“He’ll never live.”
“He’s so scrawny.”
I don’t know what I did wrong. I was born, I guess. While all my brothers and sisters were cute, wriggly little pups, I was the outcast. Never expected to do much. To be much.
At the pet store, the chubby, groping fingers of girls and boys would rove over all of our heads, scratching our ears, picking us up and snuggling their cheeks next to ours. Such happy feelings filled me, I couldn’t help but lick their giggling faces with big swipes of my tongue. But eventually those happy feelings died as I was set back down in my kennel. And one by one, my siblings were slowly sold and taken away.
All except me.
Day after lonely day passed inside the pet store. The rubber toys and squeaky play things lost their luster as I sat and looked out the window, waiting for…somebody. I didn’t even know who. But surely somebody out there wanted me. Surely someone would love me, if they could just meet me. I was getting bigger. Growing stronger, wasn’t I?
The bell overhead jangled and my ears perked up. The noisy parrot in the corner squawked as an old man entered. His pale blue eyes roved over the animals, his blue-veined, knobby hands grasping a cane as he shuffled from cage to cage. His gaze latched on to mine and I sat upright, wagging my tail and trying all the tricks that had worked so well for my brothers and sisters. Wag the tail, blink big, cock my head sideways. But the old man frowned as he turned to the pet shop owner.
“This pup here. What breed is he?”
The big man shrugged. “I don’t know. Mutt, best I can figure. Sold off his siblings already. Can’t seem to get rid of him though.”
The old man narrowed his eyes. “What’s his name?”
Muttering under his breath, the old man turned and walked away.
Something cold and hard sank in my middle.
Days turned blurry and dull, until one afternoon my dreamless sleep was interrupted by rough hands shaking me, pulling me. I didn’t understand what was happening, what strange cruelty was being inflicted. The big man growled and pawed at me. His thick fingers hurt as I wriggled and thrashed. He cursed and clamped his hands around my legs.
“You little mongrel! I’m just trying to move you to a different crate!”
Something sharp knifed up my back and I did the only thing I knew to do. I clamped my teeth into his hand. He bellowed. The floor rushed up to meet me. Pain exploded through my body. Heart thumping, I eyed the front door, could smell the fresh air as the door swung wide to admit a family of shoppers.
He’s so scrawny.
Can’t seem to get rid of him…
With the sound of rushing water in my ears, I scrambled to run, my paws clicking against the linoleum as I sprinted through the door and into the crowded city street. Away from cages and cranky men. Away from mean words.
Freedom. Maybe my somebody would find me now.
I ran and ran. Maybe for days. Nights were the worst. So cold and dark. Hunger cramped my middle. I wandered in between buildings, nosing through trash for scraps of anything I could eat, stepping between waste and sleeping humans. I shivered, curling up in patches of light from back doorsteps, hoping the meager warmth would somehow seep deep inside my body.
I grew bigger, no longer a runt, but still, no one wanted me. One day I found a group of children playing outside a park. I walked slowly towards them, my tail wagging. Was my somebody with them?
But when they turned and saw me, they chased me, throwing rocks and calling me names. Kicking and hitting.
I never approached a human again.
One cold afternoon, a man in a uniform sneaked up behind me and somehow managed to get me into a big moving box that carried me to a building. It was like the pet store but different. The crates were smaller and there were no windows. I could hear other animals barking and meowing. The man who’d caught me patted me on the head as he eased me into the crate.
“Poor fellow. We’ll find you a home. Somebody will want to adopt you.”
I put my head on my paws. He was wrong. I don’t have a somebody. No one has ever wanted me.
Each day passed, people came and went. Eyes peered in to see me but I barely noticed. I gave up the tricks to catch their attention. They didn’t work. Never had.
One day, the Nice Man who always stopped to pat my head strapped a red tag to my crate, his eyes sad. I knew what that meant. I had seen it happen enough. Red tags were attached to a crate. The next day the animal inside was taken away. They didn’t come back.
Bowing his head, the Nice Man murmured some soft words and scratched my ears with a sigh. Then he left.
I guess I fell asleep, for the sound of a slamming door jarred me awake. I didn’t sit up. In truth, I barely cracked open my eyes. What was the point? I would be taken away soon, never to come back.
Footsteps approached. The Nice Man was speaking softly, his voice echoing off the loud walls.
“This fellow is scheduled to be put down tomorrow. Shame too. He’s seems awfully sweet. Sad.”
Another man stooped down to peer inside. I sighed and looked away, not interested to be poked, prodded or ridiculed by another cruel human.
“Mm. What’s his name?”
“His tag was hard to read when he came in, all scratched and busted up. Looked like he’d been out on the streets for a while. We think it said Runt.”
The stranger with the deep voice stepped closer and squatted, resting his arms on his knees and watched me. This one wasn’t going away. With another sigh, I kept my head on my paws and turned to give him a disinterested stare. He met my look with a smile.
“No, Runt doesn’t suit this guy at all. He’s far too big. Aren’t you?”
His eyes looked into mine and something deep inside me flared to life. I lifted my head.
The nice man motioned to the other crates. “If you’d rather see some of the pups…”
“No.” The stranger stopped him with a raised hand. “This fellow and I are talking.” He chuckled. “May I?” At the Nice Man’s nod, he unlatched the crate and reached in, rubbing his hands through my fur with a soft touch…caresses that both soothed and made me feel protected. Like how I used to feel nuzzled up next to Momma so long ago. Loved. I savored the sensation, needy for it as they talked.
“I’ve been away fighting.”
“Yes, sir. I’ve wanted a dog ever since I was a little boy.” He chuckled when I leaned into his hand. “This fellow and I, I think we belong together.”
This stranger wanted me? No, I must have heard wrong.
The Nice Man watched us. “Most folks come in here wanting a cute little puppy, some perfect looking puff of fur that will make their kids squeal.” He smiled. “Runt is older, bigger. He’s not cute and fluffy like the other breeds. You sure?”
The stranger cupped my face in his hands and leaned in so close, his eyes were almost touching mine. “Love doesn’t only rescue the pretty or the preferred. Love pursues the broken, the needy, the unwanted and the outcast.”
He leaned his head against mine and rubbed his hands through my fur. I shivered as my chest beat in loud thumps. This stranger was my Somebody. He wanted me.
My Somebody leaned back and smiled. “First things first. We must get rid of that name. You’re no Runt. Not in my eyes. Let me think.” His eyes lit up as he snapped his fingers. “How about Kip?”
I barked and leaped from my crate, wriggling and squirming around my Somebody with prancing steps. I have a new name! Kip!
My Somebody laughed. “Kip it is! And it means ‘one from the high hill’.” Leaning down he rubbed my head and winked. “Appropriate, since I live in a big house, high on a mountain.”
Lifting my front paws, I scooted and wiggled as long as I dared on my back legs, barking with happiness when my Somebody burst into laughter. The Nice Man watched us, his mouth open.
“Look at that. I’ve never seen Run—er, Kip so happy before.”
My Somebody scooped me up in his arms and I laid my head on his shoulder, my entire body quivering with joy. He placed his hand on my head, and for the first time I noticed the scars that marred his palms and wrists.
He turned to leave but stopped and smiled over his shoulder.
“Well, that’s the thing about love. Not only does it pursue the unwanted, love also transforms.”