One question concerns me: Was she was someone’s family pet before the smugglers took her? It’s likely. She climbs up onto any willing lap and folds her flanks into the knobs of her knees, tucking her nose under her tail. She burrows like a deer into this nest of her own bristle and bone. She stays, riding the chop even when the lap belongs to a shouting Pictionary player who is trying in vain to sketch a triceratops before the timer runs out.
My office is powered down for two full weeks. Bug is with his dad’s clan up north for half of winter break. This would have been a perfect time to go get a haircut. Assemble those shelves in the utility closet. Catch up with faraway friends. Sleep.
Our lives have no room for this. I can barely keep a philodendron alive. Nevertheless, Bug reminds me about the promise I made a few months after our pooch passed away last spring. “We can start thinking about it in September.”
In September, he asked, “When can we start talking about it?” I told him Thanksgiving.
At Thanksgiving, he asked, “When can we start looking?”
I don’t head into Petco’s December adoption event with the intention of adopting. I’m just checking things out, just starting a process that might take months. But there she is. She lays with her paws crossed and ears up, keeping a polite distance from the shrieking tumble of puppy-ness.
They tell me she is from Thailand. A rescue. Undoubtedly a dog of rough beginnings. Undoubtedly full of needs and fears and miswired circuitry that might make her a heap of trouble. The little boy from her foster family says she follows him around and curls up with him every time he sits down. He doesn’t seem to grasp what a nightmare she might be. He chatters on about what a cuddler she is, and how gentle, and what a good friend.
In the days after I submit an application (just an application, not a commitment), I learn more than I want to know. She slips free from her foster family and disappears into the sprawling suburbs. She is prone to flight. This is not surprising, given how she’s learned to survive. The illegal meat trade is a brutal teacher. In Thailand, smugglers lure both pets and strays off the streets and stuff them into crowded crates. They tear off to slaughterhouses in Vietnam or China to sell their wares.
Animal protection laws are lax at best. When merchants are caught, they may not even pay a fine. Rescued dogs land in safe but spartan shelters with hundreds if not thousands of other disoriented creatures. Inadequate funding and sparse veterinary care leave many of these dogs with grim futures. In Thailand, pet adoption is exceedingly rare.
A few organizations from around the world fly volunteers out to select one or two to ferry across the ocean to new homes.
She’s come this far only to make a break for it the first chance she gets. She has no idea that anything good — anyone good — is on the other side of trust. During the uncertain week when she is missing, they tell me she unlikely to make it back.
What they don’t know is that this little girl was born under a lucky star. Maybe a whole constellation.
With the help of professional trackers and an army of volunteers, someone finds her hiding in brambles on a side street in Chantilly. The vice president of the rescue organization decides to hold onto her for the time being. They call me up to tell me we can bring her home.
There’s no way we’re ready for this.
Of course, neither was that family in Thailand. More to the point, neither was she.
It isn’t possible to send them word. She has no records except the ones written in an unfamiliar alphabet and cobbled together before she boarded her flight. Even if we were certain she’d had a home, if we could find a town, a street, someone to ask, who would translate our inquiries?
Would a photo would be enough?
It is for Bug.
He loves her at one glance. “Look at those cute little eyes!” He fawns over her tiny snapshot on the smartphone.
Two days later, they meet in person. She whips her tail so hard she can barely keep her back legs on the floor. She tries to scale him to get to him face to lick lick lick. He squeals and laughs, petting her all the way down her wiry back.
Despite it all, she trusts him. Trusts us.
At home, she finds a lap. It’s far too small for her. No matter. She burrows in.
An earthquake, a tidal wave, a belly laugh. She isn’t going anywhere.
She claims her place.
We have no room for her.
Anyway, she stays.
- Soi Dog is a Thai animal welfare organization that aims to end pet cruelty and homelessness in Thailand.
- This CNN photo blog takes a hard look at the dog meat trade.