I told him when he was ready, I'd take him to get a new dog.
I knew he was missing Rusty.
It takes a while to get over the loss of our four footed friends, so, when the Toronto Humane Society announced their Adopt-a-Pet event at the CNE Exhibition grounds, I agreed to go with Jason to see what we might find.
* * *
We arrive at noon and encounter a woman with purple hair and a gorgeous black retriever.
"Oh they're mostly all gone now," she says. "I just adopted this one — but most people here have been camped out here since 5 a.m."
Not exactly cheered we set off to investigate our options . . .
Nothing but cats.
"Are there no dogs at all?" I ask one of the volunteers.
"There's a few left over there." She points to beyond a black curtain.
We enter into an area littered with wire cages. Walking around we encounter a few small yappy creatures and three or four depressed-looking larger dogs. None of them respond to Jason beyond a few indifferent sniffs of his hand. Row after row of empty cages with notices announcing "I've been Adopted" or "Interview in Progress".
It's not looking good.
In the centre of the room I notice a row wire cages: all of the cages are empty — save one, with a fluffy Pomeranian, snoozing.
That won't work. I know Jason specifically wants a big dog.
* * *
Walking along the empty row I find myself coming to a stop in front of a cage covered with a blanket.
The profile reads: Shepherd Husky mix, 3 years old; name: Coyote.
"Hey, Jason," I call. "I have a good feeling about this dog."
"Oh yeah?" he says, coming over eagerly.
Straightening up after peering into an empty cage, he eyes me dubiously: "What dog?" he asks.
"He's not there — but nothing says he's been adopted either . . ." I say.
I turn to a guy in a blue T-shirt. "Do you know anything about that dog?"
"There's no dog in that cage."
"I know that. Where is he? Has he been adopted or what?"
"They may have taken him out for a walk," he offers: mildly amused, largely indifferent.
"Can we go out and meet him?" I ask.
"He'll likely be coming back soon." he says, turning away.
"Since he's already out of the cage and it's the best way to meet a dog, can't we just go find him and meet him there?" I persist.
"I'm just a volunteer here, I dunno, they don't usually let people go out there. But . . ." The guy smiles at me, "I guess it would be okay. . ."
He directs us to an exit where panting, pulling, agitated dogs are being taken for brief walks by young volunteers.
* * *
Jason sees him before I do.
"That's likely him over there", pointing. He looks like a wolf.
The dog turns his head at that moment and heads towards us as we approach.
I crouch down to greet him. Immediately the dog rushes over to me and thrusts his nose into my neck, nuzzling. He leans into me.
The connection is immediate.
Laughing, I hug and kiss him. Jason shakes his head, wonderingly. He pats the dog and they too connect. We hang out until the volunteer says she has to take him back.
We are told to arrange an official interview with the dog. As we are doing so, several other people come up expressing interest in the dog. Children are now crowded around his crate. How was it that no one had noticed him before?
Outside in the yard again for their "Interview", Jason and the dog have time to develop some more rapport. Before long it's evident. They belong together.
Back we go into the hall where we learn a bit of the dog's history: he's come from a shelter in Montreal, and before that another shelter. He's somewhat of an escape artist, very smart, and able to open doors.
After a lengthy chat, Jason and the Humane Society woman seem to agree. "Coyote" and Jason make for a good match. Jason pays the minuscule fee and the three of us set off for home . . .
* * *
The dog is pulling, seemingly elated to be away from the building. As we walk people stop and stare. They tell us he is beautiful. Indeed he is. He really looks like a wolf. Again, I wonder, how is it no one claimed him before Jason and I did?
Once on the bus the dog tucks his rear under Jason's chair, settles between Jason's legs, and gazes contentedly at the passengers. Alert. Intrigued. Content. Women seem particularly taken with the dog. Everyone remarks on his eyes.
* * *
Arriving at the station we are swept up in an urgent wave of people pouring down the subway stairs.
I notice the dog walking as if he is spooked. His belly low to the ground, paws spread wide.
"He's spooked" I say.
