The very first time I laid eyes on him, my heart broke.
He was chained to the side of a house, and the chain had become tangled in the shrubs that bordered the rear wall. He crept out from under those shrubs very tentatively, looking at us with a mixture of fear and anticipation. My husband knelt down and said “C’mon, boy. Come here.” And he did.
Mark scratched his ears and immediately his tail began to wag. His coat was dirty and raggedy. All his ribs were visible. He was pretty much just skin and bones.
Mark released the chain from his collar, and he made a beeline for the large bucket of water on the porch, drinking for what seemed like ages. He’d become so tangled in the shrubs that he’d been unable to reach it. I wondered how long he’d been without water, but immediately had to push the thought from my mind. This was a rescue mission. I told myself to focus on how much better this dog’s life would be from then on.
He belonged to a co-worker of mine. Actually, he had belonged to her soon-to-be-ex-husband. When he moved out, he left the dog behind for her to deal with. Problem was, both she and her young daughter were terrified of dogs. She had been putting food out for him, but it was like the water. He couldn’t eat what he couldn’t reach. And neither of them would go near him to untangle his chain.
She told us he was about ten months old. His name was Gucci. We loaded him into the car and off we went. I think all three of us breathed a collective sigh of relief. On the way home, Mark asked “Gucci? What the fuck kind of name is that for a big dog?” He was scrawny and bony, but he probably weighed at least 35-40 pounds. He was never going to fit in a purse and be carried around. He looked like a malnourished yellow Lab. Probably not purebred. But whatever he was, he was not a Gucci.
We didn’t intend to keep him. We already had two dogs, and Mark was adamant that we not take on another. Still, he agreed that he had to be rescued, and he didn’t mind the idea of fostering him until we could find a good home for him.
Arriving home, we let him out to wander in the backyard with our dogs. Introductions were made via the requisite butt-sniffing, and then our guest cautiously began to explore. Next we brought him some food, which he devoured in three or four gulping bites, and immediately threw up. I wasn’t sure how long it had been since he had last eaten. I brought out another tiny cup of food and fed him a little. This stayed put, so I offered him a little more. Slow and steady wins the race.
Later he found a tennis ball under the bushes and brought it to me. I tossed it across the yard and he took off after it. Brought it back, and let me pry it out of his mouth. I threw, he fetched. Soon he began to bring the ball back and drop it at my feet, looking up at me expectantly. Apparently, he loved to fetch.
That February night the weather was mild, so we left him in the yard and brought our dogs inside. I had shown him the dog house where I’d put a blanket for him. I left the porch light on for him, and the night passed without incident. The next morning when I got up, I couldn’t find him. Not on the porch, and not in the dog house. I rounded a corner and saw him curled up in a tight ball, sleeping under the bushes next to the back of the house, like he’d slept at his old home. Only the chain was missing. Again, I had to fight back tears.
The next night it began to rain. I knew he wasn’t housebroken, but I also knew I couldn’t leave him out in a storm. I brought him inside and let him sleep on the sun porch. He never slept outside again.
Over the next six weeks, the scrawny white dog began to put on weight. His coat looked better and he seemed pretty happy. We played ball every day. At some point, I started calling him Archie. It sounded sort of like Gucci, and he responded to it. Besides, it seemed to suit him perfectly.
Once you name a dog, your heart has already taken ownership, even if your brain hasn’t caught up. It dawned on me at some point that the reason we couldn’t find his perfect home was because he was already living in it. As much as we tried to tell ourselves we weren’t keeping him, we knew Archie was our dog. He knew it too.
Less than two months after we rescued him, we had to put our older dog, Sadie, down. She was blind and deaf, and suffered from heart and lung disease. We had found her as a stray when she was just about the same age as Archie. Losing her was hard for us, and our younger dog, Speaker, was very attached to her. Archie seemed to fill a void for us all. Kismet at work, perhaps.
It’s been nearly three years since we found him chained to that house. We have worked hard to make up for the neglect he suffered as a baby, and he seems to work just as hard to earn our love and approval. He’s not yet gotten over his fear of abandonment, as evidenced by the look on his face each time he and Speaker go outside. He will still turn and look back, as if to ask if we’re ever going to let him in again. It pains me to see that uncertainty in his eyes. He shouldn’t have that worry.
But mostly, he’s a happy guy. He sleeps in a wingchair in our bedroom every night. He and Speaker have a Barkbox subscription, and sometimes I take them to Starbucks for Puppacinos. When we adopted a pair of kittens from the Humane Society last year, Archie constantly fussed and worried over them. He bathed them and let them crawl all over him and became a doting parent. They were his kittens.
We still play ‘pelota’ every night, rain or shine. We had to start using the Spanish word for ball, as the mere mention of the ‘B’ word would set him off on a wild, spinning, leaping frenzy. And as I write this, the Archmeister is curled up under the desk with his head on my foot. Like a Marine. Always faithful.
I tell you his story because October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. There are thousands of dogs who desperately need homes, and you could make a difference to one of them. Adoption is a good thing. You save a dog’s life. And make your own life better in the process.
I wonder if the Foo Fighters are dog guys…