27 Jul

Every week it gets harder and harder. Pulling up to the shelter, slowly walking down the row of cages, all the expectant faces looking at you with gentle curiosity, the question, “Can you give me a forever home?” written from eyes to muzzle. No, I can’t, I want to explain to those sweet things. I’m only here for one of you, just to release you for a couple of hours of frolicking in the park. Don’t worry, though, there are more of me coming to get more of you today, I want to say. You can tell the ones who have been at the shelter a long time, barely glancing up, not getting very excited, used to humans coming and going but never sticking around for very long.

And then there is Farrah.

She was my dog on this week’s hike, a 5-month-old Akita/Lab mix, a puppy in her prime. A puppy with a serious case of the crazies.

The minute I opened her kennel she was out like a rocket, something I was warned about after the fact by the program director. “Yeah, I figured that out,” I responded drily to him, explaining that she had shot past me and one of the shelter volunteers but was thankfully nabbed by a second volunteer down the row. It took me a full minute to get Farrah’s leash on her, so full of energy was she that she couldn’t calm down and flailed and flung her body about. She pulled me out the door, pooped in the grass and then pulled me in one direction while I tried to guide her in another, toward the car. Happy to be free, she came along nicely, but balked at getting in the back seat.

“Farrah,” I said, “I’m bigger than you. You’re getting in the car.” And I picked her up and plopped her in. She did laps in the backseat as we drove, nosing the window a little, trying to look out the back window and banging her head on the ceiling where it met the glass, mistaking the umbrella I’d stupidly left on the backseat as a chew toy, and trying to climb into the front seat.

“Uh-uh,” said, pushing her back. “Dogs ride in the backseat.” I was firm. I was standing strong. Farrah stood with her back paws on the backseat, front paws on the console, unsteady and not yet grown into her galumping paws, stretching her head and neck out to rest it on my shoulder as I drove. “I could help you navigate,” those big eyes seemed to say. And then I was weak. Farrah was now in the front seat, sliding all over the place. “Here, let me be more helpful!” she seemed to smile at me as she tried to climb into my lap as I drove.

“Farrah, you are not a lap dog. You are not even a lap puppy,” I tried to explain to her. She didn’t seem to care. What’s this? She sniffed heavily at the rearview mirror. “Farrah, it’s just a mirror.” “I must sniiiiiiiifffff it. And this thing, too. These air vents.” Sniff sniff sniff. “And you! I must sniff you!” Sniff sniff sniff.

At the park, she strained on her leash, so excited, until I thought she would either choke herself or give herself a hernia. She did neither, though she did make a mess of the water bowls, plopping down in front of one and throwing a paw and forehead into it in an attempt to drink. I looked over at one of the other volunteers who stood with dog named Scrappy-Doo. Scrappy-Doo seemed calm, cool, and collected, taking in the sights and sounds of the day’s hike, seemed content to sit at the volunteer’s feet until he was told otherwise.

Farrah, meanwhile, had stretched her leash as far as it would go and was eating another dog’s barf.

She didn’t care for the gentle leader that we put on her, tried to swipe at the day-glo orange bands around her muzzle, but holding the leash taut and leaving little slack so her head had to stay up made her forget about it as we tromped into the woods. It was only when I decided to experiment and let the leash out slightly that she remembered the leader was there and instantly her forehead was on the ground, her front two paws clawing at it, her little body flailing around as she freaked out until I pulled the leash back, gently tugged her head up, and kept her walking. In general she did fine on the hike, didn’t need to be at the front of the pack, didn’t seem to notice the other dogs, but just that every once in awhile, BAM! It was like someone has popped a speed ball up her ass and she went nuts, pulling this way, no! this way! wait! that way! There are red marks on my hands from trying to keep her under control on the leash.

By the end, poor girl was worn out. She plodded along the last stretch and I thought, “Ah, she’ll sleep on the way back to the shelter. She’ll be a calm dog in the backseat.”

Not so much.

As soon as we approached the group and her gentle leader came off, Farrah was all over the place: clumsily trying to paw at the water bowl and drink at the same time, nosing up to other dogs, leaning against me when they got too close, sitting for half a second before running in circles as one of the volunteers tried to take her picture.

In the car on the ride back, her energy reserve seemed to regenerate. And multiply. “Backseat. Front seat. Can I sit on your lap? No. Backseat. Front seat. How about now? What’s this bag down here? What’s this? I have to sniff it. How about now? Can I sit in your lap now?” She was the freaking Verizon Guy of dogs.

She bounded out of the car and into the shelter, but balked when we got back to her cage, like she could sense this party trip was coming to an end. Normally this is the part of the day that makes me sad, that makes me give the dogs a quick kiss on the head before hustling them into their cages and quickly walking away. With Farrah, I hustled her into her cage, slowed in fastening the lock, and quickly walked away, sad as usual, but also just a bit relieved.

My God, she was such a puppy.

I’ve never been so exhausted after a PACK run in my life.


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