57: Meant for Each Other

57: Meant for Each Other

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Meant for Each Other

Not-so-fun fact: Dogs can develop a disease similar to Alzheimer’s called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Symptoms include disorientation, house soiling, or changes in sleep or interaction.

Among the many dogs at the Animal Resource Center on that day, the old dog stood out because of his dignity and poise. He did not rush to the front of his cage, or bark madly, or leap about as if to say, “Look at me!” He simply lay quietly near the back of the cage, head raised and bulbous brown eyes fixed on us as we paused just outside his cell.

My son had dragged me there that day. Since my husband had died three years before, my dog-loving son had tried to persuade me to get a dog for company. I was reluctant, not sure I wanted to be responsible again for another creature. I had raised my children and, now that they were all on their own, I was not eager to take on another life. But this afternoon my son and his friend had come by to take action.

“We just came from the pound, Mom,” my son said, “and there is a dog there that is perfect for you.” Again I said, as I had many times before, “I’m not sure I want a dog, Trey.”

“Oh,” he said, “but this one is just right for you. Come on, let’s go look.”

Thinking this would be the only way to get him off my back, I went. We walked the aisles, looking at every dog in every cage. There were Shepherds, Border Collies, Chihuahuas, mutts, and many Pit Bulls. Some were sad, some hyper, others frightening, but all were appealing and heartwrenching in their way. As we rounded the corner to the last aisle, I saw ahead of me a little black-and-white ball of energy. He was in a topless cage, leaping straight into the air and down again, barking like a seal with each jump. I asked that he be taken out and brought into the visitors’ enclosure. I quickly realized that, although he was adorable, he was way too high-energy for me. I was looking for a dog with a laidback temperament to match my own.

Next we went to the dog my son had picked for me — a little Chihuahua with big ears. She pranced like a circus pony and was indeed charming. Once in the enclosure, however, she showed no interest at all in any of us, and simply ran about, dashing from point to point with no apparent purpose. I shook my head at my son.

“I need to think about it. Nothing here really grabs me.”

We retraced our steps, looking again at each animal as we passed. One of the last cages was the one with the old Boxer, and I noted the sign that said, “A Senior Dog for a Senior.” He was very big, however, and I wanted a smaller dog for my small house. We got in the car and headed home. A short distance away, I opened my mouth.

“I’m just thinking about the old dog,” I said.

I surprised even myself because I had not been thinking of him — not consciously, anyway. The words had simply come without warning or forethought.

“You want to go back?” my son asked. I agreed.

Once there, we went directly to the cage. Crouching to look at the dog, I could see the gray hairs in his muzzle. He got up and walked slowly to the front of the cage, but did not make any overtures or appear particularly excited. My son read the card at the top of his cage. He was owner-surrendered, seven years old, and had been there five weeks.

“Does he have a name?” I asked.

“Yes, his name is Tater.”

“And I’m from Idaho,” I said. “I think this is my dog.”

We found a staff member and asked that he be brought out for us. She tied a light rope around his neck and brought him out, handing the end of the rope to me. He walked sedately beside me as we left the cage area and exited to the outside exercise pen. I sat on a bench, and the dog sat quietly beside me. After just a few minutes, he stood up, put his front legs and his big barrel chest onto my lap, and settled in. His big head was now level with my face. At regular intervals, he would turn his head, look into my eyes, and lick my face with his wet, warm tongue. Oh, yes, he was playing me. After a few minutes, we took him back inside, turned him over to the staff member, and went out to the front desk.

“I want the big Boxer, Tater,” I said to the young woman behind the desk.

I learned that Tater had been a companion dog, but no record existed of why he had been surrendered. I paid the fees and was told that I could pick him up on Saturday, after he had had his neutering surgery on Friday.

Immediately after arriving at my home on Saturday, Tater explored the house. He then settled down on the living room floor to sleep. Later, alone with him, I had some anxious moments. At one point, Tater stood in front of me and made a low, growling sound, a little like an engine trying to turn over. The sound increased in volume and urgency. It was clear he was trying to tell me something, but I had no idea what. When he began barking in his deep, loud voice, the thought crossed my mind, “He could rip out my throat!” We had a few days of muddled communications, puddles on the floor, and getting-to-know-you moments, but eventually settled into a routine.

Tater has been with me almost a year. We take walks together, and he is content to stay on the leash, ambling along slowly and sniffing at points of interest along the trail. Wherever I am, he is sleeping nearby. He will not stay in the fenced yard alone. It is clear that he likes people but has little use for other dogs. I have learned to put food away or beyond his reach — and his reach is long. He likes to ride in the car, in the back seat, with the windows cracked. He likes to sleep on the beds, and his choice of bed varies from day to day.

Most people choose young dogs when they go to the shelter, just as most adults want babies when they adopt. There is little interest in an old dog whose functions are slowing and whose life is nearing its end.

Who knows what would have happened to Tater if I had not taken him home? I feel certain that the words that came from my mouth as we drove away from the shelter that day were put there by a caring Power, and did not come from my own mind. As a result, I have a sweet companion for my last years, and Tater does not have to live out his life in a cement-floored cage.

~Twilla Estes

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