Learning to Love

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
May/June 2012

Peter O’Shea
Learning to Love boy with dog

“Hi Lucy. Remember me?”

Josh stared at the rows of cages. They were everywhere. Dogs barked and cats yowled, and Josh watched dismally as his mother drove away. He was at the local animal shelter because his mother signed him up for volunteering without his consent. Now here he was, standing hopelessly in the shelter, with no idea what to do. He hated animals, ever since his aunt’s German shepherd, Lucy, bit his hand. He cried the whole way to surgery, mostly because he thought he lost Lucy’s love. His grandmother gave away Lucy soon after that. That was when he was five. Now here he was, seven years later, near dogs of many different shapes, sizes, and breeds. There were nervous, shaking Chihuahuas, bumbling, joyous golden retrievers, and intuitive border collies, picking diligently at the locks to their cages with their teeth, hoping to open them and run around.

Then there were the cats. Josh never liked cats. He thought they were lazy, coy, and boring. They never did anything. And the cats at the animal shelter were even worse in his opinion. They expected everything to be handed to them. He gritted his teeth. He would try his hardest to convince his mother to let him quit.

“Hi! You must the new volunteer! I am Lindsay!”

Josh turned and saw a tall woman approaching him. She sounds so excited about everything, he thought to himself. He hoped he would not end up like her while volunteering at the animal shelter. Oh, how he wished he could be home and play his guitar. Playing guitar was his only hobby. His grandfather had taught him to play and even gave him his old guitar. After school, Josh would go to his room, and he would play a song and practice it so he could play for his grandfather.

He shuffled his feet, like a naughty schoolboy. “Hi,” he mumbled back. He was extremely shy, and her presence was overbearing. He hoped he would leave soon.

“Have you ever worked with animals before?” Lindsay inquired.

A rising hope bubbled inside him. He had not! Maybe they would kick him out! “No,” he said in a dull voice. She would not need to know he did not want to be here.

“That is all right, you can start with the older animals. They do not need any experience to be helped and loved! Great! I will send you right over!”

Oh no! Josh thought. His mind panicked. The clockwork in his brain started to dysfunction. He felt warm. “OK,” he murmured, “where is it?”

“It is on the second floor. I will help you find your way.”

She guided him and together they went upstairs. Lindsay opened the door to a small room. Inside the room was a German shepherd bearing a striking resemblance to Lucy, looking dejected and abandoned.

“Here’s the perfect dog for you!” Lindsay exclaimed. “She is very sweet, and a favorite among the TLCC: the Tender Loving Care Crew! And you are its newest member! Strangely, you are the first twelve-year-old to join TLCC. You must really love animals.” She turned to leave, but Josh suddenly spoke up.

“Wait! What is this dog’s name?” he asked.

“Lucy. She has been here for seven years. Some old lady brought her in saying she bit her grandson. I cannot see why, though. She is a sweet old dog.”

Josh felt his heart twinge with guilt. It was his fault she was in here.

“I will leave to let you two get acquainted. See you in an hour.”

Lindsay left, as swiftly as a fall breeze. Josh looked at Lucy. He sat down, carefully scared of her next move. To his surprise she lay down next to him and put her head in his lap. She looked at him with large eyes. He gently petted her head.

“Hi Lucy. Remember me?” She looked up at him and sniffed. She jumped up and for a moment Josh was scared, but she moved forward so suddenly he could not move and just waited for the pain of her gargantuan jaws. But instead of pain, he felt a warm tongue licking his face. He laughed. He spent the rest of the time playing fetch with Lucy, until Lindsay came back.

“Looks like you two had fun,” she said. “Maybe you can stay for a few more minutes.”

“OK!” Josh turned back to Lucy. “One more throw, OK Lucy?”

She wagged her tail. He threw the ball as far as he could inside her room. She caught the ball in midair with her powerful jaws. He laughed, and then petted her head.

“OK Lucy, I have to go, but I will be back tomorrow,” he said. “I will bring my guitar and you can sing along.” Lucy barked and wagged her tail. He laughed. “All right. Bye Lucy, bye Lindsay.” Josh left the building and waited for his mother.

*          *          *

The next day, Josh rushed home, grabbed his guitar, and (since his mother could not take him) walked to the shelter. He spent three hours playing his guitar for Lucy. When he was about to leave, Lindsay approached him.

“I heard you playing guitar. You were great! Maybe you could play for all the animals tomorrow. They might like the music. I know Lucy did.”

“All right.” Josh bent down and tied his shoelace. “See you tomorrow?”

“Actually, no, tomorrow is my day off.”

“Oh. Oh well, see you around, I guess.”

Josh left the building and called his mom. “Could you please pick me up from the shelter? Oh really? Cool! Thanks!” He waited for his mom, and left.

*          *          *

The next few days he spent in the shelter. Until one day, he saw Lindsay crying.

“What is the matter?” Josh queried.

“They are taking Lucy to be euthanized tomorrow! She is too old to be adopted by someone; no one is interested in old dogs, they want puppies! I am so sorry!”

“What!!!!” Josh exclaimed. He ran all the way home. He grabbed his money box and then ran back to the shelter. He threw a fistful of money at Lindsay. “I will adopt her! She feels like mine!”

Lindsay seemed to brighten up at this. She drew herself together. She took the money with shaking hands, and counted. Then she smiled.

“As a volunteer, you get a discount on every animal adopted! And Lucy is an older dog, so that is also a discount! And she comes with a free checkup to make sure she is in tip-top shape! Lindsay hugged Josh tightly. “Oh, thank you! You have just saved a life! I will go upstairs and get Lucy!”

She flew up the stairs and returned with Lucy on a leash, a bowl, and a pet bed. “Please take these to help you care for Lucy!” She threw the leash to Josh, who caught it and smiled. Lindsay gave Josh back fifty dollars. “Your change.”

Josh grinned. “Thanks.”

Lucy barked and wagged her tail. Lindsay and Josh laughed.

“I bet she is really happy.” He grinned again.

“You bet!” Lindsay smiled back.

And, leash in hand, Josh walked home. He had learned to love (animals).

Learning to Love Peter O’Shea

Peter O’Shea, 12
San Mateo, California

Learning to Love Erin Ruszkowski

Erin Ruszkowski, 13
Keller, Texas

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