This morning I’m thinking about choices. And about fate.
And about these two.
These are my babies. The fluffy one on the left is Samwise, and the little girl with the house-elf ears is Roxie.
A better picture of Roxie
They both came from PACC, the county animal shelter near here. Samwise was first; we brought him home in 2014, just a few months after our first dog Charlie died.
This is me and Charlie, holding paws while we pursue our favorite hobbies.
Samwise was not our first choice. We’d been walking dogs at the shelter for a few months, partly as therapy and partly to keep an eye out for a good boy or girl to bring home. We had just decided that we were ready for another dog, and we found a different dog, a Whippet mix named Henry, if I remember right, and took him out for a nice long walk with his kennel buddy. Henry was great: he was happy and energetic, and smaller and less dominant than Charlie had been — he was part Chow-Chow, and was so alpha he made other dogs pee just by looking at them. We went home and thought about it, and then back to the shelter the next day to get Henry. But first we took him for another walk: and he freaked out. Completely. He was making a strange whining noise, walking erratically, and he kept jumping on his kennel buddy and trying to sort of play, sort of bite his ear. He wasn’t sick or anything, just acting entirely different from how he had acted the day before. And far more aggressive/invasive to another dog; the kennel buddy, who was bigger and more dominant, almost started to fight a couple of times, and we had to walk them separately.
So we decided not to bring Henry home. I’m sure somebody else took him, and I’m sure he’s a great dog; but we were still recovering from losing Charlie, and we weren’t ready for that much of a challenge.
Somewhat despondently, we split up and walked around the kennels, looking at the other dogs, wondering if there was anyone else we might like. And when I looked down the row, there was this little face, resting on the bottom of the cage door, looking out at me.
It may be hard to tell from the picture, but he didn’t look well: he was far too thin, his fur was thin and patchy. And he looked sad. And scared. I went over and said hello, and then I went and got my wife, and we took him out for a walk. We went to a bench outside the shelter, and he came up to us and put his paws on our hands, one on each.
So we took him home. Really, what choice did we have?
Turns out that he was a special needs adoption: his first owner had apparently abandoned him onto the streets of Tucson, and he had spent some number of — days? Weeks? Months? — living on whatever he could find, which is how he got so thin and why his fur was short and patchy: they had had to cut off tangled mats of fur, and he had scratches and was malnourished. He was also plagued by fleas and ticks, and in the time he spent on the street, he had developed tick fever, a parasite infection that produces anemia. Tick fever requires fairly expensive blood tests (About $300 every six months to a year) and a long run of antibiotics to treat, and so Sam (He was named Benny, then, but that was a moniker picked by the shelter; whatever motherfucker had him and then threw him out onto the street didn’t have any right to pick a name for him.) had been adopted and returned, twice, by people who balked at the expense. He was basically on his last strike when we took him; if we hadn’t, he probably would have been put to sleep, because of his illness.
The tick fever is chronic, it turns out, but also, Sam is now so happy and healthy that his blood count is essentially normal and he lives without symptoms. It also turns out that he’s fluffy as hell, and the best, sweetest, smartest, calmest boy I have ever known. We call him our Goodwill Ambassador, because he’s far friendlier and more outgoing than his introverted parents, and he never fails to be upbeat and pleasant; we’ve taken him to school, to farmer’s markets, to California, and he has been swarmed by children looking to pet him, and he always sits calmly and lets them. He’s very soft.
But then, after Sam had lived with us for almost two years, my wife went back to work full-time outside of the house, and Samwise was left alone all day. We worried that he was lonely — and I wanted a second dog, I admit; Charlie was my first dog, Sammy is my second, and I’ve never had two. And so we went back to the shelter to find him a sister.
And we did.
Roxie was also not our first choice. They had puppies at the shelter, and we planned to get one of them, because we wanted to be sure that the new dog would not crowd Sam. We figured it would be fine because Sam is so calm and friendly, but you never know how two dogs are going to react to each other. The puppy would have been ideal, because then Sam could have been the big brother from day one. But after the puppies had been there for a couple of days, and we had gotten to know them a little, their owner turned up and claimed them. So that was out.
But there was this other dog, a tall dog, who every time she saw us, wagged her tail so hard it shook her entire body. She’d whack it against the bars of the cage loud enough to be heard across the room.
That was Roxie.
Roxie was also found on the street; we don’t know if she was abandoned intentionally, or if she got out and her owners never went looking for her. She wasn’t alone for long, because she was basically healthy when we adopted her, though she was clearly traumatized and had not been taken care of well. She was unsure about coming in the house, unsure about getting up on the furniture even when invited; she has no idea how to play with toys, and she shrinks away from objects held in the hand, which tells us that she was either hit, or had things thrown at her, or both.
But, as it turns out, she is also the sweetest dog in the world. She is even friendlier than Sam: she wants to meet everyone, and pulls on the leash towards anything that moves within her sight line: people, other dogs, wild rabbits, coyotes, cats, anything. If she meets anyone she tries to lick their hands or faces, and jumps up on people no matter how we try to break her of the habit. She never growls, never threatens or bristles; and always, always, she is wagging her tail.
If her first jackass owner had claimed her, we wouldn’t have been able to take her. If the puppies’ owner hadn’t come forward, we’d probably have one of them instead. If Henry hadn’t freaked out, or if I hadn’t noticed Samwise, or even if Charlie had lived for another year or more, we wouldn’t have these dogs, we wouldn’t have this family.
That’s what I’m thinking about this morning.