By Paige Baker
My name was Moe. I’m a small dog with wispy brown and black fur. The day I left the shelter was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. It was supposed to be the day I found a home. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't.
Her name was Linda. Right away I could tell she was a bit different. I didn't realize just how different until we arrived at my new “home.” She led me into the little house and I was immediately hit with a strong odor that made me gag. The house was a total mess, with stuff cluttered in every corner and strange stains on almost every surface.
All of a sudden she let out a shrill whistle that made me jump. A chorus of yelps and whines answered her, and next thing I knew a herd of dogs came charging into the room. They looked less than pleased to see me, but they were more interested in her. Almost all the other dogs were larger than me, so she scooped me up in her arms, keeping me from being stepped on. “This is your new brother!” she announced to them. As I looked down at the other dogs, I was horrified.
All of them were skinny, so skinny that their bones were showing through their skin. Their fur was either matted and overgrown or missing large chunks. Some even had bite marks or scratches. Their eyes made me shiver, some looked desperate and scared, others looked ready to kill.
Linda, with me in her arms, led all the dogs out of the front room and down a narrow hallway. There was a door at the end, and as we got closer to the door the smell from earlier became even stronger. She opened the door and the dogs flocked inside. The room was filthy. It had a small couch that had been completely shredded by claws and teeth, and the carpet was soaked with urine and feces. There was mold on the ceiling, the wallpaper was stained and peeling, and the air was so hard to breathe it made me lightheaded.
She then proceeded to set me down on the floor, which was soggy and squished under my paws. I turned around and watched as she backed out of the room, slowly closing the door behind her. Just before the door was closed she smiled at me and spoke two words, “Welcome home”.
I lived in that hell for months, but at least I wasn’t alone. There were a total of nineteen of us in that room. I know this because Linda would come into the room once a day to feed us and she would often say things like, “Feeding nineteen is no easy task; you guys better be grateful!” I was less than grateful. She would dump some food into a big tray in the center of the room. It would probably feed about five midsized dogs, but there were nineteen of us, all different sizes, some very aggressive, and all very hungry. Luckily the bigger dogs’ aggressive eating led to food being thrown in every direction, giving us little guys a chance to eat.
One morning I woke up to the sound of the doorbell. I wiggled out of my hiding spot under the couch and sat next to the door to listen. I heard Linda outside talking to another woman. “This is insane!” I heard the other woman yell. “Mom you can’t live like this. It’s disgusting!” The two started to argue and a few moments later I heard someone stomping towards the room.
By now all the other dogs had also woken up and were watching the door with me. A second later the door swung open almost hitting me in the nose. We all stared at the woman. None of us had seen another person in months, some even years. She stared back at us with a shocked expression. Linda pushed past her and put herself between us and the woman.
“I-It’s not what it looks like,” Linda stuttered out trying to stay calm. Slowly the woman looked up from us meeting eyes with Linda. “How could you do something like this?” she asked, her face a mixture of disgust and disbelief. The woman spun around and stormed down the hall. I saw her reach into her back pocket and hold the small box up to her face. “Hello officer,” she said. It sounded like she was going to cry. Linda stood frozen in front of us facing the door. Then she quickly left the room, slamming the door behind her.
The next day we woke up to a loud banging on the front door. We could hear Linda walk to the door and let someone inside. This time when the front door opened, there was no delay in the front room. The steps were rushed but calm. It wasn’t Linda’s usual loud thumps down the hallway. Some of the other dogs seemed excited, thinking they were about to get fed. I was uncertain about the whole thing. Linda had never let anyone come see us before, but now two people in two days? It gave me a weird feeling.
Unlike the day before, this person opened the door very carefully. She poked a flashlight into the dimly lit room and looked out over what I assumed looked like a sea of teeth and fur. Thirty-eight hungry eyes gleamed back at her. She reached down and grabbed something hooked onto her shirt. She raised it up to her mouth and spoke quietly into it, “I see nineteen.”
The next few hours were a blur. Before we could even try to understand what was going on we heard many more people coming down the hall. They came into our little room with leashes, kennels, and long sticks with loops at the ends. One by one they took every last one of us from that room. Some of us fought, or barked, or whimpered. I was terrified, so I ran and hid back under the sofa.
“The others are already gone,” I thought to myself. “Why am I still here? Why didn’t I run out that door as I’ve always wanted to?” I had become so accustomed to that little room, that when I had the opportunity to leave I didn't know if I could. Then I saw a hand reaching for me. I winced but the hand was gentle. It took me and brought me out into the chaos that was ensuing outside.
