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

They went at each other cheerfully for a little while on that inexhaustible topic. Then they started in on me for the time I almost made us miss our flight by insisting on a last-minute Winstead's run. This was good. We were done with dogs for the day and putting this latest failed attempt behind us. On the ride home Sally and Phoebe hatched a plan to go swimming at the YMCA later on.

I was glad the gloomy, defeated mood had lifted, glad to be headed home with my wife and daughter chattering away.

There were some decent leftovers in the refrigerator for dinner, which meant we wouldn't have to hurry up and cook something before they changed into their suits and took off for the Y. But as I drove north past the airport and headed across 380 toward the white hood of fog that often looms over San Francisco in the summer months, my thoughts sailed back to that docile, slightly vacant-eyed dog we'd just left behind.

I suppose I knew Ecstasy wasn't right for us. Maybe she wasn't right for anyone. "Gentle with children," I realized, could just as easily mean "Catatonic with everyone." "Nearly brain dead." "Requires regular resuscitation." And still, somehow, it did seem that something had slipped away.

Maybe we were the one family that could have coaxed Ecstasy out of her shell, found the core of love and loyalty that lies inside even the most unlikely dog. Maybe her peculiarly ill-suited name was a kind of clue, inviting us to find the buoyancy and joy buried in this decidedly unecstatic animal. We reentered the fog at the Stonestown shopping center and started the climb up Nineteenth Avenue.

None of us would have guessed it that afternoon, as the clammy wet air swirled around us and the parti-colored row houses streamed by, but we would soon be headed to Redwood City again. Back we would go, just a few weeks later, to the same shelter, hopeful but far from certain that anything would come of it. There was no way to have known it, but the Ecstasy that didn't happen that day was a prelude to the madness that did.

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