Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CHAPTER FOUR SURPRISE—YOURSELF! PRINCE CHARMING MEETS SCRUGGS (17th installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(17th installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

Leaving the Rottweiler’s care, we approached the cage 83 where Scruggs was housed. I called to the dog.  “Scruggs,” I said. “Come here, Scruggs.”
As if on cue the dog put on a full display of his acrobatic talents.  He spun and leaped and wagged.  Then he thrust his whiskered nose through the wire mesh of the cage door, taking a swipe at my outstretched fingers.
“This is Scruggs,” I said, not looking at my husband.
“Named already?” he asked.
“He told me his name,” I answered.
The advantage to having been married to the same person for so long was I didn’t need to explain.  Somewhere in the decades of marriage my husband had accepted my idiosyncrasies and no longer made comment on them.  Instead, he bent to look at the happy dog wagging his tail at him.
“M. J.,” he said, “that is one ugly dog.”
I again looked more closely at the dog. Yes, I could see the dirty, golden fur; I could see his ribs and hip bones; and I could see the wiry whiskers that stuck out all over his white-blazed face.  But I could also see the smile in his eyes and the irrepressible grin on his face with the lolling tongue.  I saw the prance in his step and the continuous wag of his tail.  Whatever prior circumstances had led him to near starvation, his spirit was irrepressible.  All I could see was joy.
“No, honey,” I said as I rubbed Scruggs’s nose, “he’s beautiful.”
My husband bent closer to look.  He even stuck his fingers through the mesh and rubbed the dog’s nose, face, and then his neck.  Just like he had done with me, Scruggs closed his eyes and sighed with deep contentment at the simple touch of affection.
It was enough.  Scruggs closed the deal.  My husband was sold.
“You’re right,” he said, “he is beautiful.”
Scruggs understood.  He looked at my husband and laughed, then started his pirouettes of joy.  Soon, both boys were laughing at each other. 

The bond was formed.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


(16TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

Since telling Prince Charming that I wanted to adopt that scruffy golden dog I named, Scruggs, I found that for the first time in months I felt my heart lighten.  My husband was showing tentative signs of returning to his Prince Charming ways.  He held my hand as we drove to the Pomona Valley Humane Society, and he smiled at me whenever he could take his eyes away from the road.
We arrived at the shelter late in the afternoon.  To my dismay the trucks were arriving with their loads of unwanted dogs, and the intake cages were filled with crying kittens and barking puppies. I had already been through this gauntlet and knew enough to keep my head down and to close my ears to the plaintive whimpers. But my husband was not ready for the onslaught of despair.
I turned to see his face as he passed by the small cages in the front of the office. His eyes widened and his face drained of color. Worse yet, there was a man standing at the desk with a beautiful male Rottweiler. He was speaking to the worker, leaving me to fear he was turning the dog into the shelter. I heard my husband take a deep breath as his step faltered. I grabbed his hand and hurried him past the harried worker and the man with the dog. I didn’t want to know if the dog was destined to become a resident of the “place of no return.” 
Again I traversed the shelter grounds and headed for the large-dog runs.  As I passed by run number 80, I saw a young woman standing next to the Rottweiler I had previously seen.  This time the dog was standing at the cage door, licking the girl’s fingers.  She smiled at my husband and me as we stood at the cage with her.
“I’m getting her,” she said in answer to my unasked question.  “I just brought her a treat to make sure she remembered me.”
“I remember her,” I said.  “I tried to get her to speak to me the other day and she would have none of it.”
“I bribed her,” the girl said.  “You know what scrounge hounds they are.  Rotties can’t resist food.”
I had to laugh.  My own Rottweilers had always worked for treats.  Their training had gone easier when I had snacks in my pocket.
I stepped toward the emaciated dog, but she started to back away.  “See, she has no use for me,” I said.
The girl smiled.  “No, she was meant for me,” she said.  “My husband is outside with Bruno, my other dog.  The shelter says we have to make sure they are compatible before I can take her home.” She offered the dog another piece of biscuit that the Rottweiler took with a grateful sigh.
My husband and I looked at each other, and I could feel the relief course through us as we held hands.
“Good,” I said.  “I am glad she is going to a good home.”
“Oh, yes,” the girl said, “I have had Rottweilers all my life.  They’re the best.  Bruno, my other dog, will be glad to have a companion.”

