The Walking Stick

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Chapter 13: Finders Keepers

“Animal shelter!” Pearl clamored. “What for?”

“I thought you might be interested in rescuing a dog. You have so much love and attention to give, Pearl. I thought you could save a life and gain a little companionship too.” Dr. Holt glanced at Pearl to gauge her reaction. He wanted Pearl to find a companion dog and thought of no better place than the shelter. “The unfortunate truth is that most of these animals will be put to sleep if they are not adopted.”

“I’m not sure about all this, Dr. Holt. I mean, I am having a hard enough time trying to take care of myself. I don’t think I can handle the responsibility of a pet too.” Pearl had mixed feelings. She loved animals and had wanted a dog for as long as she could remember. But with her vision loss, Pearl couldn’t fathom managing all the tasks necessary to properly care for dog – walking, feeding, and cleaning up poop.

“Well, I thought that your grandmother and mom could help too. After all, you are at home all day with your grandmother during the school year. Between the two of you, I bet you can create a nice home for a dog. And your mom can help when she is home.” Dr. Holt had mentioned his idea to Susan this morning, and she did not seem too thrilled with the thought of having a dog in the house. He had to explain to Susan that the benefits of having a companion animal outweighed the drawbacks. Eventually, Susan reluctantly complied. Dr. Holt honestly did not think he would also have to convince Pearl to adopt a pet: he thought she would have jumped at the idea like a child in a rain puddle.

Over the years, Pearl had lost so much of her sense of risk. Everything she did fit neatly into labeled tags, defined borders, and Braille books. She had developed a routine of normalcy: a routine of mundane rituals. If Pearl were to consider adopting a pet, she would have to accept something unpredictable and time-consuming in her life. Pearl felt like an old lady who was set in her ways. She was unsure if she really wanted to spend the energy loving something. Pearl had gotten used to being alone, and the thought of sharing her world scared her.

Pearl could hear the tires turn into the gravel driveway and park in front of the animal shelter. She was fairly certain this was not a wonderful idea; nonetheless, she took her walking stick and got out of the car.

“Just relax, Pearl. This is meant to be fun.” Dr. Holt could tell by Pearl’s body language that she was uneasy about going inside. “I will tell you everything – every step of the way.”

Once inside, the animal control officer escorted Pearl and Dr. Holt to the holding cages. As she was leaving to go back to her desk, she said, “Let me know if you see one you like. I will get it out for you. There is a $65 adoption fee for all animals. That price includes a city license and the first set of vaccinations.”

Pearl was frightened by the ear-splitting sounds that surrounded her on both sides. She could smell dog urine, sweat, and the damp odor of the concrete floor. The mixture of barking, yelping, and foul smell made Pearl nauseous. She even felt her walking stick protesting being in such an offbeat place. “Calm down,” Pearl told the stick. “You’re alright. I don’t much like being here either.”

“What? Did you say something, Pearl?” Dr. Holt turned to her. He too was distracted by the intensity of the barking and found it difficult to concentrate on one animal at a time when they all were demanding their attention.

“Ugh, I was just saying that it is very loud in here.” Pearl was ready to leave and at this point had zero interest in getting a dog.

“Okay, I am going to read the breed and gender to you off the cage notes so you can visualize what is in this room. First, a Shepherd mix girl puppy named Ginger. She is a cutie, Pearl. She has a ginger coat with a white mask. Next, a black Labrador Retriever mix puppy; his name is Coal. This pup is completely black from nose to nail.” Dr. Holt continued down the line until he had described all eleven dogs in the shelter. As Dr. Holt was describing each dog, Pearl tried her best to imagine what they looked like. Some were obviously adorable, while others she envisioned were scared, feisty, ugly, and horribly lonely.

“Sorry, Dr. Holt, none of these dogs are for me,” Pearl said hoping Dr. Holt would not be too disappointed.

“Okay, that’s fine, Pearl. We can go. I just thought it was worth a try. You never know, right?” Dr. Holt led Pearl through the back door thinking it was an exit. Instead, they found themselves in the cat holding room. “Sorry, I thought this was the way out,” Dr. Holt said.

