Page 3 of Puppy Madness

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I often remind myself of those days in my civilian life.

It makes dealing with the little things easier…for me, at least. Unfortunately, for many of my friends, their time overseas has only made civilian life seem hollow and pointless.

But I’ve got a connection, a straight line from my time there and my time here.

The dogs.

Looking in the rearview, I make sure Shelby is doing okay.

He’s a Corgi with legs even shorter than usual for the breed, his body is longer than the standard Corgi, with tiny paws and one-half of one ear missing. Unfortunately, it seemed that the breeder was trying to make the perfect Corgi, and Shelby was one of the casualties.

Nobody wants him, probably because the ear looks like it’s been bitten off. It scared one little girl earlier today.

But the ear is a genetic defect, the same as his legs, a byproduct of the breeding program.

Shelby – named by one of my employees at the shelter – looks up, eyes blinking open. His body begins to tremble as sleep leaves him.

I reach back, careful to keep my eyes on the road, and gently stroke him behind his good ear. That seems to settle him down, but he whines when I move my hand away, so I drive the rest of the way like that, only removing my hand to change gear.

He’s older than most of the puppies, based on his size. We think he must be six months or maybe a little older. It’s surprising the breeder kept him around for so long. Maybe he didn’t want to waste what he saw as a product.

Pulling up in the driveway, I kill the engine and reach back, picking Shelby up and placing him in my lap. He whines and stares at me, his eyes wide, full of need…a need for love, guidance, companionship, and for humans to be good and caring and not the hell he experienced.

“It’s okay, boy,” I tell him, gently stroking my hands up and down his body. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

I couldn’t leave him at the shelter tonight. Or, technically, I could have, but I just couldn’t stand it.

He shakes like crazy at night, and part of me wonders if he was bullied at the puppy farm by the other dogs or maybe even by the sick people who ran that disgusting operation.

I climb from the car, take him from the seat, and place him on the ground. I don’t use the leash for the short walk to the house. I doubt Shelby would leave my side, anyway.

He walks close to my feet, making me choose my steps carefully, so I don’t trip up. When I push the door open, he stands on the threshold.

This is the first time I’ve brought him home since we got the dogs five days ago.

He sniffs the welcome mat, then backs off, sitting and tilting his head at me. He whines as if to ask me if he’s really allowed in this place.

Walking over, I kneel close to the door, extending my hand. I make soft noises with my mouth, my pitch higher, gesturing and telling him it’s okay. He’s safe.

It takes ten or so minutes, Shelby inching closer, then shyly moving away, then closer again….

Patience with dogs is the main thing. Always.

I learned that overseas and then at home as I transitioned to training the military dogs and handlers.

It’s not just outward patience, though. I could kneel here and keep my voice the same tone, but if I was getting annoyed or snapped at him to hurry up, Shelby would smell the stress hormones in the air.

That’s why it’s pointless telling lies to a dog.

They don’t have to see through them. They can smell through them.

Once inside, he stays close to me, following me as I walk into the kitchen. It’s almost midnight, the house quiet, though I know Elizabeth’s friend will be sleeping upstairs in the spare room.

Elizabeth mentioned that her friend wants to be a vet one day and loves working with dogs, so hopefully, she’ll know how to handle Shelby’s combination of nerves and terror.

After grabbing a drink, I gather some blankets and make a bed on the floor. It takes another ten or so minutes to entice Shelby into the bed.

I use treats and then throw him a miniature party whenever he sits there.

That’s the best thing about dogs. It forces a man to be happy in brief moments and forces him to celebrate when they do something good.

It makes it easier not to think about the future….

A future in which I have no woman. Because no woman has ever made me feel a thing, has ever made me want with a scorching heat to claim her, to make her mine.

It’s something I can never share with Elizabeth. It wouldn’t be fair for her to know my complicated feelings for her mother.