“So, how long have you worked at the shelter?” Tyler asked.
She was grateful for the change in subject and the escape from her pity party. “Only a few weeks. I actually work the night shift at Fairview Animal Hospital so I can be home during the day with my son. I only usually do a few hours in the morning at the shelter, but today one of the other women called in to say she’d be a little late, so I agreed to stay.”
“Where is your son?” he asked.
Was he accusing her of something? “He’s with my mom, not that it’s any of your business.”
“Hey, no need to get hostile. I was just asking,” he said.
“I’m not hostile; I just don’t appreciate the insinuation that I’m neglecting my son.”
“Whoa, no insinuation! Geez, are you always this defensive?” he asked.
Dani didn’t say anything, partly because she was embarrassed. She was constantly taking flak from her mom about how she was raising Noah, and it had just become instinct to immediately go on the defensive. Even with a total stranger who was just being inquisitive. She shouldn’t have jumped down his throat. Especially since he was helping out Fugly.
“What are you going to do with Fugly if he makes it?” she asked.
“I figure I’ll see what his injuries are, and depending on how he does during his temperament evaluation, I’ll find something for him to do. The first item on the agenda is to give him a better name.”
“What if he doesn’t pass?”
She saw it, even if it was just a flicker. The grim downturn of his mouth that said exactly what would happen if he didn’t pass.
“I like to think positively,” he said.
Dani had a feeling he was avoiding the question for her benefit. He’s probably scared you’ll rip his face off if he says the wrong thing.
“How many dogs are you looking for?” she asked.
“I have four open kennels, but if I find more that are a good fit, I’ll usually foster them or one of the other trainers will take them in.”
“Isn’t it hard doing that? Testing a dog, and when he fails, knowing he’s most likely going to die?” she asked.
“It’s the way it is, and until we can come up with a better system, I can only save the ones I can train as police, military, search and rescue, and therapy dogs. We are trying to grow, and the goal is to have an Alpha Dog program in every city, but it’s just us for now.”
Dani swallowed back the sour taste his cold, matter-of-fact explanation had created in her mouth. “It’s not fair. Some of these animals have never known kindness or been trained—”
“And it sucks, believe me, but I can’t take every dog. There are too many good ones to waste time on the ones who might bite a child one day. If I don’t do my job right, and one of our dogs attacks someone, the whole program could get shut down. And then we aren’t helping any dogs.”
Dani understood, she did, but having him act so casual about it rubbed her the wrong way. How could he be so callous?
He parked the van in the same spot as before, and as he killed the engine, he turned.
“Look, I’m sorry if I’m coming off like an asshole, but if I can’t hold it together and make the tough calls, then I can’t do this job. I have a friend who’s a vet, and he worked in shelter medicine for years. He told me once that in shelter medicine you get hard or you get out, because otherwise, all the bad shit you see is going to haunt you.”
“You honestly think that people in shelter medicine no longer care about helping the animals?” she asked.
“It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that the system has worked against them for so long, they’ve learned to triage, just like a doctor in the emergency room. Just like your lab coat guy.”
“Wait, so you agreed with him about euthanizing Fugly?”
“No, that is not what I’m saying. I am saying that I understand how some people get to the point where it’s less heart-wrenching to essentially turn off their humanity.”
Dani opened her door and got out, turning to face Tyler. “Maybe that works for people like you, but I don’t have an on and off switch. I feel things and I empathize, and if that makes me weak to some peop
le, then they can go to hell.”
She slammed the door with a bang and headed for the front of the building, waiting for the sound of his van door opening or the heavy tread of his boots.