We all made some clucking noises at each other, and then I pulled on my husband’s hand, anxious to show him Scruggs

Tuesday, March 24, 2015



(15TH installment of Scruggs and Samantha)

I continued to hesitate telling Prince Charming that I found a dog I wanted to adopt. I knew that adopting an animal was a serious obligation. It was not something to be entered into lightly.  Once taken on, the obligation to an animal lasted for many years. I needed to find the right time to spring the surprise on my husband so he would not resent either me or the dog. 
Finally, late on Friday afternoon my husband finally asked me what was going on with me. His voice neutral at best. “So, you going to tell me what you were doing at the pound or will I come home and find the animal already in the yard?”
“Umm,” I said, stalling, trying to test the emotional waters.
The “umm” was enough to snap him to attention.  He’s a trained trial lawyer, and as such he had learned to listen to the silences or absence of words as much as the spoken language. 
“Umm?” he asked.  “What does ‘umm’ mean?”
I started to retreat.
Again he caught the hesitation and retreat.  “M. J.,” he said, using the Prince Charming voice, “what’s going on?  This isn’t like you.”
I literally did a toe-stub on the floor, just like a child caught in the act of misbehaving.  “Uhh, uhh,” I said.
Bless his soul; he did not roll his eyes at me, averting them to the side instead. His heavy sigh told me he was out of patience. I needed to speak or forever hold my peace. The happy grin of the twirling dog and the magic of his spirit finally moved me to speak.
“I found a dog,” I said.
“A dog?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.  “A dog . . .” 
“But I thought we agreed,” he said. 
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. It was the kind of statement that means I needed to do some fancy footwork to change his mind about something we had long discussed and to which we had mutually agreed. A mere wave of my hand and a, “well, I’ve changed my mind,” would have been disrespectful to him and to our relationship. I needed to give good, sound reasons for seeking to change the agreement. 
I took a moment to consider my response. Finally, I gathered my thoughts and spoke from my heart, knowing honesty was the best course of action.  “I didn’t go looking for a dog,” I said.  “You know I have been looking to do the right thing and adopt a rescue cat or a foreclosure animal, right?”
He stared hard at me but said nothing.
“You know I have been going to PetSmart and PetCo to look at all the cats.  You’ve even gone with me,” I said.
He nodded.
“Well, I decided to give the pound one last chance,” I said, tears beginning to well up in my eyes.
He saw my tears but still said nothing.
“Well, I got lost and found a Rottweiler, and next to her was a dog,” I said, letting it all jumble out of my mouth.  “The dog was so happy and so spirited and just acted like I was special. . .”
“Special?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, thinking of how Scruggs had greeted me with such joy.  “He was so happy to see me.  I couldn’t help myself.”
“Hmm,” was all he said.
All of a sudden I started to cry. I thought of Scruggs and all of the lost animals at the Humane Society. I thought of all the sadness and loss experienced by the animals and their human companions.  How could such a dog, starved and homeless, still have such a joyful spirit?
“He was happy,” I said.  “He made me happy.  He touched me.  I can’t let him die.”
“Oh?” my prince said, his voice becoming gentler.
“I want this dog,” I said.  “I know it sounds crazy, but there is something special about him. I want you to see him, and I hope you want him, too.”
“Okay,” he said, resignation already coloring his voice.
“We need to go today,” I said.  “He goes up for adoption tomorrow, and we are gone, so it has to be today.”
“Hmm, and you were going to wait until when to tell me this?” he asked, with a slightly teasing laugh.
 “Until I thought you would be, you know, receptive,” I said.
“As if that mattered?” he said, smiling.
“Of course it matters,” I said.  “I respect you, and we have a partnership, remember?”
At that he laughed out loud.  “Oh, God, this dog must be something,” he said.  “You are pulling out all the stops on the persuasive speaking stuff, aren’t you?  When did you start asking for permission?”
Relief flooded over me.  I knew he was teasing me when he that. His eyes were gentle and his voice soft. We agreed that we always try to include each other in all major decisions.  Neither of us spent recklessly or did outrageous things but, occasionally, this rule was broken.
Like the time he traded in my car for a candy-apple–red Corvette; or the time I bought a houseboat as a condo on the water; or when I bought our current house before showing him the inside. So, well, yeah, oops, maybe we didn’t always share in the decisions, but increasing our family was one we needed to make together.
He gently took me into his arms as I snuffled my tears on his shirt and said, “I just wanted to make sure you liked him.”
“Okay, let’s go see what you want us to get into,” he said with the tenderness that only comes from being married so many years.
With him on board in the decision-making process, I scooped up the keys to the car, and we headed to the Pomona Valley Humane Society.  I had no idea the trip to the pound would be as emotionally difficult for him as it had been for me. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

