The dog probably had some retriever in him. Beyond that, it was anybody's guess. Even Carlos had no clue, and he's been doing this job forever. I figured we'd probably just list him as "Mixed Breed (Large)."
"Seen him wandering loose, up around Thirty-Second and Riverside," the guy who brought him in said. "No collar, no tag, nothin'."
"No chip, either," I said, putting down the scanner.
"You try knocking on a few doors nearby, see about tracking down the owner?" Carlos asked. "Most strays get found within a block of their homes."
That always surprises me, that they usually get found right in their own neighborhoods. I guess because I was raised on books like The Incredible Journey, ones where dogs travel humongous distances to make it home, overcoming all kinds of obstacles and dangers along the way.
"No homes down where I found him," the guy said. "Just all those tents jammed in under the overpass. Prop C will get rid of those."
I couldn't tell whether he meant get rid of the tents or get rid of the people who lived in them. Or maybe he didn't distinguish between the two.
"He coulda wandered up onto 183," the guy said. "Woulda been hazardous for traffic."
"And more hazardous for him," I said. "Thanks for picking him up. You post a picture of him on NextDoor and the city's Lost and Found Pets site? If you could keep him a day or two, maybe his owner—"
"No dogs allowed in my condo. Listen, can I go now?"
"Sure," Carlos said. "Soon as you fill out this form."
"I'm in kind of a hurry..."
"I get it. Thing is, we can't legally accept the dog until you fill out the surrender form and sign it. Sorry. It is what it is."
The guy muttered something, then zipped through the form, signed his name, and left without looking back at the dog. I couldn't tell whether or not he had actually read the part right above his signature—the part that says, "I expressly consent and agree to any determination, as outlined above, that the Animal Center makes with respect to disposition of this animal. I understand that the Animal Center's decision is nonnegotiable and I agree that I will respect it and not take legal action even if the decision is that the animal be euthanized."
But the dog wasn't sick or injured or vicious, so he wouldn't get euthanized. Not for now, anyway. Granted, we don't have enough budget or space to keep every animal forever. And this one had a few strikes against him—size, color, age. But I still thought he had a pretty good shot at going home—the term shelter workers use when an animal gets adopted—before his clock ran out.
He did fine during the intake exam. Not tail-wagging and face-licking or anything, but not shivering with fear or snarling and lunging at us, either. Mostly he seemed stoic, as though life as he had known it was out of his control, a series of random events to be endured, and this was just one more.
"Seems like I've seen this dog somewhere before," I said. But Carlos was listening to the dog's lungs through the stethoscope, so he didn't hear me.
The dog was slightly underweight, mildly dehydrated, and gassy, like he'd been eating crappy food. There were dental problems, too. I'd have bet he hadn't seen a vet in years, if ever. And just a lot of general wear and tear, especially in the paws and the pads around his elbows and knees. As if he'd spent all his time on a hard surface, like a concrete patio or something.
"Definitely an outdoor dog," Carlos said, jotting down notes for the exam form. "Hasn't had an easy life. But no signs of abuse, and probably not a longtime stray."
"Look at how smooth his coat is," I said, running my hand through the fur. "No mats or tangles."
Carlos nodded his head. "Pretty sure he's been getting brushed. And not by that guy who brought him in."
We didn't need to tell each other the obvious: despite initial appearances, somebody had been caring for this dog.
We named him Charley. We'd used that name for other dogs before, but none that we had right then. He didn't seem frightened, so we put him in kennel 113. That's a high-traffic location where he'd have a better chance of getting adopted.
The other dogs in the 100s started barking when we led him in, making a racket that echoed off the walls. But the dog seemed unfazed. Or resigned.
Heading for work a couple of days later, I just missed catching the green light at Thirty-Second and Riverside. It's a long red, so I was already annoyed even before a scruffy-looking guy scurried up and began knocking on my driver's-side window. I pressed the door lock button, heard the click, and then stared straight ahead, my face expressionless.
He stepped in front of my car and began pounding on the hood.
"What the hell?" I said, lowering my window slightly.
"You're the dog lady, right?" he shouted hoarsely, struggling to be heard above the traffic on the overpass as he scrambled back toward me. Even with the window only open slightly, I could smell a mixture of stale marijuana and staler body odor clinging to his clothes, along with a reek of something, possibly gin, on his breath, overwhelming the fumes from car exhaust.
"Dog lady?" I said, leaning as far away from him as my seat belt would allow.
"You work at the animal shelter."
