Lady Abigail

Lady Abigail

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Lady Abigail

“Why don’t you get a better job?”

“Why don’t you get up and clean the house?”

My boyfriend hurled these insults at me during yet another of our frequent fights. I had heard it all before:

“You know, if you’d just lose ten pounds, you’d be really pretty.”

“I don’t care what you do tonight; I’m going out with the guys. . . . No, I don’t know when I’ll be back, why don’t you go out with your friends? Oh, yeah, I forgot: you don’t have any. Look, do whatever you want, just quit hassling me, would ya? Oh, and don’t forget you’re going to have to cover rent this month, I’m gonna be a bit short.”

During these sessions, my mind always raged from beneath my apparently cool exterior. You know he’s wrong, why do you put up with it? Out with his friends? Yeah, right— wonder how many of those are women. You’re the only one who’s paid rent in almost six months; why don’t you just kick him out?

They were all compelling points. The only real argument my heart had was: What if he’s right? What if I am too fat or too short or too quiet for anyone else to love me? It was this single fear that kept me clinging by my fingernails to a miserable, failing relationship.

At twenty-two years old, I found myself on a battleground, waging war with my constantly drooping self-esteem. To escape, I did animal-rescue work—going to the shelter, as well as fostering numerous cats and small dogs and finding good loving homes for them all, oftentimes maintaining contact through pictures and e-mail. I sometimes thought that my frequent trips to the shelter were really a form of therapy rather than a true offer of volunteerism. Sure, I always had Milk Bones and tennis balls to hand out, but I got just as much—if not more—from the animals’ attention as they got from mine.

After our fight that day I headed to the shelter. Walking up and down the rows, I stroked soft noses, saying hi to the more excitable and offering treats to any and all who came forward. It was not uncommon to see four or five dogs in each pen—the sheer number of animals that came through the system every day never failed to blow my mind. While passing out goodies, I came to a pen where there were four large dogs, three of whom were jumping and yipping at the door, wiggling in their excitement, while the fourth, a large black female, remained huddled in the far corner, folded in on herself as if she was trying her hardest to disappear altogether. She looked exactly like I felt.

“Hello, sweetheart, it’s okay, I’m not here to hurt you,” I murmured, hoping to stir some reaction from her. I received a slow thump of the tail for my effort, but it was apparently not enough to warrant an actual glance. Persisting, I knelt down, speaking softly and offering encouragement.

“Come here, sweetie, come get a treat.” I dangled the Milk Bone tantalizingly in front of me, but still just outside the cage door. One chocolate-brown eye peeked at me from the large mass of black fur, and she slowly uncurled, revealing the boxy frame of a startlingly large Labrador.

“That’s it. Good puppy, come here and say hi.” One of her pen mates took that opportunity to snap at the timid female, sending her scuttling back to her corner in fear. Her current living situation seemed to mirror my own.

Frustrated, I yelled for one of the other volunteers.

“That’s Abby,” the volunteer offered when I inquired about the Lab. “Her owners moved and dumped her off about a week ago. She’s an adult spayed female, probably between three and seven if you want my guess, not terribly friendly, but doesn’t cause any trouble. She doesn’t seem to want to eat much, just sort of hangs out in that corner all day. Not a bad dog really, just not too much personality if you know what I mean.”

“How could you possibly know that?” I snapped at him. “Maybe she’s just frightened. Look at the poor thing!” I clamped my mouth shut, my eyes growing large. Oh, for goodness sake! It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I had tried to bite his head off. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, just been a bad day so far,” I added hastily. “Could I go in and see her?” As I watched the poor dog, my heartstrings were stretching, becoming more and more taut as my conscience eagerly plucked away at them. Though the thick black tail thumped twice at the continued attention, Abby still refused to lift her head or venture toward the door.

My mind was in a whirl: If you bring this dog home, it’s going to beWorldWar III! Just one more thing to fight about. Little dogs are one thing, but a dog this size is a lot of work. Besides, someone will adopt her, and if not, maybe she’s better off anyway.

Who knows where you’re going to be in a month, six months? You can barely make your rent as it is, and the landlord will definitely kick you out if you come home with a big dog like that. It wouldn’t be fair to her. Just forget about it.

The volunteer nodded. “You’re welcome to go in, but I doubt you’ll get much response. Don’t get too close too fast, she might be snappy. Let me get the other three outside for you.”

Stepping into the mass of furry bodies, the volunteer pulled Jerky Treats (otherwise known as “bits of heaven” in dog terms) from his ripped jean pocket and tossed them into the far side of the divided kennel. The Mexican jumping beans followed with lightning speed and within seconds they were devouring their treats in the exterior section of the run. In their wake, he slowly dropped the heavy plastic divider, then turned and stepped out, leaving the pen door open for me.

