Stray Feelings

Sundays and I are quite familiar. Old pals, you could call us. A nice hot Cafe Bustelo cup, maybe a little oatmeal, and just like that, my morning is pretty well balanced. During the afternoon, I browse my phone for messages, usually my mother’s daily blessings and the boys trashing the Knicks’ latest performance in our group chat app, then, I scroll through Instagram for my fix on all things miscellaneous in the exhausting celebrity world and catch a good giggle at the recent goings on with distant chums. Later, the Internet settles my daily news dosage and Netflix wraps up the night snugly with a shitload of Scrubs episodes. (I know. I’m a late bloomer.) Altogether, Sunday is purposely designed as a relaxed and stress-free environment meant to soothe the transition into the following day, Monday, or as I like to call it, Satan’s weekly birthday.

This Sunday, however, was quite the anomaly. My girlfriend, Natalie, headed out to purchase dish-washing liquid and pick up her prescription meds from the pharmacy. Things would never be the same.

Some soulless son of a bitch left a puppy tied to a pole right outside Duane Reade in frigid, wet weather. The poor thing’s paws were bleeding from trying to escape the leash that restrained her. She was clearly starved as her stomach sucked up just beneath her back. Natalie’s frantic phone call dishes me the harsh details. I can’t find the words to articulate my confusion as to how someone would be this cruel and indifferent to an animal’s suffering. Any-who, she’s stuck on Southern Boulevard trying to figure out what to do with this dog now. She can’t leave it. She’s called Animal Control but their arrival time wouldn’t be for hours. So, I tell her to bring the little bugger home so it can wait in the apartment’s warmth and safety. We agreed I had to put the cats in the bedroom till the coast was clear. No reason to test the storied rivalry between the two breeds.

When Natalie finally returned, I realized the dog’s actual size was about quadruple that which existed in my imagination. I envisioned a fur-ball as seen on Animal Planet’s show, Too Cute(It’s cuteness overload for a half hour).  But, this wasn’t that breed. She was indeed a puppy, however, a pit bull mix puppy, beautiful yet scary all the same. I flashed back to the memory of the old man who lived on the fifth floor in my parent’s old apartment building. He was actually eaten by his own dogs. Although they were rottweilers, a frightened idiot does not differentiate.

After she licked both our cats food bowls dishwasher clean, she scurried back and forth throughout the apartment like a drug fiend waiting in line for a fix, her large paws scratching the floor. My first attempts to comfort her were avoided. In fact, if I raised my hand too fast, she would cower into a submissive position. Such behavior told us enough about her backstory to double the sympathy points. Still, I was unsure about this dog. I worried we had inadvertently put our cats in danger by temporarily adopting this pup, trying to save its life. That’s when the same thought populated both me and Natalie’s minds: Animal Control would probably put her down. They didn’t have a “no kill” policy. And the ASPCA didn’t take in her kind. She didn’t fit their criteria. No way we had brought this animal into our lives just to have her’s extinguished. We had to find her a home on our own. After all, we did have a “no kill” policy.

We had taken in our second cat, Flaca, the white and black apple of my eye, after Natalie’s aunt passed away. We were a mere hour from handing her off to another owner, my college buddy’s mother, but finding her a suitable home had birthed such a strong connection with the fluffy feline we just could not interrupt.

Here we were again, this time, with a dog facing neglect and death. We couldn’t leave anything to chance because her’s weren’t particularly good in the first place. We cancelled the Animal Control pick up.

Natalie filled a bowl with water and our next door neighbor lent us a bag of dog food to hold us over till we could make a Pet-co visit. We walked her around our neighborhood a couple times that night and she started warming up to me. She was already smitten with Natalie. Her playful side came out. She let me pet, hug, and kiss her. She even got along with Jarret, our male cat. Flaca hissed and swatted at her if she came too close. She likes to maintain a sniper’s distance, I guess. Chicks, I tell ya. Then, we fashioned her a makeshift bed beside our own from several towels in our storage closet. She snored like my father.

We put up Facebook statuses and instagram posts asking if anyone could accept her into their homes. Everybody empathized but no one bit. We realized it would be quite a while before we were successful, so our home needed to be as dog friendly as possible in the mean time. It was doggy heaven – dog food, a little bed, toys, and a new leash. She was loving it here in our home. But, we forgot both of us worked. No one was home till the afternoon – not exactly optimal conditions in which to raise a dog, much less a former stray harboring separation anxiety to the tenth degree. (I exaggerate for dramatic effect. I know nothing about degrees.)

