How Isla Vista's bluffs transform as the sun sets.
Sometimes, "man's best friend" is an understatement.
He never looked at dogs the way other kids did.
He wouldn't go to the local pet store and press his nose to the glass and pick out the fluffiest puppy with the most personality.
He never saw his family dogs as entertainment or frivolous additions to the household.
He got his first dog of his own when he was 10. His mother took him to the shelter, and he looked at each animal. They were frightened. Alone. Traumatized.
He curled up in his room next to the door. He could hear them again. Every night it seemed their shouts and insults grew louder.
"You’re a selfish, lazy piece of shit! Get out!"
He curled up tighter.
"I pay for your meals, you have no right to speak to me like that. You disloyal bitch!"
He shut his eyes. He hated hearing them yell.
He walked down the line of big-eyed pups and stopped. Right in front of him was a tiny ball of black fur curled up in the corner. He knelt down beside the bars and stroked the top of her head with two fingers.
She curled up tighter.
He woke up to sunlight pouring through his mother's new apartment window. He was starting to get used to living here during the week. It was small, but there was enough room for the two of them.
He trudged to the kitchen and began pouring out the dog food. The new landlord didn't like pets, so the boy's mother always said she was watching them for a friend. She could hardly wait until they could afford that little cabin in the mountains – she could go back to training therapy dogs and breeding puppies without worrying about eviction.
He put his face at her level.
"Do you want a new home, pup?"
She slowly, cautiously lifted her head. Her matted fur was missing on certain spots on her back. She was mangy, dirty, stinky. She was afraid.
And he knew she was the one he wanted.
He opened the door to the new cabin in the mountains. He held in his arms his very own bundle of black fur, shaking with the fear and uncertainty of the unfamiliar atmosphere.
"Don't worry," he whispered to her. "It’s new for me, too."
He set her on the ground and let her have a look around.
The veterinarian had told him she was not in good shape. She was afraid of strangers and water and anything unfamiliar. They were able to groom her fur. Treat her worms. Give her shots. But she had been afraid for the entirety of her short life. Fear and discomfort were all she knew. He scratched behind her ears and promised her silently that she would never go through that again.
He brought home a pretty girl one day. She was smiling and she smelled like other dogs and she gave the 5-year-old pup a long belly rub when they were first introduced.
He had decided years ago that if his pup didn't like a girl, that girl wasn't meant to be. This dog was more than a pet to him. She would paw at him and point her nose at whatever she wanted him to pay attention to. She would look at him with pure adoration when he would pull her in and stroke her soft fur. She would give him dirty looks when he made too much noise while she was trying to sleep.
His mother moved across the country when he was 20 and took the other dogs with her, leaving the two of them on their own. He found an apartment that would allow pets and had a lot of space for her to play. He didn't mind the extra cost.
All his friends loved playing with her. His relatives fawned over her obedience. His girlfriends wanted to take her home.
When he had a good day, he would play with her and chase her around the house. When he had a bad day, he would turn on the TV and stroke her ears softly. When he felt like he couldn't handle life any longer, he would curl up and she would curl up right next to him.
Because she knew how he felt.
She was 12 and he was 23. He came home and grabbed the leash. She jumped and pranced and danced around when he said the familiar words: "Do you wanna go for a walk?"
He clipped the leash to her collar and they walked to their favorite trail by the beach. She still wouldn’t go near the water, but she loved the sand. Once he was off the main road, he put the leash in the backpack and let her explore. He found a bench and sat down to start a new book.
Life was going his way.
Three months later, he sat on his recliner stroking her ears. She was getting old and gray, but she still had the same spunk and personality as when she was a puppy. She would still jump around when he got home from work, even if it hurt her hips. She would still beg for spare chicken after dinner. She still gave him those loving eyes when he pulled her in and stroked her soft fur.
He reached to scratch under her chin, and felt something different. He lifted her head and saw a small bump.
The vet told him she had a few weeks.
Six days later, he was stroking her ear softly while they gave her the shot.
She was not his pet. Not even his best friend. She was a part of who he was. She had been there through the bullies, the breakups, the fights, the insecurities, the victories, the milestones, the transitions, the tears, the kisses, the goodbye hugs, and nearly every moment since he was only 10 years old.
She looked at him with those big, loving eyes.
She took one deep breath.
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About Cassidy Emenger
I'm Cassidy, a writer specializing in digital marketing & creative journalism. If you like my work, drop me a message. I live for collaboration.