She was on a log, her head resting on old wood. Both dog and wood could have been the same age. Old. But the wood had no feelings. The dog did and she couldn’t hide the sadness that permeated her entire being.
Why was she sad? I stopped mid-jog because sad dogs are more important than how many miles I put in before settling down to another day at the computer.
I went up to her. Didn’t touch her because she was a strange dog and I was a stranger to her. “Hey, girl. Why so sad?” Her tail moved slightly and she looked me over politely but the sadness remained.
“What’s wrong?” A voice at my elbow made me jump. A man about my age and dressed as I was, for running, was staring at the dog. “Is she yours?”
I shook my head. “Not mine but too sad to pass up.
He nodded. “She looks like she lost her best friend.”
Was that it? Our looks met as we considered the possibility. Then we turned as one back to the dog and dropped to the ground so we’d be at eye level with her. The man thought out loud. “Maybe she’s hungry.” He reached into a pack. “I have some jerky.”
I opened my own pack, the kind joggers carry. “I have water.”
The dog was grateful for both. Gratitude showed in those beautiful eyes. But soon after eating and drinking, the sadness returned. The man and I looked at one another, both reluctant to leave the sad, elderly dog. “I don’t know what else we can do.”
“She seems comfortable.”
“Perhaps she’s waiting for her owner.” He looked around hopefully but no owner materialized from the green park or along the trail we were both following.
“She’ll be gone tomorrow,” I said with more hope than belief.
“Yes. She’ll have gone home.”
So we left, both of us moving out slowly enough that we could turn back every few steps to see if the dog’s position changed. It didn’t.
I couldn’t concentrate well that day and didn’t sleep much that night. Visions of an elderly, gold colored dog of medium size intruded in my dreams. So the next morning, before setting off on my morning job, I stuffed a can of dog food that I’d just happened to buy the evening before into my pack, along with a small dish and the usual bottle of water I bring in case I get thirsty. Then I added a second bottle of water because you never know when you’ll need more H2O.
When I reached the log with the old dog, it was there as before. But it wasn’t alone. The man from the previous day was there before me and he, too, had dog food and water. He looked up sheepishly as I approached. “I couldn’t sleep thinking about her.”
I opened my pack to display the dog things inside. “Me neither.”
“She seems glad for the food and water.”
“She has a collar.” Why hadn’t we checked it the day before?
“Collar but no identifying tags.” Yes, she had a worn pink collar but that was all.
I scratched the dog’s head. Her eyes closed in ecstasy and when they opened, some of the sadness had dissipated and that did it for me. “She shouldn’t have to stay here another day.”
Anger rose in me. “Her owner should be arrested.” I was angry on behalf of this nice animal. “I’ll take her home and her owner will just have to find her. If he cares.”
Then I slumped. “But my apartment doesn’t allow pets.” Those soulful eyes stared at me. Was that hope? Did she know what I’d said? I thought so. “I’ll talk to the manager.”
“Does he like animals?”
“I guess I’ll find out.”
“I can take her for a while. I have a house but I travel a lot so pets don’t work out well. But I’m not scheduled for another trip for a few days. I can take her while you talk to your manager.”
We exchanged contact information. His name was Alan, mine was Viola. We didn’t live that far from each other. It could work. For a while though I was afraid it would only be until my manager reminded me that pets weren’t allowed and he threatened to cast me onto the street if I showed up with a dog in tow.
But I could hope.
Neither of us had a leash and the old dog wasn’t inclined to follow us. Instead, she simply wanted to lie on that old log in the shade and wait for whomever she was waiting for. Because that had to be why she was there. What other reason was there?
I lived closest so Alan stayed with the dog that we tentatively named Goldie because of her beautiful coat while I went to get my car to bring her to his place. I stopped on the way and bought a leash and when I returned they were waiting. Goldie had her head in Alan’s lap. The unhappiness in her eyes had lessened somewhat. She was still sad but seemed content. We were doing the right thing.
At that moment, a middle-aged woman came along the path. She saw us and the dog and stopped. “I’m so glad to see someone taking care of her.”
We asked what she meant. “Her owner died. His family was from out of state. They came and took care of things, like families do. I believe they knew about the dog but couldn’t find her and they couldn’t stay. They had to go home.” She gave Goldie a pat on the head. “She’d disappeared when her owner went into the hospital and no one knew what happened to her. And now here she is and it’ll be okay because you two are here.”
She smiled and resumed her walk as we looked at each other. “She didn’t give a name.”
Alan shook his head. “Which most likely means she didn’t know, just knew there was a dog.” He hugged the dog and squarely met my look of inquiry. “Her name is officially Goldie and she’s our dog now.”
How odd. To share a dog with someone I didn’t know beyond a jog in the park. But we loaded Goldie into my car. She came willingly so was used to cars. Alan sat in the back seat with her and opened the window so she could put her nose in the wind. It almost brought a smile to her doggie face. Her eyes sparkled momentarily but the sadness returned when we reached Alan’s house and the ride ended.
