There were three cages at the Humane Society in the overflow dog area. I was drawn to one strange little beast, a breed I'd never seen before: a Feist. That's not a breed. That's a compact automobile.
He was cute but made a strangled, high, keening noise, as if he had swallowed an oboe reed. The next cage was empty — yea, adopted — and the third cage had a bulldog sitting absolutely still, staring straight ahead.
Because he was stuffed.
The only possible explanation: A dog had planned this escape for weeks. He smuggled in a stuffed dog, then tunneled under the wall and hoped the guards didn't notice before he was far away.
I was tempted to say I wanted to adopt that one.
"Can I take out Butch and go to the get-acquainted room? He's so soft and so well-behaved!" I'd put him on a leash and drag him around. Feed him little cotton balls for treats.
The overflow dog area was next to the room where the adoptables are penned. The room that breaks your heart.
There are friendly dogs with slobbery smiles: "How about me? Hey? No? Maybe?" And then there are the ones whose case history says "didn't work out," which makes you imagine the dog looking at its owner walking away, thinking: "Can I come with? Why can't I come with? When will you be back?" You almost wish the dog swore constantly or picked your pocket when you turned away, so you'd get an idea why someone would leave him. Even so, it's hard.
There are the dogs that curl in a tight coil and give you a look over their shoulder as you pass; they know you're not going to stop. You're just like all the rest.
You want to leave, drive to the gas station, buy a lottery ticket, win the lottery, then use the money for a farm where all the castoff dogs can live. If you have 40 dogs, you're a hoarder, but if you have 40 dogs and $40 million, you're a philanthropist.
Then I saw the dog that had popped up on the website the day before.
Four months old, a yellow lab. All the other dogs on the site had that open-mouthed/tongue-out "how ya doin', sport?" vibe; this dog had big wide eyes and a closed mouth. He looked a bit dorky, like the third-grade picture of someone all the girls would shun in high school but showed up for the 20th reunion in a Jaguar because he'd invented a new kind of semiconductor.
He had a brother. They were from Mississippi, brought up on the pipeline that matches Southern dogs to Northern homes. The brother was pacing and barking, barking and pacing. This one sat on his bed, tail tucked, eyes forlorn.
I looked at the clipboard that gave a brief description. It should have said: "This dog has undetectable medical issues that will require hospitalization 24 hours after you bring him home. His lovable puppy face will look unhappy, and he will refuse food and water. You will spend a day at an emergency dog hospital whose prices suggest they are hydrating the dogs with Evian water.
"You will find yourself sitting on the hospital floor consoling a dog you didn't know before yesterday, with the entirety of your heart now invested in 25 pounds of sad pup, and you will feel slightly foolish praying, especially since you begin, 'OK, hear me out, this isn't about the Vikings.'
"Adopting this dog will not fill the raw hole in your heart left by the loss of your beloved dog Scout, but you will be surprised to find how this medical emergency bonds you to this limp stranger. Nevertheless, he is not here to heal you. You are here to heal him, because he has known nothing but fear, loneliness and loud cold places.
"His name is Scout."
Actually, it just said he was shy and very sweet once he warmed up to you. But that last part was true — his name was Scout, the name of the dog we lost in August.
I told the volunteer it was fate. It was destiny. She probably thought, "Well, you can name him whatever you like."
We sat in the kennel together. (The dog and I, not the volunteer.) Saying his name was like saying goodbye to our old Scout, and that brought back all the sorrows. He let me pick him up. He looked up into my eyes.
What else can you say but, "Let's go home"?
He pulled through the medical emergency. Antibiotics revealed a happy, bouncy, gentle little dog, and we named him Birch. If anyone asks, we say he was a rescue dog, and that's true. Who rescued whom — well, that's open to debate.