She was a rescue puppy. Her golden brown coat was shiny and clean and there was a black tip on her tail. She was curled up in a small cage inside the bright lights and white floors of Pet Smart, her cage lined up with a dozen other crates all filled with dogs of various shapes, sizes, and colors.
My two girls, ages six and three, moved quickly along the cages eyeing all the animals until they stopped at the end. There she was. She looked up at them first with her eyes and then raised her head from her front paws. Her tongue came out for a moment and she almost smiled.
My wife chatted with the rescue ladies and they nearly talked her into the deal. She had traded phone numbers and was excited.
As they talked, several people came down the row of cages. They paid the most attention to the golden puppy. The teenage girls fawned over her and stroked her sides. Old men patted her head. Mothers pushing strollers stopped and tugged on her ears. This was, by far, the most beautiful puppy in the whole group.
“Come on, girls,” I said softly, and I knew this was a bad idea. “Let’s go to the bookstore and get a book about puppies first, before we bring one home.”
Driving home I looked at my wife. She turned to me, her blonde hair falling in curls around her neck, and she looked beautiful in the late afternoon light. Her expression was clear: she frowned and shook her head. We were returning home empty-handed. No dog.
Then another sight caught my eye, and my stomach felt hollow and my throat was full. My six-year-old daughter sat in the back seat with tears silently streaming down her soft face.
“Oh, Snugs,” I said. “Are you crying because…”
“I’m crying because I don’t have a puppy,” she said. Her lip quivered and she wiped the tears from her big, brown eyes. Her name was Jena, but I had started calling her Snugs when she was a few days old. She had been a snuggly baby, wrapped in a blue, white and pink blanket, her inky dark eyes full of warmth and her smile so cheerful and new. Now she was a big girl, but my nickname for her had stuck.
“No puppy,” said Annabelle, her three-year old bottom lip stuck out long and thick. She sat in her car seat with her arms crossed.
I kept driving.
After a few moments I looked again at my wife, who had been watching a single white cloud float along far out in the open sky.
“Call them,” I said. She turned quickly and looked at me. Her back straightened and she leaned forward.
“Yes, call them,” I said. “Ask if they still have that golden puppy.”
“Everybody loved that puppy. There’s no way it’s still there. Somebody has adopted it.”
“Give it a shot.”
She called and her face went happy, with a long, broad grin and her white teeth flashed and she giggled after she put down her cell phone.
“They have her and say they’ll hold her for us.”
“Let’s go get our puppy,” I said.
The girls were in shock. Daddy had come through. Daddy was going to get them a puppy. Daddy was a hero.
Driving home, Annabelle clasped her little hands together in prayer; her fingertips and palms touching.
“Dear God, thank you for our puppy. Amen,” she said.
The tag on the dog read London, Ky. So when we got home and let her prance around on the carpet, we decided to name her something beautiful.
“London!” said Jena, reading the tag.
The name stuck.
London played in the yard and ran. She ran under a tree. She ran under the swing set. She ran to the girls and then back to the tree. She saw a bird across the green grass and her right front paw bent at the joint, her head trained on the bird. She ran. But she didn’t catch the bird.
London lived with us for almost three months. But on the day of a neighborhood cookout, we came home to find a tragic sight. My wife screamed and hurried me upstairs to tell me in secret. She had found London in the small bathroom next to our kitchen.
“She’s dead,” she whispered. Her eyes were filled with tears and her face was pink. She was shaking. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” she said through clenched teeth.
I went back downstairs and went into the small bathroom, closing the door behind me so the girls wouldn’t see in the room.
London lay next to the sink. A Tostitos bag was over her face and I pulled it off easily and quickly. Her eyes were open and her tongue stuck out on the far side of her jaw. I was stunned. My head pounded and I needed to sit down but I didn’t. My legs weakened. I felt her side and knew she was not breathing; she was stone dead.
I closed the bathroom door and went back into the kitchen. I nodded to my wife.
“Girls,” she said. “Let’s go back to the cookout for a little bit.” She led them into the garage and asked me to clean up.
I returned to the bathroom. I held the chip bag in my hand for a few moments and looked at London. I felt a wet drop seep out of one of my eyes, and then another tear crept out of the other.
“Why, girl?” I asked in my mind. I said nothing but held back the rest of my tears.
I took the chip bag into the kitchen and threw it away. It had been on the counter, and she must have reached up and grabbed it, buried her nose in the bag, and after she finished the few remaining chips, the bag had suctioned onto her snout, suffocating her.
London’s flash of life was over.