A story from a forgotten Jack Russell terrier.

The minute they shut the latch on the cage, the shaking starts. He can’t seem to help it. Or stop it. That clanking sound was just so…final. This place — it’s strange, different. And loud. He got a glimpse of some monstrous-looking thing in the kennel right beside his. He can only assume it was another dog like him, just much, much bigger. What on earth could that be?

The blanket, toys and water they gave him are nice, but he’s scared and his body trembles. It makes his stomach hurt, the shaking.

He tries to calm himself with thoughts of Dad.

Dad’ll be back. I’ll only be here for a little while. He wouldn’t leave me here. Not Dad. Sure, I don’t see much of him, certainly not as much as I’d like, but that doesn’t mean he’d leave me here. Just because I seem to make him mad more often than I make him happy doesn’t mean he’d walk away from me.. Dad wasn’t even upset when they brought me back here. He didn’t say goodbye. See? He’ll be back.

So he watches the hallway. And anyone who comes through it. Looking for the only face, listening for the only footsteps, that really matter.

The staff walks by. Some of them stop to tell him he’ll be alright, but he can’t take his eyes from the hall. And he can’t stop shaking. He wants his dad. He didn’t know it was possible to want like this.

One of the staff members cleans up the little spot he’d made on the floor when they put him in the kennel. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t hold it in. He’s so terrified.

He breathes a tiny, nearly insignificant, sigh of relief when it’s gone. Good. Dad would’ve been mad if he would have seen that when he comes back to get him. Dad gets mad a lot about slip-ups like that. He’d have been really mad if he found it on this floor.

Sometimes it’s just really hard to hold it. Especially because he’s older now. He has to go a lot more. He knows Dad doesn’t really understand that, so he always tries to hold it.

The random barking from all around startles him. That monster next door has a voice to match the huge body. It’s disturbing when you’re not expecting it. And he fears, really fears, what they’re trying to tell him. Because of that, their canine voices shoot through his body like an arrow and make the shaking worse.

He knows what they’re saying, but he doesn’t want to hear it.

He’s not coming back.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows it’s true. It’s why he’s been so afraid. From the minute they’d walked in the building, this animal shelter, he knew. This isn’t a place where Dad comes back.

But if his willpower alone could make it happen, it would. Because he suddenly wants nothing more than to see the man he’d spent years of his life with come down that hallway and take him home to his bed, his bowl and his toys.

When the lights go out and he hears staff whisper, “G’night, kids,” a terror like nothing he’d ever known rushes through him and he thinks he’s going to throw up. He can’t sleep here. He can’t be here. He can’t live here. He can’t do it. He can’t.

Night always scares him. He doesn’t like the dark. He used to calm his fear by listening to Dad snore from the bed above him. It wasn’t anything jarring or irritating, just a light, almost soothing sound that let him know he wasn’t alone. But Dad’s not here now. There are no sounds to calm him. And he is alone. Alone with the monster next door and a building full of animals he doesn’t know.

Morning comes and he hasn’t slept at all. They give him food and freshen his water, but he doesn’t want any of that. He just wants Dad.

He gets to go outside for a little bit and the air smells different than his home. He had his yard marked up pretty well. It smelled like him so that every animal that came through would know it was his territory.

This is different. This smells like everything all at once — all the animals that have been through the kennels. It’s too much.

Eventually, he catches on to the routine. Meals, bathroom breaks, walks. Repeat. The staff members are nice and they make sure he’s cared for, but it’s just not the same as his home.

Eventually, he’s moved over into what’s called the adoption area and some days he thinks maybe Dad will come back for him and tell him it was all a mistake. That he really does love him and he can’t live without him.

It doesn’t happen.

Although.

Although.

There is a guy who comes by one day. The humans call him Mike. He looks inside the kennel and smiles.

Mike comes back the next day. And he’s super nice. He has incredibly kind eyes. Mike has a leash at the front of his kennel door and the two of them go into something called a bonding room together.

At first, he doesn’t want to go up to Mike. His heart still hurts from missing his Dad.

Mike doesn’t push. He just waits and talks. He says he’s alone, that he moved away from his family for his job and he doesn’t like living by himself with no one to come home to.

The pup listens and for the first time since Dad left him here, a little bit of hope flares in his heart. That night in the kennel, he allows himself to wonder, what if?

The next day they go for a walk around the property. It’s fun and Mike is so nice and when they come back in, they go back to the bonding room. It’s exciting and a little nerve-wracking because this is really starting to mean something to him. Mike is starting to mean something to him.

And he can’t hold his bladder. It’s just a little spot — it really is small — but still, he cringes to himself because he knows what this means. Dad taught him how bad this is and he thinks, this is it. I’ve done it again. There’s no way he’ll want me now.

Mike just grabs a paper towel and says, “No problem, buddy. That kind of thing happens,” and scratches his ears.

Actually scratches his ears! And Mike is still smiling. His eyes are still kind. There’s no disgust on his face at all.

Something clicks, it’s a feeling deep inside his chest, like something begins to knit back together and he takes a full breath for the first time since the day Dad walked him in the front doors.

That’s when the term adoption is used and when Mike comes the next afternoon, they go out to his car together and get in.

Mike scratches his ears again and says, “We’re going home, buddy.”

It’s a little scary at first, figuring out the new house and what he’s allowed to do. He’s hesitant, but Mike talks in a soothing tone and tells him it’s okay and asks if he wants to watch something called Netflix.

Mike lets him sit beside him on the couch and he turns on this pretty cool show called Stranger Things and at one point, the little pup looks up, and Mike smiles.

And that little dog’s heart beats in a new rhythm, a comfortable rhythm, and he wonders to himself if maybe, just maybe, this is a man could really be a dad to him and someone he can rely on for the rest of his life.

As he falls asleep that night in bed with his new owner — he actually gets to sleep in the bed! — he thinks maybe all the pain he had to endure had been leading him to find the place in life where he was meant to be — where he truly belongs.

With someone who knows what a father should be.

********

This is a story of a little Jack Russell terrier who come into the animal shelter where I work a few years ago because his father “couldn’t care for him” anymore. He watched the door like a hawk, as though he was expecting someone, and just shook like a leaf. We assumed he wanted his dad back. He found out soon that his father wasn’t coming back. Thankfully, we found him a home where people gave him a second chance and love for the rest of his life. This story is in honor of him and all the others who are tossed away, but eventually learn that some humans, some FATHERS, know the true devotion of an animal and cherish that spirit.

Animal-lover, mind wanderer, extroverted introvert. Director of Communications at Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, Pa. www.jennyvwrites.com

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