“Mom!” I slide out of my bed, hopping down onto the plush carpet. It cushions my bare feet as I dash to the door and poke my head into the hallway.
“Dad!” my voice pierces the morning quiet.
When I glance through the picture window at the end of the hall, I notice how low the sun still is, but the birds are chirping, and it is most definitely morning.
“It’s Saturday,” I shout. “Today’s the day you promised to take me to pick my new friend!”
A loud groan comes from my parent’s bedroom and my dad’s muffled voice returns “Go back to bed! The shelter doesn’t even open until ten.”
I don’t care how early it is. There is no way I’m falling back asleep when I am this excited.
The bare concrete walls that surround me seem closer today than they did yesterday. They are closing in more and more, until one day they will crush me, and I will no longer exist. Perhaps that would be a good thing. Today is different. There is an excitement stirring, and I can hear movement as volunteers tidy, and get us all fed. Saturdays are always busy with young ones and their families looking for companions. Everyone tries to look brighter, put their best selves forward.
We all want something more than this. Most of us here have lived in a proper home at one point or another, but now we are all the same. Lost and sad, wishing for days gone by. Is it a fairy tale to think that perhaps someday there could be a warm bed and people that love us?
The sun peeking over the horizon as I pulled my battered old honda into the parking lot of the Guardians of Mercy Society. Working at the shelter was hard. My friends tell me how kind-hearted I am, and that I truly make a difference in the inhabitants’ lives. But, it’s emotionally exhausting here. You always hear about the fun stuff, like taking them outside for walks and playing. But places like this cost money, and we rely completely on adoption fees and donations. With the recession, things have been tight. The shelter used to spring for outings, and high-quality food. But these days, we were lucky to feed everyone.
The bell to the lobby rang as I pushed the door open. Raine was already setting up at reception.
“Morning, hun!” I called, forcing cheer.
She smiled at me. “Today’s going to be a record day- I can feel it!”
Raines is such an optimist, but today maybe she would be right. I punched my code into the door leading to the back of the facility, where we kept all the adoptable candidates. I had a few treats in my pocket for some of my favorites. The board strictly frowned at this practice, but how would they ever know.
“Mmmpph ma hmmrph…”
“Chew, Aiden” My mother laughed, then turned to my dad. “He isn’t excited at all.”
“We could just skip it.” My dad grinned. “Go to the lake instead?”
I swallowed my mouthful of food “No!” Crumbles of blueberry muffin spill out of my mouth. My parents both burst out laughing. They are so mean sometimes.
“Have you thought about what you are looking for?” mom asked, leaning forward. “Do you want a girl or a boy?”
“Something soft, and definitely a girl. When I did my research, I read they are more snuggly,” I closed my eyes and pictured my friend and me cuddling up on the couch together.
I ignored my breakfast and curled into a ball on my mat. It didn’t even smell like food. Today was just going to be another disappointment.
My mind wandered to my last family. When times had gotten tough, they said they couldn’t afford to keep me anymore. They said they loved me. Why did they let me go? Bitterness threatened to overwhelm me, but today was adoption day, and I needed to at least try to be amenable.
“Nana!” a sweet voice whispers. “I brought you something tasty!”
That woman was one of the nice ones, but I ignored her and curled tighter into my little ball. Footsteps echoed down the path, and I finally rolled over to check it out. Oh, my favorite!
I peeked around the corner to watch as Nana enjoyed her treat. She won’t eat it in front of me, but I loved seeing the joy when she finally found my gift. I hoped today was the day for her, and that she would get off the mat long enough to greet the potential adopters.
A low growl, followed by a grunt, sounded behind me.
“You are such a grump, Oscar,” I said affectionately and tossed him a treat. He was one of the tough cases and was not available for adoption because he needed some rehabilitation and additional care. A lump formed in my throat, and I swallowed, realizing how lucky he was to end up here, and not on the streets.
I held my parents’ hands as we walked into the lobby. A pretty lady sat at the desk, and she waved us over. “Hi, guys! Do you have an appointment?”
I could feel the blood drain from my face. Do you need an appointment? But my mom’s voice rescued me from my distress.
“We do. Smith family, at 10 o’clock.”
The woman tapped a few things into her touchpad and smiled. “You are all set! Let me just radio Katie, and she will meet with you guys for a consultation.”
“Who is Katie?” I asked, peering over the desk at the woman.
She gazed down at me, smiling. “Katie is one of our helpers!” The woman looked at my parents. “Part of what makes this shelter run so smoothly is our wonderful volunteers, but food and medical care cost money. Please consider donating.”
“Oh.” my dad peered over his dark-rimmed glasses. “The adoption fees are already so steep. But, I’ll see what we can do.”
The woman nodded and grabbed a small radio, pushed a button, and spoke into it. “Katie, the Smith family is here!”
I led the family into the consultation room. The little boy was practically jumping up and down. This could be the perfect family for Nana! My lungs expanded as I took a deep breath. Don’t get your hopes up yet!
Perhaps someday, if she doesn’t get a family by then, I could take Nana home. The thought of her spending the rest of her life curled up in a corner broke my heart. Some inhabitants were fine. They were perfectly content to spend their days in the tiny enclosures. Nana wasn’t one of those.
“I see from your form, that you are looking for a female.” I looked up, and the mother nodded.
This was the moment of truth. “I have one that I think would be perfect. Typically, we bring them into the consultation room, but she is a little shy. Would you be willing to come back to her space and meet there?”
A shadow crossed the father’s face, and he met his wife’s eyes. “I’m not sure we are equipped to handle one that is not friendly.”
The little boy tugged at his dad’s hand.
“Please!” he squeaked. “She is all alone and needs me, dad.”
Relief washed through me as the man relented.
“Nana,” the friendly voice called out. I pretended to ignore it.
“Nana!” it repeated. “I’ve got a family that really wants to meet you. Please come say hi.”
It sounded like the owner of the voice was going to cry. I didn’t understand why that girl cared so much. I was nothing, some families leftovers.
Then a tiny voice echoed on the concrete walls. “Hello Nana. My name is Aiden. I want to be your friend.”
His voice was so much like my grandsons. My eyes watered, and I pushed myself to a seated position. Maybe I could do this, and old ladies with no retirement money saved can have second chances. I turned my head and met the boy’s eyes. I’d been silent so long, my voice croaked when I spoke.
“Hello Aiden, You can call me Nana.”