"Maybe," I said, wondering how he knew. I could see the cars lined up behind me in the rearview mirror. The other lane was full as well, and the light would turn green soon.
"The dog's missing," he said. "Dog gone."
"Ruthie's dog," he said. He sounded annoyed, as if this should have been obvious. "Ruthie thinks maybe somebody kidnapped him, took him to the shelter."
He shook his head at my obtuseness, then gestured toward the median. An older woman stood there, meticulously avoiding eye contact.
"So, you got the dog?" he asked.
"We have over a hundred dogs," I said. "How would I—"
The light changed. Instantly the cars in the next lane, and in the opposite direction, began moving. A cacophony of honking rose from behind us.
"Mooove!" came a voice from the open window of the car directly behind, loud as any ballpark heckler.
"We'll finish this discussion later," the man said, hopping back onto the median.
I couldn't imagine where or when we could possibly finish any discussion, a fact which left me slightly saddened for Ruthie but mostly relieved for myself.
Glancing in the rearview mirror as I accelerated, I saw the guy in the car behind me shouting and directing his finger toward the median. With my own window still partly open, I could hear the words, "Prop C, asshole!"
The city has a lot of homeless people—people experiencing homelessness I guess we're supposed to call them, although that sounds kind of clunky to me. We have mild weather and a reputation for being broad-minded and laid back, so I guess we attract some career derelicts from far away. But for the most part we've grown our own homeless population. Because we're a tech hub we've seen a huge influx of young strivers, making an already-existing housing shortage even worse. Home prices, rents, and property taxes all increased exponentially. The newbies didn't seem to mind since they paid even more in San Fran or Palo Alto or wherever, but some locals could no longer afford homes where they had lived for years. Older neighborhoods got gentrified almost overnight. And despite the city's progressive image, neither the local government nor area builders showed the slightest interest in affordable housing for people with limited incomes. Every day, more people ended up on the streets. So tent cities started cropping up under overpasses, and if you stopped at a red light somebody was liable to squeegee your windshield and want to be paid for it. And of course there was the increase in petty thefts and drug problems and occasionally something more serious, as well as the random person shouting incoherently on a street corner or urinating in public.
So some disgruntled locals created a proposition which, if it passed, would make it illegal to panhandle "in an aggressive manner." Or to sit or lie down on a public sidewalk or sleep outdoors near the downtown area or the university. Or to erect a tent "in any public area within the city not designated by the Parks and Recreation Department."
By the time this proposition had enough signatures to be submitted, two other minor ones were already turned in. So although the proposition about homelessness was the only one drawing any attention, it was listed third on the ballot. Proposition C.
Just past noon, the same day the guy had pounded on my car, a couple approached as I was returning a pit bull to her kennel. The pittie lurched toward them, and the man jumped back and raised both hands to cover his face. But the woman leaned forward. With a voice like sunshine she said, "Look at that tail wag! Look at that butt wiggle! What a sweetie!"
The woman was right— although the pittie's exuberance and breed had scared off potential adopters to the point where her time was running out, she was a total cuddle bug. Still, given the man's reaction, I knew I had to keep her away. That was no problem. Besides having her in an Easy Walk Harness, I had wound the leash around my wrist and twice around my fist. Actually we're supposed to wrap the leash even with the most placid dogs, the loose-leash walkers. The last thing you want in an animal shelter is for a dog to get loose.
The woman came over and began petting the pittie, laughing as the dog licked her hand. "Let's get this one!" she said, and I felt a glimmer of hope.
"No," the man said. "We're interested in the dog in kennel 113."
"I'll be right with you," I said.
I returned the pittie. She pancaked briefly, but when I tossed a KONG filled with peanut butter into her kennel, she went right in. Then I updated her status on the whiteboard, where we list which dogs have been exercised, whether or not they pooped and peed while they were out, and anything else the other workers might need to know about the dogs' health and behavior. Finally, I got the dog from 113—the one we had named Charley—and led him and the couple to one of our meet-and-greet rooms. On the way, they introduced themselves to me as Richard and Becca.
Once we got settled in the room, Becca began scratching the dog under the chin. "Hey, Charley! Good to meet ya, buddy!" she said.
The dog wagged his tail a little, but mostly sat impassively. When Becca tossed a tennis ball across the room, the dog simply watched it go, then looked inquiringly at her.
"Well, he's calm, anyway," she said. "Just like in the kennel."
"Calm is good," Richard said. He turned to me. "Our kids want a dog. And somehow they've got the idea that it just has to be from a shelter."
