Some stories write themselves, with an arc that ends as it began. So it is with the story of Shark, the little black and white cocker spaniel who entered my life on a warm summer day 17 years ago and left it two weeks ago.
Shark’s story is one of luck and adoration, and it has at its center a Conoco station, too much alcohol and a charming underbite.
The story opened in August 1997. Like most days, I was in a hurry to get home from work. My cocker spaniel, Annie, would be impatient for her walk, and my diabetic hound, Boomer, was in need of her afternoon shot. I was trying not to tailgate the car ahead of me when there emerged, from a neighboring street, a collarless puppy. He trotted across the road and into the busy Conoco station. Like a reckless roadster in a B-grade movie, I yanked the steering wheel and screeched in after him. The puppy nosed a man at a gas pump.
“Oh good,” I thought, “It’s his.”
Which was ridiculous because that would have been easy. And in the annals of chasing collarless dogs across busy streets, down highway medians and through sketchy neighborhoods, nothing has ever been easy.
This is where the arc begins. I scooped up the puppy. I cradled him in my arms and walked him back into the neighborhood he came from in search of his owner. In 15 years years of scooping up dogs and searching for their owners, I had been successful exactly once. Incredibly, a voice yelled from a porch.
“That’s my dog!” it said.
Joy flowed through me. I could leave the puppy and go happily home to my own needy congregation of dogs. There was just one problem. The puppy’s owner was plastered. And he didn’t want the dog. “You can have him if you’ll take good care of him,” the man said, which seemed a funny stipulation coming from a drunk man who 10 minutes earlier had no idea where the dirty, fleabitten puppy even was.
I’m fond of saying I have a three-dog heart. That without 12 legs circling me in the kitchen, parading after me to the bathroom and running ahead of me on leashes, my house and my life don’t feel full.
Like the canine-loving version of the Duggar family, who have devoted an entire website to their attempt to single-handedly overpopulate the Earth and whose tagline is “19 Children and Counting,” for me, three is just a suggestion. I once lived with four dogs for a week and it was the happiest I’d been since I was six and got to bring home the classroom guinea pigs. At home the day I came across the puppy I had only two dogs — but I also had a husband with a firm two-dog heart.
I grappled with what to do. Leave the puppy where he wasn’t wanted? Take him with me and promise to spend every waking moment finding it a home? There was no time to think. Boomer was past due for her insulin. I walked back to the Conoco with the puppy and drove home.
You know what comes next. I found the puppy a home. But at the moment I got the supposedly good news that someone wanted him, a volcano of emotion erupted in me, the profound pre-mourning of the loss of a love I somehow did not know I was in. My husband sighed. We named the puppy with the underbite Shark. And he took up residence so deep in our hearts we couldn’t remember life without him or why it had been worth living.
Shark got sick just after Thanksgiving last year. Two weeks ago, he had a massive seizure. My husband was out of town, and I was snowed in on the ridge. Cabs weren’t running. Tow trucks wouldn’t make the climb. Friends couldn’t make it out of their driveways. But we had to get to the vet. And this is where the story comes full circle.
Just as I’d done 17 years earlier, I scooped Shark up, cradled him in my arms and started walking toward town.
Rest in peace, baby boy. My three-dog heart will always walk with you.
Contact Dana Shavin at firstname.lastname@example.org.