I was sitting on the sofa thinking about sleep when you walked into the room. Standing in front of me, you gazed into my eyes, your mouth opening and closing and opening again like you had something to say. Maybe fatigue was making my thoughts a little fuzzy, but in that instant, I realized that I loved you.
Do you remember the day we met? I do because I had gone looking for someone else, not you. I dragged my husband out because I wanted to see the white speckled dog with the broad head whose photo graced the front page of the animal shelter’s website. When I asked about him, the adoption counselor told me that he was too energetic for a first-time dog owner. Then she directed me to you: your elbows scabbed, your body slightly misshapen, your white-and- brindle coat patchy. If I were more assertive, I would’ve told her that I didn’t like brindle dogs because they looked like criminals, but she was already putting a leash on you and I didn’t want her to know about my canine prejudices.
“He’s not all brindle,” I said to my husband as we followed you and the counselor outside to a dusty enclosure. Your name was Dante then, but that didn’t matter because you didn’t answer to it. You ran to the opposite side of the enclosure to look at something much more interesting than us through the chain link. I wondered if you were deaf. You weren’t, just indifferent.
Only a couple of minutes passed before the adoption counselor asked, “Well, what do you think? Do you like him?”
“I guess he’ll do,” I said.
The counselor beamed and directed me to the office to fill out paperwork. Looking back, I think she wasn’t a very good adoption counselor. Either that or she was brilliant. Regret was already washing over me, but I was too embarrassed to admit that I’d changed my mind. I’d never had a dog before, and a realization of the upheaval that you would bring was slowly sinking in.
My husband lifted you into the back seat of our car and I crawled in to sit next to you on our journey home. Was your heart beating as quickly as mine that day? Were you as filled with fear and anticipation?
Those first few nights, I’d wake up to see you standing next to me, watching me as I slept. Then I’d hear the click of your nails on the hardwood as you went to the other side of the bed to watch my husband for a few moments more before returning to your own bed. You made this journey many times during the night.
In the beginning, I wanted to take you back to the shelter. I never told you that, did I? I was unprepared and inadequate. Secretly, I was afraid for your life and mine. You weren’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. It was a disaster. My husband made me keep you.
Do you remember the day you learned to sit? Was that as amazing for you as it was for me? Do you remember all the time we spent in the backyard, me teaching you to jump over boards propped up on paint cans? I had big plans for you. We were going to compete in agility. The only problem was that you didn’t like to jump over anything … ever. You also didn’t fetch. Which was fine because I think that’s a dumb game too.
I do like having you around. I like the way you run at the back fence when someone walks down the alley, the way you kind of tap dance through the house when you’re in a playful mood, the way you roll around on your back in the sunshine after a bath.
The steady rhythm of your snoring keeps me company on nights my husband works late. When we walk down the street, people often call out to me, “That’s a really good-looking dog.” I say thanks.
You lay on the floor behind me breathing heavily as I write this love letter to you. I hope that after all this time, maybe you love me too.