We brought her inside. Alan’s yard was fenced and he said he’d have a doggie door installed so she could go in and out when he wasn’t home. We played with her in the yard for hours to get her used to her new home. Then we left her alone and went shopping for dog food and dishes and everything else we could think of that dogs need.
When we returned, she was asleep in the yard. When we opened the door and joined her, her eyes popped open. Her tail wagged a couple of times. But it was clear that she’d been hoping someone else was coming.
“She’s in mourning.”
“It’s worse because she doesn’t know her owner is gone forever.”
“We’ll take care of her.” Alan’s voice was hoarse with emotion.
“Yes we will.” Mine was too. “She’ll be happy again.”
A promise had been made. A vow. Goldie didn’t know it but we did. Could we keep it? Plus the second promise I’d made Alan, that I’d ask my landlord if I could keep Goldie. What would he say?
My landlord said ‘no.’ Of course he did, even though he didn’t want to. “I don’t make the rules, the corporation does. If I break them, I’ll lose my job.” I showed him a picture of Goldie on my cell phone. The sadness. He asked, “How old is she?” He followed that by, “You’re sure she’s quiet?” And then by a shake of his head. “I can’t. I just can’t allow it.”
I called Alan to give him the bad news because I didn’t want to just show up when he was with a girlfriend or doing whatever he did in his private life that I didn’t want to know about. He wasn’t as irritated as I’d expected. In fact, he sounded oaky with the news as he asked me to stop by his place to discuss what to do with the sad, old dog we’d adopted.
“Goldie just got here yesterday,” he said as we munched donuts in his kitchen and Goldie munched doggie treats at her feeding station beside the back door that now had a doggie door so she could go in and out at will. “She’s just getting used to my place.” Hope showed in his eyes. Hope and a love of old dogs. “So maybe it’s best that she stay here until we can figure out something permanently.” He sighed. “I just wish I didn’t have to travel for my job.”
I knew he was right that Goldie shouldn’t be subjected to too many changes in too short a time. But I wanted her in my life as much as Alan did. She had that effect. She was that kind of dog. The nice kind. The gentle, loving kind. “It’ll work for now.” I dunked my donut in coffee and examined Goldie where she sat and examined us in return. “Until you have to go somewhere.”
Alan’s cell rang. He answered it absentmindedly. Then he kind of sat up straight and listened closely until he finally agreed with whatever the other person was saying. Then he hung up.
“There’s a problem.” Alan kind of shrank and didn’t look at me. “I have to be gone on business for a couple days.” Shrank a bit more. “I leave tomorrow.”
“I’ll take Goldie to my place, then, and hope she’ll be okay with the change.” My landlord had said she could visit.
He looked from Goldie to me and took a deep breath. “Maybe there’s a better solution. What say she stays here and you look after her while I’m gone?” He indicated the fenced-in yard beyond the back door. “She likes my yard.” His eyes turned pleading. “And you live in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets.”
I swirled my donut in the coffee until it dissolved into a soggy mess that I had to swallow in one huge gulp. “I suppose it can work.” Because what else could we do? “I can come over in the afternoons.” I thought more. “I can get an outside dog feeder and a bowl for water. I can come in the yard through the gate and make sure both are full. And I can play with her for a while if you’re okay with me trespassing in your yard.”
“No trespassing involved because you have my absolute permission and what I was wondering was whether you’ll consider house-sitting as well as dog-sitting while I’m gone. It’ll only be for a couple days and one night. I have a spare room you can use and you’re welcome to anything you can find to eat.”
It took a moment to process what he was suggesting. “You’re okay with a complete stranger being in your house while you’re gone?”
“You’re not a stranger. You’re a dog lover who went up against your landlord to ask him if a stray dog could stay with you. That speaks to what kind of person you are.” Then his face took on a sheepish look. “Besides, I checked up on you.”
Goldie lay down and closed her eyes. She was still unhappy, but she was getting to know her new home. To accept it. Should I make her go through a change of place all over again? No, I shouldn’t. “You checked me out?”
He turned slightly red. “It was easy. Seems we have some mutual acquaintances. Your friends say you’re a decent person.”
I laughed until I gagged on that soggy donut and admitted something. “Me too. You. I checked you out. It was surprisingly easy.” I didn’t know who was redder, Alan or me, but we both felt better about our odd situation that would never have happened without Goldie. “Because we have a couple of mutual acquaintances.”
Somehow we ended up staring at one another almost forever and it was agreed that I’d sleep at his place for one night. What we didn’t decide was whether this would become the new norm or remain a one-time thing. I was betting for one time because it was a really odd situation even though we did know some of the same people.
The next day after working at lightning speed and turning off my computer long before I usually did I stopped at a grocery store because I didn’t want to eat someone else’s food and zipped over to Alan’s place as fast as possible so Goldie wouldn’t be alone any longer than need be.