The minute Natalie left for work the next morning, the dog’s incessant howling erupted. She howled, moaned, sobbed, and cried uncontrollably. She paced back and forth worse than the day Natalie brought her home. Her erratic, unpredictable behavior frightened me. She would stand up on her hind legs and lay across my lap singing what sounded like slave melodies in dog voice. It was disturbing, frustrating, and unsettling. I couldn’t get her to stop. Even after I walked her, she continued the painful sobs. I put away her food and water to avoid her having to use the bathroom while we were at work and crept out the front door. I could hear her crying from the lobby.

When I returned, she had redecorated the place. The garbage can was emptied in the kitchen. Coffee grounds, empty meat packages, used paper towels, and old food were strewn about everywhere. Her feces spotted the tiles in piles; a little by the lamp, some in the hallway, some near the door. The Christmas decorations were torn down. And in the middle of the big couch, looking at me as if to say, “What?! You returned?!”, was the stray.

I was enraged. I took pictures of the mess and sent them to my girlfriend. I zoomed in on the excrement. (My angry photography gets up close and personal). I could picture Natalie’s reaction at work.

Natalie: Shoes, hand bags, make-up, and hair accessories.

Co-worker: Sephora, The Rock, chocolate, and puppies.

Natalie: Speaking of puppies… (cell phone vibrates) Oh! That’s my man sending me sweet nothings in the middle of the day again!

Co-worker: He’s so adorable!

Natalie: Oh, wait. No, it’s just high definition dog shit.

It took me close to two hours to finish cleaning the apartment. My girlfriend apologized for the conditions but said this was normal behavior for dogs experiencing her circumstances.

I did some barking of my own to let the dog know that her actions weren’t right. She cowered and folded in her favorite spot by the heater in the living room until I was done. When we came upstairs from her walk, she was playful and happy again. By the time Natalie came home, things were smooth again. We decided I would have to hide the garbage from her in the bathroom so the same thing didn’t happen the next morning.

It did.

Even thought I emptied and hid the garbage can in the bathroom, there it was, now laying in the middle of the living room. More piles of dog shit and torn decorations. I sent a second batch of pictures to my girlfriend. I was stressed out. But, little did I know at the time, it only brought me closer to the stray.

That night, while cooking dinner, Natalie asked what her name should be.

“Libby”. 

Natalie teared up as she stirred the rice.

“Aww. Libby! That’s such a cute name for her!” 

“So, why are you crying?”

“Because I’m stupid”. 

The following day, I told Natalie I would kill time at Barnes and Noble before returning home from work. It was her turn to clean up Libby’s mess. But, that day her sister-in-law saw Libby’s pictures and decided to adopt her. Just like that. I discovered exactly how stupid I was at that very moment; tears streamed down my face at the thought of giving her away; the emotional roller coaster that had been her life would twist once more, another painful parental shuffle. Hurting Libby, even in this case, placing her in a loving home, was a heartache I hadn’t previously experienced. I imagined her wondering why we abandoned her too. How could we lower her defenses just to shoe her away? But, it was also much more than that. It was guilt.

I felt bad for choosing to stay outside the house that day, frustrated at the daily living room shambles. I felt ashamed that I had lost my temper and patience at the pup who knew no better. It wasn’t her fault. That’s when it all clicked, the tears finally making sense. I saw my younger self in Libby and my family in me. Instead of taking the time to understand and familiarize themselves to me, they found ways to push me aside, play hot potato to the curly, blonde-haired burden. The sisters I longed to gain proximity to never gave me a chance. The cousins I admired made fun of me. Therefore, ostracized from the people I most loved, I walked without belonging, a troubled and lonely sense that made me deeply insecure. Libby’s predicament had unraveled dormant personal pain that shaded in my blurry psychology, past and present as a relatively new step-father.

I rushed home to the beauty to walk her and kiss her for the last time. I told her I loved her and that her new home would be everything it should. There were children and another dog awaiting her arrival. Her days would be packed with the attention and energy she deserved. And as she hopped in the cab with her new family, tears sinking down my cheeks, Natalie and I knew we had did the right thing. We saved her. And in return, she had saved me.

Love you, Libby, aka “The Liberator”.

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