Becca's facial expression tightened slightly. "Actually, they asked about a puppy, not a full-grown dog," she said. "But he thinks—"
"We decided together, honey," Richard said.
Becca went back to petting the dog.
"The kids say that if we get a puppy, they'll take care of it," Richard went on. "But they won't. So we thought a nice compromise would be to get an older dog. Lower maintenance. After all, we don't have a lot of experience taking care of animals—"
"I grew up with dogs," she said. "I know how to handle a dog. I know what I'm doing."
There was silence in the room for a few seconds.
"In any case, we both work long hours," he said. "Nobody can deny that. We don't have a lot of time to spare for pets. So as we said, something low maintenance."
"This one's only been here a few days," I said. "But he's definitely easy to look after. Want to take him to one of the exercise yards, see how he behaves out there?"
"Oh, that'd be—" Becca began. But Richard had taken out his cell phone and was scowling at it.
"Maybe not right now," he said. "We'll have to come back sometime anyway, with Charlotte and Oliver."
"Our kids," she explained. She had discovered that the dog liked having his butt scratched.
"We should let them meet the dog before we make it official," he said. "We'll take him outside then. Maybe tomorrow, after we vote."
"After we cancel each other's vote, that is," she said, winking at me.
"The woman doesn't want to hear about our politics, honey," Richard said. He turned to me again. "The city can't keep taking in all these homeless that are always turning up. We can't afford it, and there's just no room for them. But some people don't seem to understand that." He nodded toward the dog. "You can take him back to his kennel now."
Before leaving, Becca asked me for directions to the women's bathroom. I'd be passing it on my way to take the dog back to 113, so I offered to walk her there.
"I'll wait in the lobby," Richard said. "Don't be long."
We walked in silence at first. Becca looked preoccupied.
"He's not very playful, but he's a good dog," I offered. "Your kids will like him."
"Oh, I'm sure they will," she said. "It's not about the kids."
"Then what is it?"
"I don't know. It's like, you always think you'll find the magic cure. Like it'll all be great once we get the promotion, the transfer, the bigger house, the family cruise, the dog." She shook her head. "Maybe we should stop thinking like that. Just let it go."
Before I could reply, we reached the women's bathroom. "Thanks so much for everything," she said, her voice sunny again.
"Want me to come back after I re-kennel him?" I asked. "If you haven't been here before, it can be a little complicated getting to the lobby from here."
"Don't worry. I know how to find my way out."
A couple of hours later their adoption application popped up on our web site.
"Think it'll get approved?" I asked Carlos.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"They both work really long hours. May not have time for a pet."
"Yeah, but that dog's a BBD," Carlos said. "And he's not young. Granted, we've only had him a few days, it's not urgent yet. But this could be his last shot."
"You're right," I said. And he was. Big black dogs sometimes get passed over for adoption, and everybody wants puppies.
"But?" he said.
"Nothing really. Just, they don't seem super-happy together."
"Okay," he said. "So the situation's not perfect." He gestured toward the kennels, crowded together and stacked one on top of the other, and beyond them the door leading, eventually, to the room where we do the euthanizing.
"What's the alternative?" he asked.
When I left work that evening, the guy who had pounded on my car was standing in the parking lot. I froze for a moment, then reached into my purse.
"Gun?" he asked, looking amused.
"I don't bite," he said, raising his hands over his head as if under arrest.
"What are you doing here?" It was hard to keep my voice steady.
"We got a discussion to finish. Remember?"
"But how did you get here?" The shelter is on the southern edge of town. The corner where I had seen him that morning is a good five miles, minimum, to the north.
"Walked. The BMW's in the shop, plus my doc wants me to get more exercise."
He paused and glanced at me sideways, maybe hoping I'd lighten up. But I still had my hand in my purse.
"Sometimes I spend my days not far from here, corner of Chavez and Ridgeway," he said. "Looking for donors. And if there ain't any meetings on my calendar, I'll mosey over there." He pointed across the street, where some benches near the edge of Rio Vista Park faced the shelter. "I just sit and watch. How you think I knew you worked here?"
I edged back, closer to the shelter door. He grinned, revealing a wealth of dental problems.
"Not a stalker. Just like to watch the dogs play in the yard."
"I never noticed you."
He shrugged his shoulders as if he hadn't expected anything different. "Name's Lester. Now that you've noticed."
I told him my name. Neither of us made a move to shake hands. But by now my hand was out of my purse, anyway.
"If you like dogs so much, why don't you get one of your own?" I asked.
