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A Brief Affair

By Donna Owczarek

The dog lying quietly beside him scarcely resembled the dog that entered his life six months earlier. Her coat shimmered like spilled oil in sunlight. A thin layer of fat blanketed her ribs, just enough to shield her from the elements. Not that she stayed outdoors much. Given the choice, she preferred snuggling on the sofa over a romp in the yard.

As if feeling his eyes upon her, she opened her own. Liquid eyes considered him for a long moment before she sighed and closed them again. He reached out and gently scratched her behind the ears, reminiscing about the day she entered his life.

He met her at an annual adoption picnic, sporting a bright red vest that pleaded Adopt Me. Head held low, ears plastered to the sides of her head, her bulging eyes concurred with her vest. None of the guests of the event appeared interested in her, instead fawning over the younger, prettier models.

Stepping nearer, he noted the likely cause. It appeared as if a lawnmower had escaped its operator and raced haphazardly through her black fur. Under her ravaged coat, her ribs protruded severely from her skeletal frame and he imagined she might keel over with the slightest breeze. Sneaking soft glances, her eyes avoided prolonged contact.

Heart strings effectively stretched, he spoke with the rescue group that day.

A few days later, he brought the dog into his life.

He had not counted on falling in love.

It happened swiftly and without warning. When he arrived home from work each day and heard her tail drumming a welcome on the walls of her crate. When she shadowed him from room to room, satisfied to settle at his feet wherever he sat. When she first sidled up to the side of his bed, stuck her head under his arm and nuzzled him to say goodnight. When he reached out to pat her on the head and she returned his advances with a quick lick under his chin.

Once kindled, their relationship continued to smolder.

He often sat quietly stroking her, contemplating his first experience with her breed.

As a former shelter employee who worked hands on with various dogs, he nonetheless found himself unprepared. For some reason, he had always considered those dogs to be less intelligent and less doglike than any other breed.

Then, one entered his life unexpectedly. A friend begged him to look after a dog whose owner had passed away, leaving it homeless. From that point forward his prejudices swiftly faded, as often happens when dog people discovered ‘their breed’ of choice.

What he once judged as low intelligence, he now knew as quiet contemplation.

Why should I do this? What’s in it for me?

What he considered over-submissiveness was truly a desire to live peacefully. The dogs rarely harbored aggression towards humans and had much affection to share. Clean, quiet animals, they behaved remarkably calm indoors.

Since then, several others had shared his home. None had connected with him as this one. She slid herself into his life and became a fixture, as if she had always been there.

He ignored the inevitable.

Instead, he spent his time training her to walk nicely on a leash and to behave in his home. He supplemented her all natural diet with fish oil to improve her mangy coat. He taught her that window glass was impenetrable. He convinced her that stealing food and raiding trash were not becoming qualities in a house dog. She quickly learned to eliminate outside and soon earned free reign in the house, welcoming him home each night with her doe eyes and whip of a tail. As the months marched on, his efforts began to blossom and he marveled at her improvement.

Last night, returning from their walk, he noticed a blinking light on his answering machine. Glancing at the caller identification, his hand shook as he pressed play.

“This is Brenda from Fur-ever Friends. We have a family who is interested in your dog.”

His heart withered.

At that moment, as if on cue, she appeared in the doorway. She wagged her tail once, uncertainly, sensing his contorted state.

Patting his leg as an invitation, he ran his fingers through his own graying hair. She raced over and stared up at him questioningly while he lightly scratched her head.

Swallowing back grief, he dialed Brenda.

A few moments later, against hopes, she answered.

“Hello?”

“It’s me.”

“Oh, hi! I found this great family. They’ve owned dogs before and have a big house and a large fenced yard. They passed their home check and just need to meet her before making a decision.”

His voice cracked. “That’s great.”

“You okay?”

He paused briefly, followed by a curt, “I’m fine.”

Brenda refrained from comment. “I’ll set up the meeting for tomorrow, if that’s okay?”

“Sure.”

“Do you want to bring her,” she paused, “or should I?”

“No. I’ll do it.”

Before hanging up, he scribbled the information on a notepad adorned with two doe-eyed dogs, encircled in a heart.

A cool nose nudged his elbow.

He looked down and she wagged her tail.

Kneeling, he threw his arms around her neck and she accepted his hug patiently.

That night he alternated between staring at the ceiling and staring at the clock.

Why do I do this to myself?  

Rising, he stumbled to the kitchen and poured a glass of water. His eyes fell upon her ceramic paw print dish and he felt a sharp, familiar pang.

I could back out. Tell Brenda, No. Not this time. Not this one.

Leaving the water untouched, he returned to his bedroom, where she lay on her own bed snoring peacefully. Several hours passed before sleep released him.

This morning, as she lay beside him on the sofa, he sobbed while running his hands along her velvety fur. After a long while, he stood and clipped a leash to her martingale. Her tail spun furiously at the idea of an outing. Quietly, he led her to his beat up van, opened the back and pointed to the crate.

“Kennel Up.”

She leapt into the crate and spun to consider him while he wordlessly latched the door. He rarely took her on excursions that lay beyond walking distance.

In the driver’s seat, his knuckles turned ashen as he drove.

Pulling up in front of a stone faced cape, he double checked the address before leading his charge up the front path.

A woman opened a door made of oak and immediately smiled. “She’s beautiful!”

The dog stepped closer and nuzzled her hand.

Ushering them inside, she led them to a spacious living room where her husband and teenage son sat on a leather sofa.

After introductions, she invited him to have a seat.

Doing so, he dropped the leash and allowed the dog to explore.

In turn, she greeted each of them with a confident, wagging tail.

The family went down a long list of questions, asking all of the right ones.

He could find no fault.

When they retreated to discuss their decision, he waited, coveting rejection. The dog ambled over and laid her head upon his lap. When their eyes met, he leaned and kissed her once, softly, on the forehead.

A perfectly sized, brand new crate sat in the corner, waiting to be put into service.

He contemplated it until, after what seemed an eternity, the family returned.

The mother announced “We’d like to adopt her.”

Still staring at the crate, he swallowed hard.

The father frowned. “That is, of course, if we’re approved?”

Forcing a smile, he pointed to the crate. “You won’t need that long. You’re getting a great dog.”

While he completed the paperwork, the dog leapt onto the sofa beside the teenager and stared up at him while he spoke softly to her. Neither parent moved to chase her.

He knew then, that she had found her forever home.

Avoiding eye contact with the family, he stood, briefly patted her on the head and swiftly excused himself.

Outside, his hand trembled as he fumbled with his keys. Finally finding the ignition, he took a deep breath to steady himself before steering away.

Later, he phoned Brenda.

She waited patiently for him to speak, no doubt wondering if he had failed. Many others before him had. In his line of work, it was expected.

Stifling a sniffle, he announced “It’s done. I have room to foster another Greyhound.”