Matt and I spent most of our camping trip avoiding the obvious topic: Ranger.
I think I brought him up twice to test the waters, but Matt was lukewarm. I couldn’t read him at all. I knew I risked him losing the connection with Ranger as the week went on, but I also knew repeatedly asking Matt how he felt could tip the scales in the no-dog direction.
But once we got back home, one thing was clear: We were going to visit Ranger again.
The day after we returned, we drove out to the humane society with our dog Lexie so she could meet Ranger. A young volunteer held Ranger’s leash as we walked around the parking lot, closely watching the two dogs interact. It was mostly benign stuff, with Ranger wanting to play more than the elder Lex, and he got a good butt sniff in too, to which she did not object. I called this a success. Matt was feeling the love.
We walked up to the adoption station, then Matt got cold feet.
“I didn’t know we were going to get him today! I feel like you are rushing me!” he said.
I found this surprising considering I had spent an hour prepping a crate the night before. But not wanting to spoil the entire transaction, I put a 24-hour hold on Ranger and we went home.
The next morning we woke up with clarity and new resolve. We would adopt Ranger. I waited until the shelter opened, and placed a call, excitedly telling them I would be by in an hour to adopt him.
Once we arrived, we immediately were told that Ranger had to pass “the cat test” since we have a cat at home. They offered to use a shelter cat for the interaction, and we were all for it. Ranger was a gently fella, and he would no doubt pass. We were told to wait in the hallway and that someone would lead us to the test room. After waiting 20 minutes, a young woman asked us if we “were the ones here for Ranger” and took us into a back room. After a few minutes, one of the volunteers said the regular cat used in this test was not available so instead they brought in an 8-week-old black kitten, which was quickly placed in a cage in the corner of the room. Moments later, the other volunteer brought in Ranger and the test was on.
Being a German short-haired pointer, he did the expected — he pointed. No growling, no barking, just a solid, unbroken point. The volunteers tittered, took furious notes and talked as if we were not in the room. They noted that a bad reaction to a cat could cause his heart to race and possible break loose a heartworm. Just looking at a cat could kill him, they said. I looked at him shaking, pointing, and wondered what damage they were causing to his heart with this stupid cat test. They quietly observed that he wouldn’t break his gaze. I could tell from the look on their faces that their collective armchair opinion was not good. They allowed Ranger to close in on the kitten as it hissed and swiped with its claws. The kitten was taken out of the cage and left to fend for itself in a corner. At 9 months old, I’m guessing this could have been Ranger’s first exposure to a kitten. A crazed, pissy one at that. Ranger never lost composure. But he never stopped pointing either.
After about 40 minutes of this, the volunteers declared the test over and without telling us the results pointed us to the front desk so we could continue the adoption process. So we walked up front and were told to sit at an adoption table. In the next 30 minutes of waiting, we burned some time by strolling through a small pet store in the lobby, guessing at which toys Ranger would love the most. We also confessed relief that we made it to the adoption table. The girls in the cat test were less than encouraging. I could feel them judging us, marking us as not good enough.
Finally we were called over to a table by a woman who greeted us with a bag of dog food. Suddenly I knew we were golden. Once you get the bag of food, they are ready to send you out the door with the pup. But she quickly excused herself and was replaced by a solemn-looking lady. Our hearts dropped.
The woman quickly told us that the staff was concerned because Ranger did not do well in the cat test, and performed similarly in the meet-and-greet with Lexie. We demanded to see the paperwork, and she said it was lost; all she had to go off of was a quick text from the kid who conducted the dog interaction. Matt and I looked at each other incredulously. She leaned in for effect. “Since Ranger has heartworm, we only have one shot at this.” She all but said that she thought we would kill Ranger if we brought him home, and that they just couldn’t authorize the adoption. She asked us to wait another 24 hours so they could consult a professional behavioralist.
The air in my lungs was gone. I looked at Matt, and we walked past the bag of food on the table.
On the long drive home, I called the shelter and said we would pass on Ranger.
I couldn’t believe I was walking away from a dog that I already imagined was mine. The bowl of water already was set out. The crate, set up. It had nothing to do with the dog and everything to do with the cumulative experience we had with the animal shelter. We got the sense they just didn’t want us to have the dog, and honestly, they zapped our fight.
We knew in time, we would be ready to look again.
NEXT: Trying private adoption.