"Sure. Like you guys would let someone like me adopt."
"We might. Worth a try. And even if we wouldn't, there's plenty of strays running loose."
"They won't let us have dogs at the shelter." He paused, then added, "Not here. The homeless shelter."
"The dogs and cats are homeless, too." Now I was smiling a little.
"Okay, homeless people's shelter. Place for fuckups like me. Can't have a dog there. And I don't sleep so good on the street. Or in a tent, like Ruthie."
"Right. Ruthie." I looked at him expectantly, the way you do when the preliminary small talk is over and it's time to get down to business.
He pulled something from his pocket and held it out for me. It was a photograph on glossy paper. I guess if you dive into enough dumpsters, you maybe end up with a point-and-click camera.
Holding my breath, I stepped close enough to take the picture from his hand. It showed a woman with a gap-toothed smile, her arm around a dog. Immediately I recognized Ruthie and, almost for sure, the dog we had named Charley. And almost as immediately, I knew why the dog had seemed familiar to me during intake. Almost every day on my way to work, I had passed this woman and this dog at Thirty-Second and Riverside. If the light was green, they were just a blur as I sped past. But if the light was red, I had averted my eyes as the woman walked slowly up the median, the dog a step or two behind, the woman holding a sign with a message I had never read, even though I had seen it—or rather, tried not to see it—dozens of times, maybe hundreds.
"Ruthie won't stay in the shelter if she can't bring the dog," Lester said. "Plus she don't feel safe there. See, her ex didn't treat her so good, so now she's scared."
"Of anybody. I'm 'bout the only one she'll even talk to. Me and the dog. He's her best buddy. Also her protection. She's got him all trained. He watches over her nonstop. Used to sleep side by side in that tent where she's stayin'. Stayin' for now, anyways."
"Right," I said, looking up from the picture. "We'll see how the vote goes."
"Sure will. But what about the dog?"
"He looks like one we received a few days ago," I said, handing back the photo. "But there's no tag, no chip, nothing linking the dog to anyone. So she can't just claim him."
"But she can adopt him, right?"
"Only if we approve the application."
"Worth a try. Seems like I heard somebody say that lately."
I didn't see any point in telling him that the dog already had an application pending. Plenty of applications get turned down and plenty of applicants change their minds.
"Okay," I said. "There's a form on our web site. From the home page, you just—"
"Afraid the laptop's in the shop, too. Got a paper copy I could take to her?"
"Yeah, but she'd need to come out here anyway to make sure it's the right dog."
"Now, how would Ruthie get all the way out here?"
"Same way you did."
"Ruthie? Walk all this way?"
"Well, then," I said, trying not to sound exasperated, "how do you suggest she get out here? And by the way, if the dog watches over her nonstop, then why was he wandering around alone so that he ended up getting brought here?"
"That's what I'm talkin' about," Lester said, shaking his head mournfully. "Fuck up one time, lose your home, land in the shelter. Ain't it the shit?"
I caught a green light at the Thirty-Second Street intersection the next morning, but still I put my emergency blinkers on, pulled up close to the median, and stopped. Fortunately, there's not much traffic there early on Saturday mornings. I work weekends and have my days off in the middle of the week. I do the later shift Saturday, so normally I would've slept in a little. But today I had to get there well before my shift began, to keep a promise.
Lester scampered off the median and around my car, leading Ruthie by the arm. My passenger-side door opened and Ruthie entered, either helped in or pushed in by Lester.
"Soon as you're done you bring her back here, right?" he said. "That was the deal."
"I remember," I said. "Close the door."
Once we were past the intersection, I glanced surreptitiously at Ruthie. A lot of people look older when you see them up close, but Ruthie looked as though she might not be as old as I had thought—just weather-beaten and uncared-for. Her clothes were worn and faded, but neat, and there was no odor as with Lester. Her face was blank and her eyes were fixed straight ahead, as though she were the one driving.
After a block or two, the silence felt uncomfortable.
"So let's see if we can get your dog back," I said, forcing a smile. The phony cheerfulness in my voice was awful. I sounded like I was hosting a home-videos show on TV.
She must've heard me, but she gave no sign of it.
We passed a school with posters out front identifying it as a polling place. Although the ballot contained only the three propositions and a runoff election for county treasurer, a line of people extended out the front door.
"What will you do if Prop C passes?" I asked.
Again, no response. The way she was huddled over in the seat reminded me of the way timid shelter dogs, when they're led on a leash between kennels where bigger dogs are growling and lunging toward them, always slink down as if trying to be invisible.
