As I sit at my desk in the shelter’s administrative office, with the phone in one hand and a list of potential volunteers in the other, one of our kennel attendants walks by with a dog. A slow-moving dog – like a sleepwalker, I think as she coaxes him along – a little Schnauzer mix, not much to look at, trudging by resignedly with drooping head and tail. He looks old. The attendant fastens him on the lead outside and comes back in for water.
“What’s up with that one?” I ask when she comes back through.
“He’s not doing well in the kennel,” she says. “I thought he might be better off out here for awhile.”
I nod sympathetically and she turns at the door to the outer office. “If I get busy and it gets warmer out, could you bring him in?”
“Sure,” I tell her. “No problem.”
Some time later, I remember the little dog and go to the glass door to bring him in. I go outside and approach him, holding out my hand, talking softly. No response. No wag of the tail. His movements are slow as he turns to look my way and trails inside with me at the end of the leash. I take a closer look as the little animal stands patiently in the middle of the office floor.
A faded collar hangs from his scrawny neck, the weathered S-hook twisted and broken where the ID tag has been removed. His whole demeanor is pensive, despondent, lackluster. Oddly contained. I sit down on the floor and rub his ears, tell him what a good dog he is. Still no response. He puts his head down on his paws and remains motionless. I look at the gray in his coat. He seems ancient. Finally, after eight or ten minutes, he cautiously moves his chin from his paws to my knee. I continue to pet him and talk to him. I think: This is a nice dog. He doesn’t wag his tail. He won’t even look at me. Why?
“What’s the story on this little dog?” I ask the next kennel attendant who walks into the room.
“That’s Andy,” she says. “He’s got some disc problems.”
“He’s an older dog?” I ask, basically to confirm what I’m already sure of.
“No, he’s only about one-and-a-half or two,” she replies, to my amazement.
“He seems pretty unenthusiastic,” I remark incredulously.
“He’s an owner-release,” she says. “His owner didn’t want him anymore. He’s been having a hard time and he’s depressed. And he’s in some pretty severe pain.”
I look down at the dog. My throat constricts as I think of this little creature losing his home and his world so abruptly and completely. The incongruities I’ve noticed all afternoon suddenly make sense and I feel almost sick to my stomach. What I’ve been observing in this still, sensitive little dog are signs of grief. I think about what it would mean to my own dogs if they suddenly lost everything – me, their home, their routine, their lives – what it would do to them. It’s diffi cult to defi ne a broken heart and hard to spot it in a dog, unless you know his history.
More of Andy’s pitiful background surfaces before I leave for home. Disc problems? More like abuse problems; when I speak to the vet who has seen him, I hear that in all probability he has been kicked. There’s a problem with his throat, too, possibly from being tugged too hard on a leash or choke chain. When I talk with the staff person who dealt with the owner, she tightens her mouth and shakes her head, then adds her own observations to the growing pile of evidence that this dog’s short life has been hell.
I’ve heard enough. I fill out forms for foster care and get Andy’s meds from our technician. When I drive out of the parking lot, he’s on the seat beside me.
Andy’s been with us two weeks now. He greets me at the door, springing like a loaded jumping jack. He follows me from room to room just like my black retriever, Midnight Blue. Blue runs like a locomotive, but Andy bounds full speed across the yard, right on his heels. Joyfully streaking low to the ground, the little Schnauzer bears no resemblance to the forlorn and beaten ragamuffin I brought home just 14 days ago. His injuries are forgotten; his heart is full. Once again he’s only two years old.
I make a lousy foster parent. I can’t give this loving little animal up to suffer still another loss, adapt to still another home. I was attached to him from the first day I saw him, from the moment I touched him and got no response – that awful day when it wasn’t clear how old he was, whether he would be an invalid for good, whether he would ever respond to anything. And now? How does it happen that you can love a dog so much in just two weeks? As I sit and write, Andy gazes solemnly into my eyes, his front paws on my knees, his tail wagging. He has found his forever home.