Free to Good Home
I was puttering around the house last Sunday when a loud knocking at the front door startled me. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and it was kind of late for a visitor. I figured it must be a salesperson or a missionary who hadn’t seen my ‘no soliciting’ sign. But when I opened the door it was a scruffy young man in shabby clothes.
Before I could get a word out the young man launched into an animated story about how he and his girlfriend were heading up to Portland, but their van ran out of gas, and could I lend him five bucks because he had a job waiting in Portland, and…
I lost track of what the young man was saying when I noticed there was a small puppy crouching behind his legs. The puppy looked at me suspiciously, then slowly crawled forward to cautiously sniff my foot. The puppy was some kind of black Lab mix. One eye was nearly crusted shut by something that looked like it could be a mix of dried blood and pus. His fur was terribly thin, even bald in spots, and I could see his ribs sticking out. The puppy wore no collar, but there was a length of thick twine knotted tightly around his neck, the end of which was firmly in the grasp of the young man, his master.
Looking back at the young man I did my best to smile while he finished his story. When he was done, I said “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any cash here in the house to give you for gas. But tell you what, I’ll write you a check for twenty dollars if you sell me the puppy.”
The young man took half a step back and with a violent jerk of the leash dragged the puppy back behind his legs. “He ain’t for sale!” he said, his face red with anger. “Yeah I’m broke, but I take care of what’s mine and I ain’t selling him.” He turned to walk away.
I apologized and tried to calm the young man down. “Hang on a minute,” I said, “I got some food in the house. Give me a sec and I’ll go get you something to take with you.” The young man stopped, looked at the ground, and muttered something under his breath. I closed the door, went to the kitchen and stuffed a grocery bag with a loaf of bread, a couple of cans of soup, a few pieces of fruit, and a carton of milk. I rummaged for something a puppy could eat and found some cheese.
When I opened the door again, the young man looked calmer. He mumbled thanks as I handed him the food. The puppy peeked at me from behind his legs, his nose vigorously sniffing the air to catch the scent of the food in the bag.
“Can I give your puppy a little something?” I asked. “I have some cheese here, if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead if you wanna,” the young man said grudgingly. I reckon he’s pretty good and hungry about now anyways. Been awhile since we fed Wally.”
I crouched down and dangled some cheese near the puppy. He growled weakly at me, then almost took my finger off as he snatched the morsel and gobbled it down without chewing. I fed the puppy several more pieces and tried to think how to gently turn the conversation back around to my offer to buy the puppy.
“So, Wally is kinda unusual name for a dog," I said. "How'd you name him?”
“Got him from a family giving away free puppies outside Wal Mart about a week ago,” he said. “They looked like a nice family, so I figured he’d be a nice dog. Actually he’s a sonabitch, but I’ll teach him yet.”
The young man rolled the top of the grocery bag shut and looked around like he was trying to decide which direction to go. “Sure you won’t reconsider my offer for the pup?” I asked desperately. “How about thirty? Forty?”
He didn’t answer me, just flashed me a dirty look, tucked the bag of food under one arm and hurried off down the street. Wally was having trouble keeping up the pace so the young man pulled the leash closer and tighter and pulled Wally up until his front feet were barely touching the ground.
I grabbed some shoes and a coat, ran behind the house for my bike, and dashed out into the street to try and track the young man back to a house or car or anywhere else where a cop could find him.
I rode around for a long time looking for them, but the young man and Wally had disappeared into the cold darkness of the winter night.