"Oh he's fine" Jason replies.
"Look at the way he's walking."
I am reminded of when I worked with the Caravan Stage Company on Vancouver Island with a team of Clydesdale horses pulling caravans up a very steep hill. We all had to dismount in order to lighten the load. Even so, the horses almost crawled up the hill, bellies skimming the road. A spooked horse could pull the whole team off course and cause the caravans to jack-knife.
Jason shrugs off my concern. "He'll be fine." At the bottom of the stairs, Jason and I head off in our different directions, west and east respectively.
Something about the way the dog is walking and pulling leaves me wondering . . .
* * *
Later in the evening I phone to ask how Jason and the dog are managing.
Jason is concerned and frustrated.
"As soon we got to my house I knew something was up." he says. "He wouldn't go near the stairs. He wouldn't go upstairs and there was no way he was going down."
"What are you going to do?" I ask,
"Looks like I'm going to have to spend the night on the floor with him. He absolutely will NOT go downstairs."
"Well, I had a feeling something was up when I saw him going down the subway stairs."
"You think you actually have to sleep on the floor with him?"
"He cries otherwise."
"Good luck" I say.
* * *
In the morning Jason tells me he managed to sleep on the floor with the dog until about 5 am. At this point the dog apparently got up and started pacing around the house. Jason was at his wits end. Finally, he told me, he gave up, discouraged and went downstairs to his bedroom thinking maybe this wasn't the right dog after all.
"Don't give up yet", I say. "Bring him over here. I may be able to help him with the stairs."
Jason seems doubtful but he's willing to try. He agrees to head over in an hour or so.
* * *
The phone rings. It's Jason.
"He won't go down the subway stairs. I'll have to walk him to another station that has an elevator."
"Good luck" I say. "See you eventually."
* * *
Finally dog and man arrive. Both fraught, frazzled and exhausted. I invite them into the house and watch the dog race past the stairs — giving them the widest berth possible — straight to the back door. I usher them into the garden where Jason collapses onto the couch and the dog proceeds to bound through the Hosta lilies and Day lilies. So much for my garden.
After a while, once a measure of equilibrium has been reestablished, I open the screen door and invite the dog into the house.
Jason has taken to calling him Cody. "What happened to 'Coyote'", I ask. "Too long." He says.
Cody and I move around the house. He avoids the stairs. He is positively spooked.
I figure we'd better find out if he likes music or not, since Jason is likely to be here quite a bit helping me out with a construction project and the dog will be with him.
I sit down at the piano and start to play. The dog comes into the room, paces around briefly, sit in the doorway, listens, then comes over and puts his head into my lap. He has started to relax. After patting his fur my hands feel oily so I decide to go wash my hands.
I walk upstairs.
The dog follows.
Jason and I are stunned. The dog explores around upstairs.
"I can't believe it." says Jason.
I start walking downstairs. The dog starts whining. Clearly he is afraid to descend.
I get a dog treat and return to sit halfway up on the stairs, hoping to coax him down with food.
Not a chance.
Now we have an extremely anxious animal pacing around the second floor.
"Well, let's see," I say, "it worked the first time, maybe it'll work a second time."
I return to the piano and start to play.
Moments later down comes the dog.
I play a bit more and then Jason says "Let's see if he'll go into the basement."
Nothing doing. Not a chance.
I sit on the floor in the kitchen, leaning against the railings to the basement. Jason sits on the floor across from me. The dog enters the kitchen and eyes the basement railing dubiously. He avoids the stairs.
After a few moments of conversation I, once again, return to the piano.
Again the dog comes into the room, listens, relaxes, puts his nose on my knee, and returns to the doorway to relax and listen.
Once again, I decide to wash my hands. This time in the basement.
Down I go.
Down comes the dog.
Down comes Jason.
We sit in the basement chatting while the dog explores the basement.
When I decide to go upstairs, we all go up.
From that moment on — the dog has never shown the slightest fear of stairs.
He's a beautiful creature with a gentle playful disposition and Jason absolutely adores him.