signed his name below the words “Emily can go to church.”

As I stuffed the cigarette carton piece in my pocket and headed out the door, he yelled at the dogs to leave me alone. With one final growl they slunk away.

He laughed. “Either you are the *#&@ bravest man I’ve ever seen, or you are the *#&@ stupidest. I can’t believe my dogs didn’t tear you to pieces.”

“Emily says she thinks I am one of God’s angels sent to help her,” I said.

“So what does that have to do with them not biting you?” he asked.

“Maybe your dogs decided it’s not a good idea to bite an angel,” I replied.

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]; or visit his website