So, one Saturday a while back, I go in to an appointment to give vaccine to a dog. She pokes her little head out from under the exam table from time to time, looking shyly up at me with shining eyes, as I take the history (new dog, acquired four days ago from a rescue organization). She has been recently spayed, and from the looks of her has weaned pups not long ago, perhaps a month. She's a little thin and her coat is coarse and sparse, a bit dull, and I suspect her nutrition during her pregnancy and nursing was marginal at best - not surprising in a dog that has ended up, litter in tow, with a rescue group. She is a drab muddy black in color, with scruffy and disreputable tufts poking up here and there, of indeterminate parentage (though I suspect a little husky, some lab, and strains of some other unidentified ancestry). She is sweet-faced, though, with a whippety build and the absurd Sister-Bertrille-hat ears that often come with some sight-hound ancestry. She gives me a smile as I am reaching into the mini-frige under the counter to get the vaccine, squinting her eyes just a little to telegraph her good intentions, tail thumping a rapid tattoo on the floor.
"Well, hello there little one; are you a good pup?" I ask her - as if she can reply (why I do this, I never know, but I talk to nearly all my patients as if they are small children and can carry on a conversation with me - and ridiculously, I sometimes supply their half of the conversation as well. Oddly, my clients seem to find nothing bizarre about this. Perhaps they do the same at home.) In reply, my patient flattens her ears and wrinkles her lips ingratiatingly, gazing at me with soft eyes full of hope.
"She's a GREAT dog," the owner says fervently. I am surprised; she's just told me she adopted the dog only four days ago. It seems like she's hardly had time to have such absolute conviction about it.
"That sounds like there's a story attached," I say, as I fill my syringe.
"My other kids all like dogs, but my 13-year old is deathly afraid of them. I decided we had to get him through this, and maybe the best way was for us to have a dog. The right dog," she tells me. "We went to the rescue group to look and they had her on a runner out in the yard. I could tell by the way she was acting that she was safe to approach, but my son was scared of her. I told him, 'Go on, it's okay, go up to her' - but he would barely walk over to her, he was so scared. She was very excited, but I guess she saw that he was afraid, so instead of jumping on him like most dogs would, she sat down very quietly, looked up at him, and held up her left paw to him. That was it. He was in love."
"Oh, how charming!" I said, smiling at the dog (who smiled back.) "Good friends now, are they?"
The client gave me a benign look, full of peace. "She sleeps on his bed."
So it's a small little story, just a tiny event that took only a few minutes out of my life. But I loved the image of this one plain, neglected and unwanted little mongrel changing, in a single instant, the heart of a boy afraid of dogs. His world turned, that day, on a single upraised paw. And so did hers, as it turns out, because now she has a home where she is already much loved, and well-cared-for.
Some days, the good guys win.