Pearl instantly heard the squeaky soft shrieks of kittens and the louder cries of the older cats. Pearl had not considered a cat. Cats are definitely less active than dogs and don’t have to be walked. Cats also don’t have the inconvenience of going outside to go potty, as they can enjoy the luxury of an indoor litter box. “Can you please read the me cat information to me?” Pearl said before she considered her words.

“Uh, sure, Pearl. I kind of thought a companion dog would be best, but, no problem. Let’s see here… a short-haired Tabby kitten named Pumpkin. Can you guess the color of this little guy?” Dr. Holt asked with a smile.

“Orange,” Pearl replied.

“Yep! Okay, number two. In this cage, we have Mr. Bond. He is a Tuxedo cat, black with a white chest. He is a handsome fellow, indeed. Next to Mr. Bond is Mandy, a short-hair Tabby. She has tortoiseshell markings, a real beauty. And then we have Hope. Hope is also a short-hair Tabby, a kitten. Pearl, she is white as snow.” Dr. Holt moved across to the next row of cats and kittens ready to continue reading and describing each one.

“Hope,” Pearl said. “I want to see Hope.” For some reason, Pearl liked the name of this kitten. Maybe because hope is what Pearl so desperately needed in her life; or maybe, because meeting Katherine this morning gave Pearl a portion of hope – hope for friendship.

“Okay. Let me get the lady. You stay right here.” Dr. Holt was surprised that Pearl was interested in a kitten; still, he was pleased that she was at least interested in something.

As the door shut behind Dr. Holt, Pearl leaned down to the cage where Dr. Holt had told her Hope was confined. Pearl put down her stick and wrapped her fingers around the chain link cage. “Hi, Hope,” Pearl said softly. “I’m Pearl.”

Pearl felt something cold touch one of her knuckles. It startled Pearl, and she quickly pulled her hands away from the cage. Realizing that a tiny wet kitten nose had touched her, Pearl slowly put a few fingers through the cage opening. Hope licked her fingers with her coarse tongue. Before Pearl knew it, she was laughing. Pearl wanted to take her hand away because the licking tickled, but she didn’t dare because she reveled in the attention.

Pearl heard the sound of barking and the doors opening behind her. Dr. Holt was back with the animal control officer. “Hope is a cutie!” the officer called out. “Scoot over just a second, and I’ll have her out for you,” she said to Pearl.

Pearl stood up and waited patiently for the lady to get Hope from the cage. Pearl was surprised how delighted she was as if she were waiting for an old friend.

“Here you go,” the lady said as she held the kitten up for Pearl to take. Pearl reached out, and the lady gently placed Hope in her hands. Hope’s body was stiff, and she squeaked a high-pitched cry.

“It’s okay, little one. It’s okay. I’m right here. Right here,” Pearl said these words over and over again as she snuggled Hope into her chest underneath her chin. Hope’s fur was soft and smooth like baby oil. Pearl imagined Hope’s white fur forming itself into a little snowball. Eventually, the kitten stopped crying and started licking Pearl’s hand once more.

“I’m guessing we need to go up front to fill out the paperwork, right, Pearl?” Dr. Holt asked satisfied.

“Yes. I want this one. Thank you, Dr. Holt. Thank you very much,” Pearl held her walking stick and Hope as she followed Dr. Holt and the officer to the front office.

“Finders keepers they always say. I’m sure glad we found this little one a home. We don’t get much traffic in here, especially from folks wanting a stray kitten. This is one lucky little baby,” the officer said as she completed the adoption papers.

“Where did you find her?” Pearl asked inquisitively.

“Back down by the city dump. Some jerk dropped her off inside a cardboard box. She would have died if a worker didn’t hear her crying. She was on her ninth life when he brought her in. She was so weak that we had to feed her with an eye dropper. It’s a miracle she came through. I’ve seen many in her state come in over the years, and she is the only one that has survived. She must have known you’d eventually be coming for her,” the officer said to Pearl with a wink.

“Yeah, I feel like I’ve been waiting for her for a long time – I just didn’t know it,” Pearl said tenderly.

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