Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Gift Certificate

Last spring I attended a school auction. You know…. the kind with tastefully displayed items spread out on tables with bid sheets attached. The “live” part of the auction featured items way out of my price range….vacation rentals, stadium box seats, and the ever popular, “Principal for a Day”. But the silent auction….well, there were a few things that caught my eye. I bid on a pretty necklace, a dinner for two at a local restaurant, and then I paused. The local humane society had donated a free pet. We didn’t actually need a new pet. But our Bichon Frise, Lucky, was fourteen years old and diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease, arthritis, and cancer. We knew he had less than six months to live. And no one else had bid on this item. So, without over-thinking it, I signed my bid number and walked away. 

            Sure enough, I won. I tucked the gift certificate away in a drawer and forgot about it. Fast forward eight months. Lucky had passed away and my husband started making noises about getting another dog. I wasn’t super excited about the prospect now that I knew what life could be like without a dog in the house. No rushing home at the end of the day to let him out. No stuffing pills into foods designed to trick him into swallowing medicine without a fuss. No standing outside in the pouring rain or freezing snow, waiting for him to decide which location was best for doing his business. In short, I was enjoying life without the responsibility of a dog. But my husband doesn’t feel a house is a home without one. So eventually I capitulated. We were busy running errands when I said the fateful words, “Do you want to stop by the animal shelter?” 

            No answer needed; I turned right instead of left and within ten minutes we were pulling into the parking lot. “Now remember,” I said. “The gift certificate is at home. So we can’t actually buy a pet today. We’re just looking.”

            So we looked. We wandered up and down, past the cages holding one or two dogs. It was winter and the temperature was close to freezing. The kennels were heated, but just barely. My feet were cold and my hands felt like ice pops. Having recently said goodbye to our beloved nineteen pound Lucky, neither one of us wanted a large dog. Not to mention, we’d been spoiled by so many years of living with a dog that didn’t shed. Most of the dogs were large dogs and the rest were Chihuahuas. I hadn’t seen any that that really grabbed my attention, and I wandered away from my husband and back towards the main (heated) building where the cats were housed. “What about this one?” he called from the far end of the aisle. I walked back in his direction. Two small dogs lay huddled together in the last cage on the end. I pulled the description card from above the kennel and read it out loud. 

            “Louie. Eight years old. Yorkshire Terrier.” I looked down at the little dog and then at my husband. “He’s eight years old.”
            My husband nodded. “We wouldn’t have to worry about housebreaking him. Or racing home to let him out.”
            “Maybe not. But he’s old.”
“But look how cute he is. Come on, let’s at least take him out of the cage and see what he’s like.”
I went back to the building to get someone to help us, leaving my husband crouching next to the cage, trying unsuccessfully to get the dog’s attention. 

We took the five pound senior citizen to the play area where he crouched, shivering, on my husband’s lap and shook with either nerves or the cold. My husband covered him with his jacket and smiled hopefully at me.
“He has no fur,” I pointed out.
“But he’s wearing a sweater. It’ll be fine.”
“Oh, all right. We can go in and ask about him.” We relinquished the dog to the kennel attendant and went back inside the main building to wait our turn for processing. Once we were seated at the counter, the dark-haired shelter clerk pulled out a file that was at least half an inch thick. 

“Hmmm,” she said, paging through it. “You’ve picked an interesting one.”
I kicked my husband and scowled. He ignored me and the clerk began reading from the top sheet. “Let’s see. He was adopted from here three years ago and recently relinquished again. He has allergies and a skin condition, we just pulled sixteen teeth because of severe decay, he’s on medication and a special diet and both need to be continued.” I raised my eyebrows and sighed. Lucky all over again. “Oh, and it says here that he has bathroom issues.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Sounds like he’s not quite housebroken,” she said, not meeting my gaze. She handed the paperwork over to us. “Here, why don’t you look through this and I’ll give you a few minutes to talk it over,” she said, wisely moving away from us and handing the folder to my husband. I grabbed the folder and began thumbing through the pages that had been filled out by his previous owner. 

“He’s lived in three homes,” I said. “There must be a reason no one keeps him.” I kept reading down the form. Question #7 stopped me cold. What do you like best about the dog? The answer was scrawled rapidly in dark blue ink. Nothing.
My husband put his hand out and took the paperwork. He looked at me and I could see the familiar expression cross his face. It’s the look he gets when he knows he’s going to win an argument. “If we don’t take him, no one else will.”

I went back after work the next day. Gift certificate in my purse, laundry basket lined with a clean towel on the front seat next to me. Louie rode home with me, through the dark and cold of an early winter’s evening. We stopped at the local Petco to buy him a sweater and some toys. He promptly pooped on the floor. “You’re not off to a great start,” I told him sternly. He stared up at me, all dark eyes and perky ears, waiting to see what I would do. Sighing, I scooped him into my arms and carried him back out to the car to begin our journey home. 

Louie has lived with us for five months. He still needs a special diet and medicine that I hide in little pieces of chicken, and has weird bumpy things all over his back. But his fur comes in thicker every day, and he only rarely has accidents in the house. He has learned to ask to go outside and he sleeps snuggled up on our bed. On cold nights he burrows his way under the covers and presses against me, my very own hot water bottle. He follows me around the house and bites my ankles when I leave. Fortunately, with only three teeth, he can’t do much damage. What do I like about this dog? Everything.

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