Dennis the Dog

After being discharged from the hospital and moving to Palm Springs, I frequently made my way to the animal shelter (doggie jail) where I would visit the dogs that were lost and didn’t have homes (a.k.a., the inmates).  I got to know the staff pretty well, and they got to know the guy in the wheelchair who came to visit with the dogs.  The toughest part was when a dog who had been there one day was gone the next; I’d say, “hey, did the little chihuahua get adopted?”  When the answer was “no” I knew not to ask any more questions.

On one visit, I noticed this little ball of fur curled up in the corner and trembling uncontrollably in a kennel with two dogs 3x his size.  I hadn’t seen him before, probably because his two kennel-mates were very rambunctious; it was odd I’d missed him, because he was on what I called “death row” — it’s where the staff put dogs who’d been in the shelter for awhile and no one had claimed them or adopted them… they didn’t have much time left.

As I approached his kennel, the two big dogs stuck their snouts between the chain-link kennel door as if to say “hey Mister, pick me… pick me.”  All the dogs knew, they just did, it was better if you went home with one of the plain-clothed two-legged visitors than if one of the uniformed two-legs took you to the back room.  But the little ball of fur didn’t even acknowledge my presence or lift his head off the cold cement floor of the kennel, which had recently been hosed down.  So I called out, over the two big dogs who were barking wildly and jockeying for a position closest to me, “little boy, little boy.”

He looked up finally, but all the life was missing from his eyes.  All I saw was sorrow that said “oh great, another one that’s not going to take me home, why should I get my hopes up just to have them hosed away like the shit that was all over this floor five minutes ago?  Nobody wants me — I’m too ugly, too scrawny, and I’ve got these little pudgy legs that aren’t good for playing fetch, I’m never going to have my own human like mom did.  What did I do to end up here?”  So I called out again, “little boy, come here.”

This time he got up, and slowly, cautiously, meandered over in my direction.

The two big dogs were making such a fuss that they stepped on him, crushing his head against the cement.  Somehow he managed to squeeze under their wildly cavorting bodies; his snout appeared first, then his head, then I looked into his eyes.

His eyes were saying — hi.

I reached through the chain-link to pet him, but the other two dogs pushed him out of the way; he was no match for them.  Within seconds, they’d managed to send him flying to the back of the kennel and out of my reach.

But he didn’t sit down or curl up; he just stood there, staring at me, as if to say — please?

As he did, an animal control officer walked by.  I glanced at the name on his name tag, it said ‘Dennis.’  So I said, “hey Dennis, could you get the little Corgi mix out for me, those other dogs are crushing him?”  He unlocked the padlock and scooped him out, placing him in my lap.  The little ball of fur’s indifference melted away in an instant like ice in the noonday sun, and he stretched to lick the underside of my chin.  It had been so long since he’d been held or sat in a lap, and it felt good.

He looked up at me; his eyes said — can we go home now?

“Dennis,” I called after the officer.  The little ball of fur started licking me wildly.  “He’s going home with me.”  “Okay,” Dennis said, “you just need to come inside and fill out some paperwork and pay his fees.”  As he said that, he lifted the little ball of fur off my lap and put him back in the kennel with the other two dogs.

Once the padlock was locked, I followed him toward the office; just as I was about to disappear inside, I heard a single bark, a bark that now I would know anywhere.  I looked back — the little ball of fur was standing on his hind legs, front paws on the chain link, face pressed sideways against his kennel door straining to see me.

“You go on ahead, I’ll wait out here, he’s scared I’m leaving him,” I said as I handed over my wallet.  Dennis said, “what are you going to call him, if you know, for the license?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Dennis the Dog.”

That was back in 2008.  We’ve been through a lot together.  Dennis is an old man now in dog years, he’s an old dog in man years!  When one of my in-home caregivers was stealing from me, he lifted his leg and pee’d on the man’s foot as if to say, “watch this one, I don’t trust him.”  It took me another two months to figure out what Dennis already knew.  When I had to be hospitalized for a month with pulmonary emboli, it was Dennis who laid calmly by my side with his snout resting on my leg once I was recuperating in bed at home; and when he had to have a growth surgically removed from under one of his front legs, it was my turn to lay on the bed for hours petting him and reassuring him that everything would be okay.

In all these years, ten as of today, to be exact, I can honestly say I have never heard him growl, not even once.  I don’t think he knows how, or if he does, that he ever experiences the emotion that would make him want to. I am confined to a wheelchair, and there have been times when I have lost track of his whereabouts and run over his paw or tail; when this happens, he lets out a single welp of pain then looks at me as if to say, “I’m sorry I got in your way.”

I used to say, “I hope I go first because I don’t know if I could live without him,” but now I realize how selfish that thought is.  I am not half the man he thinks I am, but I know I am his world and without me he would be sad, and lost.  I have to carry-on as long as I can so I am there to give him that last scritchey scritch under his chin when the time comes.

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