I don’t really know much about angels – Arch or otherwise – but that little dog was definitely sent from the universe. It was my friend Deborah who ultimately identified him as Gabriel. He had been waiting for me to find him.
Gabriel was my First Mate. He was with me through a marriage and a divorce, 1 house, 3 apartments, 6 job changes, and countless breakups. I would take him on long, long walks through the city and he would trot along beside me, looking up with a smile, his little gray tail waving like a flag. He sniffed every disgusting pungent sidewalk smell and peed on everything vertical.
I went through a lot of sadness in the years before and after my divorce from my first husband, and Gabriel would curl up as close as he could and siphon away the sobs as they would choke through me. He coolly kept his distance from the many men that I brought through my doors, knowing that none of them were worthy of much attention from either of us, but unable to put words to his disapproval of my choices in suitors. I was carving deep ruts into my soul with my self-loathing behavior patterns during those years.
Gabriel tried to reflect back to me in his gentle eyes how much love I was truly worth receiving. He showed me my worth every day through his loyalty, his warm body snuggled next to mine. But he couldn’t speak it. He couldn’t shake me awake and help me to find value in my own being. And, small and poodle-y as he was, he couldn’t even bite the ankles of those leeches and manipulators and chase them away before they made their way into my bed. But he stayed honest and true, sharing his heart with me until the very end.
Gabriel came into my life in a kind of sneaky way…First of all, they said his name was Bedlington (which was a flimsy alias anyway, I’m sure) and Second, I wasn’t even supposed to be looking for a dog at that point. My lease made it perfectly clear that pets weren’t allowed in my vintage Plaza apartment. I’m not sure what force kept pulling my attention to the Petfinder website, but I was checking it a couple times a week. I liked to look at the cute puppies and fantasize about snuggling them. I wanted a poodle puppy someday, this I knew for sure. My boyfriend wanted a big dog (they always do, to prove their manliness I suppose. Same reason men covet Hummers and diesel trucks). But ultimately, he didn’t have much say in the situation, namely because he was barely employed and it was my apartment anyway. Besides, he was smart enough to know how good he had it, living there rent-free while I worked as a newbie environmental engineer. He knew enough not to rock the boat and let me have my way most of the time.
So one sleepy afternoon while wasting time at my cubicle desk, I stumbled upon this blurry picture of a sad-looking miniature poodle on Petfinder.com. “Name: Bedlington; Breed: Poodle mix; Age: 5-7 years,” it read. Not exactly the cream of the crop. But I kept clicking back to his picture. Something about it… all the other dogs were posed to show off their toothy grins or perky ears, but “Bedlington” was curled up in the back of a dingy cage, looking straight into the camera, eyes big, ears down. He looked defeated. I had to go see him.
I went after work a few days later. My boyfriend came with, or maybe he didn’t… (I can’t really remember; This story isn’t about him anyway, it was always just between me and Gabe). The grumpy androgynous woman behind the humane society desk led me back to the cages. Before we even opened the door, the dogs could sense us coming – it was like that scene from Annie where all the orphans start freaking out and primping to try to get adopted. The dogs were all barking and wagging and practically putting on a choreographed dance number: “Look at me! Pick me!” We passed by them all, leaving them pathetically whining in desperation, and she finally stopped next to a seemingly empty cage on the top row.
“Here he is,” she said, with zero enthusiasm. I peered into the darkness. And there he was, squished up in the corner, a gray curly mass about the size of a large cat. He lifted his head and we looked at each other silently. He blinked. He wasn’t scared necessarily; he just didn’t have the need to put it all out there, obnoxiously barking like all those other dogs. It was like he had simply accepted his fate in this metal box; or maybe, I realized later, he had closed off his heart to protect himself from further rejection and pain.
“Can I see him?” I asked.
“Sure,” grunted the woman as she unlocked the cage. “He won’t be good with children or cats though,” she warned, eyeing me up and down before scooping him up and handing him to me.
He was soft, like lamb’s wool, and slightly stinky, like feet and stale urine. Kind of what you would imagine a hobo would smell like. But as soon as she passed him into my arms, he laid his head on my shoulder and I could feel his whole body relax against mine. That was the moment I knew. Not wanting to seem too eager or spontaneous (who was I keeping up appearances for: the apathetic human society woman? Myself? The dog?), I asked her if I could spend a little more time with him before I decided.
She led us to a concrete room at the end of the rows of cages. There were a couple of folding chairs and a drain in the middle of the floor (for guests to pee in, I suppose). I set him down, and he casually wandered around the room, sniffing the walls, floor, chair legs. He didn’t seem to care that anyone was in there with him.
“Bedlington!” I called, (playing along with the goofy name on his rap sheet). “Bedlington, come here!” Not surprisingly, he didn’t even turn his head. I looked at the woman. “Is he house trained at all? Does he have his shots? Does he know any commands?” I asked.
“We don’t really know,” she said. “Bedlington was a name given to him by our staff when he arrived. His vet check was fine. I don’t have any other information about him.” She shrugged and picked at her fingernails.
I went over to where he was sniffing at some thick layers of dog-odor on the floor and scratched his neck. He looked up at me and I scooted closer to give him a hug. Again, he looked into my eyes and leaned his head onto my arm. It was like he was hugging me back.
“Ok!” I said, a little too loudly. “I’d like to adopt him!” I could feel a giddiness rising up inside my stomach. What the hell was I doing?? I knew that I couldn’t have a dog in my apartment! How was I going to pull this off? What if he barks while I’m at work? How am I going to secretly walk him when the only way out is through the building’s front door? Eventually someone will rat me out to the landlord… and then what? Clearly I was being foolish and making a very stupid decision.
So I filled out the paperwork and loaded no-name fuzzy dog into the backseat of my car. I made up some story to my landlord about being bequeathed this dog from a long-lost relative. I’m sure he thought it pretty far-fetched, but he graciously gave me and my tag-along boyfriend (who would eventually become the ex-husband involved in the aforementioned divorce) two weeks to find a new place to live.
When I got home, I listed out several dozen trite dog names in my head, but when Deborah saw him she looked into his eyes and announced that he was Gabriel. She always did have a direct line to the universe like that. Who knows what he had been through to land him in the back of that cage at the pound. He was a hobo with a backstory for sure, but he wasn’t telling.
I think about Gabe often these days as I am in the process of healing myself and growing spiritually. He would be proud of me.
It’s been over 10 years since I said goodbye to Gabriel, watching his spirit leave his cancer-ravaged body on the icy steel vet table. However, his beautiful soul has never left my side.
©Vixen Lea 2020