I had been there about an hour. Gone through the dog runs. Passed out treats. Scratched a few ears and muzzles as best I could through the chain that separated us. Now I was standing in the office. I wanted to take out A243244 and give him some attention. He’s the one that brought me back. The one I first saw when I went there with advocate, Josh Liddy. The fawn and white pit bull curled up in a tight ball, tail tucked under, never lifting his head off the ground. But his eyes would follow me. Those eyes. Full of fear. Sadness. Confusion. The scars on his face told a bit of his story, although the details will probably never be known. Dog fights, yes. But where those fights occurred will remain a mystery.
I was second in line. I watched the soft-spoken young man ahead of me. His voice didn’t match his look. Tattoos on his neck and forearms. Baseball cap. Flannel shirt. A thick gold chain around his neck. I wondered why he was there. And then I heard. The woman behind the desk handed him some paperwork. He was here to turn in his dogs—two of them. She explained the process. He thanked her and walked out as she got on the intercom to call a shelter worker to bring his dogs to intake.
It was my turn. I asked to meet A243244. She pulled up his records. Turns out he is she. Maybe. I’m not sure why the paper on the cage had different information than her computer screen, but she described him. It was the correct dog. I hadn’t seen any others that looked like him. She explained that the dog hadn’t been temperament tested yet, so I couldn’t see him out of the cage. I could leave my name and I would be called in 3-4 days if he passed. I wasn’t sure what to do, since I had no intention of adopting him. I just wanted to show him some kindness right now. I knew that by his behavior and the way he looked, chances were slim he’d make it out alive.
Just then I saw the soft-spoken young man with the tattoos enter the runs. I told the lady I would look at some others.
I was curious why the young man was looking at other dogs when he had just turned in his own. Curious and yes, judgmental. My hackles went up thinking that he could callously desert his two pets and replace them. I’ve seen it happen before.
And so I followed him. I pretended I was also looking for a dog. He walked up and down the rows. Stopping to look at the pits and rotties. I made eye contact with him and said hello. Again his soft, gentle voice threw me as he said hello. I walked behind him. I had to know what he was doing.
And so I asked him, “Did you lose your dog?”
“No,” he replied.
I don’t think I responded.
We walked through the kennels together. We were quiet. I wondered what he was thinking as we passed cage after cage. Then I asked him if he was getting a dog. Again his response was no.
He turned to face me. “I just brought my two in.”
All I could say was, “Oh.” Our eyes met and held for a second. Then he turned away and kept walking.
When we got to the end of the row, I couldn’t help myself and asked him why he was getting rid of his dogs. He looked back at me and smiled a very sad smile. The look on his face was pure torture. He explained that he had just moved here from Texas and that the apartment manager told him to get rid of the dogs or find a new place to live. His voice cracked as he told me he’d had the dogs since before his son was born. They came with him from Texas. He’d had them since they were puppies. Then he looked at the floor, unable to continue.
By this time we were at the front of the shelter where two dogs in temporary kennels were being processed. His dogs. As soon as they saw him their tails started wagging with joy. He bent down to put his fingers through the bars. I heard him call the pit bull Hazel. She had recently had puppies and looked like she still was producing milk. The other dog was a German shepherd and started barking for his attention. The young man obliged, as I pet Hazel.
He then turned to me and said, “Hazel hates being in a cage.”
He stood up and walked over to me. Again our eyes met. Mine had begun to tear up. He met my gaze and I could see that he too had tears in his eyes. He touched my arm and said quickly, “I gotta go….I just can’t…” His voice trailed off as he quickly made his way to the parking lot.
I watched him walk away. His dogs’ eyes glued to him. Hazel started to howl. He turned back to take one last look at his beloved dogs. There was no hiding his tears. I don’t know if my heart ached more for him or his dogs.
For the last time he met my eyes and said, “It was nice meeting you.” And then he was gone.
I stood there a minute. It was Hazel’s howls that brought my mind back. When I turned to look at her, that’s when my tears really began. She was trying to get the young man to come back. The shepherd was just gazing in the direction he had gone. Silent. Watching.
I walked to the bathroom so I could pull myself together. When I emerged about 10 minutes later, the two dogs were still starring in the same direction. Not moving. Alert. Wondering.
The tears began again and I decided it was time for me to go home. I don’t know when the tears stopped. Somewhere along the 405. And somewhere along the way, I decided that yes, I was going back. To check on Hazel. To make sure she and the shepherd were OK. To do what I can for the countless others I met behind the cages. Yes. I’m going back. No matter what.