We woke up at… 8 am.
So I was a little late. But I did make it there to let our friend in, chit-chatted with him a little, and I was on my way back home at about 8:45.
I made it about one block before I saw the puppy in the photo. She was just running down the sidewalk, in front of the Coffee Ethic. So I pulled over immediately, got out and picked her up. She didn’t run or fight or anything. In fact, she seemed eager to be picked up.
If you can’t tell, this is a pretty small dog. She can’t weigh more than 20 pounds. I assumed she was a black lab puppy, and I carried her into the coffeehouse, and asked around. Nobody recognized her. So I carried her into the adjacent public library, and nobody recognized her. But the librarian did help me by calling the pound. The pound said that the best thing we could do for her was to keep her out of the pound. That’s the last I’ll say about the pound.
The next thing I had to do was figure out where to take this dog; we had been wanting one, but weren’t sure if we were ready. So I was reluctant to just bring her home. Plus, I wasn’t looking forward to making a bunch of posters and advertising on Craig’s List or something, to find the owner. I put her in my truck as if to take her home while I figured out what to do.
On my way, I drove past City Hall and the Police HQ, so I decided to stop and see if any of them knew what to do with a stray. The Police were no help, so I decided to go across the street to a Scramblers restaurant and ask to borrow their phone book. It turned out the restaurant manager was a lab owner herself, and wanted to help. So she brought out some scraps (which looked good enough to eat myself) and some water, which the dog consumed frighteningly fast. She advised I call the Humane Society, which I did, and I found out that they accept drop-offs from 12-4 pm on Saturdays. So I took her home to wait until noon arrived.
During those few hours, Christina and I fell in love. With the dog. We were already in love with each other. Here was a remarkably well-behaved puppy, who was friendly even to our two dwarf bunnies. We thought about keeping her, but we don’t have room for a lab. When we did decide to get a dog, we needed a smaller one. So noon came around, and I took her to the Humane Society.
Although the Humane Society is clearly a better place than the pound, it is nevertheless a bit demoralizing. It’s very hokey, and dirty, and noisy. But friendly. Overall, I figured it was worth the $20 they charged me to leave her with them. They looked my puppy over, and decided she was about six months old. That’s what I’d figured. But after a second look, they told me she’d had puppies of her own already. I was shocked. Sure, she was a little too well-behaved to be a puppy, but she had this cute-and-silly demeanor that really had me fooled.
So that meant she was full-grown already. And things changed a little in my mind. I made a comment about the way animals are euthanized, referring to the pound. The clerk at the Society exclaimed “Oh no, we don’t kill them here!” “I know that,” I said. That’s why I’m paying to drop her off here.”
And I looked at her, happily leaning into me as I held her in my arms, and said, “Your life is worth twenty dollars to me.” And I teared up a little. It sounds strange, but I had very little expectation of keeping this dog. Chances are, her owner would come and pick her up during the 7-day holding period, and I would never see her again. “I can’t redeem the life of every dog on death row from my own bank account, but I can save you.” And in a moment it seemed wrong that this creature should whip into and out of my life so briefly.
I thought about what it must be like to work at the Humane Society. I’m sure that only animal lovers need apply. Imagine the joy for such a person at being completely surrounded by adorable puppies and kittens. But imagine also the horror at seeing these innocent creatures arrive in terrible condition, and caring for those who are not desirable enough to ever be adopted. Imagine the overwhelming desire to take them all home, especially the rejects, and imagine the sadness to admit one’s helplessness to do so. The more one’s capacity for joy in their job, I thought, the more capacity for sadness.
I think it’s similar for those who work in hospitals and doctors’ offices. An optometrist is not likely to experience great highs in his line of work, and the lows seem pretty manageable as well. But an OBGYN is privy to many tears of joy as new lives are brought into the world, and also many tears of shock and despair when things go awry.
I realized that we are often confronted with a choice: to open ourselves up to both the highs and the lows, or to remain closed and afraid of our surroundings. Do I want to live a big life, or a small life? Simon and Garfunkel express both desires in two different songs. “I am a rock, I am an island…” contrasts with “I’d rather be a forest than a street. Yes I would… if I could.”
One junior higher goes out for the ball team, the other stays home for fear of failure. One high schooler asks his crush to the prom, the other never gets up the nerve. One college student dives into marriage, the other avoids it, so as not to end up divorced like his parents. One married couple tries to start a family, the other fears the loss of flexibility and independence.
I want to live a big life, not a small one. For a long time Christina suggested we get a puppy, but I worried about the expense, and the time it would take out of our already very full lives. So I never looked for a puppy. But apparently one puppy was looking for me.
Two days ago, on another Saturday, we made our way back to the Humane Society to finish what we’d started. I had only spent 3 hours with her, 7 days prior, but when we were directed to her cage, we remembered each other instantly. She absolutely freaked out, jumping around and licking my hand through the bars. I realized there was no lock, so I took her out to hold again, and it was obviously right.
I could worry about all the potential heartache that could be in store for me. That’s the danger anytime you choose to love someone or something new. But I’d be a hopeless pessimist to ignore all the excitement and fun and sweetness and joy that comes with a new addition to the family.
We picked her up, we brought her home, we named her Abbi. But it’s more like she’s adopted us.