Clarabelle, a stunning white-blonde, regally roamed a large enclosure on the right.
An Australian Shepard, she may have been in search of subjects to herd.
An insanely yippy Jack Russell terrier was barely contained within his own barred space on the second tier of corner crates.
Clearly not a satisfied prisoner of circumstance.
“Needs attention, does not get along with other animals or young children,” his card unsurprisingly read.
Between the arc of spittle punctuating Jack’s non-stop shrieking yaps and the lure of the puppy window diagonally across from him, it would not have been hard for visitors to miss the no-longer-quite-a-puppy beagle who soundlessly pressed himself against the back wall.
1 1/2 – 2 yrs, trained, responds to his name.
My youngest daughter and my husband spearheaded the ensuing negotiations and sequential visits to get all family members on board with our first adoption. Every time Rufus haltingly padded out to meet one of us, he did the same thing: he waited for us to slowly approach, then promptly rolled over on his back to await a belly rub that dissolved his anxiety.
He would close his eyes and point his quivering nose to the heavens with a smile of pure contentment, transformed from a beleaguered rescue trucked all the way from Indiana into Snoopy, dancing outside in a field of pure green.
King of Belly Rubs.
Rufus’s sixteenth birthday would fall later this month. His tri-colors faded to a more even coffee-with-extra cream and he was completely deaf, but I talked to him nonetheless, both because he was my most constant companion and because he had so many listening skills beyond hearing. What an extraordinary listener he was.
Even as he began to give signals that something more than sheer antiquity was amiss, he never missed a walk. During the recent heat wave he still tugged, with improbable force for twenty-some vintage pounds, to go farther than halfway as far as he could go . I had to twice cradle and carry him home.
These past few weeks I had talked to him about his human dad and his later-adopted little brother, Brady, whom he loved and has missed so much and whose bright traces he never stopped searching for.
Remember when you used to run away when we first got you?
He would pause our walk and glance up at me. Of course I remember, mom.
He adored riding in my husband Jim’s rust-mottled white pickup truck, nose to the open air, ears aflutter.
He was such an escape artist that he once managed to extricate himself through a sliver of space when Jim parked off a busy road, and Rufus made a break for the hills of Stratham, New Hampshire.
Remember the time you ran away by the farm and I panicked and yelled for you to come back and you kept running and I was sure we’d never see you again–and then master put his hand on my shoulder and dropped down to one knee and calmly called your name and then you stopped running and looked back over your shoulder and you saw him holding his arms out? And you started running back to him?
I can still see them both, Jim enfolding young Rufus in his arms and holding him against his own still-beating heart.
I don’t think Rufus ever ran away from Jim again.
But he would run with Jim, and when we adopted sweet Brady the two best buddies would enter nirvana every time Jim sat to put on his running shoes. They eagerly waited, white-tipped tails swishing on the slate floor, until he grabbed the leash. Off they ran, up the hill from where our home nestled at the town green.
When our son’s Boy Scout troop–one in which Jim was an enthusiastic and dedicated Scoutmaster–learned of Jim’s diagnosis, they organized a gathering and presented him with a hand-drawn flag of special design: You can do this, it urged, underneath a drawing of him and the beagle boys running up the hill by our home where he made his daily run.
Someday, I would tell Rufus, looking away so he wouldn’t see me cry, you’re going to see master again, and you’re going to see Brady, and you’re going to want to run with Brady and you’ll be able to run anywhere you want. But every once and a while you should look back for master because he’s missed you, too.
On what I did not know would be our second-to-last walk, Rufus took me only to the midpoint of a short jaunt. He initiated a meet-and-greet with a weeks-old foster puppy named Delta, who eagerly nuzzled him with her bright mahogany head, which bobbed atop a pure white body that seemed to vibrate with the joy of being outside and about and finding a friend.
After that, Delta bounced happily along and Rufus stepped into the shade of a suddenly-bloomed plant, bright magenta and violet buds arcing rakishly over one velvet ear, like a fascinator at a royal wedding. He paused and looked up at me and waited expectantly. Of course, he knew I’d want to take some pictures of him. He was very patient that way.
Then he inexplicably looked up and away, directly into the sun, and stretched. It had the opposite trajectory of a downward dog pose; it was as if he were being gently lifted by his front paws.
And he smiled. I swear he smiled.
I looked in the direction where his deep brown eyes seemed to have settled, but it was far too bright. Rufus nuzzled me just under my knee and canted his head back towards the house. He ordinarily resisted turning around so quickly. “It’s OK, mom. I’m good now. I’ll be OK.”
When Rufus looked for all this world as if he were just sleeping I whispered in his ear, because I knew he could hear again now, that Brady must be so happy to see him again, but every now and then he should not forget to look back over his shoulder.