Book Excerpts

Renzo cowered in the corner of the shelter. He licked the blood from a wound on his hip where one of the other dogs had bitten him earlier the same morning. The caretakers had seen neither the wound nor the attack.

Renzo’s life with the young dogs was not like it was with the puppies. In the shelter’s world, you attack or you submit. Renzo was not a fighter and soon he became the shelter’s designated target. It was as if the other dogs could smell his fear. His days became about avoiding attacks from the others. He would cower in his sleeping corner during the days. At dawn, before the others woke up, he would sneak over to the food and water bowls to eat and drink. Sometimes he suc- ceeded when he was quiet and smooth. Sometimes he was chased away; other times he was bitten. He was nearly always hungry.

One day, a dog who was lower in rank than Renzo, moved into the shelter. But this black male dog didn’t understand the danger he was in since he came straight from the puppy kennel. He casually walked up to the food bowl before the others were done. Within sec- onds they were on him with bared teeth. A moment later he was carried out of the kennel, lifeless.

He never came back. On several occasions, Renzo was so badly bitten he had to be taken to the veterinarian to get stitches and have his wounds dressed. Those visits were the only times when he wasn’t afraid.

If the primary realities in his life were fear and hun- ger, then boredom and tedium were not far behind. His whole life was gravel and tall fences. There wasn’t a lot to do, but sometimes the dogs would be taken to a larger play area where there were some toys for the dogs who knew how to play with them. But there wasn’t a lot of exercise or new stimulation. Many of the dogs were so bored that they chewed on their own paws.

There was one interruption. For a short while Renzo shared a kennel with a spotted female dog with curly ears. The two of them played together and didn’t fight. But his joy was not to last. The female disappeared, meaning she was adopted, and Renzo was moved back into a larger shelter, different from the first. But here the same pattern was repeated. The other dogs brutalized him right away. The first day at dinner he was attacked. He was bitten on his back, across his front leg and in the neck. He was lucky to have curled up in such a way that they couldn’t reach his throat. A moment after the attack, the caretakers found him almost unconscious, weakly panting. The other dogs had lost interest.

“This can’t go on. Next time they will kill him,” said one of the caretakers. “Someone has to adopt him!”

I took the trash out, inhaled deeply and jogged in place. It was time to let the dogs out. I brought the tablecloth since it could use a good shaking. Renzo and Athena tumbled around for a short while on the wet lawn. That was all Athena seemed to need. Renzo and I remained outside. I shook the tablecloth and he playfully jumped after it. After that, we sat down close together on the patio for a long time. “Buddy, I’m so glad you’re here—for both of our sakes,” I said.

Renzo listened attentively. Then we just sat there quietly for a long time. Wordless communication was going on between us. Nothing needed to be explained. Our love and fellowship, uncomplicated and natural, were self-evident. “Had we known each other in a former life?” I wondered. Either way, neither one of us had to perform or play act. It was enough to just sit there.

The night was warm and the smells around us were familiar—the wooden patio, moldering leaves and the aroma from our Christmas meal coming from the open window. Someone dressed up as Santa Claus walked past our house, leaning forward with a bag of presents on his back and his hand on his chin to keep the fake beard from falling off. I laughed and Renzo barked once. Even though Renzo had only been with us for a short while, he was such an important part of our family now. I had a hard time remembering how things were and how things felt before he came. Sometimes I think that he felt the same way—that the time in Romania became more fuzzy and pale for him, and that we were now his only reality.

Just then a whistling sound could be heard nearby. It was followed by something that sounded like a gun- shot. I felt how Renzo’s body stiffened, and then he just slipped out of my grip and rushed into the darkness and disappeared. ”@#$%@! Not again. Renzo! Come back!”

At first, I really thought he would come back. I ran inside to get my jacket and boots and to tell the kids about what had happened. Charlotta and Oliver were still out walking, so they might run into him. I went to the places we normally went together and softly called his name as to avoid scaring him. No Renzo. I walked the path Charlotta usually walked and did the same thing. No Renzo there either. Panic set in. Where had he gone? When I got back to the house, Charlotta was there sitting on the couch in her bathrobe. She immediately understood the seriousness of the situation.

“We can’t do this ourselves; we need help. I’m calling the police, and you go look for him with the car,” she said and I obeyed.