One moment in the scene I witnessed yesterday was like a puzzle with 1000+ pieces, a puzzle made from a photo of a man and a dog. Imagine you finally found a significant piece you’ve been looking for, the one with the man’s eyes. But the eyes look different than you had expected. Most eyes look up at a camera. Not these. That’s because at the moment the camera shutter clicked, the man didn’t care a hoot about the photo. He cared about the dog he was about to take home. His eyes – eyes that can’t possibly give full account of the love in his heart – are looking at the dog.
Going from unloved to loved is a remarkable journey that does not have to take a long time. I saw it happen yesterday to this beautiful black Labrador retriever in about an hour. We arrived at the shelter and waited for Max to be brought to us. Joe reached toward him with a hand. Max wagged his tail and moved toward Joe, welcoming his touch. We walked down to the lake, then to the play area. Max ran after the ball Joe threw to him, frolicked with it, frolicked some more, brought it back. Joe said, “That’s the icing on the cake.” Paperwork happened. Man and dog now each have someone to care for, someone to love.
Nothing really happens in an hour though, does it?
Just like that puzzle, lots of individual pieces came together to make this scene, pieces that have evolved over time, pieces that even last week didn’t seem to go together with any other piece.
Wendy walks her own two dogs in her neighborhood and had been watching Max for years. He had not been abused per se, but was left outdoors year-round and certainly wasn’t loved. When a medical issue arose and his owners were unwilling to follow through, they agreed to release him to Wendy.
She knew she couldn’t keep him herself, even though Max was a littermate of one of her own dogs. She brought him to the local shelter hoping to buy a little time and get him some medical attention – with strict instructions that they not to do the thing they do at this shelter when they have too many dogs or deem them beyond hope of finding a family. You know what I mean. Right about then, she and I spoke. Did I know anyone who might be willing to take Max?
Joe came to mind. He had had a black lab some years ago; the situation had turned sad, leaving him without a dog. A few weeks back he mentioned to me that enough time had passed, and he was ready again. I contacted him to see if he might consider Max. Joe didn’t need a lot of words to answer that question. Yes, he said.
My attempts to connect Wendy and Joe misfired a few times, so it took a week or so for them to finally talk about Max’s condition, background, etc., none of which deterred Joe in the least. He was clearly excited on Friday night as we made plans to meet at the shelter on Saturday to meet Max. I asked him if he had a dog bed, leash, collar, etc. He answered, “I have only lots of room in my heart, my house and my yard.”
That seemed like enough to me. I got a big bag of dog food, a leash and a collar. Wendy got the crate, two dog beds and his food and water bowls. On Saturday morning at breakfast, I told Mom and Jerry what was happening and Jerry said, “Could he use an electric fence?” I wasn’t absolutely sure, but there was a good chance. Jerry packed it up and I brought it along.
We met Joe at the shelter. He and Max became fast friends, and we all took a little walk to get to know Max a bit. Wendy explained more about Max’s previous situation and observed that the medical condition was already improving. Good diet combined with enough activity and enough love (which would all be part of Max’s new life) can clear up all manner of issues – we all knew that, we all shared examples, and we all hoped that would be the case for Max. No doubt he would get whatever he needed. When I asked Joe about the electric fence, he said, “That would be awesome.” A breath later, he said, “There are just too many pieces falling into place for this not to be the right decision for me.”
Joe got the okay from the shelter and looked up at the camera.
Max has a ways to go. He needs to be housebroken, to adjust to a steady diet of good food and tender human attention. He’ll have to get used to car rides, to games of fetch, to a warm home, to being loved and cared for. His face needs to heal. All of this will happen, I have no doubt, just as it did for Mrs. Donovan, the town busybody, and Roy, a sadly neglected retriever, two of the most amazing characters in James Herriot’s Dog Stories.
Herriot’s commentary at the end of this story includes: “Mrs. Donovan’s dedicated care was rewarded with many years of loyal companionship and Roy, despite his bad start in life, lived well into his teens. The salvation of Roy and the wonderful transformation of his appearance and in his entire life is one of my warmest memories.”
When she encountered him around town, Mrs. Donovan used to always say, “Mr. Herriot, haven’t I made a difference to this dog!” It won’t be long before Joe will be able to say the same about Max. He probably won’t say it out loud to anyone, but he will know it in his heart.