Virginia Smith cried the day we chose Maddy over all the other dogs at the Animal Protective League. We were two months married and wanted a dog to round out our family when we visited pound dogs at Severance Mall in Cleveland. But that Sunday afternoon they had only puppies, and we didn’t want a wild-eyed, needle-toothed puppy to housebreak. We worked full-time and were already busy adjusting to this new life we had chosen in this city on the north coast. A kitchen floor covered with newspaper and a small creature squealing at midnight for his mother might just overwhelm us.
Virginia Smith invited us to come by the main facility later in the week and meet a lovely, six-month Dane mix who might be perfect for us. “Sweet and only oh-so-high,” she said as she motioned mid-thigh.
We didn’t know then that black dogs were often left for last. Or they didn’t find homes at all. Ditto the big breeds. In the city pound, big black dogs often walked the last mile.
From all the dogs yipping for attention, we chose three to meet outside the cages: Oreo, a black lab with a bit of white; Sebastian, his blonde counterpart; and Paddy. Paddy, the oh-so-high black Dane had a white map of Africa on her chest.
We met with the dogs on leads in the hallway. Oreo and Sebastian, flushed with freedom, flew back and forth as far as the lead would allow. Paddy, a taller, thinner version of the two labs, seemed unsure. But when I knelt by her, she laid her long legs across my lap and looked up with a dark, calm gaze. Virginia Smith passed as we were meeting with the Labs. She didn’t see us with the Dane. But when she saw Paddy’s name on our application at the front counter, she cried. The not-so-small Dane came home with us later that week.
Paddy became Maddy, a name suggested by a student in a class Fred was teaching. When he asked for suggestions, one student said, “name the dog for home.” So we named her Madison, for the home in Northern Virginia where we met.
Maddy took nothing for granted. When we left her alone, she ate clothing and tore apart sofa cushions. She bounded through snow banks in winter, and through a glass table top in the living room while barking at a passing dog. We commissioned an iron fence maker to fashion a Dane-proof lion cage, and she broke teeth trying to escape.
She grew into nearly a hundred pounds of love and anxiety. Young men stopped their cars to admire her as I walked her through the neighborhood. We gave this crazy girl a home filled with love and care for nearly twelve years.
Black dogs are the last adopted. Maddy has been gone for five years, but I think she’d be pleased to know about our most recent addition. Dory is a scruffy black terrier. She lacks the map of Africa, but does have a white chest, as well as white paws and a tip on her tail. She’s small where Maddy was tall. Dory (née Dorothy) belonged to a hoarder, then spent two months in the shelter. When we met her, she didn’t lay paws across our legs. Rather, we picked her up and held her to try to calm her shaking. When we put her down, she retreated to the far side of the room by the door. She didn’t warm up to us and didn’t ask to go home with us. But after two weeks of deliberation, we took her home anyway.
Today, not even a week into her new life, she bows before hound dog Jack to entice him to play. She dances when she sees us and begs to sleep in our bed. Like Maddy, she already knows we are her pack.
I don’t know if Maddy and Dory – and Jack and Shelby and all the rest – ever forget where they’ve come from. I don’t know if they ever forget abuse or the chaos of the shelter or life on the streets. But I do know that they recognize love when they see it, and love makes them a home.