We passed the rest of the ride without speaking. I parked, and she followed me into the shelter. She didn't seem surprised by all the barking when we entered the big room where the 100s were kenneled.
The dog wasn't in 113. I was about to check at the whiteboard, but a volunteer said, "Looking for Charley? He's out in number three. That couple that applied to adopt him came to see him again. Brought their kids this time."
Ruthie looked at me.
We went through the door leading to Exercise Yard Three. There was a light breeze in our face, which meant the dog wouldn't hear us or catch Ruthie's scent right away.
Richard and Becca were in the far corner of the yard, "I voted" stickers on their fashionably casual outfits. Carlos was with them. The children, Charlotte and Oliver, were there, too—a carefully-groomed girl and boy, the girl probably about ten, the boy a little younger.
Usually when kids are out in the yard with one of our dogs, they run around and maybe shriek. But these two were just as subdued as the dog. Charlotte politely tossed a Frisbee, which the dog politely declined to chase, preferring to sniff at the ground. The boy stood nearby with his hands in his pockets. I could hear Becca chatting away in that perky voice of hers, sounding like she was trying to liven things up.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Ruthie had come to life. Where she had seemed almost invisible before, now she was very noticeably here. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and shouted.
The dog's head snapped up. He barked—just once, but that was enough to explain why Ruthie had given him that particular name. Then he was running, with more speed and power and joy than I'd thought he had in him. Ruthie leaned forward, arms outstretched, and the dog leaped, knocking her backward. They rolled in the dirt together, the woman laughing, the dog licking her face.
Across the yard, Oliver pointed and giggled, while Charlotte looked up as if seeking a cue from her mother, who seemed deep in thought, taking in this new information. But Richard was already striding toward us, his facial expression set like he was headed into court.
"Excuse me," he said. "But you've got our dog."
I glanced at Carlos. "Application just got approved," he said. "Everything's signed. He's going home with them Monday."
"We're hosting some clients this weekend," Becca explained almost apologetically as she came up behind her husband.
"Not a good time to throw a new dog into the mix," Richard added.
"That's fine," I said. "It's just, this is her dog." I gestured toward Ruthie, now squatting and watching us while the dog seemingly tried to burrow into her lap.
"Any proof of that?" Richard asked. "Tag? Chip?"
"Honey—" Becca said softly.
"Maybe she can't afford those things," I said. "Ruthie's home... she's experiencing homelessness."
A half-smile played across Richard's face, but he suppressed it. "We'll be a minute," he said. He stepped away, gesturing toward Becca and the children to follow. They huddled together, and I could hear Richard speaking quietly but forcefully.
Carlos looked at Ruthie and the dog, then at me. He looked like he was going to ask me something, but he stopped when Richard came back toward us, the rest of the family following behind. Judging by their expressions, Oliver was delighted. Becca and Charlotte were troubled.
"So you'll have him ready for us on Monday morning, right?" Richard said.
"I'm so sorry," Becca whispered.
"You've got to understand," Richard said, his eyes on Ruthie at first, then on me and then on Becca. "We can give this dog shelter, veterinary care, a proper diet. A longer, healthier life. You don't want to deny him all that, do you?"
Nobody else said anything.
"Also," Richard added, "we're the legal owners now."
Ruthie seemed to sag almost imperceptibly.
"Here," Richard said. "Let's let him play with the kids a little more before we go." He stepped forward and reached toward the dog.
The dog growled. He was now standing in front of Ruthie, facing Richard, hackles raised, teeth showing.
"You know what?" Carlos said. "I think maybe we should take this guy back to his kennel, give some of the other dogs a chance to use the exercise yard."
But when Carlos approached with the leash, the dog growled again. Carlos looked over toward me.
"Ruthie?" I said.
Richard and Becca both seemed like they were about to say something, but both stopped when they saw Ruthie laboriously rise to her feet and raise one hand like an old-fashioned schoolmarm calling for quiet.
"Sit," she said.
The dog sat.
Ruthie turned and began walking toward the door. The dog rose to follow her.
Without turning around, Ruthie said, "Stay."
The dog stayed.
Ruthie entered the building, the door closing loudly behind her. Other than that, you couldn't hear a whimper.
"She'll find another one," Richard said after Ruthie was gone. "She probably just uses them as props to get more handouts."
"Richard," Becca said.
"Look, can't we all be reasonable here?" he said. "This is for the best."
"He's a good dog," Becca said quietly, scratching the dog on the butt. "He deserves a good home."
