Hope you enjoy this story. It started with the single prompt word:
“Torino’s,” came the almost-barked answer.
I could hear the bustle of the kitchen crew working around him and the murmur of customers’ voices chatting, laughing, blending with the pulse of Bob Marley’s music.
“We just got a call from the Humane Society. Someone’s turned in a golden, and we’re first on the request list," I jumped right in. "He’s an owner surrender, so there’s no four-day hold before he can be adopted. I have him reserved and can be there at 4:30. Can you meet me?”
“Won’t be able to make it ‘til 5, but yes!” There was a pause. “Call me if he’s not the right one, okay?”
“Gotta run. Crazy lunch rush today. See you soon!”
Walking between the cages at the pound was always heart wrenching. The Green Mile flitted through my mind. Some of these dogs, I knew, would be euthanized within days of my visit, their time having run out. It was the only reason I would never volunteer there. I would probably exceed the city's pet limit before the end of my first shift.
Stopping in front of the second to last pen, the shelter assistant turned to me. “He’s pretty scared, so you'll want to take it slowly.”
Peering into the narrow cell, I saw a cowering, thin, gold dog tucked into the far corner. He sat up as we stood at the door, continuing to press his back into the wall, keeping his gaze down, only glancing briefly at us and then quickly away. I read the paper clipped to the metal board that was attached to the wire wall:
Max. Male Golden Retriever. Neutered. Approx. 1.5 years. Owner surrender. There was a sad-looking polaroid stapled to the corner and a huge white expanse beneath the section titled “Notes:”
I dropped to my knees, shifted my gaze away from him, and softly called, “Hey, Max. Come on, pup." There was a slight shift as he heard his name. "Promise I won’t hurt you.”
I looked up at the woman beside me. “Do you know his story? Why is he here?”
“Sounds like this guy’s been passed around a lot already in his short life. The girl who brought him in was his third owner, as far as she knew. She got him from her little brother. Kept him secret from her landlord for the past couple weeks, but a neighbour ratted her out. Landlord told her it was either the dog went or she did. Kinda tough hiding an 80-pound dog.”
We chuckled together.
“Anyway, it seems her brother stole the dog from some guy who had a junkyard, selling parts from crashed cars. He’d somehow gotten ahold of Max here… and was trying to turn him into a guard dog. Throwin’ rocks at him. Tryin’ to make him mean. Imagine… a golden. The kid couldn’t stand seeing that jerk damaging this beautiful dog and one night borrowed his dad’s wire snips and broke him out. When his dad heard the story the following morning, he didn’t make his son take Max back, but also wouldn’t let him keep him. So, the boy reached out to his sister.”
“What a story,” I said, gazing back into the pen. He hadn't moved. “It’s okay, Max. Come on, bud.”
The assistant reached into her pocket and handed me a small Milk Bone.
“Here you go, Max. Want a treat?” I’d never known a golden who could resist food, and true to his breed, he lifted his twitching nose and slowly began to follow it forward. Just before reaching the door, he slunk to his belly. Stretching his neck as far toward the cookie as he could, he eventually pulled himself within reach of the treat that I held through the wire.
There was no snapping. He looked up at me with those big brown eyes that seemed to be overflowing with gratitude, as he gently took it and stepped back to crunch it down.
In the greeting room, it took a good ten minutes before he eased out from behind my legs to meet Wayne. Once he did though, the bond was instant. He was safe. An hour later, we signed the paperwork, wrote a check, and the healing began.