|Stop laughing. I mean it.|
"Adopt another mill dog."
"Oh, I see. To be fair, we didn't know she was a mill dog until later," I said.
"Right, but would you do it again?"
I had to think on that for a while. In the almost three years since Snocone came to live with us, she has been a challenge to everything dog and a very pricey adventure.
Snocone was a two-way rescue mission. When my husband had his stroke, he came very close to letting go and leaving the planet. His doctor told us he lived because we (me and his four kids) are nuts. From the minute the kids met me at the hospital post-stroke, until, well, I guess it's still going on, we never left him. Not for a minute. Not if we were pissing off the nurses, not if we were in the way of the technicians, not...for...a...single...second.
We fought a good fight and got him back. He came back wanting one thing, to pet our dog Dinah. Jim and Dinah sat together in the evenings just about every night for 12 years. His first clear movement was his hand making petting motions. We gave him a stuffed dog about the same size as Dinah and he petted his poor substitute for several weeks as his awareness crept back.
There was a small problem. Old age had caught Dinah and she was no longer comfortable sitting in his lap. His stroke had made him forget she had retired as a lap dog almost two years earlier.
When Jim finally was able to come home he was obsessed with the idea of getting Dinah in his lap. He understood when I explained she couldn't hoist her 20 pound frame up there anymore, but would soon forget.
I decided Jim needed something to pet. We needed another dog like we needed a hole in our heads, but...he needed something to pet.
I convinced him to come with me to our local pound, and look for a dog he thought might work for him.
He looked at every single dog. Between his altered walk and rests we were there for almost four hours. Jim was still hard to read at that point. He seldom spoke and often his thoughts were muddled. I wasn't sure he remembered why we were there, but it had been a good way to kill an afternoon. He was sitting at a bench across from a stack of small cages which held a few dogs too tiny to live with the general population.
He nodded towards a cage at the bottom of the stack. I looked. All I could see was a pile of wet gray toilet paper dumped on a blanket in the corner. Then the pile breathed. It was a dog. Well, kind of.
I read the card out loud for Jim.
"Maltese, female, 8-years-old, no history."
He came over to the glass and watched the lump of lint breathe. It had it's back to us, and offered no response to gentle taps on the glass.
"Do you want to meet her?" I asked.
"I think she needs some company," Jim said.
As the volunteer headed with her to the Meet N' Greet room, I was sure she had brought the wrong dog. A leaping, lunging, bouncing wad of Rastafarian hair. the size of a dandy brush came ping ponging towards us. A horrible sound, not a bark, not a howl, but a kind of prehistoric screech was coming out of it.
"Good God," I said.
"She really hates that leash," Jim said.
Once the embarrassed volunteer finally wrestled it into the room the bellowing mishmash of filth picked up both the tempo and the volume.
"She really hates that leash," Jim repeated.
"Can you let her go?" I asked.
"I'll try," the poor volunteer said. She couldn't have been more than 14 years old or so, and even though she had her game face on I could tell this might be her last day. The tiny mutant was kicking her ass.
We were all shouting to be heard over the weird clamor, so matted and dirty it was hard to tell which side was head and which was butt. It bucked, convulsed and snapped when the volunteer's hand touched her neck. I was horrified. Jim sat there doing his Buddha impersonation.
When silence fell over the room I was sure the teenage dog wrangler had given up and snapped the mini-Tasmanian devil's neck, but she had simply gotten the leash off and set it down. The little mess was tottering around, looking at our feet, bumping into walls, seemingly content.
"She walks funny," I said.
"It's probably the mats," the volunteer said.
"Why hasn't anybody cut them out?"
"She's on the list."
"I want to hold her," Jim said.
"OK, hang on," I told him.
I got down on the floor and waited. The decidedly smelly wreckage staggered past and paused. Then, it either sat on me or sniffed me, I couldn't tell which, but it let me scratch it's back, slide my hand under the rib cage and pick it up. Holding her was such a shock I almost dropped her. There was nothing there. I could feel the mats, the hair and a pile of bones, but it was like holding a bag of cotton balls,there was no weight.
She was quiet and still, I could feel her heart pounding through her birdy bones and against the meat of my palm. I felt no malice or terror, just a wary acceptance.
"I think she'll be okay," I said. "Be careful, she seems very fragile."
Jim stared at me, not finding the words, letting his eyes say, 'I'm not three, I had a stroke, dumbass."
I handed him the little dog and she melted into him. He held her with his good hand and stroked her with a single finger of the not-so-good one. She was limp. I heard a gentle snore and stared at the volunteer in amazement. She was asleep.
They sat together, my broken husband and the shattered dog, for another 15 minutes.
"Well?" I finally asked.
"Let's go home," Jim said.
"Are we taking the dog?" I asked.
"Not yet, I want to go home."
Jim was as exhausted as the poor little dog. He moved so slow we had to pass her, back in her cage, on the way out. She threw back her head and cried. Not the frantic calls we had first heard, but a sad, lost wail. I looked over at Jim and tears were streaming down his face.
"I want to go home."