In 2002, I was volunteering at the L.A. County Animal Shelter in Agoura Hills. For a county shelter, this one is amazing. A group of dedicated volunteers kick ass there.
They work hard to make sure most of the animals who come in leave with new families instead of being carted lifeless out the back door after a visit to the "Blue Juice Room."
I was exercising dogs - the volunteers tried to make sure all dogs went out at least twice a day. First on my list was a big yellow dog who got to go out before all the other dogs because she was so well housebroken that she would rather hold her urine for 12 hours than to pee in her cage.
When I went in to get her, she began wagging so furiously that she wagged the end of her tail off. I looked down and her sides were painted with red stripes where the tip of her tail had bloodied her sides. I was freaked out but she seemed perfectly happy, though - it was walk time!
After a trip to the onsite vet to get her tail taped, we went out to the exercise yard. Unlike other dogs, she didn't want to play with the toys. She wanted to sit next to me and let me pet her while she leaned against me, soaking in the affection.
"What a great dog!" I thought.
For the next nine weeks, I came back again and again, each time exercising her and each time thinking, "What a great dog! Someone should adopt her."
But she wasn't showy - not spotted or tri-colored or purebred or any of the other things that catch the eye.
She was also 6 years old, which is a hard age to adopt. 80 percent of people want puppies and the sappy, sentimental 10 percent take the hard luck cases - old, decrepit, smelly dogs with three legs or dogs who are blind. The healthy, middle-aged dogs tend to get overlooked.
I went home after volunteering that Friday and spent all weekend thinking about that yellow dog sitting there for 9 weeks in that concrete cage. She was so sweet, so sensitive, so loving that the thought of her sleeping in that noisy, hard, cold place just killed me.
Also, Fourth of July was coming up and the shelter was stuffed full. I knew that so many animals run away because of fireworks noise that sometimes shelters "clean out" unadoptable animals in advance of the holiday to make room for the inevitable runaways.
Even though I didn't really want a big dog, I knew what I had to do.
First thing on Monday morning, I was at the shelter. I handed over $32 and got the best gift of my life, my Goldie.
When I went to get her from the cage, the volunteer on duty started crying.
"Oh, thank you, I was so afraid..." she said.
"Me, too," I replied.
Goldie turned and did something she rarely does: she stood up and put her feet on the volunteer's shoulders. I think she wanted to say goodbye.
She hopped right up on the front seat in my car and came home with me and we have been together ever since. She makes me smile every day, makes me exercise every day, and gives my parents something to look forward to (she spends work days with them).
If I think about it any more, I will start crying, so I will just leave you one of my favorite photos of her relaxing: