Brown eyes look up at me, filled with such longing. They seem to ask “Are you the one?” Do you want me?” Black fur, smooth and shiny. My fingers sink into its softness. A small spattering of white decorates her chest and paws. Two ears perk, their tips folded softly like a tulip. Her fluffy tail swishes ever so slightly. Tentative, hoping without much hope.
I open the window and hang my hand down and am greeted with several licks. Silently she puts her paws on the sill and reaches out to kiss me. I glance at the sign. They think she’s a year old and their best guess for breed is a Border collie mix. Those eyes look into my heart and I freeze. Why am I here? Am I really ready for this? It’s only been nine months since Arthur passed.
I force myself away to look at the other dogs. My husband and daughter have already moved down the hall. A quick walk around only brings me back here, to her. Something about her calls to me so I flag a volunteer.
In the visiting room she jumps around like a puppy, sniffing, playing, and exploring everything and everywhere at once. There is so much to see. I bend down and spread my arms wide. She climbs in and snuggles, buries me with kisses. Then she darts to my husband and daughter. So energetic, so full of love. Who would give up such a sweetheart and why? They are questions impossible to answer, only surmise.
She bounds around the room like she’s never run before. For several seconds a ball holds her attention, then a movement distracts. Off again. Endless energy sends her every which way, but always she comes back to snuggle, to give one more kiss. She’s small, only thirty five pounds, but full of fluffy love.
I fill out the application with shaky hands asking myself if I’m really ready. It’s been a long time since I trained a dog and I wonder whether I can do right by her. When I leave she looks so sad. As if to say, “I knew it couldn’t last. No one wants me.”
Dog proofing the house takes all week. It’s been nearly fifteen years since we needed to do so. Everything at dog level goes away. Gates go up. Several trips to the pet store and everything is ready, toys, food, bowls, crate. Doubts still gnaw at me, but I am happy, excited. Soon my new baby will be here. Her name is Laila.
The skies opened up the day we bring her home. We leave the shelter with her tugging and jumping all over the place. My eldest daughter struggles to keep her under control in the car. Laila dives to the floor and manages to find a stray napkin. The box of tissues is fair game as well. Once home we go straight to the backyard, sliding on the rain-drenched lawn. The downpour has turned all the grass free places into mud pits. Laila is ecstatic. Once released, she circles the yard at high speed, leaving behind a trail of torn turf and mud. Her body stretches out with each stride, long, like a greyhound and just as fast. Thank God for sturdy fences. I wait until she begins to slow before I call her and she tries to jump into my arms. Wet kisses coat my hands as we enter the house for the first time.
Laila is everywhere, or would like to be. I keep the leash on to prevent her from jumping up on the counters, tables, and couch. Each new toy holds her attention for only moments. I can’t leave the room. By evening I sit on the floor, exhausted wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake. Is she too much for me? Too energetic? Then she crawls into my lap, so starved for attention. I sink into those brown eyes and wipe the muddy paw prints off my pants. This is right.
Curled into a tiny ball of fur, she sleeps. So quiet and peaceful. But as soon as we try to leave the room she cries and barks, pawing at the crate door. Pain and longing ring in those calls. It’s a new house full of strangers. Like any child she doesn’t want to be along. My youngest daughter sleeps on the floor beside her.
A new day dawns, rain continues to stream from the sky in sheets. And Laila greets me like a long lost friend. Once again she darts around the back yard intent on reaching the speed of sound. Already she’s learned to stay off the counters. My mind spins with all the other new things to teach her.
This is not a young puppy, yet neither is she a grown dog. Whatever her past, it could not have held much stimulation. Her little head darts back and forth, taking in all the new sights and sounds that greet us on our walk. A leaf blows by and makes her jump. So does the sound of water rushing down the street. A car drives by and she stares, fascinated at the sight. Even walking on a leash seems alien to her. But Laila is a fast learner and soon learns not to pull and tug.
Two weeks later Laila has learned so much. Counters and tables are off limits as are the bathrooms and bed. She goes into her crate voluntarily, sits while her harness is put on and taken off, and stands while her feet are wiped after a walk. In these few short weeks she has worked her way deep into our hearts. She curls up on her bed at night next to me, safe, happy. There are no more doubts, just plans for education, toys to challenge her mind and keep her interested. Slowly she’s learning that mommy will come home. It is a hard fought lesson. Somewhere in her past that fact was proven false. Her head rests on my feet as I write; you’ve found your family at last Laila. Welcome home.