From the second we bought this house, with it’s pre-fenced yard, Honey wanted a dog.
I’m talking Rudy from the Cosby Show wanted a dog. Visits to the animal shelter every few weeks. Less-than-subtle hints that a dog would make the house so much homier. Only, I would rather have pulled my teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than shared my house with an animal. After college, I had roommates who brought home a Shit-zoo puppy (not a typo…this rabid furball was a shit factory). I hated that dog. It stunk. It chewed up books, furniture, rugs. It yapped. It peed. It made “home” all the less homey. Besides, neither Honey nor I work close enough to the house to go home mid-day for doggy doo-doo breaks, and we travel a lot, so a dog made as much sense as as a screen door on a submarine.
But Honey persisted, pointing out the well-behaved and hygienic animals that various friends and family had. Slowly my stance changed from “I’d rather floss my teeth with rusty barbed wire.” to “I’ll think about it.”
Then, while surfing a pet finding website I found what appeared to be an ideal dog! Already a year old, cute as could be, hypoallergenic, and housetrained! What more could we ask for? It satisfied all of my criteria. I showed Honey, and we agreed it looked like a great pet! But of course it wasn’t as simple as calling up and saying “We’ll take it!” Oh no.
The dog was being trained at a nearby prison. That’s right, a prison. CNN did a story on a similar program recently. After filling out the required paperwork, (They wanted more information than our mortgage broker had) we were invited to visit the dog. At the prison. Of course, the visit was to happen when Honey was out of town. So, despite the fact that I had as much desire for a dog as a grumpy housecat has, it was left to me to haul my ass into the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, to visit this pooch at the penetentiary. Luckily, a friend agreed to tag along with me, and so we set off for the hour and a half drive to the prison.
As the navigation system chanted off it’s directions, we moved deeper and deeper into the mountains of rural North Carolina. I was fairly certain that reenacting scenes from “Deliverance” was what the local folk did when they weren’t at the Baptist churches that dotted the roadway every quarter of a mile or so, and I wondered what I might do to make my mouth less “purty” if we found ourselves face to face with a resident of one of the trash-strewn trailers along the way.
“They all look like they have been built from the same set of plans!” I remarked as we passed the 62nd red brick, white columned Baptist church. We decided that on the way back, we would count the Baptist churches for fun. (I recall there were 41 in the 30 mile stretch of country road–just the Baptist ones, mind you. That doesn’t count the dozen or more “heathen flocks” of Methodists or Presbyterians.)
Finally, we arrived at the prison, an unforboding structure that might have passed for a high school were it not for the razor wire fences and warning signs. All visitors were to check in at the Warden’s office–which naturally sat in a converted mobile home in the parking lot. A prison guard pointed us in the direction of a grassy area bordering the woods and said the dogs would be brought out in a few moments. Literally dozens of other people joined us before the dogs (and their trainers) were brought out. There may have been five or six pooches there to meet and greet, but every single one of the visitors was there to see “Shaggy” the same dog we had come for. The program coordinator relayed that she had never had such a response, getting several hundred applications for Shaggy from all over the United States. I was disheartened. It turns out Shaggy was a designer dog–a CacaPoo or Yorkiedoodle or BichonBeagle or something, and to get a trained one for almost nothing meant he was in high demand.
We met his trainer, a young man who looked the part of a convict. I was really amazed at the sense of pride and accomplishment this downtrodden young man had as he showed the group the tricks Shaggy had already learned. In fact, all of the trainers beamed with a sense of purpose and pride as they showed off their animals. My apprehension about being at prison was gone, and it was plain to see that the prisoners were benefitting from the program much more than the pooches.
The trainers gave each of us a handful of treats and encouraged us to interact with the dogs. I remain convinced that one woman had rubbed herself head to toe with bacon before making the journey that day. Shaggy would come to each of us just long enough to get his treats, and then rush back to Miss Bacon to lick her face and hands. I was convinced (correctly, it would turn out) that I had not made any sort of an impression on either the dog or the folks who would decide who got to take him home. Some two months later, I got a form email that said in many words what I already knew–the dog was not ours.
We actually DID get a dog before that email came though. That’s another story altogether, but it’s a tale for another day.