I carry the last dog gate to the center field and hook it into place. I’m not expecting a huge turnout, but by the sounds, it’ll be better than last weekend.
“So, how was your vacation?” Beth asks, carrying over a crate filled with a litter of tabby kittens that a rescuer found in the dumpster behind the church a few weeks ago. We’re always getting deliveries like this, and it breaks my heart.
“Are you kidding? I could’ve stayed forever! Tara was so smart for moving to the land of everlasting sunshine.”
“But look at all she’s missing out on,” Beth says, lifting the box of kittens into the center circle we’ve blocked off with a gate. She sets them down wisely out of the sun before heading back to the van for the puppies and two older pit bulls.
“She is missing out on these two faces,” I say, snapping two leashes into place over Hansel and Gretel’s collar. They’re the two older pit bulls, and though they aren’t mine, I missed them like crazy.
“You should adopt them,” Beth says, opening the gate for puppies to run. Thankfully, they all will follow a sausage, which she holds up a guide for them to trail. “You love them, they love you… it’s a perfect fit.”
“You know I’d love to, but I can barely support myself right now. And where am I going to put them? There’s not enough room for them in Matty’s apartment.”
“They’re old. They don’t mind lounging around a flat all day. And if they get excited, have Matt take them to the gym. I’m sure he could put Hansel on a treadmill… keep him in running condition.”
I let the image of my older brother taking two old dogs to the gym with him roll around in my head. He may be older, but he’s not the most responsible person in the world. I’m imagining dogs running wild around the gym while he tries to catch them.
“What?” Beth says, opening the gate so the puppies can run in. “Not an option?”
“No, it’s a total option,” I laugh. “I’d actually love to see it.”
He and Beth dated for a while, so I know she knows what I mean. He’s a great guy, he’s just got his shirt on backwards most of the time.
As the day goes on, the park fills up more and more and soon we have a bunch of people looking at our information table, playing with dogs, and signing up for background checks. It’s an extra step, but it ensures that each pet goes to a nice, long term, loving home.
“Who’s that?” Beth asks, pointing to a dog mascot talking to people on the other side of the dog enclosure.
I narrow my brows and look toward her with a laugh. “Is that Chris?” He’s been a volunteer with us for as long as I can remember and he’s always doing goofy things like this. “Maybe he’s surprising us. I’ll go say hi.”
She grips my arm and pulls me back. “No! What if it’s a weirdo! I mean, who shows up at the park dressed like a golden retriever without announcement?”
I love her to death, but she’s afraid of her own shadow. Sometimes, I wonder how she leaves the house.
“He’s ten feet away from us, surrounded by people. I think I can say hello… what’s your name? Besides, I’m sure it is Chris. He said he might stop by anyway.”
Beth shakes her head as though she doesn’t approve, then makes her way back to the adoption table where a couple is waiting with their application.
I’m not sure who this is, but I’m sure whoever it is, isn’t a weirdo. I mean, weirdos don’t dress up like dogs. They dress up like clowns or door-to-door salespeople.
“Excuse me,” I say, clearing my throat.
The person… dog… person… doesn’t hear me.
I clear my throat again, this time louder as I tap the furry, yellow shoulder.
“Yes,” a deep voice says. I’m pretty sure it’s not Chris. His voice is much lighter, but I ask anyway.
“No,” the man says. “Chance.”
“Chance?” I ask, more sarcasm in my tone than expected. “That’s your name? Your real… person name? Chance?”
The man nods and goes back to making silly dances in the field for the kids nearby watching.
Shit, maybe he is a weirdo.
“Well, Chance, would you mind stepping over here for a second with me?”
The dog nods, his long flapping tongue hitting his hairy chest as he bounces away from the kids and toward the oak tree that’s hanging over the dog enclosure.
“I’m sorry if this is rude,” I say, feeling a flutter in my throat. “We didn’t hire a dog for entertainment today and there are a lot of kids here, so I’m going to need you to tell me where you came from.”
“I’m a volunteer,” the man says. “Randall approved my being here.”
My eyes narrow. “He did? When?”
“A week ago,” the man says. “Or Maybe two.” His voice is muffled through the costume and it’s hard to hear him clearly.
“So you wouldn’t mind if I called him then?”
The man nods, and Beth, who is listening to our conversation from a few feet away, also nods as though she’s already on it.
“Sorry if I’m scaring you. It’s not my intention,” the man says.
“You’re not scaring me. I just… I think you should take your mask off so we can see who you are. I mean, just in case you—”
“Randall said he approved it,” Beth says from behind me, before addressing the man. “Sorry for the trouble. You know how it can be when you have a bunch of kids around. Always have to be safe.”
The dog nods and jumps away from us and back to the kids, his long tongue waggling side to side, the tag on his collar jangling. The real dogs are confused as hell as to why this one is six and a half feet tall and walking on two legs.
“Did Randall say who it was?” I ask. “The voice sort of sounded familiar, but it was hard to hear through all that fur.”
“He said it was a volunteer. That’s all I got.”
I want to question Beth as to why she didn’t ask for more information, but I’ll find out from Randall later who this mystery dog is. Today is about the real pets. Besides, he doesn’t look to be doing much harm. In fact, his costume is getting kids to drag their parents over to see what’s going on. That’s a positive.
I lean down into the kitten enclosure and pick up an orange tabby that looks exhausted by playtime. I’ll set her down in the rest space by the fans with a cup of milk for a while.
As I stand up from the enclosure, a kitten pressed against my chest, I see the furry is looking at me. Not just looking… but staring… and waving, with his long, red tongue buoyant against his chest. I want to believe Beth is right, that Randall approved his visit, but I have this nagging feeling that something just isn’t right.