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Home / Issue 36 / Shelter



Jim Muyres

            I stop by the animal shelter often, it is on my way home, sort of. I love animals. I am not allowed to have a dog, a cat, or a pet. I'm broke and I live in a tiny apartment. Besides, the landlord says no pets, no way.

            I had a kitten when I was really little. I love, love, loved it. Then mom and dad got a D-I-V-O-R-C-E and the C-A-T had to go.

            There's a sixty-something woman at the animal shelter, a volunteer. She is always there. She glances my way as I enter. She is ready to smile then sees "It's that girl again" and looks away.

            I think it would be nice to have a pet, to have something. I'm not real big on walking, so I guess it would be best to get a cat. A cat or maybe, maybe one of the old dogs. An old dog that cannot or does not want to walk much. But then it would die. I would only have it a year or two and then it might get sick, then die. The last year, or the whole time we were together, might be sad.

            I used to sometimes volunteer to walk the dogs at the shelter. They really liked it and it was kind of like good practice for me. Practice for me to see if I could handle a dog and see if they would like me to. It was good for them, especially the bigger ones. They would lean into their collars, sometimes choking off their breath, making hoarse gasps as they strained, nose down, pulling me forward. They seemed oblivious to me, if I would just let go, they could rocket away without a care. I was always afraid I would lose them. Scared, I would hang on like I am supposed to. I decided not to walk big dogs anymore.

            There are little dogs too. The tiny ones, the" poopy poo-poos", that is what grandmother called them. They stay close to my feet. Too close. It would be easy to trip or step on them. Step on them and break their backs. They are cute. Sniffing, glancing out at the too-big world, then up to my face, questioning, "What are we doing here, now what"?

            The shelter lady starts through the front room, the cat room, lined with cages, halfway she opens a door on the left, stepping into the hallway to the dog cages. Barking begins immediately. It is muffled a bit as the door closes behind her.

            I start down the aisle of the cat room. The cages are pretty big, water, food dish, litter box, a snooze shelf, and a cat. Sometimes two cats, or a mommy and her kittens. On each door, there is a label. The first one says Billy, five or six years old, looking for a quiet home without a dog, cat, or children. Billy looks a little sullen.  I am guessing he has his reasons. The next cage has two lean black and white brothers. The label says Colby and Manfred, would like to stay together, one year old, very playful.

            I pause at the door to the dog room; through a glass pane, I see the lady holding a trembling little Chihuahua. One hand between its front legs she grips the collar the other hand is stroking the top of its head. The dog squirms in terror but she holds tight.  I see her lips moving baby talk. The little dog, bug-eyed and trembling beseeches the dog gods to help, please help.

            Ahead, the next cage has a mommy cat and six or seven kittens. That's a lot. They are way too crowded as they roly-poly tumble and play. Mommy cat is half sleeping. Crammed into one corner is a smaller whitish kitten with a yellow ear and spot on the side of its nose. Is it ok, I can't tell if it is breathing. Is it sleeping or sick?

            I test the latch, the cage door opens easily, my hand moves surely, closing gently around the "oh so softness". Inhaling, without a thought, it is up and into my coat pocket.  I hold her safe.

            Turning, steady, don't rush, I walk straight at the exit door. My free hand pushes it open to a gush of fresh air. Thrilled, scared, excited I finally exhale.

             I'm never going back there again.

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