This morning I woke up early and drove over to the Oasis Animal Shelter, where I've been working as a volunteer walker and kennel cleaner for several months. I generally go in twice a week: Wednesdays for walking, and Thursdays to clean. The work can be dirty, noisy, and smelly...and it often breaks my heart to think about each resident's hard-luck story, but on the whole, knowing I'm helping provide a degree of comfort, entertainment, and affection for these wonderful animals is very rewarding.
Every week it seems like I come home with a new favorite. I'll walk in the door and announce to Rob that "If we ever get to adopt one of these guys, I think I want..." and then fill in the blank with Herbie (who loves to play in snow and puddles, and rolls over for a tummy rub the minute I start scratching his neck), or Suzie (who is old, but so full of life, and affection), or Shyla (who's had a hard time being cooped up, but has the most beautiful loving eyes...AND WHO JUST GOT ADOPTED...YAY!), or Hershey (who's about as good natured as they come)...and the list goes on. Just about every Oasis dog has worked his or her way into my heart...I just can't help loving them all.
Just before heading out to Utah, I settled on a new "favorite." Izzy is a little black and white terrier (maybe a rat terrier mix) who came in, along with one other dog, from another shelter that wasn't caring for its animals very well. She is gentle and curious and has plenty of energy for walking, but not so much that she's difficult to handle. The week before I left, I stopped along our walk and crouched down to give her some scratching (an activity I indulge in with some of the dogs...as much for my own enjoyment as theirs). When she came over and looked into my eyes, I noticed for the first time how much she resembles Rusty (my mom's Jack Russell, whom I've missed terribly these past three years). They both have similar facial coloring, and big perky ears, though Izzy's build is more delicate, not quite as muscular as Rusty's. She reached up and gave me a little kiss on the cheek. I melted. If Rob and I were in a place that allowed animals, I'd have taken her home right then and there.
Still, as much as I love all the Oasis dogs, I could hardly wait to get back to Utah and see Rusty and George again. I worried that after three years they might not remember me; that even after all the playing, and snuggling, and walking I'd done with both, I'd come in the door like a stranger and we'd have to get reacquainted from scratch...which for a suspicious little chihuahua like Georgie, takes a bit of patience. Fortunately, those fears were unfounded. A moment after I walked through the door I was smothered in canine affection...and a minute later had so much hair on my clothes I might have passed for a dog myself.
Rusty slept next to me that night, and in the morning George and I joined him and my mom for their daily 6 mile trek around the neighborhood (George got a free ride in my arms for about half of that!). Rusty's 11 years are beginning to show. His face is graying, eyes a tad milky, and though he still pulls at the leash like a miniature sled dog, he does seem to tire a bit more quickly than before.
We got a few great walks in before I left, and whenever I was at their house, either Rusty or George...or both...would find a way up onto my lap in no time at all. This, of course, made it really difficult for me to say goodbye. On my way out the door to the airport Rusty glimpsed the suitcase slung over my shoulders and peered up at me like a dejected little puppy. He reached out a paw and placed it in my hand. Mom looked over and said, "Awww...he knows."
I'm sorry Rusty. I hope it doesn't take another three years for me to come back for another visit...