CHAPTER TWO SURPRISE—WAITING TO TELL PRINCE CHARMING (14TH installment of Scruggs and Samantha by Mary de la Pena)

(14TH installment of Scruggs and Samantha by Mary de la Pena)

When I returned to the law office, Prince Charming acted as if he barely recognized my existence. When I entered his office, he remained seated, not getting up to usher me inside as he usually did.  Worse yet, he immediately picked up the conversation in Spanish, expecting me to follow along.  Usually, as a courtesy to me, he gave me a cursory explanation in English for background information to make it easier for me to follow the Spanish conversation.
I caught the insult and filed it.  I hated being made to feel inferior, and when I struggled to understand the conversation it angered me.  I quietly took the affront but also added a few more bricks to my wall of discontent. 
I wanted him to know I had only stopped by the Pomona Valley Humane Society to do a “quick run-through” to look for a kitten.  I had never expected to find a dog that would capture my heart in such an urgent way.  I wanted to explain to my husband, friend, and law partner that I had found a dog that spoke to my broken heart.  Yet, I knew he was not in a place where he could hear me.  He was as walled off from me as I was from him.
So, long after the clients had left the office and we had closed the deal, long after I had finished the work on my desk, I kept silent about Scruggs.  I held the secret close to my heart, afraid to say anything, afraid I would say the wrong thing and risk my husband resenting my choice.  I needed desperately for him to want Scruggs as badly as I did.  I needed my husband to tell me I wasn’t crazy for wanting this dog.  I needed him to see the magic of the dog.  But, most of all, I needed reassurance that my Prince Charming could still see how deeply my soul was touched by the scruffy golden dog, my gift from God.  At that time, however, I was no longer certain he would understand my need.  Our bond was breaking, and our team was coming apart.  I no longer trusted him.
My father once said, “Marriage is like hitching two horses in a harness; you need to pick two horses that are similar in size, breed, and temperament. Otherwise, there will be problems with how they work in tandem.”  He said it was important to have two people with the same work ethic, the same intelligence level, a similar background, and the same attitude toward life.  Without that similarity, just like with working horses, there would be a tendency for the partners to pull in different directions. 
I also knew that for the last twenty years I was very fortunate to have had a relationship with my husband that was like that well-chosen team of horses; we worked well together, wanted the same things in life, had enormous respect for each other, and both of us pulled our weight without major complaint.  After all these years I knew when he needed a little slack in his harness and vice versa. We also felt the tensions and occasional heartbreak that was part of living and working closely with someone for more than two decades. In many respects, I believed we embodied the true reason why God created marriage.  He gave us this holy institution blessed Him, so we humans would always have a partner with whom to share the loads of life. 
But the exceptionally long period of unrest and sadness caused by the deaths of close friends, family and beloved pets, was dragging on the partnership.  My poor partner husband had been left too long to “pick up the slack in the harness.”  He had stopped trying to “fix it” and had taken to leaving me alone to find my own way out of my abyss.
So I waited.  I waited all that afternoon and well into Friday.  I knew the time was getting short because we were going to be gone all day Saturday, and Sunday the Humane Society was closed.  Monday was the last day the officials would hold Scruggs, and that afternoon they would surely carry out his sentence of death if someone did not save him.  That happy, loveable dog was to draw his last breath if a home was not found for him.

