My sisters often told me that living alone wasn’t good for me. If I had a dog, they said, I’d meet neighbors out walking their dogs, maybe even a woman with a dog.
But I wasn’t ready.
My wife had left me. I had to sell our business. Our kids went off to college. So I rented a one-room cottage in Mar Vista, with no space for a dog or anyone else.
As odd as this may sound, I didn’t think I’d live much longer. My father died at 47. A heart attack killed him. I never felt I could or should outlive my father. I was then in my 47th year. I believed I would die at the same age my father did. But the date of his death came and went, and the shadow my father had cast over my life began to fade away.
I stopped smoking, made amends to my kids, bought a bike and took long rides beside the ocean. I hiked in the mountains and planted my first garden, tomatoes and pole beans, yet I still didn’t get a dog.
I found work producing audiobooks. I directed radio plays for fun. I met a woman at one of those plays. We had an affair. She didn’t have a dog, but she did have a cat and a husband. Our romance was bumpy, but it opened my heart for the first time since my divorce. However, I still wasn’t ready to get a dog.
Instead I took up dancing. When I was 13, I’d been my older sisters’ stand-in dancing partner. They needed a male to practice with before going out on dates. I remembered how much fun dancing had been so I signed up for East Coast Swing classes at the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Assn.
That was where I first saw Trish, though I couldn’t dance with her. The guy she was with wouldn’t let her dance with anyone else. Six months later he was gone, so I asked Trish to dance. She took my hand.
My sisters would have been happy. I’d finally met a woman with a dog, two dogs in fact. Jessie and Sydney were Trish’s dogs, but they were near the end of their lives.
Sydney died first. He had Cushing’s disease. Four months later, his littermate, Jessie, was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. She couldn’t be saved either. I went with Trish when she took Jessie to the animal hospital for the last time.
A vet assistant led us into a small room. She carried the trembling little dog away to prepare her. A tube dangled from Jessie’s leg when she brought her back. The vet assistant put a towel beneath Jessie and set her on a metal table.
The veterinarian came in. She inserted a needle into the tube. She looked at Trish and quietly asked, “OK?”
Trish nodded. The veterinarian pushed the needle’s plunger. Jessie shook, settled, then closed her eyes. Her heart stopped a moment later. Her body slumped and her bowels let go.
The veterinarian had done this too often to cry. Trish held back her tears when she kissed Jessie goodbye. We went to a nearby bar, and Trish wept. Tears relieved her pain, but grief was always one memory away.
“The house feels empty without Jessie and Sydney,” Trish told me.
She missed how they barked at the traffic in the mornings, then raced down the stairs, how their dog tags chimed against their bowls. When Trish came home from work, Jessie and Sydney met her at the front door. Jessie danced at Trish’s feet, and Sydney ran up and down the hall in happiness.
After they were gone, Trish couldn’t bring herself to scatter their ashes. Their leashes still hung in the closet.
A year later, though, Trish found herself scrolling through funny dog videos on the web. “I’m just looking at dogs,” she told me. One day she clicked a link and found herself at a dog rescue site.
A woman held a little dog in her arms. He wiggled his way up to her face and kissed her. She called him a little lover. As if on cue, he kissed her again. The woman turned to the camera and said, “If you want more kisses in your life, this is the dog for you.” Trish asked me to watch the video.
“Do you want to adopt him?”
“I don’t think I can go through the pain of losing another dog,” Trish told me.
Yet she watched this little dog’s video often. She asked me the question she’d been asking herself.
“Why hasn’t anyone adopted this cute little dog?”
“Maybe he’s already been adopted. They could’ve just forgotten to take the video down,” I said.
Trish called Baldwin Park Animal Shelter to find out. The little dog was still available for adoption. The clerk added, “He’s been here for 19 days.”
Trish knew what that meant. County shelters were overcrowded and underfunded. Dogs were often euthanized after 15 days.
“We’ve got to see him before it’s too late,” Trish told me.
So on a rainy winter night, we drove 20 miles to the shelter. We didn’t talk about what we might do. We didn’t know.
The traffic was bad. The shelter closed at 7 p.m. It was 6:50 p.m. when we got there. The door was open, but a man stopped us.
“We’re closing in five minutes. Come back again tomorrow.”
Trish pleaded with him. “We just want to see the little dog we saw in one of your videos.”
“We’ve got hundreds of dogs here. Their numbers are in the computer. But it’s turned off for the night.”
“I have his number.” Trish showed it to the man.
“All right, but you’ve only got five minutes,” he said.
A young volunteer led us into the dark kennels. The dogs started barking, begging for attention. A few didn’t look up, their resignation even sadder.
The little dog we’d come to see lay curled up with a Chihuahua in a dark cage.
“Can we see him in the light?” Trish asked.
“The light’s better at the dog run,” the volunteer said.
It was just a fenced-in hallway. The lights didn’t work, but the little dog sensed his freedom. He charged down the hallway and came bounding back. Trish knelt down and caught him. He gave her a big licky kiss.
“Do you want to adopt him?” the volunteer asked.
“Can we think about it?” Trish said.
I couldn’t take the chance. If we didn’t adopt this little dog right then, he could be euthanized in the morning by mistake.
The words burst out of me.
“We’re taking this little dog home with us tonight.”
It was my vow to Trish, but the volunteer was worried.
“I’ll have to ask at the office if it’s OK. It’s way past closing time.”
Trish and I waited in the lobby. Then the manager called us over to the counter. “So you’re the folks who want us to stay late so you can adopt a dog.”
“We drove a long way,” Trish said.
“The credit card machine’s down. We don’t take checks. Hope you got cash. It’s 80 bucks.”
We gave him the money, and he handed us a form. “Just your names and address, skip the rest.”
“Do you know how old he is?” Trish asked.
The manager flipped through some papers. “Says here about a year.”
“Do you know anything about him?”
“The dogcatchers picked him up on Dec. 9. Someone called us. Reported a lost dog. Was down near the fast-food places on Mission.”
“Did anyone come looking for him?”
“Doesn’t say. Guess not. But he’s got kennel cough. These antibiotics will clear it up.”
He gave Trish a packet of pills. “Bring him back when he’s stopped coughing. We’ll fix him for free.”
The volunteer brought the little dog in from the kennels. Trish picked him up.
“He’s a cute dog,” the manager said. “But if you don’t like him, we’ve got a seven-day return policy, no questions asked.”
Dogs have no voice in their fate. Our little rescue doodle had been a stray on the streets; no one knew for how long. That he was cute made him adoptable so he was still alive. His kissy-face antics got him featured in a rescue video, the new way to find homes for these abandoned dogs.
Trish and I took the step love bids us take. We adopted this little dog. My sisters would be happy. I finally got a dog, but only because Trish opened my heart and I followed hers. Love is generative. Two wants to be three, even for a couple well beyond the age of making babies.
The author is a three-time Grammy winner. He is now working on a series of short pieces about living with and learning from the rescue doodle he and his wife, Trish, named Woody.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email [email protected] You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
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