How one dog impacted a lot of lives.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

She first meets Charlie on a cold day in November. She’s making an early morning sweep of the dog kennels and finds him huddled in the corner of number twenty-six.

He’s new. Must have arrived overnight. She stands for a minute until he looks up at her. His brown eyes meet hers and she knows how scared he is, how lonely, how unsure. She whispers a quiet, “Hi, sweetheart,” before moving on to get breakfast ready for the canines in the kennels.

Charlie’s kind of a tough nut to crack. He’s a terrier mix, but he’s got some other breed in there, too. He’s medium-sized and wow, does he have trust issues. He’s not mean, just incredibly backwards. Makes her wonder what someone did to him to get him to react this way to humans.

She uses a soft voice around him and moves slowly. Taking him for a walk outside proves worrisome because he jumps at different noises and movements.

Eventually, after about a week, he seems to recognize her. He starts to come up to the front of his kennel door in the mornings when she makes her rounds and she says hi to him and gets him breakfast.

It’s not long before they’re taking walks around the shelter and spending time in the outside run.

The staff remark on what a turn-around Charlie has made and it’s because of her diligence and attention that he’s been able to work through his trust issues.

They’re sitting at the picnic table in the outside run one day — it’s a little chilly, but not too bad and Charlie puts his head on her shoulder.

She takes a deep breath and tells him, “Charlie, I would love to be able to take you home with me, but the place I live doesn’t allow pets. You have to know we’re going to find you the best place. We’ll find the right people to take you and love you like I would.”

She knows it’s true, but it doesn’t stop her heart from clenching a little in her chest to realize that he won’t be with her forever.

A couple comes in a few days later to meet Charlie and at first, he’s back to his old ways — worry, distrust and uncertainty.

She talks to the man and woman and explains Charlie’s background and what it took to get him to the point where he’d snuggle with her and lean against her and lick her hand.

The couple seem to understand dogs and get that Charlie’s past will always be something no one is really sure about and they seem willing to work with him. They even come back two or three more times to get to know him and earn his trust.

It’s when she sees Charlie rest his head on the woman’s lap that she knows he’s opening his heart to them.

The day they adopt him, she kisses his head, tells him how very much she loves him and hands the leash to the couple.

That night, she cries herself to sleep.

Days pass and there are other pups and cats and kittens that need her attention, but Charlie will always have a permanent place in her heart.

The shelter gets photos of Charlie with his mom and dad and she can see in those brown eyes that he’s happy. That he’s found his forever home.

Charlie and his parents come for fundraisers and Christmas gatherings and he always seems to recognize her — like the bond they made in the number twenty-six kennel is still there.

She sees him at least once a year and from time to time at the dog park.

It’s five years after he’s adopted that she has a chance meeting with Charlie’s mom in the grocery store. They laugh together about recognizing each other and his mom says, “I don’t think you’ll ever really know how much Charlie means to us. My husband’s father had passed away a week before we found Charlie. He helped us grieve and kept us together through a really tough time. I hear that we owe a lot of that to you and your work with Charlie.”

It’s then, in the produce section of the local grocery store, that she realizes how very much the animals at the shelter give to others. How much the work matters.

As she’s unpacking her deli meat and putting it in the fridge a while later, she remembers her tears the day Charlie had been adopted because she would miss seeing him every day.

But maybe, Charlie was never truly meant to be hers. Maybe her purpose had been to get him to the couple where he’d do so much good and heal so much of their hurt.

The next time she sees Charlie is at the annual dog walk and when she looks in those brown eyes again as he’s leaning against his dad’s leg, somehow, it seems as though he’s saying, “You were my conduit to get right here. They needed me and you allowed me to trust enough to be what they needed.”

She cries on the ride home that day for a different reason — for finally understanding the true gift of Charlie.

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

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