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

"Oh, that'd be great," I said. "Why don't we just go in there and break her heart right now?" By then we were both staring at the ceiling and unlikely to fall asleep anytime soon.

My conversations with Phoebe took on a different, quasi-legal cast. When she was working the evidence of her canine-enriched peers especially hard, I would sometimes cross-examine her and introduce conflicting testimony. I'd name all the families we knew that didn't have dogs.

"What about Jeanne?" I said. "Or Camille? They don't have dogs."

"Jeanne's dad's allergic," Phoebe answered. "Camille's family lives in an apartment. They're not allowed to have dogs."

"And Sophie?" I continued. "They've got a big house."

"Sophie doesn't want a dog. She likes birds." There was a pointed pause. "And she's got a bird." She added the name for emphasis: "Fellini."

"Well," I said, "we're not like other families. We do things our own way, in our own time."

"I know," Phoebe said. "I know."

Ecstasy was almost certainly a lost cause once Phoebe had declared her aversion to the way the dog felt to her. But I wasn't ready to give up.

"Wait here," I told her. "I'm going to go find Mommy." I glanced over my shoulder at Ecstasy as I left. She had resumed her customary spot in the cage, lying down now on the bare floor. It seemed a little odd that she avoided her blanket.

Sally was outside, taking one of her frequent breaks from the animal-shelter chaos that tended to produce a headache and/or hay fever attack. She stood at the edge of the parking lot, looking through a hedge at the back of a 7-Eleven.

"Come back inside," I said. "I think we may have found one." At some level I must have thought that if I just didn't mention that Phoebe had already spurned her, Ecstasy still might have a chance. After Sally said something back to me that I didn't hear, we walked in past the front desk, where a family with three small children was rejoicing over the big grungy Akita mix they'd just adopted, and headed for Ecstasy's aisle. Phoebe was nowhere in sight.

Sally did pretty much exactly what Phoebe had. She peered into the cage, leaned down, and got the dog to come over and inspect her hand. I leaned down, too, and made my first physical contact with Ecstasy. I noticed that her nose was a little warm, but her fur felt smooth, not "funny" at all.

"She's nice," I murmured, trying not to disturb the intimacy the three of us had achieved down there by the base of the cage.

The shelter was strangely quiet at that moment. "Her sign says she's gentle and good with children," I said. "You can tell that.

She's not skittish all."

Sally went on petting Ecstasy's head and neck and even got a finger behind one of her large pointy ears to scratch. The dog looked blissfully contented, as if she'd been drugged. Her eyes lolled upward. Even as she kept scratching, my wife threw a skeptical look in my direction.

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