Cassandra scans the wiggling horde of yipping puppies, all clumsy and curious. Her nose registers ten-week-old fuzzy fur wet with puppy pee.
It is the third pen in her search for a playmate for Molly. Another compound of raw bravado, climbing, tumbling sibling attacks. More cute puppies than she can count.
And then she sees Dolly, standing apart, still, staring straight ahead.
Dolly’s eyes are either green or yellow, but so pale it doesn’t matter. Can she see? Cassandra kneels to stroke her. As her hand moves along the pinto pattern on her back, Dolly stiffens. Cassandra picks her up and cradles the fragility. Dolly holds her breath, a small gulp of life stored tentatively in a vacant body. She fixes her gaze on something miles away.
“Is she all right?”
The attendant checks his clipboard.
“She’s healthy, she’s had her shots. She got dumped down the road two days ago.”
Cassandra gathers her to her heart, but Dolly doesn’t give. Her legs are rigid, her lips shut tight. No licking tongue, no wagging tail. She’s a rice crispy statue, corn syrup glue, enduring the embrace, petrified.
“I want this one,” she tells him. “She’s just scared. She’ll be all right.”
No amount of cuddling softens Dolly’s emotional paralysis in the Shelter office while papers are signed and fees are paid. No relaxing in the cozy box on the ride home.
It isn’t until months later that Dolly approaches Cassandra voluntarily and her tongue finds Cassandra’s neck.
And then, it is only that Cassandra is sitting among the rocks in the terrace above the clothes line, shaded by the oleanders, lost in jagged feelings that come to people on their birthday.
For the first time, Dolly doesn’t shrink back into a numb block of muscle memory, too scared to move, too traumatized to do anything but resist in her own way, in a nobly resolute isometric.
For the first time Molly doesn’t dominate, doesn’t nudge Dolly out, head her off, jump in first, or even snarl. After all the lessons establishing Molly as the Ruler of the Yard, the Water Bowl, the Food Dish, dragging Dolly by the scruff of the neck those first days. First forcing her to drink and eat at Molly’s command, then denying her access to the wading pool and chew toys till Molly has claimed them and had her fill.
Now both puppies snuggle Cassandra’s neck together. Dolly is the one who licks away one tear at a time as memories well up and break through.
Cassandra relishes this bonding display and lets them know it.
“Good girl, oh you’re so pretty, aren’t you? Yes You Are!”
“And you! Look how strong you are! Look at your teeth!”