Stepping into the tiny square of space, I squatted across from Abby, offering her my hand as I did so. It was then that she lifted her regal head and looked me full in the face, spearing me with the most heartrending pair of doesn’t-anyone-in-the-world-care-anymore? chocolate-brown eyes that I had ever seen. I felt my gut drop to my knees. “Oh, sweetheart . . . you lost your whole family, didn’t you? Your whole life. I’m so sorry,” I whispered, tilting my head down toward her ear. Uncurling slowly, Abby took a hesitant step forward, then another, and then suddenly she was pushing her large head into the warmth of my jacket, tucking herself up under my arm with her tail thumping wildly. My hand passed over the dusty black coat, picking up flea dirt, malnutrition and heartbreak all in one swipe.

I’d worked in rescue for the better part of six years, had held animals when they breathed their last breaths, had seen what was left of pets who had been abused for years, and yet had never in my life felt as moved as I did with this dog cuddled against me, begging me with her eyes to take her out of this awful, scary place. And somehow, I knew I needed her as much as she needed me. When I shifted my weight, preparing to rise, Abby lifted her head and proceeded to lap at my face with her long pink tongue. “All right, angel, you’ve convinced me,” I murmured, realizing the decision had already been made— whether by me, Abby or perhaps even the Lord himself, I wasn’t quite sure. I stepped out of the run with a promise of a hasty return.

Walking into the front office, I cornered the shelter director. “What can you tell me about the female black Lab in pen 41?”

Because of the frequency of my visits, Kelly and I were on a first-name basis, and she knew she didn’t have to pull any punches. She watched my face for a moment before reaching under the counter to pull out a clipboard. After flipping through what seemed like an infinite number of sheets, she stopped, pointing her finger at the top of the page. “Her name is Abby, she’s a four-year-old spayed female, been here since Wednesday of last week. Dropped off with the moving-and-can’t-take-with story. Haven’t had a single soul take a second look at her. She’s big, she’s all black and she’s shy, not a good combination for quick adoption. As of right now she’s scheduled to be put down on Friday unless a miracle happens. She’s also registered, in case any one really cares, previous owners dropped off her papers when they dropped off their responsibility. I know you work with the small dogs most of the time, Jen, but I’m sure you already know that large black dogs are the last to get chosen. If we can find her a foster, she might open up a little, but here she’s just not going to make it.”

My mind was already made up. “If you can clear her, I’ll take her right now. I’ll take her home myself . . . she’s just got to get out of here.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“Just show me where to sign, Kelly.”

Ten minutes later Abby crept slowly out of the shelter at the end of an old knotted leash Kelly had scrounged up. Surprisingly, she hopped up into the passenger seat of my beat-up, pickle-green Buick with little coaxing and settled in quickly. Curling up in the seat in her usual tight ball, her only concession to her changed circumstance was to stretch her neck across the armrest so her head could rest on my thigh. She slept for the whole drive to the vet’s office, heaving deep sighs every so often, and occasionally lifting one sleepy eyelid, as if to confirm that I was still there.

Abby’s medical checkup was less than stellar: she was covered in fleas, suffering from a nasty ear infection, and to make matters worse, she was heartworm positive. I left with medication to heal her ear, which had to be done before her heartworm treatment could be considered safe.

Her arrival home brought about the expected blow-up, but her steady form sitting quietly at my side kept me from backing down. When the shouting was over, I packed my things and left. With my family’s support, I got my own Lab-friendly apartment and my life started to take a slow turn for the better.

A round of uncomfortable weeks began for Abby with her first heartworm treatment, during which time she absolutely refused to let me out of her sight. She would wait just outside the bathroom door to make sure I didn’t accidentally get flushed away and would follow me from room to room, regardless of how exhausted it seemed to make her. Luckily, I was working for the same wonderful veterinarian who was administering her heartworm treatment, and was able to bring her to work with me each day so she could rest and still watch me as I went about my daily activities.

Once her treatment was complete, and after a few months of constant TLC, her coat took on a glorious blue-black sheen, her eyes regained a beautiful twinkle and her personality took a leap for the stars. Abby, or Lady Abigail as her papers dubbed her, proved herself to be a tender and ever-loyal companion. As she started to feel better, she revealed a friendly, inquisitive side and insisted on meeting and greeting everyone she came across. This habit eventually led to Abby’s therapy dog certification, and soon we were visiting hospitals and nursing homes in our area, my wonderful dog relishing the attention she received and offering her silent support to all she met.

Five years have come and gone. Abby and I have beaten our demons together. I have come to a whole new understanding of myself as an individual, and Abby knows that she need never worry about being abandoned again. I have recently married the love of my life, a man who respects me as an equal and treats me like the beautiful, intelligent woman that I am. He is also working hard at turning Abby into a spoiled, eighty-pound “daddy’s girl.” My husband and I recently built a home and are looking forward to starting a family soon.

Through all these changes, Abby remains my steadfast companion. She often sits at my side, laying her head against my thigh and giving me a healthy dose of those powerful eyes as if to say, Thank you for saving me . . . I’ll always love you. I wish so much that I could explain to her that it was she who did all the saving, and that “always” just isn’t going to be long enough for me.

Jennifer Remeta

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