4 hours ago
Sunday, October 23, 2011
A Man Who Wins The Dog Lottery Is A Lucky Man
He was severely malnourished, underweight, riddled with parasites, and missing a tooth. He was not an ideal candidate for adoption, I was told; he had been labeled a loud and destructive dog, an habitual runaway, and virtually untrainable.
I was blind to these accusations. I had been making regular trips to the shelter in the hopes of finding another Siberian Husky that might fill the hole left by my beloved Willis two months earlier, but from the instant I saw Wendell (that would become his name), standing at calm attention and intently watching me bounce a ball that left every other dog in the place either indifferent or in a frenzy, I knew that he was the one.
There was, however, a hold on him. He had just been picked up yet again, a street dog and a scavenger; he was also in very poor health, and his suitability for a "conventional adoption scenario" was being evaluated.
I visited him three straight days during this probationary period, and --other than the fact that he had clearly never been on a leash-- he was always attentive, affectionate, and a perfect gentleman. I also never heard him make a peep. When I mentioned this fact to the staff I was told that he was, without question, a barker, and one of the noisier dogs presently in the shelter's care.
I'm not entirely sure why (other than that first connection, which was probably enough), but after three days I took him home to share my life. It took less than 24 hours for me to realize that I had, once again, won the dog lottery.
Wendell has now been with me through thick (lots of thick) and thin (lots of thin). He has traveled all over the U.S. and Canada with me. For many months we were in the woods of Vermont and I never had a leash on him. Whenever I can get away with it, I allow him off leash, and he never strays far from my side. He has never barked in the house, has never destroyed a single one of my possessions, let alone any of his own toys or those he inherited from his predecessor. He never had to be house trained.
He has never disappointed me. Never. Not once. And he has endured with patience --and, sometimes, almost eerie attention-- my countless lonely late night monologues, stories, filibusters, lamentations, riddles, and bursts of random madness. I have read to him from Aristotle and Wittgenstein and countless other authors who were breaking my brain and making me feel stupid. People he had loved and depended on have disappeared from his life without a trace, but I have not disappeared from his life, and for long stretches during our time together I have desired very little other than to not disappear from his life.
Wendell has kept me going during times when I otherwise did not much feel like I wanted to keep going.
He is now a healthy, happy, adventurous, and astonishingly athletic dog. I haven't yet met anybody who appears to have any clear idea what sort of dog he is --almost everyone seems to have a different guess as to his jumble of breeds-- but I have never had any doubt that he is a guide dog, a service dog, and a first-rate companion dog. And at the bottom of every day --we both live on Hong Kong time-- I tuck him into his Garden of Sweet Dreamers and promise him that I will do everything in my power to be worthy of such a tremendous blessing and responsibility.
He still gets nervous on a certain type of concrete floor, and I have concluded that such cold, slippery surfaces must remind him of his days as a shelter inmate. He is, though, always lovely to me, and he inspires waves of almost unbearable tenderness every single day. Watching him run never fails to make me happy, and watching him sleep never fails to calm me.
I've honestly never known another breathing thing with such a lust for life.
Dozens of times a day I scratch him or hold him and say nothing but, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," or "Good boy, good boy, such a good boy." Time after time I assure him that we are together as long as we breathe, and longer if there's any sort of decent place beyond this one.
And every single night before I turn out the lights I tell him, without fail, "Sweet dreams, my beautiful boy, my precious pride and joy. Tomorrow we'll try like hell to make some new magic."
If this all seems utterly daft, so be it. I am blessed to have a dog, and if I did not have a dog --if I did not have this dog-- I would be a sad excuse for a human being.