She was the only dog who didn’t dash to the front of her run as we walked past; instead, she cowered in the back and peered upwards with two glittering eyes. The name tag on her chain link door read “Brenda.” She was six years old, and she had been at the shelter for nearly a year after her previous owners had moved and abandoned her in their empty apartment.
My new husband Tim and I were told Brenda was a special case, a deeply introverted dog. Potential adopters would likely have to come in several times in order to earn her trust. When they opened her run, she instantly bounded over and licked my face. The shelter staff wept. We took her home that day.
She and Tim galavanted back and forth in our tiny living room, with Tim throwing and Brenda catching a tennis ball, her ears flapping behind, her mouth parted in a breathless smile that revealed a missing lower tooth.
With time, our dog became less fearful. That first winter, her paws stung as they treaded across the salt-strewn streets, and sometimes she left the snow dotted with blood. We bought salve for the pads on her paws, and Tim rubbed it in each day as I scratched her ears. Everything she did seemed like a “thank you” directed at the two of us.
These days, Brenda loves sleeping beneath the blankets, and at night she taps on the comforter until we envelope her little body entirely within it. At night, she paws at the covers and tucks herself into the curve of my body, her tail pressed firmly against my belly button. Where she once ran and whimpered in her sleep, now her tail wags back and forth. Each morning, we sing “Good Morning Brenda” to the tune of “Good Morning Starshine.”
At the shelter, Brenda was known as a member of the “Lonely Hearts Club,” meaning that she had been there for a long time without having been adopted, likely because she’s a Pit Bull. The trainer at the facility told us that at adoption fairs and on walks, Brenda had always seemed to be looking for someone. When strangers came up to pat her on the head, she shied away. When they left one by one, she continued to search the crowd.
As a member of the Lonely Hearts Club, her adoption fee was significantly decreased, although we would have gladly paid double. When a dog is adopted, the staff at the shelter call it “going home.” When the adoption sticks, “going home” becomes “finding a forever home.” Brenda understands forever in ways that two twenty-something newlyweds can’t possibly fathom.
Brenda has taught us the true meaning of eternal, abiding love. I’ve found Tim on a few occasions staring into the darkness, as if in mourning, in the middle of the night. He says he’s thinking about when Brenda gets old and gray and arthritic, and he will have to carry her up the four flights of stairs to our apartment. He thinks about what it will be like when “Good Morning Brenda” goes through our heads and we don’t have anyone to hear us sing.
On the inside of Tim’s wedding band, I engraved the words “Remember When,” a permanent reminder of what we had been when we were first in love, of who we were as boyfriend and girlfriend, fiancé and fiancée. I now understand that the phrase will grow with us and that the things remembered will multiply with the years. Someday far away in the future, it will become “Remember when we had a dog named Brenda,” and maybe we’ll cry, maybe we’ll smile, but the answer will always be a resounding “I do.”
This post is dedicated to the rescue staff and volunteers at the SPCA of Westchester, without whom Brenda might not be with us today. Special thanks to volunteer Patricia Pasquale, who kept our girl loved and safe until the day we found her. Please consider adopting from or donating to Brenda’s shelter.
All images via Ellyn Kail