Luke’s departure shrunk the pack to three dogs. And we were a pack, even just for a few hours a couple times a week. Besides Willie there was a golden Pit Bull, about a year old. There were so many Pit Bulls. This little guy wasn’t unlike most of them, friendly, loving and so appreciative of any attention. When I stepped into his kennel and pet him, this dog wagged his stump of a tail so forcefully his rump swiveled from side to side. Then he’d fall on his side to receive the pets, his eyes rolling in ecstasy behind his third eyelids. I could have stayed for twenty minutes and it wouldn’t have been enough, so I stayed for only a couple of minutes. He wanted more. I never gave him enough. A couple of times I went directly to his kennel, slipped my key in the lock and was inside before he had raised his head from a nap. The other dogs barked like volleys of rifle fire while I pet and kissed this dog who licked my wrist in the most sincere gesture of gratitude. Twice he did not give me time enough to crouch down. Instead, he stood on his hind legs and wrapped his front legs around my waist, stretching to kiss my face. I brought him in the play area in the back of the shelter exactly once, and he bounded around with the rawhide bone Luke had thrown in the air and forgotten about. The golden Pit Bull, nameless, chewed and watched me out of the corner of his eye, his stumpy tail never stopping its wag. I returned him to his kennel before he was ready and thought about him numerous times as I went about my business the next week. When I arrived the following Sunday, I planned on taking him in the back for a longer romp after I finished with my cleaning duties. I went straight to his kennel, reached my hand through the bars and told him we were going to have fun later. Then, while I was cleaning the building, I noticed his kennel door was open and he was gone. He didn’t escape. He was euthanized. Right under my nose. He was at the kennel for a month.
The final member of the crew was the most intimidating Pit Bull, short, squat, wide and brown, with a big leather collar around his neck. He was even better than Luke at not allowing me to seal him into his outdoor run using the guillotine. He shit all over just like Luke, and he tried to bolt just like Luke. I met him while cleaning outdoor runs. Like most dogs he sniffed my jeans from behind while I hosed the run standing inside the kennel. I pet him without looking at him. Then when I looked at him I thought, ‘My God, this dog could have latched onto my chest and carried me around like a pork rind.’ I jumped into his kennel and checked him for fleas, put my flea comb in my back pocket and pet him. He jumped up, grabbed me by the waist and started humping. He was so big and strong he was nearly bouncing me up off the ground. It took effort to disengage him and I thought, ‘That’s the last time in your kennel.’ He was there three weeks.
One-Eyed Willie grew up in the kennel. He was a tiny puppy with a missing eye when he arrived and a larger puppy after the other dogs were gone. Willie and I became a thing. After the rest of the pack was gone, I saw Willie at least twice a week, sometimes three times a week. I sat in his kennel before I did anything, or I took him for a walk. His tail excitedly rapped so hard against the cement wall of his kennel that the tip burst open and sprayed blood all over more than once. He softly chewed on my arm but I had to break him of that habit because there was always a chance for adoption. Problem was, Willie shit all over and stomped in it. Nobody wants one of those kinds of dogs. Willie wasn’t stupid. He just needed to expend energy during the day so he jumped around when another dog was walked within sight, and thus the stomping-in-the-shit. Bigger problem was that Willie had just one eye, and the sight of him made people tremendously sad. People couldn’t see past the one-eyed freak to see the fun-loving dog Willie was. After two months at the shelter, Willie was beginning to understand he might not be going anywhere.
I broke Willie of chewing on my arm after letting him get away with it for a while. I brought a blue rubber toy into his kennel and switched him to mouthing on that. I went into his kennel and took him out enough times that he knew he was my favorite, which was nice, because then he could relax. I’d be cleaning the inside of the building, and Willie would sit down and watch, without barking at all. I’d be cruising through the building filling up water bowls, and Willie would be chewing a rawhide bone watching me come and go, knowing his time was coming. The protest barking from other dogs was loud. I talked to everybody, but everybody knew. Willie wasn’t the first dog I kissed on the face, but he got the most of anyone. Everybody at the kennel loved Willie, but nobody wanted him. He understood the difference.
One day an attractive woman with thick black hair approached me and asked my opinion of two dogs she was considering for adoption. I told her they were both very nice dogs. She pressed me for other dogs I thought highly of. She had seen me going kennel to kennel and thought she had found a good resource. Well, I figured this might be my chance to spring Willie. I talked him up. We went to his kennel but he was such a sad sight with his one eye that the woman had to cover her heart and stagger away. Willie was like, ‘What did I do?’
Willie had been at the kennel three months when I visited my brother in Chicago for two weeks. After my trip, I went right over to Willie’s kennel. At the front of the kennel was the blue chew toy. Willie was still there, I thought. But he was not there. A yellow Chihuahua was sitting in the kennel eyeballing me like, ‘What are you looking at?’
No Willie. They finally put him down. Thank God he wasn’t circling around like a crazy dog in that kennel anymore, because that’s what happens a lot of times when a dog is kenneled for three months like Willie was.
For the rest of the afternoon, I went ahead and checked dogs for fleas in their kennels and found myself not spending much time with the dogs. I kept explaining to each successive dog that I had to move quickly that day. Sorry, buddy. You can sniff the cuffs of my jeans another time. Things to do, you know.
I spotted one of the county kennel workers I knew.
“They finally put down that Pit Bull with the one eye, huh?” I asked.
He thought. “No, he got adopted.”
“Yeah, he got adopted.”
We both smiled.
“Was it a woman who adopted him, with black hair?” I asked.
“No,” the worker said. “Actually, it was three buff dudes, big guys, who adopted him.”
I kept going kennel to kennel for the rest of the afternoon, maintaining my quick pace, but with exceptions here and there. Some dogs needed attention and it was no problem giving them some.