The hand belonged to the woman that had first opened the door today. While the other dogs were loaded into kennels and into the back of a truck, I stayed in her arms. These arms were different than Linda’s. Linda’s arms that had brought me to this house, and locked me in that room. These arms felt safe.
I stayed in those arms as she got into that passenger seat of the truck, and I remained in those arms until the truck stopped. When she got out of the truck she placed me in a small kennel before joining the other people in unloading the truck. Stacking kennel after kennel and making sure we were all accounted for.
Eventually, all nineteen of us were taken inside and placed in large stationary kennels. I was kenneled with two others. They were little like me, and while living in the room we had become fairly close. We would help each other stay out of the big guys' way, and when it was cold we would use each other to stay warm.
Over the next few days, we were taken one by one to get shaved, bathed, and vaccinated. It was horrible, but it was an improvement from the fleas and matted fur. The people even changed our names. I was never called Moe again. We were totally new dogs. I had lived with them for almost an entire year, and I could hardly recognize a few. It was magical what two full meals a day and a bath could do. Some problems weren't so easy to fix.
I began to notice that even after spending a few weeks at the shelter, some of my housemates weren't improving. Either they were very sick or they were very aggressive. One day a lady came in to “assess our behavior”. I had seen this happen before when I had first been at the shelter. Dogs get evaluated to see if they are healthy and safe enough to be adopted out. If a dog is too aggressive they will try to train them, but if the training doesn't work there is nothing that can be done.
Some of my housemates had me worried. I wasn't super close with all of them, but I definitely wanted us all to pass the test. One in particular named Millie stuck out in my mind. She wasn't the oldest out of the nineteen but she had been with Linda the longest. She was the alpha, and everyone knew it. I had always felt bad for Millie. I was in that house for months, but she was in that house for years. I had a feeling that she would be too aggressive to adopt out, and I was right.
The nice lady that had carried me out of the house was named Julia. She had gotten stuck with the job of taking Millie to the room where she would be evaluated, and this was no easy task. Millie was skinny but she was still a large strong dog. Being strong had not allowed her to escape hunger. She had always looked hollow shell, but she had a flame inside. That flame fought and didn't stop fighting even after she was let into the room to be evaluated. The evaluation didn’t last long, but I know how hard it was to make the decision after.
The next day was the last day we saw Millie. I knew that it was for the best and that she would have been trapped here forever otherwise. Julie was so upset. She had so much love for all of us. To see even one of us go made her so sad. That afternoon after the rest of us passed the test, Julie came and got me from my kennel. She scooped me up in her warm arms and held me. I felt safe with her. I had never felt safe with people, but she was different.
Julie started taking me outside every day and playing with me or just sitting with me in her arms. I could tell that working at the shelter was hard for Julie. Every day she would see animals that had been abandoned, mistreated, or forgotten. I was glad that I could help make her smile.
After a month or so at the shelter, we were ready to be adopted. We were all still a bit skinny and our hair was still short, but we were ready. All of the staff were so happy with our progress. Nineteen sick, scared, hungry, dirty dogs came in, and eighteen healthy, happy, fed dogs were about to leave. To say I was nervous is putting it lightly. Leaving the shelter meant that I might end up in another dark filthy room.
When we were finally put in the part of the shelter that allowed visitors, I tried to be unnoticeable. I would’ve rather stayed at the shelter than risk getting myself in another awful situation.
I went on like this for days, hiding whenever a family would come to adopt. The others were wary, but I knew that they didn't want to stay here forever. Slowly they started getting adopted. I was so happy for them, but I was too scared to do it myself. That is until one day I heard Julie talking to another staff member about adopting the little brown dog from the nineteen. That was the staff’s nickname for all of us. Even though Millie was gone and some of us were adopted we were still called the nineteen.
I knew for a fact that I was the only little brown dog left of the nineteen. Just the thought of Julie wanting me made my heart race. I was torn between my fear of a new home and wanting to be with her. She didn't make the decision very difficult for me.
That day she scooped me up in her arms just like always and carried me outside. She had me on her lap as we dove to her house in her light blue truck. I was in her arms as we approached her little house with its white picket fence. She only set me down once we were inside, and she didn't lock me in a filthy room. I looked around the beautiful clean little house before turning back to her. She looked down at me with a warm smile and spoke two words, “Welcome home.”