(this originally ran two years ago as a guest post on Chicky Chicky Baby. Two nights ago, Belly saw Jessie’s photo on my desk and asked about her; it made me want to retell her story here)
More than a dozen years ago, on my first day as a volunteer for a local animal shelter, I was taken for a tour of the tiny facility and grounds. This was a town shelter; a ‘kill’ shelter, where space was always needed for the constant stream of unwanted and lost cats and dogs. A volunteer took me to the back of the shelter where the dog runs were—the barking was loud as every dog tried to plead his case: “Take me! Take meeeeee!”
We paused in front of one cage. A small black dog was channeling Tigger, bouncing straight up and down in the air, and barking wildly.
“This is Jessie”, the volunteer said. “She’s been here for almost a year.”
Those words hit me hard. A year? In a cage? But why? It seemed pretty clear that Jessie was going to be hard to adopt. Hyper, jumpy, loud. . .why had this dog been allowed to live for so long when many others had died?
I soon found out why, and also became one of her biggest supporters. For while Jessie was hyper, jumpy and loud, she was the kind of dog that smiled and made you feel like you were the best playmate in the entire world. She was smart, sleek and cheerful, even after months and months in her doggie jail cell.
But, so help me, she presented herself to the public so badly. No sooner would I start to tell a prospective family about Jessie then I would see them recoil from her cage as she leaped vertically off the ground again and again. If I took her out into the play yard, she would race around us in circles at top speed, like a sheep dog trying to keep its flock together.
Her one-year anniversary was getting closer. Her name was put on “the list” more than once, but I argued that she was still adoptable, we just needed more time. This became my sort of “Sophie’s Choice”, as I continued to pick one dog over others. Each time, afterward, I would walk out to my car, get inside, and cry.
Then one Monday evening, I arrived at the shelter and saw a funny look in one of my fellow volunteer’s eyes. “There are two couples looking at Jessie”, she whispered to me. I ran out to the play yard and saw Jessie playing fetch with a young couple, about my age. They were smiling and laughing, not recoiling and frowning. The other couple watched Jessie from outside the fence. “We like her too”, they said, “but we can take another dog.”
An hour later, paperwork complete, Jessie walked out the door with her new family. I asked them if I could say goodbye and gave Jessie a hug. I cried big, fat embarrassing tears and tried to explain that they were tears of happiness. Of course, I was happy, but I was also saddened beyond measure that this happy little creature was exiting my life.
Months later, I visited Jessie in her new home for a follow-up story to run on our low-budget “Pet of the Week” cable-access television show. Her new owners were warm and funny. Her yard was huge and completely enclosed by a fence. She even had a dog playmate, as they had adopted a second dog a few weeks after Jessie. It felt good to see her happy and running free on the grass, under the trees.
I turned to walk back up the porch stairs, and Jessie darted ahead of me. She turned, a few steps ahead of me, and sat down so that her face was level with mine. I reached my arms up to rub behind her ears one last time. She picked up her front paws and put them on my shoulders and smiled her goofy little grin.
I had wondered if Jessie would remember me. After all, I was just another volunteer who played with her twice a week for a few months. But, as she sat in front of me, I felt like she was trying to say, “Hey thanks! It all worked out in the end”.
And then she bounded away to play beneath the trees.