She was in the yard lying in the sun and pricked up her ears when I pushed open the gate. Soon she was showing me the door in case I didn’t know where it was and we went inside and had dinner side by side with her at floor level and me at the table. It was lovely and companionable, and I wished she lived with me instead of Alan. One night, I thought, and two days just wasn’t enough time.
That night and the following day flew by and I was glad for a slow week of work because I could be with Goldie more hours than if I’d been busy during those days and had to go home to get stuff done. On the second afternoon, Goldie and I were in the yard playing tug of war. As always, she was considerate of the fact that I didn’t pull as hard as Alan and never pulled the tug toy out of my hands. Had her previous owner been elderly and frail?
There was a sound at the back gate and when I looked up Alan walked through, a suit coat over one arm and his sleeves rolled up. He went straight to Goldie and I watched as she greeted him happily. But that shadow was still in her eyes. She’d been hoping for someone else.
Alan’s and my looks met and we silently agreed that she was still in mourning. I vowed to visit as often as possible with the hope that those beautiful eyes would someday fill with happiness once more.
Alan was okay with me coming over when I explained and asked if I was interfering with his social life. “I don’t have a girlfriend and my buddies from way back when are long gone, either married or moved away.” His gaze took in the small universe of the fenced in yard. “Which is partly why I enjoy having you and Goldie around.” He petted Goldie and she put he head in his lap. Those eyes were still sad but she appreciated his touch. “It’s amazing how much love a dog gives.”
Goldie was important. I wasn’t. But our lives were oddly similar. “My life is solitary too,” I admitted. “For the same reasons.”
His teeth gleamed in a brief smile. “I guess we’re slower than most as far as relationships are concerned.” Except for dogs, that expression said. We could love dogs immediately. We could love Goldie and each benefit from the love she gave so freely even though she was in mourning.
It turned out that Alan was gone a lot for work and each time he took a trip I stayed at his place. When he was home, also, as time passed, I visited more and more often and he said he was okay with it. But I always felt a bit guilty so just in case he’d developed a relationship since my last visit, I always called first.
Until I didn’t.
He wasn’t home when I got there. I paused at his door. I had a key and could easily go inside but that wasn’t our arrangement. So, after wondering whether to return home or stay, I went around to the back and through the gate in the fence to see if Goldie was outside.
She was, and she came quickly to see what I’d brought her because I always brought something. A bone, a toy, a doggie treat. Something. That day it was a new tug toy and she gave me a look that said she appreciated the thought but it wouldn’t get a good workout until Alan returned because I was, after all, a physical wimp. I told her she was right but we played with it a bit anyway, with Goldie being considerate of my weak tugs and just pretending to pull on it and letting me win most of the time. As usual. Until she tired because she was, after all, an old dog. Then we just sat on the grass and soaked up the sun and enjoyed being together on that lovely, sunshiny day even though her eyes were still sad because she was still in mourning.
Then the gate swung open and Alan walked through, coat over one arm and sleeves rolled up as usual. And something happened. Something amazing.
Goldie’s ears pricked up. Her eyes lit with happiness. And she got up and walked to him with her tail wagging hard. And she just put her head against his leg and stood there, being with him. Loving him. Being happy. His expression said the feeling was mutual. A man and his dog.
They stood that way for a long time as I watched with a lump growing larger and ever larger in my throat because the thing that I’d prayed for had happened, but not the way I’d wanted. Goldie was no longer in mourning, I’d been wrong about that earlier. She’d got past her unhappiness and was now a glowing, happy dog because she’d found someone new to love. But that person wasn’t me.
The thing was, Alan didn’t seem to understand. Frown lines appeared between his eyes. “What’s going on?” He looked from Goldie to me. “What have you two been up to?” He moved towards me and Goldie came too. “She’s happy.”
“Of course she’s happy. You are here. You are home.”
He looked from Goldie to me once more and shook his head. “It’s not that. Yes, we enjoy each other’s company and I’m sure she’s glad I’m home, but it’s more than that.” He frowned again, trying to figure out what was missing. “I just don’t know what.”
Then he snapped his fingers and dropped to the grass beside me. Goldie lay down between us and curled up contentedly, her tail wagging and her eyes going from Alan to me and back again. Alan’s look met mine and said he knew what was happening, but I was still in the dark. “It’s not me, Vi. It’s both of us. Together.” He stroked the old dog’s silky fur. “Look at her.”
I did. She lay her head on Alan’s lap, then moved enough to reach me too. And I knew what he was saying. Two people had rescued her, not just one. We were both equally important.
Alan continued. “We did it. We succeeded. We are her family now. She’d no longer in mourning. The three of us, Goldie, you, and me are her new family. She’s happy right now, right here, because we are all together.”
I looked at Goldie, at those lovely eyes and the coat that shone in the sun and the obvious signs of age that made her even more beautiful and I knew he was right. And I was happy for her. And for Alan. And for me.
Because, as our looks met over that lovely, old dog we knew that we’d be that family for as long as she needed us to be.
After all, we both loved dogs.