            Time was indeed short.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

SCRUGGS AND SAMANTHA CHAPTER THREE SURPRISE!—MISSING IN ACTION (13th installment of Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(13th installment of Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

The euphoria I felt after finding Scruggs was ephemeral.  As I left the Humane Society, my phone rang with the distinctive ringtone warning me my law partner husband was calling.  I knew I was late getting back to the office, but at that moment my feeling of connection to God and his universe was much more alluring than my desire to practice law.  However, without thinking, the more-than-twenty-year habit and sense of duty took over.  I answered the phone.
“Hey,” I said.
“Are you coming to the office?” my husband asked using the Prince Charming “voice.”
The “voice” was a richly resonant sound that comes from a place deep within his psyche.  It could be soothing or stern or sympathetic or commanding—sometimes all of them in one sound.  It was his voice that first attracted me to him more than twenty years ago when I was a deputy district attorney and he was the opposing counsel.  I was mesmerized by it so much that when he used it on me I was helpless before him.  I would usually cave in and do whatever he asked of me.  You would think that after all these years I would be immune to it but, just like juries and judges, I still would follow him into the depths of hell if he asked. 
But that day was different.  I was excited, indifferent to the demands of a law practice, and on a mission of my own.
“Hmm, yeah,” I answered, still riding the high of finding Scruggs and recovering from the draining emotional experience of dealing with the shelter.
At my non-committal response there was just enough of a pause from his end to let me know he was considering my answer.  It was also enough to let me know he was “counting to ten” to settle his voice before saying anything more.
“How long?” he asked.
“I am at the Humane Society,” I answered, letting the implication hang.
Again the pause.
“I have discussed the case with the family and they are anxious to meet you as well,” he finally said.
In that short sentence he told me all he needed to say.  It was time for me to get back to being a lawyer posthaste.
It also told me the people sitting in front of him wanted to hire us for an important case. More importantly, he needed my help to close the deal because it was well known by the people in the Inland Valley that when they hired our office they were hiring a team.  Everyone knew we were married, thus giving the clients two lawyers for the price of one.  This was an asset my partner liked to exploit, but he needed me present so they could see both of us. 
As anxious as I was to tell him about Scruggs, I swallowed my excitement and told him I would be to the office immediately.

By the time I got to the office, my partner was a more than a little short-tempered with me. I was late, again, to meet with important clients.  He did not care that I was “saving a life.”  He did not have time to try to figure out why his formerly dependable partner and wife was scattered and unreliable; all he knew was that I had promised I would be there to meet potential clients with a desperate problem, and once again I was “missing in action.” 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CHAPTER TWO AFTER THE DECISION—PROMISES MADE (12TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(12TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

