EXCERPT: 'Come Back, Como: Winning the Heart of a Reluctant Dog'

In the midst of it all, this dog—"our dog"—remained comfortably seated. Very comfortably, in fact, with a rounded haunch tucked under on one side and her two back paws casually lolling on the other. She looked as if she were sunbathing out on some warm California beach, half hypnotized by the waves rustling in the distance. As if dimly aware of an admirer, the object of my new affections blinked softly and stood up on her stubby little corgi legs.

She moves, I marveled, and remembered Phoebe's first wobbly steps on her aunt Judy's front lawn in Milwaukee ten years before. Like that sublime waddle, this was poetic locomotion—leisurely and stress-free, a casual stroll around her confines.

As those short legs scissored back and forth beneath her plumply rounded form, a slightly oversize head bobbing as she went, I was freshly enchanted. There were none of the distressing behaviors we'd seen so often—no fretful pacing or sudden lunges at potential adopters, no leaping up on the fence or sad-eyed sulking at the back of the cage. Here was a dog so calmly self-possessed that nothing would rattle her.

What could be better for a family that had never had a dog and a daughter whose shyness and quiet disposition had made Sally and me uneasy in the first place about the unpredictable havoc a pet can wreak?

Plus, this one was cute and sort of comically disproportionate, now that she was up and in motion—beagle bigger in some places, corgi smaller in others. I smiled and started calling out to her:

"Here, girl. Here, girl. Come on, girl." She declined my invitations, went back to where she'd been sitting when I found her, and sat back down.

That was endearing, too, in a way. She seemed to know her own comfort zone and how to find it. Even as I was being charmed, that reflexively skeptical part of me did wonder for a moment:

If this dog is so great, why hasn't anyone adopted her? But I throttled that impulse and went on adding up all her positive attributes.

Maybe she'd just arrived at the shelter, I told myself, and we would be the lucky family that got her. She was beautiful. She was kind. She was loyal. All that shone through. I pictured her in our house, resting on the carpet in the living room, plodding into the kitchen to be fed, resting some more on the carpet. The dog's name, "Ecstasy," was hand-lettered on a sign wired to the door of her cage. Below that was another captivating line:

"House-trained. Gentle. Good with children."

"Phoebe. Over here. Quick!"

I called out to my daughter in an urgent, stagy whisper calculated to rise above the barking, braying, and choral whimpering of the other dogs and still not attract the attention of any other potentially competitive dog seekers. This was our third visit to this shelter, located twentyfive miles south of our home in San Francisco, and we knew the way things worked here.

You had to act briskly and furtively when a promising dog bobbed up in the sea of snarling pit bulls and broken-down setters that looked as if they'd been through the animal equivalent of the Crimean War and held out no hope for a happy conclusion. Good dogs went fast, as we always said.

One day we'd be here to catch one. Now here it was. Phoebe came around the corner from the next row of cages and stood next to me. She was silent for a long time, staring in at the dog of our dreams. Finally I couldn't contain myself. "So, what do you think?" I asked. "Isn't she adorable? See if she'll come to you."

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