I stepped into the greyhound shelter with two leashed dogs panting from their runs in the exercise field out back.
"Are you sure you don't want to foster a dog?" the director asked once more.
She knew I no longer had Zoro, my fawn-colored companion of eight years. I volunteered once a week with no intention of adopting again, although I nearly succumbed to a little cream-colored bundle of femininity named C.J.
"Come and meet Donna," the director continued, opening the bottom half of a Dutch door off the office. A brown and gray brindle, with a squarer head and less pointy nose than most greyhounds, looked up from the bed of Zoro's I had donated to the kennel. Before rational thought struck, I was entering my townhouse with dog food under my arm and a timid Donna beside me.
After several years of living in a warehouse with a guard dog, Donna needed a period of calm and adjustment before adoption. She was already housebroken. She quickly learned to walk up stairs and then to come down, her long legs and stretch torso forcing her to either skip steps or descend with her hindquarters significantly higher in the air than her forequarters.
She did not build up the explosive need to run, bursting into rippling power laps in an enclosed area for two or three minutes and then zoning out for a few days until needing to run again.
She was not determined to take over the couch, nor did she dance exuberantly over potential walks or rides in the car. She didn't chew found objects and spit out tiny metal parts. I wasn't later to discover missing earrings or pens collected in her bed, nor did she drag my sweatshirt or nightie there to sleep on if I left her alone.
Yet she'd quietly appear as I stirred supper. She'd settle beside my bed at night. I'd turn from putting in a load of wash to see that she had followed me down to the cellar. Her self-contained sweetness quickly filled my home.
She calmly executed our twice-daily walks around a nearby pond. She didn't get so transfixed watching squirrels leap overhead that she skittered sideways and bumped into trees - or me - as Zoro had done. Nor did she heed the geese that Zoro inevitably barked into flight if I forgot to prevent it. Donna examined the walking path casually, without Zoro's tugging enthusiasm. She wasn't uninterested, just mellow.
On one walk back from the pond, I stopped to pick up the mail. Before I could close our box, on the bottom corner of the cluster, Donna stuck her head way into it to have a look-see. Satisfied, she pulled her head out and turned for the house.
The next time we stopped for mail, she again investigated the inside of the box. We added mailbox check to our daily routine. This curiosity seemed to be her most animated characteristic.
I started introducing Donna to people. She shied away from men in jeans and work boots. Not even my son, gentle rescuer of all manner of distressed creatures, won her favor after appearing so dressed. Apparently, Donna's permanent placement would have to allow for this aversion.
I toyed with the idea of keeping Donna myself. She was considered old for adoption, and we certainly had a comfortable rapport. She was an available if indifferent listener, an unintrusive companion. She was gaining confidence.
But I had an upcoming marriage and move to consider. Adding a dog was a big question.
My daughter hosted a Fourth of July celebration at my condo. For Donna's comfort, we closed her in my bedroom. I conducted tours of the townhouse, explaining Donna's shyness as people peeked in at her. Two children asked if they could play with her. Donna quietly submitted to their little-girl coos and caresses.
During after-dinner conversation, I discovered Donna, rump high in the air, halfway down the stairs. Someone must have left the bedroom door open. Gingerly she finished her descent, ambled down the hall, entered the living room, and briefly rested her head in the nearest person's lap. She nuzzled the next person's hand.
From person to person, then room to room, she greeted each of our 25 guests, from preschoolers to grandparent types. Then she went back upstairs, her self-appointed mission accomplished. It looked as if she had deliberately decided to overcome her shyness.
Two weeks later, I was called out of state on a family emergency, not knowing how long I'd be gone or if I could keep a dog. I couldn't think of a way out of returning Donna to the kennel. A friend agreed to take Donna there the next morning. I gave Donna as careful an explanation of things and as proper a goodbye as I could. I praised her accomplishments and thanked her for brightening my life.
I was gone for a week, made several subsequent trips, married, honeymooned, and started moving out of state. One afternoon, I swung by the greyhound place to explain why I was no longer showing up to exercise dogs. Zoro's bed was still in the back room, but no Donna. I inquired.
"You'll never believe it!" a worker exclaimed. "A couple came in and looked at several dogs. They walked a few of them, and then sat down in the office, trying to decide which one to take. Donna came out of the back room, walked up to the man, and buried her head in his lap. She just stood there. The man said, 'OK, this is the one! What's her name?' Donna chose her own family!"
I believed it. She had practiced in my house - and mailbox.