I had nearly forgotten where the local shelter was; it was a good thing Sam was with me. We drove my pickup and there wasn't much room in the cab for a dog, but I only wanted a small one and Sam volunteered her lap.
She ended up volunteering a lot more than that. Some staff recognized her, so we bypassed the waiting room where a receptionist tried to talk me into taking the one-eyed Pug keeping her company. He was little and sweet and the eye didn't bother me. I had a one-eyed horse, too. But my mother had instilled in me a prejudice against male dogs, which she assured me would pee in your house NO MATTER WHAT. Fred had immortalized himself on my furniture, my saddle, even the slatted wicker clothes hamper and all its contents. Anything that could lift a leg was out.
That narrowed the field. There were young puppies, but I dreaded housebreaking. I liked to sleep. I hadn't slept through a night for years while Dave was sick.
A few dogs refused to engage with us, but most came straight to the front of their pens, paws and noses pressing the diamond-shaped cyclone mesh. "Take me, take me!" their eyes begged. The shelter was well run and clean. But it was a typical November day, sullen and cold. Chill permeated every inch of a concrete and wire environment where doors opened onto outer kennel runs and a stiff breeze wafted in with every trip made by every dog. It was freezing and smelled of disinfectant and the din of all those dogs never ceased as they bid frantically for attention--anyone's...anything to get them out into the world again. They were prisoners who had committed no crime.
Most were pit bulls and I just shook my head.
"What about a mix?" Sam asked. "Some of them aren't pure pit."
"I don't know," I said dubiously. "That blood predominates."
Everywhere I looked, I saw the broad foreheads, wideset eyes and powerful jaws of fighting dogs. All of these dogs had been tested for temperament, but that breed is nothing for the faint-hearted to take on. Of course, I wasn't faint-hearted. I was used to wrestling with twelve-hundred-pound horses.
"Let's keep looking," I said.
Halfway down the first side, a young brindle bitch came to greet us. She stood up against the wire with such grace and dainty forefeet that I knew at once she was a pit mix. She had the face, but much thinner. Thin was the operative word for that dog. She was nothing but ribs and protruding vertebrae.
"I'm a stray," read the placard on her pen. That explained her condition, but--God!--she was sweet. There were white patches like little eyes on the backs of her paws; they twinkled as she moved, like a light show. And her walk! I had never seen anything like it. Accustomed to watching the movement of horses, I saw at once that she didn't walk in a four-beat gait, but in a lateral movement like a pacer.
"What the heck is she?" I asked Sam. "Part hound?" She just shrugged while the little bitch tried to inhale her fingers. The poor thing had a sizeable wart right in the middle of her forehead and fell right on it, overbalancing when she tried to follow us past the corner of her pen. I could feel her eyes boring into my back as we left.
I checked every pen: every one, both sides, all occupants. When we got to the last one, I turned. Sam was watching me, trying hard not to laugh.
"That one," I said, pointing back at the brindle.
She just smirked. "Oh, yeah."
They had a "get-acquainted room" at the shelter and I asked that they put a cat in there. I had two old, defenseless cats, after all.
"Oh, she won't bother them," the young kennel technician leading in my prospective dog assured us. "Dancer is a sweetheart." The shelter had a policy of naming every animal and it was easy to see how Dancer had earned her sobriquet. She greeted every human with her forepaws, conveniently offered at waist level without any jumping. She touched you like a feather and she had misty, melting eyes and the cutest streak of white from chin to chest. It showed to full advantage in the greeting position.
Still, I wanted to see if she ate the cat.