Once, when I was a new shelter volunteer, I was talking with the head of adoptions about how bittersweet it is to see dogs we’ve become attached to leave us forever when they get chosen. “Of course, it’s what we want for them,” I said, “but it’s hard.”
“It is,” she agreed, “but on the other hand, after they go I’m free to imagine that their future will be nothing but rainbows and unicorns.”
That’s what I wanted for Harlequin, the endearing black and white pit bull I wrote about in my last post. She bore the physical scars of extreme neglect, even abuse, but had the sweet temperament of a dog who had known only love and kindness. After she got stood up by the prospective adopter who had seemed like Mr. Right (except to those of us of a more cynical turn of mind — such as yours truly — who suspected that there might just be something too good to be true about him), she returned to her fan club at the shelter, who were even more determined to find a good home for her.
Every Friday a volunteer takes one of our adoptable dogs to spend the day at the police department, and Harlequin went and stole hearts all around. One officer wrote, “Major Crimes Investigators nicknamed her Moo Moo. Miss Moo Moo is only about 2 years old and has had a pretty tough life so far. Her ears are cropped, she’s had puppies, and has some battle scars on her face. However, whatever was done to her in the past, is the past. She’s not holding a grudge and just wants someone to adopt her and treat her well.”
A few days after that visit, a man and his young daughter, devastated by the recent loss of their 16-year-old dog, came to the shelter looking for someone to fill the dog-shaped hole in their lives. They spent some time with Harlequin — then looked at puppies — but something drew them back to the sweet older girl. However, they weren’t quite ready to commit that day.
I’ll let Fiona, the shelter’s big-hearted adoption counselor, tell the rest of this part of the story (imagine a Scottish lilt): “He called prior to opening today [the morning after his and his daughter’s visit], to check she was still there, and when confirmed she was, his response was, ‘I’ll be there in seven minutes!’ So in pouring rain, this man arrived, clutching a soggy application form, announced he was there for Harlequin……I told him her whole back story, the condition she arrived in, and how this HAD to be her Forever Loving home. He went kind of quiet, looked at Harlequin, and promised her he would let no-one ever hurt her again.”
So Harlequin went home with her new family. Cue the rainbows and unicorns.
The following week I was out of town with my husband, visiting my sister and her family. We were celebrating my niece’s graduation from a master’s program in education, just finishing a festive dinner, when my phone dinged. Since we were getting ready to leave I sneaked a peek at the message – and froze.
“Did you see that your girl Harlequin was taken from her family’s yard today?” a fellow shelter volunteer had texted.
“No! How terrible. Tell me more,” I fired back.
She directed me to a link on the shelter’s Facebook page. Harlequin’s new owner, obviously distraught, had written there that he had taken his daughter and Harlequin to spend the day with the girl’s grandmother. The woman let Harlequin out into the yard and the next time she looked, the dog was gone. “Somebody must have stolen her,” the man wrote. “She couldn’t have jumped that fence. We are beside ourselves.” He named the area where she was lost, a town some 45 minutes north of our city.
As we were leaving the restaurant I told my sister and my husband what had happened, but tried not to let my distress ruin our celebratory evening. We went across the street to an ice cream store where everyone went inside to get cones, except for me. I sat on a bench outside in the peachy twilight that in my present state was painfully beautiful. I thought about what can happen to dogs who get stolen, especially pit bulls, and tried to push the thought away.
I took out my phone to check if there had been any news of Harlequin.
Scrolling down the new comments under the original post, I saw one that made me stop. “I think I have your dog,” the new poster, a man, wrote, with a picture that was definitely of Harlequin. “She’s here, safe. You can come get her whenever you want.”
I was limp and tearful with relief by the time my family came out of the ice cream store, and everyone rejoiced with me.
There was more to the story. Harlequin’s rescuer later posted: “Small world! I thought I recognized Miss Moo Moo. I’m real glad she’s back home.” It turned out he was a police officer in our city, living up near the grandmother, and he remembered Harlequin from her visit to the station. What were the chances that she would find her way to him after escaping from the yard, as it seemed clear she had done?
Rainbows and unicorns – not thus far, for “my girl.” Thunderstorms and bucking broncos, is more like it. But there have been caring people to protect her all along the way since she came to us, and maybe even a guardian angel. As I release her, emotionally, into her future, that’s what I will trust.