"Exactly," Richard said.
Ruthie was waiting beside my car when I came out. Neither of us said anything on the way back. When we passed the school, the line of people waiting to vote was longer than before. I glanced over at Ruthie. It was like her physical body was there in the car, but she had withdrawn to some other place.
Maybe that's what Lester noticed too. Maybe that's why, as we approached the median where he stood waiting, I saw his face cloud over, and I could tell he knew it was bad news.
As Ruthie stepped out of the car, she spoke to me for the first and only time. But her words were soft and her back was turned. I like to think the words were "Thank you."
I still got to work on time. It was a typical Saturday at the shelter. I had a moment to walk the dog around the block, and I tossed him a peanut butter treat or a chew toy whenever I went by his kennel. He seemed subdued, but no more so than he had been all along, except for the minute or two with Ruthie.
After work I stopped at that same school and voted. The polls closed at eight. Just before nine I was lying on the sofa, watching an old episode of The Big Bang Theory, when a crawl came across the bottom of the screen. The votes weren't all counted yet, but Prop C had passed. It was a landslide.
Prop C wouldn't go into effect for thirty days—"a grace period, so those most directly affected can transition," according to its supporters. But some of those most directly affected didn't know that. Or maybe they just figured they'd better clear out right away. Anyway, about half the tents were gone from beneath the overpass when I reached the intersection Monday morning. I wanted to look for Ruthie, or even Lester. But the light was green and the traffic was too heavy for me to take my eyes off the road.
I hadn't been at work long when Richard and Becca arrived, kids in tow. Unlike the giddy excitement most people display when they're taking home a new pet, the family seemed almost solemn, as if they had committed themselves to something and now they were going to go through with it no matter what.
I brought the dog out to them. Most of the forms had been completed online, and Carlos had already gone over most of what we tell new adoptees, so this part didn't take long.
"We better hurry," Richard said, glancing at his cell phone. "I'm meeting clients for lunch, and before that we need to get him tagged and chipped."
"Calling him Charley or Rufus?" I asked.
"His name is King," Richard said.
"Well, Kingston," Becca corrected. She smiled at me and added, "We honeymooned in Jamaica."
"The woman doesn't care about that, honey," Richard said without looking up from replacing the shelter's leash with his own.
For a moment, Becca's facial expression gave me the same sense I'd had with Ruthie the day before: that this woman's body might be physically present, but she herself had withdrawn far away.
They left quietly, but seconds later I heard noise in the parking lot. I went out to see if they needed help. It was Charlotte and Oliver, finally behaving like kids, quarrelling over who got to sit next to the dog in the car.
"Get a grip!" Richard said. "We'll put him in the middle, so you can both be next to him." Preoccupied with loading up the kids, he handed the leash to Becca. Oliver crawled into the back seat of the car.
I glanced at the dog, who sat there looking as passive as ever. Then I noticed that Becca had the leash barely dangling from her fingertips—a rookie mistake. Even though I didn't want to make her look bad in front of the kids, I figured I'd better warn her.
But then she glanced at me, and somehow I remembered what she had said that first day: That she grew up with dogs. That she knew how to handle a dog. That she knew what she was doing.
"You need to leave more room for the dog," Richard said to Oliver, leaning into the car.
Immediately the dog broke loose. He was out of the parking lot in an instant, bolting into the heavy traffic on Anderson Road. Charlotte shrieked and raised her hand to her mouth. But the dog had lived in the midst of traffic for years. He zipped in and out of openings without breaking stride, the leash bouncing merrily along, untouched by tires, behind him. Seconds later he emerged on the other side, at the edge of the park.
Charlotte, her eyes following the dog as he escaped, looked almost wistful. Richard straightened up from the car, seemed momentarily bewildered, then turned toward his wife. Becca looked resolved, like a woman who was ready to go wherever this might lead. A woman who knew how to find her way out.
But maybe those are just projections on my part. After all, I only glanced at them for a split second. Then I watched the dog as he chose the main path, the one that led straight through the park. Leisurely strollers scattered out of the way as he sprinted past.
I knew he had probably never been there before and had no landmarks to guide him. And even if he somehow made it back to the intersection, I knew Ruthie might be gone, the tent no longer there. Perhaps not even Lester would be around to help find her.
But then I remembered those dog books I had loved as a child, the ones that described all those incredible journeys, and I smiled. I watched Rufus speed down the path until he disappeared from view, running free, heading north, going home.
Title image "BBD" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2022.