I hadn't planned to fall in love with the black, wire-haired dog from the local wildlife sanctuary. I was trying to help get some dogs adopted, not keep them myself.
I'd originally hoped my daughter and son-in-law would want the dog the staff called Belvidere. Ann said Tim wanted one that was friendly, playful, and didn't shed. I conspired to move that project along, arranging for the director to deliver Belvidere to my house when Ann and Tim were coming for dinner.
When they arrived, Belvidere greeted them, wagging his tail. Ann warmed to him, kneeling, rubbing his ears, and crooning. Tim petted him warily.
During dinner, the dog lay between them with one eye open. Afterward, Tim tossed a ball for him to fetch. Belvidere plodded up to it, gummed it a few seconds, then dropped it and wandered off. Tim took him for a trial walk. The dog strained at the leash, wheezing when the collar choked him.
When Tim and Ann left, Tim said he needed time to consider how he felt.
When I didn't hear from them for days, I called. "Tim is making up his mind," Ann said. "That dog's not exactly what he wanted."
I still held out hope. Maybe if I trained him to walk with more restraint... Maybe if I taught him to fetch...
I started going to the sanctuary to walk Belvidere a couple times a week, pulling on the leash and saying "back," when he strained. We made some progress.
After several exercise sessions there, I started bringing him home for visits. I called Ann after each one, reporting on the cute things he'd done and saying he was perfect for them.
Outside, he frolicked. Inside, he was calm and sat by my side, holding out his paw or putting his head on my lap for an ear-scratching.
After one energy-depleting run/walk, he was sleeping at our feet as my husband and I ate lunch. I decided he needed another name – he didn't come to Belvidere.
I called some names to see if he would react. "Jack!" Nothing. "Fred ... Ralph ... Winston ..." Still nothing. "Bobo ... Fido ..." No muscle flinched in recognition. "Barkley," I tried. He opened one eye. From then on, he was Belvidere at the sanctuary, but Barkley at my house.
I discovered if I clapped my hands and called "Barkley," he would come running and jump up on me, almost dancing. I knew others might not like being greeted this way, but somehow the way his face reached up to mine, I couldn't reprimand him.
When I got him from his pen at the sanctuary, this ritual welcome lasted for nearly five minutes.
After one rainy week, Barkley's coat was filthy from lying in his muddy pen. I brought him home, planning to clean him up. After bathing and drying him, I opened the door to the bathroom. He pranced out, barking, as if to announce, "Look at me!" I took his picture and sent it to Ann and Tim.
"I think you need to keep this dog, Mom," Ann said the next time we all were together. I agreed. I hadn't received so much exuberant affection since my grown children were toddlers.
"Can we keep him, Al?" I asked my husband, knowing I'd promised "no more pets" after our cat died.
His answer was firm: "No!"
I hung Barkley's picture on our refrigerator and began to call him our "part-time dog." On the days I planned to bring him to our house, I bounded out of bed in the morning.
I was relieved when the director didn't list him on the Internet site with the other adoptable dogs, but still I recognized that this dog deserved more than I was giving him – an occasional day of fun, followed by a return to his cell. I began to pray that the dog and the right person would find each other.
Not long afterward, an acquaintance was painting a shed on my patio. I decided to introduce Barkley to him to see if the dog would react in fear as he sometimes did to men with beards. Barkley made wide circles around Jim, who then put down his paintbrush and lay on his back on the concrete. Barkley came a bit closer. Jim tried some other tactics he'd seen on "Dog Whisperer." Pretty soon Jim was kneeling, petting him, and Barkley was licking him.
"I had a nice dog like this," Jim volunteered. "He died in December."
"Would you like another one?" I asked, sharing the dog's history.
"I'd like to try him out and see if he gets along with my cats," he answered.
At the end of the workday, Barkley and I followed Jim to his car. Jim opened the passenger door, and I wrestled the reluctant dog onto the seat.
"Be a good boy," I said, placing my head against Barkley's, feeling as though I was sending my child off to a foreign land.
For days, I couldn't get his dear doggy face out of my mind. But after two weeks, Jim came back to finish painting and brought Barkley to watch. He lovingly called him "Barkles," and had taught him several tricks. The dog was happy to see me, but was just as content to sit near Jim. When they left, Jim opened the passenger door, and Barkley jumped right in.
I watched them go – surprised at my light heart.