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I spent my entire childhood wishing for a dog. We had always lived in small apartments, some with a no pet policy, so I didn’t get my first pet until I was 12, when I was given a four week old kitten in a tissue box. I have become a dyed in the fur cat lady, and am currently a proud mama of two handsome boys.
But I knew dogs were different from cats. I’d seen enough movies about dogs and their loyalty. I wanted to play in a backyard with a dog and a frisbee. I wanted a dog to curl up with at the end of the day, who would like my face when I was sad and protect me when I was scared.
It took me 47 years, but I did finally get my dog, in the most unexpected of ways.
I met the man, Scott, who would become my future husband, in 2007. He had been living on Florida’s west coast, but relocated here to Hollywood to be with me. His first job here was at a shady fly by night buy here- pay here lot as a auto bodyman. The day I drove him over to the lot for his interview, I pulled in, and had to drive up to the back gate, which separated the car lot from a tow yard.
There, at the gate, was the scariest animal I had ever seen. He was huge, a cross between a Rottweiler and German Shepherd. Snarling and drooling, he quite effectively kept me in the car. I thought to myself, I hope I never have to get anywhere near that animal.
As Scott got familiar with the place, we learned the dog’s name was Clay. He was normally kept chained in the tow yard, complete with one of those awful spiked choke collars but Clay was a canine Housing and he was forever getting out. He bit 6 people the first month Scott was there.
There was another dog on the property named King. He was a lab/pit bull mix and he was a honey. On my days off I would go watch Scott work, and I would sit contentedly with King by my side.
As time went on Scott became a key holder. By then we realized the dogs lived in horrible circumstances, even King, who if he was lucky and the owner felt benevolent slept inside the shop office. Not so Clay. He was always chained. He couldn’t go far, so he was living amongst his own pee and poop. Often he was neglected to be fed, and when he was, birds and cats would steal his food. He was abused by the guys who worked there. He had nowhere to go in inclement weather unless his chain was long enough to let him crawl under a car.
Scott took it upon himself to make sure the dogs were fed and had water. I remember driving out to the shop late at night to take them food. He brought doggy treats with him to work, and set out to win over Clay’s trust.
One day when I went to visit, Scott said, I want you to get to know Clay. I had started to really feel for the poor creature, but I was still scared of him. The first thing Scott said was do not let him know you’re afraid. He handed me a treat and told me to give it to Clay. All the while Scott talked to him. “This is my lady, boy. You need to be nice to her now.” And he was. He seemed so very grateful for the attention.
We found out later that Clay was originally supposed to be a family pet, but he pooped in the house once and was tossed outside. Then he snarled and almost bit the owner’s young son, and that was the end of that; Clay was dumped at the shop.
I continued to bring treats for King and Clay. Scott had already started talking about bringing King home. Although not as badly neglected as Clay, he deserved a better life than the one ha had at the shop. Scott wanted to just take him, but I was so naive; you can’t just steal a dog! So I went to the owner and asked outright if I could take King home. We had a nice house by then with a huge yard, perfect for a dog to run free.
I was told no. The owner said to me, and I quote, “I love those dogs like my own children.” I thought to myself I had better call DCF then, because if you treat your children the way you treat these dogs you belong in jail.
Meanwhile Clay and I developed a friendship. Soon it was him who sat by my side on the afternoons Scott worked. The guys at the shop couldn’t believe it. One said, “You let your girl near that mean old dog?” But Clay wasn’t mean anymore. He’d come a long way from the creature I was terrified of on that first day.
And actually, the owner did belong in jail. Turns out he was on the run from the law for swindling. The shop began to go downhill. After a couple of weeks of Scott not getting paid, he left the shop for a better position elsewhere. I was sad for the dogs but I didn’t think I would ever see them again.
Scott got a call several weeks later from one of the remaining guys who still worked at the shop. The place was closing, the owner about to go on the run. One of the other guys had already taken King (I heard a bunch of I told you sos over that) but Clay was set to go to animal control. Neither Scott nor I were going to let that happen.
So a time was arranged for me to go pick up Clay. I was still a little bit nervous as I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t revert to his old ways. However he didn’t deserve to go to animal control, that’s for sure. I knew what his fate would be.
I pulled into the lot. Clay had mysteriously slipped his chain. I opened the back hatch of my Honda CR-V and Clay hopped right on in. It was like he knew he was escaping. He was dancing around and licking me and wagging his little tail nub so hard his whole butt shook. During the entire drive home he kept crawling into my lap and licking my face. It was a miracle I didn’t have an accident.
The first thing we did when we got him home was take that horrible spiked choke chain off and throw it away. He then went to the vet, got a full health evaluation (it turns out he was about three years old ), got all of his shots, and a flea treatment. We got him a bright red collar and leash. We changed the spelling of his name to Cleigh to celebrate his new circumstances.
And thus I got my first dog.