It is on the far side of 11 pm. The only glow in my room emanates from the computer screen, tinting the swirls of cigarette smoke that curl around my head to travel out the window into the frigid March air. I miss my dog. She is a beautiful miniature Schnauzer named Elsie April. I had the bad fortune to let my husband buy her, with his checkbook, before our marriage. I may have taken care of her every whim, but the receipt and the law says she is his. So I do what I’ve been doing for the past six months when her absence in my bed becomes too much to bear; I look at Petfinder.
Every dog should have a home. So I look at the young adult little males. They are mops of fur that scream high maintenance. Their bios tell of not playing well with others, having difficulty with toilet training, kid-haters, and cat warriors. Since my divorce, I’ve moved in with my mother, and she has a wonderful dog, Trevor, the world’s kindest, gentlest, most beautiful schnauzer. He is my bubby and I love him. But he is not my dog; he is my mother’s dog. And so I look at pictures of mops. White mops, black mops, speckled mops, curly afroed poodles, obese dachshunds, wall-eyed shih tzus, yippy Pomeranians, it seems the whole high-strung gang is here.
And then I stop. I am stopped. A force beyond me has taken control and left me immobile. It’s a dog, full body perpendicular to the camera, head looking jauntily over his shoulder. He’s a Chihuahua, but an old-fashioned, scoff at your AKC Standards, Chihuahua. He is amazing. He needs a white linen suit, Panama hat, and jutting cigar. But no, that would only cover up the true nature of his outward beauty. He is a brindle! His fur is streaked with luscious chocolate browns, tiger black stripes, and toffee-colored patches. He has the Chihuahua deer head, as opposed to the apple head, with a long dignified snout, thin shapely face, and perfectly proportioned forehead.
His name is Burrito and he is homeless, a victim of the housing market crash. I have willingly abandoned sleep now. Everyone knows small dogs get snapped up from shelters. It is impossible that the rarest of the rare, a brindle Chihuahua, will still be available. Eight AM will never come. Instead, I spent the slowly creeping time reading his biography over and over. “Housebroken, well trained, good with kids, social, likes dogs and cats.” This is the perfect specimen. If I can’t have him, I’ll die.
When morning rolls around, I’m reassured the yes, Burrito is still in residence in the shelter. I am faxed a 10-page adoption application. In between ridiculous and pointless requests from my over-micromanaging boss, I arrange for medical records and histories on Elsie, Trevor, and my cat Artie. After I send all the information back, I worry enough to pull my hair out. Artie has never had rabies or distemper shots. She’s an indoor cat; she’s never even felt grass. She’s only ever been exposed to Elsie and Trevor who always get their shots in a timely manner. I email the shelter with just short of a begging tone. If they will only give me the opportunity, I will get Artie vaccinated, I promise, I swear, I’ll sign it in blood. “Not necessary,” they tell me.
I make an appointment to drive from Rock Island to Iowa City, where Burrito resides. Actually, my mom drives. Because my Honda needs a new muffler, again. And because no matter what I want, what Burrito may want, what my mother may accept, the reality is the nub-tailed, docked-eared, four-pawed, silver-haired gent in the back seat is the one who really gets to make this decision. All the paperwork, all the medical reports, all the driving, any bonding that may take place, it could all be for naught. For though Trevor has never been known to be disagreeable, he does have his moments. I give him a pep talk on the ride there.
“Don’t you want a friend, Bubby? No, Artie doesn’t count, she scares you, and she’s not your friend. Burrito would be your friend. Remember how Elsie was your friend? Well this time, no one could take your friend away! He would always be there. At least try and like him Bub. They say he’s friendly. You’re friendly too. He’s a good looking dog. No, I know, not as handsome as you, no dog is. Just try, okay? Try for Sissy?”
My heart sank when I saw the “shelter.” I am used to professional, public shelters with dog runs, cat rooms, large buildings dedicated to care and proper placement of wonderful animal in “forever” homes. This made me sick. In the back of a pet store, there was a 20X7 area designated for the keeping of dogs. They were housed in crates, the kind you buy at the pet store to keep your dog in while you’re at work. They were stacked five high with a narrow lane running down the middle so you could access the door. Burrito’s crate was so small he couldn’t stand up all the way. I was relieved when a volunteer pulled him out and walked him a half block down to the park to meet Trevor on neutral territory.
Trevor and Burrito peed on the same tree. Then they proceeded to ignore each other for a half hour. The shelter volunteer declared it a success and Burrito’s leash was given to me to walk back to the shelter to complete the adoption process. As I waited in line, I learned more about my new little guy. Far from being snatched up right away, he had lived in that tiny cage for a month. He had quite the interesting life. He started out as a hobo. He was adopted, but the family lost their house. Two girls took him in, but had to abandon him when their landlord found out they were violating a no-pets policy. None of this mattered anymore. He was coming home, home furever. To prove it, he clutched my hands as I rubbed his belly.
As we all piled into the car and marveled over our new family member, one thing became glaringly obvious. This was a very serious dog. He had one facial expression: intense. How could someone give such a serious dog such a fun and playful name as Burrito? It didn’t work. We had to change it. Truth be told, I don’t think he minded. I can clearly picture him saying “Look at this dumbass name they gave me!” And so we started trying names out. Juan, Paco, Philippé, José, so many Hispanic names to choose from, what were we to do? And then mom said Fredo. Ears that had been perfectly relaxed perked up and he looked around. “Yes, are you talking to me?” Fredo it most certainly was.
After a good bath and a trip to PetSmart (where an obnoxious lady informed the entire store that the newly minted Fredo was most definitely NOT a Chihuahua because he was a brindle) we lay snuggled in bed. As he slept in peace for the first time in months, I couldn’t help but think “What did I just do? This is a life for which I am now responsible. It’s not a pair of shoes that I can take back if I don’t quite like the color.” But then he snuggled his little back to my chest. I let my deep breathing match his own. And as I hovered over the terminator line between sleepfulness and wakefulness, I realized the truth. I hadn’t found Fredo. He had found me.
This is our new Wicked Short Stories page with submissions from various Authors. Please look for bio-snippets about the Author at the bottom of the various pieces. Enjoy!