You’re sleeping now on the rug in my office as I write, dreams flickering behind your eyes, making your paws twitch. Looking at you I smile, and my heart squeezes.
Despite having loved all our other dogs totally, I have to say that you might be the all-around best one ever. You have never destroyed anything; you don’t have to be told things twice; you lie quietly in your bed beside ours until we decide to get up; you love other dogs; you don’t bark much (except when fluffy-tailed rodents are involved); you take treats gently; you don’t pull on the leash (ditto the rodent exception); you’re healthy in body and mind, playful, affectionate. Our dogs before you were purebred golden retrievers with papers and high price tags. You are a mutt, who was picked up as a seven-month-old stray in one of our city’s worst neighborhoods.
“Healthy young female” was the appraisal of the officer who impounded you; “hound mix” was how the shelter’s Admissions staff described your breed. Your intake picture in the fluorescent glare of the Admissions holding room shows a small face making a brave show of growling, a ridiculously thick, dusty brown collar hanging from your neck, somebody’s delusional attempt to make you seem badass.
I often wonder – in the time between breaking free of whatever chain or rope tethered that big collar to a porch or a shed or fence or a tree, and being brought to the shelter by the animal control officer, how and what did you eat and drink? Where did you sleep? How long did you have to rely on your own resources, a small creature barely past infancy?
I had volunteered at the shelter a total of five hours when I walked into the ward where you were housed, and it was like I was on a leash and you gave it a jerk. Not that you were saying or doing anything. While the other dogs spread the alarm – Civilian human in building! The loudest bark and highest jump gets a walk! — you sat with your side pressed against the gate of your kennel, looking up at me sidelong, shyly.
You were a pretty little thing. “Brandy” was the name the shelter had given you, no doubt because of your golden-brown patches with black brindle striping in them. Between the patches your coat was bright white, with large black freckles visible on the skin through the pearly fur. You had a brindle-tan mask framing your eyes and ears, divided by a wide white stripe. On top of your head, in the middle of this stripe, were two random brown spots, as if the hand that had painted you had dripped two big splotches there.
“Well, hello, Brandy,” I said to you. “Aren’t you a cutie?” You wriggled so close to the gate that your flesh pressed through the mesh in furry rectangles as your tail wagged, just the tip. Eyes fixed on my face, you laid your ears back so that your head, which was just a little too big for your skinny body, was like a smooth dome.
“Would you like to go for a walk?” I opened your run and prepared for the usual attempt to bolt past me. You remained sitting, tail wagging harder. I patted you and looked into your eyes, intense and amber-colored, ringed around with black as if you were wearing kohl eyeliner. Your jaws were broad, suggesting some pit bull in your mix, and when you stood up your body was like that of a boxer, or a foxhound or greyhound – long legs, long torso tapering from a deep chest to a slender waist. You had dainty little white feet with pale nails. Whatever mix of genes had been shaken and stirred to make you had come out just right. You were, in sum, adorable.
Over the next two weeks, every time I went to the shelter I entered your ward with a feeling of dread, fearing you wouldn’t be there. I should have hoped you had gone to a good home, because my husband didn’t want another dog so soon after our last golden retriever’s death; he was still grieving. He also wanted to travel and knew I wouldn’t want to leave a dog.
But there came a day, sitting on a bench with you in the shelter’s exercise yard, that I whispered in your soft ear, “I don’t want to give you up,” and felt tears stinging my eyes. That night I told my husband I had fallen in love with you, and he sighed, then yielded graciously. You became our Ruby, and since then he has come to love you too.
Now, as I walk along the aisles between the kennels of eager dogs at the shelter, all desperately clamoring to be noticed, I think, what if you were among them now, a grown dog instead of a winsome puppy, looking — let’s face it — like so many others? Would your uniqueness break through my human tendency to form a quick impression and assume that’s all there is to be known? Amid the chaos of barking and clattering food bowls, would I hear your heart’s call to mine?
The thought that I might not tears open a void of loss in me. And the knowledge that so many in the kennels I pass are, each in his or her own way, as lovable and distinctive as you, and that mere chance might doom them to be unrecognized, unloved, as it might have doomed you – it pierces my heart.
But here you are, now snoring in your bed as I write. This is your home and we are your people, forever.
I want no less for all the others.
Next: No Throwaway Pets