I was right about one thing. There were not too many purebred dogs, except for a couple of Chihuahua puppies in one of the enclosures. I did see one small dog sitting on a tiny plush dog bed near the front of the store. I’d never seen a dog that looked quite like him before. He was adorable and very quiet, but certainly alert, looking around him with his ears up. He had a beautiful golden fur coat, almost amber colored, and his muzzle was dark ebony, so much so I could not really see his eyes. He looked like a cross between a raccoon and a tiny fox. When I approached his pen, he looked up at me, but he didn’t make any sort of move, no communication whatsoever. I read the index card with the description of him, and looked at the photo taped next to it. His name was “Toby,” and he was a “Pomeranian mix,” according to the report from the last known owner. He was described as 7 years old, probably, and neutered, friendly, affectionate, obedient, housebroken, loves to go on walks. He looked so far away in the photo, standing in front of a tree, looking off into the distance of a yard, as if he was contemplating something. Frankly, he looked unhappy and lost in the photo. Not very appealing. Besides, he was not a Shih Tzu, and therefore, he wasn’t what I was looking for. I kept on walking right past him, didn’t even speak to him, no hello or goodbye. I was afraid to make eye contact because I could feel his eyes on me, and I did not want to risk feeling guilty for ignoring him.
I spent several minutes near the pen of a larger ivory colored dog, another mutt, who slowly paced back and forth from one side of her fenced den to another. Something about her struck me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, as if I felt a connection between us, probably anxiety, which I was certainly feeling. Even though I had protested coming to PetSmart at all, much less seriously considering adoption that day, I found myself frustrated that I had not found exactly what I was looking for. But this dog was beautiful, a mix of a Greyhound and Yellow Lab, named “Lady,” who seemed so gentle, sweet and graceful. She mesmerized me for no apparent reason.
“Would you like to take Lady for a walk?”
Ann Walters, president of the Rainbow Rescue, interrupted my reverie, coming up beside me as I admired Lady.
“Sure, why not.”
What was the harm? I figured, if nothing else, it would satisfy my curiosity about how we interacted, and I’d get the chance to stroke her gorgeous fur as well. Maybe I’d even figure out what it was about her that drew me to her like this.
Ann grabbed the choke collar and leash off of the top of Lady’s pen and prepared her to meet me. Exiting her enclosure, Lady was hesitant as she approached me. Clearly, she was extremely timid of strangers. I reached out my hand for her to smell, and she carefully tested out my palm with her narrow snout. After a few brief seconds, she stepped backward again, and I sighed, suddenly unsure of myself.
“Don’t worry, Jill. She’ll be fine once you take her outside. She’s just nervous being inside the store with all the noise and unfamiliar surroundings. This is her first week with us.”
“Okay,” I smiled as I reached out and took the leash from Ann.
“Come on, Lady. It’s alright girl,” I encouraged as I led her out of the pen and towards the front door.
She trailed behind me all the way to the sliding glass front door, but as soon as it opened and we were away from the noise and the crowd, she transformed into a different dog. She had no fears or distractions to hinder her exploration of the area. Even better, or worse, she was much stronger than she looked. She pulled me forward, sideways, anywhere she found something she wanted to smell: a tree, a garbage can, a bird. I was unaccustomed to big dogs, especially trying to walk them, and I was completely unprepared for this. I chickened out within a few minutes, and practically dragged her back to the sliding door entrance to the store. As I walked Lady inside, my mother and Ann looked up at me, surprised to see me back so quickly. I imagine they had been mid-conversation about the possibility of Lady and me. I just shook my head as I handed the leash back to Ann as fast as I could. I couldn’t believe how intimidated I felt by that dog. I certainly didn’t see myself as someone who would give up that easily on a dog I thought I liked as much as I liked Lady. But something wasn’t right between us. She must have felt it, and as soon as we were together alone outside, I’d felt it too.
“I’m sorry, Ann. I guess I’m just not a large dog person. I’m used to small dogs. “
“Don’t worry. We wouldn’t want you to take one of our dogs if it wasn’t right for both of you. We take our adoptions very seriously. We want the owner and the dog to both feel that they are with the right match. You can’t force it.”
“I know. I just feel bad about it I guess. I don’t think the right dog is here for me.”
“Well, what about Toby? Did you try walking Toby? He’s a very sweet dog. He’s the only small dog we have besides the puppies. This is the first week I’ve brought him out here from the kennel. “
“ I saw him, but I was hoping to find a Shih Tzu, not a mutt.”
“Jill, what about just taking him out for a few minutes?” my mom asked, trying not to sound pushy.
Both my mother and Ann were staring at me. Hell, even one of the young volunteers was staring at me now, too. Obviously, they all felt I should meet this dog.
“Okay, yeah, bring him over, I’ll meet him.” I gave in, quite unenthused.
Ann smiled, and one of the young female volunteers entered Toby’s enclosure and put a collar and leash on him while I found a floor cushion and plopped myself down, not really caring anymore enough to fight anyone on this.
“Come on, Toby. Someone wants to meet you,” the young blonde teenage girl sweetly cooed at the little dog.
Toby trotted behind her as they swung around the floor obstacles towards my resting place.
And then, something amazing happened. A moment in time that will be etched in my memory as long as I have the ability to remember anything at all.
This little animal spritely hurried over to me, pulling the girl by his leash the whole way, climbed right into my lap, brashly placing a front paw on each of my shoulders, and proceeded to kiss me over and over on my cheek and mouth for several minutes.
It was the defining moment of my life. And it changed my relationship not only with this dog, but also with all dogs, to this day.
My mother smiled and laughed and started “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing,” and Ann Walters virtually glowed with pride and happiness at the sight of Toby licking my face, snuggling in my lap, as I laughed and petted him. Never in my life had any living creature accepted me so unconditionally and with such lack of inhibition.
“He chose you.” Ann’s voice was steady and definitive. The tone in her voice reminded me of the finality of a wedding officiant pronouncing the happy couple to be husband and wife.
I looked up at Ann staring at us, confidently. And I knew. I did not admit it out loud right away. As a matter of fact, I sat with Toby in my lap, for the next two hours before making any final moves, typical of me. But in the end, and one hundred sixty-two measly little dollars later, I walked out of PetSmart day with my first dog of my very own, the first living being completely and utterly dependent on me for survival.
And on that day, October 20, 2001, life both changed, and began, forever, all with one decision to take a chance on this rescue dog that as far as I could tell, looked like no other dog I had ever seen, nor would ever see, again.
Copyright 2011 by Jill Louise Hartmann-Roberts