For a few days in mid-September, the temperature seems perfect. It’s not boiling hot, but it hasn’t reached what you would call freezing cold yet. It’s a little chilly, but that makes you feel fresh and wide awake, and the wind isn’t horribly wild and hasn’t started biting at your face.
It was one of those days, and so my dad and I drove down to the local woods to go for a walk.
The ride was short, and I entertained myself by looking at the trees’ beautiful gowns of gold, red, and orange. Here and there, a pine tree popped up, looking serious and glum compared to the others around it.
We stopped and parked in the small lot. I got out, and a cool, crisp breeze brushed my cheek and ruffled my blond hair.
We started walking, and our feet crunched on the forest floor. Sometimes—in a sudden gust of wind—a brightly colored leaf would float gently down, adding to the great carpet of foliage already resting there.
We talked some, but I usually skipped ahead of my dad, my hair whipping back, and breathed in the fresh, earthy smell of the forest.
After a ways, about thirty minutes after we started, a bubbling stream wound itself towards us and continued to race merrily along the path.
As we rounded a bend, I noticed a skinny, black animal drinking from the stream. I froze, for my first thought was, bear.
My dad didn’t notice it at first but then stopped as well.
He was a black lab that was obviously lost—or a stray. His fur was matted, and his ribs were showing. But there was also something around his neck. It wasn’t a collar—I could tell that much—but more like a piece of string.
The animal heard our footsteps and turned to look at us.
Well, he seemed to be looking at me.
He wasn’t just looking, however. He was almost talking to me in a way I couldn’t explain—the way animals seem to give messages to humans without words, through just their eyes. This dog’s eyes were like melted chocolate, and if I had to say what he was conveying to me in words, it would be, “Help me.”
Still frozen, I peered closely at him, trying to see what the thing around his neck was. But instead, I found myself gazing back into those eyes, as if I could not look away.
And then the dog came slowly, tentatively, towards us, his tail wagging slowly.
My dad unfroze and walked toward the dog, just as slowly as the dog walked toward him. Then my dad said, “Hannah, let’s get the dog back to the car, OK? Then we’ll take him to the Humane Society—he obviously needs help.”
Unfreezing, I nodded. “Come on,” I coaxed.
The dog was too willing. He bounded towards us, then stopped, and limped the rest of the way; his leg was hurt, it seemed.
Half an hour later, we were in the small parking lot, and my dad was looking at the map to find the route to the Humane Society. I was looking at the thing around the dog’s neck. Tied on a red string was a piece of paper.
In small, messy handwriting it said, “Please take care of Shadow.”
Immediately, my heart went out to the dog. How could someone do that? How could someone let a dog survive on his or her own? And then a small question formed in my mind. What would have happened to Shadow if we hadn’t found him?
Trying not to think about the answer to that question, I paid more attention to Shadow. His fur was as black as a raven, and one of his ears had a chunk missing from it. On the way back, I had petted him, but my dad said something about ticks, and so I stopped.
But he had to agree with me that this dog was very cute. Well, if he was a little bit plumper, and his fur was brushed, he’d be adorable.
When my dad folded the map and put it away, I dared to ask him, “Dad, can we keep Shadow?”
“Shadow?” he asked. Then he sighed. “Hannah honey, you’ve named the dog already? You know we can’t keep him.”
“No, look, Dad, it says on his tag.”
“He has a collar?”
“No, look.” My dad crouched down and looked at the tag that had been around his neck. I could see his lips forming the words as he read them.
Again, he sighed. “Well, let’s get going, Hannah.”
I nodded, looking at Shadow. He was pacing around us, glancing sadly at me with his big brown eyes.
We got in the car, and Shadow sat in the back, panting happily.
“Can we keep him, Dad?” I pleaded.
“No, Hannah,” my dad said firmly. “We can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Please, please, please?” I begged.
“Sorry, Hannah,” said my dad.
“I just don’t want him to go to someone who’ll abandon him again,” I said.
My dad sighed. “There are other people who care about dogs, sweetie,” said my dad.
“I know,” I said. “But what if he gets placed in a home that doesn’t care?”
“He won’t,” said my dad. “That’s what the Humane Society is careful about.
” I turned my attention to the trees again, but somehow they didn’t seem so interesting anymore.
Half an hour later, we arrived at the building. We walked inside and I found myself in a room that had cages with cats in them, guinea pigs chattering anxiously, and sounds of barking dogs echoing through it. I wanted to take each cat home, and each gerbil and hamster as well. The lady took Shadow, and my dad dragged me out of the Humane Society.
Though I begged my parents for Shadow, they refused. I pouted. They wouldn’t give in.
Finally, I had to give in, which was something I knew was going to happen all along. But it wasn’t because of my parents’ stubbornness; it was because Shadow was adopted.
For about three weeks, my heart leaped whenever I saw a black lab. I strained to see if it might have been Shadow. But none of them were quite right—maybe too small or too big. Or when I asked to pet them, they didn’t recognize me or look at me in the way Shadow did.
But Shadow might not recognize you, Hannah, I thought. He barely even knew you. I knew it was true, but I couldn’t make myself believe it.
Once a month of that passed, I gave up. I just hoped that Shadow had been adopted into a good home and put it out of my mind. I had just entered middle school and was thinking about other things.
A year passed. My dad and I were walking down the street on a fall afternoon one day. The trees reminded me of the ones that were so beautiful on the day I first met Shadow. Suddenly, I saw out of the corner of my eye an eight-year-old boy and his mother walking down the street with their dog, a plump black lab. I turned my head. There was something about this dog that I couldn’t quite place. The lab had a red collar on, and one of his ears had a piece missing. He trotted happily beside the two and was looked at in adoration by the boy. As I passed them, the dog turned his head towards me and almost said something to me with eyes like melted chocolate, which were carefree and untroubled. He said (if I had to translate), “I’ll be OK.” Then he turned his head back to the boy and his mother and continued his walk.
I stood there, glued to the pavement, watching them head down the street until they disappeared. “Hannah, c’mon,” said my dad. Silently, I turned away from the empty sidewalk and followed him, feeling complete; the worry that Shadow would be mistreated or neglected seemed to have vanished into thin air.
Now I have a gray kitten with a white blotch around one eye. Her name is Lark, and she looks at me with bright blue eyes that are like rivers and almost talks to me in the way Shadow did—the way all animals can do.