~ Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
There she is again. The woman I saw earlier. The same woman I took for a walk. My eyes slowly adjusted to the glaring sun, it had been three days since I last saw daylight. Ah, the smell of fresh air, the wind in my face, I led her as quickly as I could down the sidewalk away from the shelter. I prance alongside her, no tugging, no pulling.
She now stands in front of me. I lunge towards her, my back end and tail waving in triumphant, staccato unison, rocking my front legs out of sync. Her hand presses the steel cage, the salty taste of her hand drowns out the metallic cold.
What? Why are you walking away? I took you on a lovely walk and tour of the place? Where are you going?
The lights in the shelter dim, an eerie quiet descends. This is the only way that I know the day is over. After two months here, the only reprieve to the endless barking is closing time. I lay my weary head on the concrete floor, close my eyes and listen, in a half sleep, all night.
I’m back at the shelter. This time, I’m leaving with a dog. I fill out the paper work and hand it in five minutes before closing. I’m nervous and I know it’s time to decide, yet, each and every dog I’ve met is racing through my head. I’ve fallen in love a little bit with each and every one of them. How do I decide? I know in this over-crowded shelter their time is short. But I can only take one.
“Can I walk back through?” I ask the woman. She wants to get home, to her life, and I’m this delaying her plans.
She looks at the clock and then at me.
I enter the kennel area. The dogs are speaking. Their deafening barks echo off the cinder block walls and concrete floors. Some remain lying on the floor, tired of the same greeting ritual day after day, their glazed-over empty eyes staring back, while others bark, each one telling me their story, pleading for me to listen.
Each dog I met had very little time left before being euthanized. Each one graciously taking me for a walk, hoping I choose them. They want me to see them. Fall in love with their one special strange perfection; a nose, their eyes, a marking, or a single errant ear. But I can only take one home and promise myself I will do everything I can to find it a permanent home. It can’t be with me. There are others I must save, one at a time. Now is the time to do something. But, how do I choose? I find myself staring at her.
My first foster dog.
Why didn’t Hollie come get me? I only ran down the street, I was curious, I was planning to come back home. Really. Then…the man in the blue coveralls grabbed me and put me in the truck. Every day I wait in my tiny kennel, but still no Hollie.
I don’t understand. How can she let me stay in such a frightening place? I know Hollie wasn’t well. The joy I brought into her life as a tiny puppy was gone. At first, everyone loved me, adored me. I still had so much to do in her life, in my life. I could have helped her. Where is she?
I look up, the woman in the black dress is back. She’s been crying. She takes the papers from my kennel door and quickly walks away.
“I have her. The puppy. The one with the yellow eyes.” I speak into my phone as I drive home.
“I don’t know how she slipped through the cracks. Amazing she’s still alive after two months, she should have been put down a month ago.” Inder says.
“Yeah.” The guilt creeped up again, I raise my free shoulder to wipe my cheek.
“Owner was called two months ago. Surrendered her. Never came to pick her up.” He says, his voice flat with detachment.
“Didn’t she know that was a death sentence?”
“Nope. Just irresponsible people. Happens all the time.”
“I don’t know if I can do this, Inder. I love her already.”
“This is rescue. You love them and then let them go. Their lives are saved. There’s so many others. Remember that.”
“Yes. I know.”
A man in a blue jacket comes to my kennel door. I eagerly greet him, my same routine since being here, still hoping for different results. This time, he opens the gate and puts the blue leash around my neck.
“Come on, girl.” He says.
Where is he taking me? Did Hollie finally find me? We all make mistakes, I forgive her. Just come and get me aready.
I lead him down the aisle, I know the way. I try not to look at the others as we leave the kennels.
We stop before reaching the back door.
Let’s go. I tug.
“Relax, little one. Patience.”
I oblige and we wait. A second later I see her. It’s not Hollie. It’s her. The black dress. She sits on the floor next to me, my eyes meet hers without looking up. The only human to look into my eyes in months.
This time, she leads me out. The man in the blue jacket helps me into her car. I sit next to her, she wraps her arm around my neck and draws me close, she’s whispering.
“It’s OK, gentle one, Andi has you now.” She starts driving.
I lie in bed, my mind racing from the day’s events with the little girl I named Chai sleeping on the floor below. I can’t sleep. I think of the others I left behind. I’ll be back. I close my eyes tight to press out the tears wishing sleep would succumb and take me away. I roll over and the little one is sitting there, her head resting on the bed, we’re eye to eye.
As if on cue, she slinks into bed beside me and with my arm under her, she nestles her head in the nape of my neck. We’re ear to ear and our breathing in sync. She doesn’t move and we immediately sink into a restful sleep.