After leaving the front desk at the Pomona Valley Humane Society and finding my way back to the large dogs, I found waiting for me at cage 83 was the same worker I had seen earlier in the cat ward. 
I pointed to Scruggs.  The volunteer opened the cage and looked at his tag.  I quickly wrote down the number.  While the gate was open, I stepped inside and had a chance to run my hand quickly over his back.  Every vertebra was prominent, as were his ribs and hip bones.  His skin was gritty and covered with scabs. But his grin never faded, and his tail never stopped wagging.  His eyes danced with joy and he laughed like only dogs can laugh.  I wanted to throw my arms around him, but the volunteer backed me quickly out of the cage.  Since I had already had the “no bonding until adoption day” lecture, I didn’t push the issue any further. 
The same clerk helped me again back at the front desk.  She told me the dog would be available on Saturday.  She caught the pained expression on my face.
“I’m not available on Saturday,” I explained.  “I have to be at a charity event that takes me out of town all day.  What will happen to the dog?”
It was her turn to look pained.  “His holding period is up on Saturday, and we don’t keep our large dogs for long after that. Too many large dogs,” she said, not looking up at me.
That was all it took for the tears to overwhelm me. They began to course down my cheeks and I could feel one dripping off the end of my nose.  I snuck my hand up to swipe at it, feeling like a child who backhands a runny nose. There was a burble in my throat as I started to speak. No words formed—only a snotty coughing sound.
The woman behind the counter looked up quickly and fastened her eyes on mine.  I know she saw my tears because her face softened and her voice became even more concerned.  “I’ll tell you what,” she said, tapping on the computer.  “Let me put a note her on his file.  I’ll have the animal behavior specialist give him a look.  If he has no major behavior problems, we’ll keep him an extra day.  Since we’re closed on Sunday, this will give you a chance to get him Monday.”
By that time I was outwardly sobbing.  I couldn’t believe my reaction to the relief that overwhelmed me.  Without looking, she handed me a Kleenex and smiled to herself.
“Here,” she said, handing me his adoption information.  “You’ll need to bring this paper back with you on Monday,”
I took the papers, my hand shaking so hard I almost dropped them.  With a smurfy “thank you”, I stumbled out of the office and into the waiting area. Unfortunately as I did so, another truck was coming in with more animals.  Two more starving street dogs were unloaded and pole-walked to the back holding area.
Seeing the dogs, and surmising their fate, I broke down completely.  All my years of training and professional experience flew away as I let my emotions run away with me.  Lawyers are trained to keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs.  We must never let our emotions run free when dealing with critical situations.  Yet there I was, standing at the entry of the Pomona Valley Humane Society, tears coursing down my cheeks, fear and panic consuming me.  I bolted for the large dog runs.  I couldn’t help myself.  All self-control was gone.
I stumbled to the pen where Scruggs was sitting, laughter in his eyes, tongue lolling out in a happy grin.  When he saw me coming he laughingly came to the cage door, pointing his nose through the chain-link fencing. I thrust my fingers through the gate and he turned his head for me to scratch the side of his face, and down to his throat.
As I crumpled to the concrete floor, again sitting with my feet in the drainage trough, Scruggs stopped laughing and looked more closely at me.  He began to lick my fingers, which were grasping the gate. I placed my head against the gate, and he licked the top of my head.
“I promise, Scruggies,” I said, letting him lick my face and fingers.  “I won’t leave you behind.  I promise.”
With that he finally lay down, sticking his nose under the fencing.  In unison we sighed. 
So, there I sat for at least a half hour and let my emotions roll over me in waves of grief and loss.  I grieved for the deaths of my mother, my former husband, my former in-laws, but most of all, for the death of my Rottweiler and my three cats.  All the grief that had consumed me for the last eighteen months finally spilled out into the gutter as I rubbed this dog’s nose and face. 
At last, when my tears were done, Scruggs knew.  The laughter returned to his eyes, and he began to dance.  He twirled and did his perfect pirouette, laughing and smiling his happy dog smile.  His smile was so infectious, I laughed too.

I finally left the shelter to meet my law partner husband.  I had to let him know our family was growing by another dog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

CHAPTER TWO AFTER THE DECISION—PROMISES MADE (12TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(12TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

