For the last three Fridays, I've been paying special attention to an old, white-faced dog named Bo (I know it's wrong; I know I shouldn't play favorites) at the dog shelter. He's ten years old and pudgy, and in a second, walking into the place, he stands out: he's the one quietly laying on his donated blanket, not leaping at the cage or barking or whining. My young colleagues at the shelter told me that an older woman dropped him off with an air of impatience and said she could no longer care for him (he has no health problems), and during the two long walks we shared, I was able to piece together from him a bit more of the story, albeit in the patchy way dogs store their memories: two homes, the first actively abusive (he remembers being struck several times, including at least once with a closed fist), the second almost as bad, since it was benevolently neglectful for much LONGER - the entire rest of his life, in fact, since it was that woman who dropped him off in Hell to wait around to be executed.
He's the sweetest thing - a kind of beagle/bulldog/pug mix with beautiful piebald coloring and very alert ears. And he broke my heart a little more than the others, because he wasn't sitting quietly out of decorum ... he was sitting quietly out of a complete sense of abandoned hope. That sense retreated somewhat when he met me, when we got to go on walks together, sitting on the grass in the park, meeting strangers who coo'ed about how adorable he was, etc. - all the normal-dog stuff that existed almost nowhere in his memories. But each time, I had to bring him back to that awful room and lock him away, and each Friday I'd cry a little harder in the evening, being sure he'd be gone the following week. But last week he was still there - the staff kept changing his paperwork, or putting an 'adoption pending' sign over his cage, because they liked him just as much as I did. And I called foster homes and possible adopters, but nobody wants a ten year old mixed-breed dog.
One of the people I called was a woman I've known for many, many years - we first met when she was a customer of mine while I was working at dear, departed W.B. Clarke's over on Tremont St., where the man she eventually married was also a long-time customer of mine. Her name is Em (not short for Emily - short for Emmett... her father was a VERY stubborn man, and he'd wanted a boy and wasn't about to change the name), and her husband Jack was a genuine curmudgeon - the type who'd order food at a restaurant, have exactly what he'd ordered brought to him, loudly say he'd ordered something different, quietly feel bad about yelling at the waitress, and leave her a $50 tip. I always considered it a singular triumph whenever I recommended a book to him that he actually liked. Two years ago he died after a long, wasting cancer, and Em was at his side the entire time, just as she'd been at her father's side during HIS final illness, when she was little more than a girl. We've stayed in touch.
Anyway, last week I called her and brought up Bo. She immediately turned me down - she said she'd just buried one old coot, why on Earth would she want to take on another. But I kept at her, and finally I managed to get her to agree to come to the shelter and at least meet him, and all the other dogs (her brownstone is literally right around the corner). Today she came in, and I introduced her to Bo. He can be a bit shy, and she can be a bit testy, so I was prepared to be extra-solicitous of each, and I was as surprised as anybody when Bo left my side, walked over to her, sat right next to her leg, and gently started waving one foreleg in the air, like he was trying to reach up and shake her hand. He was looking her straight in the face, and she squatted down and took his offered paw and said, "Oh. Oh, hello there! Aren't you the perfect gentleman?"
I was stunned, so were all the watching staff. It was more than I'd ever let myself dream of hoping. I watched her face shed twenty, thirty, fifty years while she was patting his head and fondling his ears and saying things like "We'll have to walk some of those extra pounds off you."
Finally she stood up and just looked at me, and I walked over to her and whispered in her ear "Because you LOVE old coots. And they love you." And she started crying! This 80 year old Boston matron, right there in the shelter lobby! She asked me what his name was, and I said 'Bo.' Without missing a beat, she looked down at him (he still hadn't taken his eyes off her) and said, "Come along, Beauregard! We'll pick out some nice food for you." And she walked out, and Bo followed right at her shin, without collar or leash (one of the new people moved to get her to fill out forms, pay his adoption fee, etc, and we all practically body-blocked her ... if I know Em, sometime early next week she'll remember those formalities and go back in).
Usually, after the shelter, I'm heartbroken and crushed under the feeling of my own inadequacy. But I have to say: I'm not feeling that this evening! All dogs are good dogs, but of all the people at the shelter, Bo was the one who most DESERVED another shot at life, and sitting here this evening, I know his next five years are going to be the best five years of his life. That's a damn wonderful feeling. I know it does nothing for the other dogs still there, but I take my victories where I can find them.
Instead of laying curled up in bed with my arms wrapped around little Lucy, I'm going to put in a couple of cheering DVDs ('Master and Commander,' maybe? 'The Naked Gun'? 'Star Trek II'?) and raise a cup to Bo, who's sleeping peacefully tonight for the first time in weeks.