Later that afternoon, on our way to the airport, the car packed full of luggage and excitement, we swung by the vet’s office to formally meet the puppy and find out his diagnosis. If he was healthy enough to survive, he would be medically boarded until our return, (and then we would decide what to do with him—it was the best we could do without sloughing off the responsibility onto someone else).
We were invited into the back room of the vet’s office and led to a wall of small kennels. Severe mange, worms, malnutrition, sunburn, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, months of medications, months on his own—the words blurred as we crept closer to the cages, my hand on my sleeve, trying to conceal my heart. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see when they opened the kennel door. I do know that I was trying desperately not to fall in love or form any attachment. Work mode prevailed. I stuck to the side of what was quickly becoming a crowd in the tight space to make way for others to see first (more for my selfish detachment than their benefit). All of us were crouched around the cage expectantly. The latch clicked, and a wiggling, scrawny, bright red puppy promptly peed on this freshly laundered bed before sauntering out. A little rough looking, his appearance didn’t exactly inspire an “awww…” but his positive spirit did. Tail wagging wildly, he walked a straight line, past outstretched hands, right to my lap. I rubbed on him while encouraging him to go visit someone else. I may have covered my heart, but obviously forgot to mask the word “sucker” written across my forehead. It’s blaringly obvious, even to animals. Someone said, “Look, he walked straight to L.B.” Silence. No one commented on this. No one wanted to say to whom the dog belonged (if any of us). Anything put out into the universe could bind one (or all of us) to the dog before we’d barely had a chance to say hello, or decide if any of this was even real. We’d just met, and we were on our way to big adventure down under. That seemed surreal enough.
We kissed him goodbye (from a distance, he still smelled, despite the bath) and wished him well. The reality was, he was going to live, and we were going to make our plane (but not if we stayed a moment longer). The real adventure had just begun, for all of us.