As anger consumed me from the rudeness exhibited by Precious Princess One and Two, I stalked back inside the office at the Humane Society.  Precious Princess One and Precious Princess Two looked up from their computer screens to stare at me, both sniffing and rolling their eyes in unison. The young man continued answering phones; apparently he was oblivious to what had just happened.
Given my recently acquired short fuse at incompetence and arrogance, I was deathly afraid of starting a confrontation with either of the two younger women. I knew I would challenge their officious attitude if they pulled it on me. But, I also knew they would win if such a contest ensued. They stood between me and Scruggs.
But the third, more kind-looking woman, apparently in her mid-to-late thirties, with long blonde hair, soft voice, and efficient manners, was finishing with her phone conversation.  She may not have heard what had just transpired.  As I had listened to her end of the conversations, I could tell she was speaking to people calling into the shelter, presumably inquiring about lost animals. From where I stood I could hear her voice and watch her demeanor. My impression was she not only cared about the animals but also was concerned for the people who had lost their animals. Finally, she looked up from her computer screen and inquired if any of us had questions that didn’t have anything to do with licensing. I boldly stepped up to her station.
 “Hello,” I said, thrusting the card toward her.  “I also would like to adopt the dog in kennel number 83.”
She smiled and tapped something into her computer. Cocking her head slightly she looked hard at the computer.  “It says there are three dogs in kennel 83. Which one did you want?”
“Pardon?” I answered.  “There was only one dog inside the kennel, not three.”
She pursed her lips, sighed, and then looked up at me. “Was the gate to the outside closed?” she asked.
I paused, not quite sure what she meant, but then remembered how the Rottweiler in space 80 had moved freely between the inside and outside. Scruggs had only the inside cage in which to move about. Of course, that was my answer. 
“Closed,” I said.
“Well, there are two more dogs, for a total of three,” she said. “Which one did you want?”
“He looks like a golden retriever mix,” I answered.
The woman behind the counter frowned at her screen.  “It says there are a Labrador mix and a pit bull mix,” she said.
I thought about Scruggs long, golden-colored hair and his plumed tail. His nose was long and pointed, almost like that of a collie or shepherd.  He was definitely not a Labrador or pit bull mix.
“I’m sorry, but neither of those descriptions describe the dog I want,” I said, irritation beginning to reassert itself.
With the throbbing starting behind my eyes, I recognized my building anger. I began to panic. I had already seen someone run headlong into the bureaucratic nightmare at this shelter.  More importantly, I worked with enough people in my profession who have the power over life and death to know not to challenge authority when I really need something. I had seen the wreckage caused by cantankerous judges when defense lawyers challenged their authority. Or, worse yet, a misplaced word or two could cause a district attorney to decide to add a year or two to a sentence of one of my clients. Just like the caged animals at the shelters, defendants were helpless before the whims of those with the power. This woman had the power to let me have Scruggs. I needed her help, not her ire, so I smothered my gathering irritation and softened my voice.  I called upon my more than twenty years of experience of butt-kissing and humble -peonism to find the right tone to assure her help.
I tried again.  “I really don’t know which dog I want. He doesn’t look like either a lab or a pit.  He’s golden color, with long hair and wire-haired whiskers. He’s thin but sweet.”
The woman looked up at me. She must have heard the catch in my voice because hers became softer as she spoke to me. “The dog will have on a tag.  If you could get his tag number for me, I can figure out which one he is.”
I don’t know what was wrong with me but I almost started to cry. The thought of going back out to the cages overwhelmed me. I just couldn’t do it. My courage was gone, dissipated by the number of times I had to stand next to young men in their teens, sentenced to life in prison for killing someone over nothing.  As a lawyer practicing in criminal justice, I had seen lives torn apart and the wreckages of unspeakable acts perpetrated by one human against another.  I had also witnessed too much injustice over the years, leaving me broken and unable to summon my strength.  The thought of going back into the kennels was more than I could bear. 
I started to inch toward the door.  I was going to bolt and run.  But I thought of Scruggs. I couldn’t leave him behind.
The woman must have read my mind.  Her smile softened, “Why don’t you go back to kennel 83,” she said.  “I’ll call an attendant for you.  We don’t get many takers for our large dogs and, if you found one you like, we need to make sure he goes home with you.”

Her calm demeanor comforted me.  I felt a smile surface, the first in what felt like ages.  I hurried back to the large dog building.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


(10th installment of Scruggs and Samantha,
How a Shelter Dog and Kitten Saved Cinderella’s Marriage)

Having made the decision that Scruggs was coming home with me, I thought the difficult part of adopting a needy animal was over.  After all, I had just suffered through my own personal hell of walking the aisles of cages, coaxing and cajoling animals to respond, and looking into the eyes of too many animals while seeing hopelessness and death written on their faces.  I had persevered and made my choices; the rest wasn’t supposed to be that hard.
Easy as pie, I thought.

So, okay, for those of you who have actually made a pie, is it really all that easy?  I’ve tried to make crust from scratch.  I did all the things my grandmother did, except I actually measured the flour and the salt and the shortening.  She never did.  My Grandmother Carrie never measured anything when she cooked.  She would grab a couple of handfuls of flour, scoop out shortening with a wooden spoon, pinch some salt into the bowl, and mix it all with her fingers.  Then she threw it on a floured bread board, swiped it a few times with a rolling pin, and voilà, pie crust.  Better yet, it always seemed to fit the glass pie pan she used. It was easy for her. 
For me, not so much.  Where my grandmother’s crusts were always flaky and delicious, mine resembled browned cardboard. 
But I wasn’t making a pie, I was adopting animals.  I was saving a life!  I was blessed by God, and His angels would pave the way for me.  Unfortunately, my angels must have been on their lunch break.
Adopting the animals turned out to be like making a pie crust.  Success was not a foregone conclusion. 
As I waited in the interminable line, I watched the four staff members in t-shirts as they worked to perfect their bureaucratic demeanor.  There were two younger women who frowned, scowled, and sniffed their way through the steady stream of anxious people standing in line. In my mind I dubbed them “Precious Princess One” and “Precious Princess Two”.  They were too young and too pretty and obviously used the power of those two strengths to their complete advantage.  Nothing about them exuded humility or affability.  The lone male was a young man who refused to make eye contact, keeping his head down as he answered the phones and tapped information into his computer.  A fourth attendant, a slightly older woman, worked the phones at the other end of the counter from the young man.  Her tone was soft, her words muffled.  Watching them work, I felt panic again creep up my spine as a drama began to unfold in front of me. 
A gray-haired African-American woman hobbled up to the counter, and rested her cane against its top.  She handed a ticket to Precious Princess One, a dark-eyed brunette, who flipped her hair and rolled her eyes, barely concealed disrespect coloring her voice as she answered the questions of people seeking her help.
I held my breath as Precious Princess One reached for the ticket.
 “I got this ticket for my son’s dogs running loose,” said the gray-haired woman.  “They all tell me I got to get them shots.  I can’t afford no shots.”
The girl flipped her dark brown hair over her shoulder and sighed a bored sigh as she took the ticket from the outstretched hand.  “We have low-cost vaccinations here at the shelter,” she said.  “You’ll have to make an appointment.”

