"Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get."
This photo was borrowed from the website www.the-happy-dog-spot.com.
Last Wednesday I did my weekly walk-through of the local animal shelter. I’ve been looking for a dog to adopt, but it’s tough to see dogs under those conditions, so I generally don’t stay long. That day, I was suddenly greeted by two dogs in a single kennel barking loudly through the chain link. One appeared to be a huskie/shepherd mix. The other was a purebred chocolate lab.
I ignored them, waiting to see if they would stop barking. When they didn’t, I decided to address the issue.
“Hey!” I said, “sit.” The lab stopped barking immediately, hung his head in shame, and sat. The other dog stopped barking, but stood watching me. “Sit,” I said again, and he sat.
The card on their kennel told their story. They’d been brought to the shelter the day before when their owners had been evicted from their home. They had gone from having their own home and no doubt a yard to being thrust into a small cement kennel, separated from all that was familiar. Their collars attested to their status as family members, with tags stating their names and the address of the home they would probably never see again.
Saddened, I left.
But I couldn’t get them out of my mind, so I returned the next day. The lab, “Suede,” remembered me and, true to his lab instincts to please, immediately sat, watching my face expectantly. The huskie mix, “Fenway,” spent his time pacing back and forth in the kennel. When Suede wandered over toward the food bowl, Fenway growled, putting his body between his cellmate and the food.
“You just lost the gentleman vote,” I told him. Suede returned to where I stood and sat down again, wagging his tail slowly, quietly.
At the front desk, an employee told me a ten-day hold had been placed on the dogs. The family has that long to make arrangements to house them. In the meantime, a list would be made of people interested in adopting them. I gave the woman my name, thus becoming #1 on the list. If the family does not return to claim Suede by Friday, May 10, I can adopt him.
I returned the next day to visit, and noticed that Fenway had developed a runny nose. He was still showing food aggression toward Suede, and Suede still sat as soon as he saw me.
On Saturday, the kennel appeared empty when I approached, and my heart started pounding. I bent down and looked to the back of the enclosure. Fenway was there, curled up asleep. No Suede. My eyes misted over. Had the family reclaimed one dog but left the other behind? Or had the dogs simply been separated by the shelter staff?
The answer to the latter question was yes. Two kennels down, I found a very lonely, very glad to see me Suede. He sat, but stood again and wagged his tail, then sat again. I spent a few minutes quietly talking to him. On Sunday I returned again, this time just sitting outside the kennel on the floor for a while, talking to him.
On Monday, the kennel smelled bad, and Suede’s milk chocolate nose was bloody and raw.
“What happened?” I asked. He wagged his tail, then leaned against the chain link. I squeezed my hand through, scratching his neck. A runny pile of poop oozed at the far end of the kennel. Dogs that are housebroken have the hardest time in shelters because they’ve been trained not to go ‘inside.’ The loose stool was an indication that his digestive system wasn’t adjusting to whatever they were feeding him, and his nose was an indication that he had tried to scrape up some dirt to cover his mess.
When I returned on Tuesday, his kennel had been cleaned. And as I sat with him, I watched a family with young children stroll through, looking at the dogs. The little girl with them saw Fenway’s gorgeous blue eyes and ran to the kennel while her parents hung back. For a week, I have watched that dog bark at every single adult who comes within five feet of his kennel. But when he saw the little girl, he trotted to the gate to greet her, quietly wagging his tail. Atta boy, Fenway.
Friday is the day after tomorrow. I should be excited, but I’m not. What I’m feeling is much less than that, and a little more. I’m anxious about bringing Suede home, worried about how Sug will adjust to having a dog in the house; she’s never lived with one. And I feel guilty, as if I’m profiting from the misfortunes of others. I can only assuage that guilt a little by telling myself that if I were ever in the situation of having to give up a dog (and heaven help me if such a calamity would ever occur), I would want that dog to be adopted as soon as possible to someone who would care for him and love him deeply and responsibly. And I am hopeful. There is still time for the family to rally, to return for the dogs who miss them terribly.
And so the waiting game continues. Stay tuned.