Modern Love: Dog Anchors Man Facing Setbacks

August 24th, 2012

WHEN I met the dog, he was sitting in a cage to my left as I entered a local animal shelter near the running path I frequent in downtown Austin, Texas. I had no intention to adopt a dog. I only stopped for a drink of cold water.

I don’t run to stay healthy, I run to stay thin, and lately to blow off steam. I was engaged to be married, and the relationship with my fianc? was getting frosty, with a lot of yelling and blame being tossed around.

The volunteers at the shelter were shrewd. It was overcrowded, with a high kill ratio, the highest in its history, I was told. As patrons walked into the caged areas, the dog on their immediate left was next on the chopping block, if no one adopted it. The dog after that was next, and so on.

“He’s half husky, half Australian shepherd,” a girl said as the dog in the second cage looked at me with one blue eye and one brown eye while wagging his tail. Tired from my run and the Texas heat, I got a cup of water and sat under a tree with the dog. He was friendly but didn’t listen to a thing I said.

“Sit!” I said and he licked my face. “Come!” I said and he walked away. After a few minutes he curled up next me and put his nose against my knee. I thought maybe he would be a good running partner.

I’m a low-rent playwright and professor. I travel and have little time or money for a pet. But out of curiosity, or God knows what, I took a look at the dog’s file. He had been abandoned by an old woman. Her reason: “Dusty keeps following me around my house.”

At least he wasn’t dangerous. I placed a “hold” on Dusty while I thought about how much damage he could cause my life. I would need a pet deposit for my apartment, chew toys, food dishes and shots for him. I teach twice a week in San Antonio, so I would need a dog walker for those days, someone I could trust with a key to my place.

The dog was nice, but having a dog would be like having a child. Again, I thought maybe he would be a good running partner.

The next day came, and I had an important deadline for a grant and better things to do, like buy food. The dog would find a home. I went to the grocery store, only a mile from the shelter, and promised myself I would drop by his cage only to say goodbye.

When I peeked in he was curled in a ball on a rubber cot, sleeping and shaking as he dreamed, but he woke quickly and with one blue eye and one brown eye he looked at me.

“Stay here,” I said. “I’m getting you out.”

He didn’t turn out to be much of a runner. He stopped to eat every dead bird and piece of trash he could find around my complex. His favorite was pizza crusts. One day he got sick, vomited a sweet-smelling brown substance on my rug, and then passed a Snickers bar wrapper that night. People in my neighborhood would ask if he was a wolf, usually men walking pit bulls. Too many people asked if he fights.

He seemed fearless, so I started calling him Danger.

Days later I met my friend Jon at an “All U Can Eat” Indian buffet. Jon had had a trying week. He had bought a house, his wife was pregnant, and their dog was gravely ill after eating a tennis ball that was now stuck in his stomach. An operation to save him would cost thousands.

Our lunch date was the first time I had left my new dog alone, and my imagination began to run wild. I decided to start a bank account for doggy emergencies, medications, surgeries or any unforeseen tragedy. I called it his college fund.

When I came home, a thin letter was in the mail. A grant I had been awarded, a grant I needed to pay the bills, had been taken away for a lack of funding. I wanted to drink and punch the walls, but the dog didn’t care. The dog wanted to go outside, smell things, poop and play with me. He licked my face as I cried.

Timothy Braun is a writer living in Austin, Texas.

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