“Let’s go pet puppies,” I whisper rousing my husband from his Saturday morning slumber. Rolling over with one eye slightly open, “We know how that always turns out,” he mumbles closing the eye and feigning sleep. 

“This time I won’t bring one home,” I say with fingers crossed under the blanket.

We had recently lost our boxer mix at the ripe old age of 14; white muzzle, bleary eyes and a little drag in a hind leg. Step, step, step, drag, as our evening walks became shorter and shorter. Our other two dogs—both rescues—were inconsolable without him, hiding under the bed and ignoring their food bowls. These two 60-pound mutts needed a new leader and I aimed to find them one…fingers still crossed under the covers.

Coffee mugs in hand, we head to the local animal shelter, my anticipation building. As we enter the parking lot, I can barely contain my excitement and wrap my fingers around the door handle ready to exit while the car is still rolling.

“Calm down,” my exasperated husband says as he turns into a space and puts the car in park. 

A chorus of barking greets us as we enter the first of two long buildings laden with dog runs and...puppies. By puppies, I mean dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages; some big and slobbery, some tiny and frail but all lovable in unique ways.

We make our way slowly down the center aisle, stopping to give ear rubs and nose tickles through the chain-link barrier that makes up the interior wall of each run. All the while dogs are performing to get our attention. Each so desperate to get love, their barking reaches an ear piercing crescendo. 

My husband is several paces ahead of me as we exit and move on to the second low slung building. I catch sight of him just disappearing inside as the door swings shut. Something catches my eye in the outside portion of one of the large dog runs. Did a ferret, opossum or wiry cat accidentally get in with the dogs? A little creature is pushing his rumpled face hard into the exterior area of the chain-link in an attempt to get closer to me. One little wonky cherry eye is looking up; the other crusted and closed.

My heart melts but my mind sees an elderly dog...easy to get attached only to have him cross the rainbow bridge too soon. I pull myself away, walking around to meet my husband on the inside. As we walk hand in hand down the aisle, I freeze in my tracks. That little critter is now in the interior section of his oversized dog run with his head squished into the chain-link again but this time making a little grunting sound. He is still looking at me with that one “good” eye. I sigh, reaching down to unlatch the door and squeeze my hand through the crack in order to stroke his knobby little head. He wiggles into my hand, wanting to be picked up. Lifting up his nearly weightless body, I feel a rash of little scabs covering his back and head but his curled tail is wagging furiously. I open his tiny mouth expecting to see an aged dental disaster only to discover puppy teeth. This little disaster is a baby and has not been treated well. 

He needs me. He needs us. My husband, my daughter, my son—who is only home for Christmas these days—and two 60-pound dogs looking for a leader.

Lisa Owens writes a monthly column for the Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter. Her columns are inspired by true events. She can be reached at iam.mad.art@gmail.com.