“Can I make an appointment then?” asked the woman. 
“All of the August and September appointments are full,” the girl said, not making eye contact.
“But I have to go to court and show I licensed the dogs on September thirteenth,” the woman answered, obviously looking for some help.
“We can’t license your dogs without a certificate showing they have been vaccinated,” the girl said, still not looking up toward the woman to whom she was speaking.
“But I told you,” the woman said, “I don’t have the money for the shots and I have to have them licensed before I go to court.”
“Ma’am,” the girl said, again sighing, “we don’t have any appointments open until October, and we don’t start taking appointments until mid-September for October.”
“But I need to get the dogs licensed now!” the woman said, exasperation clearly coloring the tone of her voice.
“Ma’am,” the girl said, finally looking at the woman, “You don’t need to use that tone with me.  You need to have your dogs vaccinated and proof of them being spayed or neutered before I can issue them a license.”
“Spayed or neutered,” the woman said, now nearing panic.  “I don’t have a certificate showing they are neutered.  Can’t you just look at them and tell that?”
“Ma’am,” the girl said, using her most officious voice, “I warned you about your tone.  I am not going to help you if you continue to use that tone with me.”
Tone my eye!  From what I could see, the girl’s attitude was the problem. From where I was standing, the woman with the tickets for the dogs was asking all the right questions.  I couldn’t believe that this girl was accusing her of using a “tone.”  Had it been me, I would have been tempted to reach over the counter and tell Precious Princess One that she was speaking to a woman twice her age and should use a little respect.  It was clear the older woman was trying to do the right thing but was getting no help from the person charged with assisting her. But I also recognized it would be a stand-off if the woman at the counter did not get some help.  So I stepped in to see what I could do to assist her.
“Here, Ma’am,” I said, “Can I see your ticket?”
Precious Princess One rolled her eyes at me and sniffed.  “Next!” she said as she turned away from both of us.
The ticket had the older woman going to the local courthouse to appear before a commissioner with whom I was familiar.  He was a reasonable person, wanting only for people to act responsibly.  He would be sensitive to this woman’s needs.
“Here’s what you do,” I said, handing back the ticket to her. “Go to court and tell the commissioner that you tried to license your dog, but you need more time to make an appointment with the low-cost vaccination clinic.  Ask him for a ‘continuance’ to comply.  Also, you might try some of the local pet stores.  Occasionally, they have low-cost clinics.  You might inquire there.”
“So why didn’t that sassy-pants tell me that?” the woman asked, jutting her chin toward the girl behind the counter.
A voice from behind the counter piped in with, “Ma’am, I told you all that.”
Seeing that a fight was beginning to erupt, I took the woman gently by the shoulder and steered her out of the office.  Once outside the woman’s shoulder’s began to slump.
“They’re my grandson’s dogs,” she said.  “And, if they get taken away, it will break his heart.  I told my son to take care of it, but he doesn’t have the time.  He’s working two jobs as it is.”
I made some murmuring sounds at her and gave her one of my business cards.
“Call me if you have trouble, okay?” I said.  “If nothing else, tell the bailiff you spoke with me at the shelter and I told you what to do.  He’s a good man and he’ll tell the judge.”

With that, the woman hobbled away, shoulders still slumped.