How one dog learned to believe again

Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

When he’s placed into the kennel and the cage door shuts behind him, he barely blinks. He’s got a blanket, he’s warm, food shows up shortly thereafter, so he can’t really complain.

Heck, compared to what he’s used to, this is the equivalent of some place humans call the Hilton. From what he’s heard, it’s a very nice hotel or something. All things considered, this shelter he ended up in isn’t all that bad.

He gobbles down the food — first he’s had in a few days. If he hadn’t been picked up in the dog warden’s truck while he was running around on the streets, he really wasn’t sure where he was going to get dinner and it would have been the third night this week he went without. So in an odd sort of way, things kind of worked out.

The food’s really pretty good and the blanket’s all soft and warm and for the first time in just about as long as he can remember, he’s not shivering and he’s actually full. He falls asleep quickly, not feeling much of anything except an odd sort of satisfaction. He’d almost forgotten what that was like.

When the staff comes in the next day, he’s not surprised by their shocked expressions. Some even gasp out loud when they see him.

He’s never pretended he’s something he’s not. He knows the score. He lost his back right leg — he forgets exactly how long ago — years maybe — in an accident with a car. He managed to drag himself far enough off the road that the person at the wheel didn’t try to find him. It looks worse than it actually is. He’s joked with random dogs on the street that he doubts he’d know how to walk on four legs now, anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal.

His ear was ripped off in a fight with a particularly aggressive, unbelievably territorial dog at least three times his size. He has no idea how he got away alive from that one. Took a while to heal and it hurt like nothing he’d ever felt before. With the scars all along that side of his face, it’s remarkable the dog didn’t take his eye, too. Luck was on his side that day.

Yeah, luck. He’s got that in spades.

He’s a mongrel, and a disfigured one at that. He’s not purebred. He doesn’t have an ancestry — well, at least not one anyone would write down on paper and keep as any kind of prize. He’s been shuffled from person to person for so long he stopped counting a long time ago. He’s relied on himself and those few people who either didn’t look at him with horror or couldn’t see very well.

People like pretty. He knows that. Humans are all about the flash and the glitz and the glamour. To hear it told from some of the other dogs he’s run into, some people pay a lot of money to keep age and bad looks away. And they value money as much as they value beauty. No way humans are going to take a second look at a mongrel like him in a shelter.

The staff make sure he’s taken care of — and they’re nice, he has to admit. It’s almost like they can see beyond the mess of his body to what’s beneath. Once, a long time ago, he was just a puppy, with puppy hopes, dreams and beliefs. But like that song he’d heard somewhere from one of those CD things humans listen to: “now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

Shelter staff put him through temperament tests (and he wonders how in the world any dog actually fails these things), give him shots and for some ridiculous reason, they put him into their adoption kennels. He scoffs. Who are they kidding? People he’s met have been kicking him for years. Now, suddenly someone’s going to actually choose him? Out of all the other young, healthy dogs that surround him? Sure. He’ll hold his breath.

The longer he stays and the more looks of revulsion he gets from the people who come through the kennels, the more he secretly thinks “told you so.”

The volunteers are sweet and they walk him and the time he spends outdoors without having to worry about a car or another animal or getting poisoned are really pretty nice.

He actually starts to think of the animal shelter as the best home he’s ever had.

Then there’s the day when he’s in his kennel, just chillin’ after a walk, and someone stops in front of him. He doesn’t even look up. He knows the expression that he’ll find. When the man kneels down, and looks into his eyes with kindness and compassion, he feels a weird jolt. A kinship. Almost an understanding.

When the man smiles, and murmurs, “hey fella,” the jolt turns into a warmth that spreads to the tips of his paws. He cannot believe the guy gets a leash and takes him into a room where they spend some time together. The man pulls him into his lap and with a tentative touch, pets his head — his misshapen, deformed face. And the look that shines through the man’s hazel eyes makes that old puppy hope flare for the first time in years.

When the man puts him back in his kennel with assurances that the rest of the family will love him and that he promises to be back to take him home, for the first time in his life, he thinks, “don’t go.”

That night, he wonders if it’s worth dreaming. He wonders if a home can be more than what he’s experienced. He wonders if that man — the one with the soft touch and warm eyes — will keep his word, when so many others before him haven’t.

As he closes his eyes and drifts to sleep, for the first time in so very long, he wants to believe.

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

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