Thursday, May 28, 2015

CHAPTER EIGHT SCRUGGS MEETS THE “KIDS”— (34th installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)



(34th installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

The afternoon of the adoption meeting I had finally controlled my two dogs, Fina and Tara enough that we could sit quietly outside of the Humane Society. As we waited, Agent Tamara drove into the unloading area of the shelter.  She saw us waiting on the grass and came to greet us.
“So, you’ve brought the kids?” she asked.  “Do you need some help?”
I almost laughed out loud but managed to smile instead.  “Sure,” I answered.  “Why don’t you take Fina, the Rottie mix, and I’ll take Tara.”
With both dogs under control, we were able to enter the shelter to meet Scruggs.  But my reason for anxiety wasn’t over yet. 
Once inside the compound, Agent Tamara handed both leashes to me as she headed into the office.  “You wait here,” she said.  “I’ll get someone to bring your new dog out here so that everyone can meet.”
I started to protest, hoping the “meet and greet” would occur at the safe haven of the adoption pen.  It was quiet there, and I hoped my dogs would settle down enough to make a good impression.  The last place I wanted it to occur was in the yard with the trucks.  But before I could raise my voice to ask for a quieter place, Tamara was out of sight.  I was left to handle the dogs on my own, apprehension filling me.
While we waited, I kept both dogs in a “sit” position; both of them were acting like it was no big deal to wait quietly at the dog pound. But I knew it was an act. 
Tara was panting heavily as she split her attention from my face to the distracting sound of confined and barking dogs. Fina kept shifting from a “sit” to a “down” position, inching closer and closer to the pens as she changed position. She was doing her equivalent of a doggy sneak, but it was easier to ignore her than reprimand her.
Agent Tamara appeared a short time later with a broad smile on her face.  “One of the volunteers will bring your dog around,” she said.  “I’ll just wait here with you.”
As she stood next to Tara, the dog took the opportunity to give her hand a swipe with her large tongue. 
“How sweet your dog is,” she said, patting Tara’s head.
I knew it wasn’t affection. I could tell from the look in Tara’s eyes. She was pleading with someone she sensed had authority and was asking to leave that place. Fina just kept inching closer and closer to the sound of the other dogs, silently inching until she was almost at the end of her leash.
I could see Scruggs coming around the corner. He was a whirling dervish of golden activity, twirling and jumping as he used the volunteer for a Maypole. Scruggs wrapped the leash around the volunteer’s legs, causing him to pirouette to unwind. All that was missing were a few ribbons and some music.
“Here,” Agent Tamara said.  “We’ll take the Rot up first to meet the dog. If that goes well, then we’ll bring the other dog. We don’t want a pack issue if the two decide they don’t like the new dog.”
I knew she was concerned that the two buddies might decide for whatever reason not to like Scruggs. Because they were pack mates, they could turn on the new dog instantaneously if either one of them decided the new dog was a threat.
Okay, so that was the plan, but in keeping with the day, the plan didn’t work.  As soon as Fina saw Scruggs she bolted from my hand, ripping not only the leash from me, but taking at least two layers of skin with it.  She ran headlong toward the dog. Tara seeing Fina’s reaction started to stand to follow.
“Oh, crap,” I said as I started to run after Fina.  While I was on the move, Tara started moving, too. She ran in front of me, cutting me off like a nose tackle. I sprawled headlong on the concrete, skinning my knees and my hands. I looked up just in time to see Fina wiggle a greeting at Scruggs. Soon both dogs were sniffing each other’s’ butts, both laughing a greeting.  Then Tara, the more reserved of the two dogs, joined them and created a circle of butt-sniffing and tail-wagging.
By this time Agent Tamara and the volunteer were laughing.  “Looks like there’s no issue if the dogs will get along,” she said.
“No, just a question if the two black ones will live,” I said under my breath.
“Huh?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I answered.  “I’m just glad they all get along.”
“Okay, then, I’ll sign this form giving the okay for you to adopt your dog, and you can pick him up tomorrow,” Tamara said.
“And the kitten?” I asked.  “She has to be spayed.  Will you keep her a couple of days to recuperate?”
“Oh, no,” Tamara responded.  “We perform the surgery in the morning, and they’re ready to go by four o’clock. We close at six, so you need to get them sometime before then.”
I was a little shocked.  Samantha was little; I wasn’t even sure she was two pounds.  Being such a tiny baby, I was afraid for her safety.  Just as I was starting to protest, I heard a familiar voice behind me.
“I hope I’m not too late,” Prince Charming said.
I squinted and hunched my shoulders, looking at my raw and blistered hands.  Oh, hell no, he wasn’t “too late.” I wanted to yell at him for making me suffer alone.  But by that time he and Agent Tamara were chatting amicably about the great social greeting the dogs were having.  She reiterated to him the animals would be ready for pick-up the next day as he nodded agreement.
“Great,” he said.  “If you can hold them till about five o’clock, I’ll make sure I keep my calendar clear.  I want to be here when Scruggies and Samantha come home.”
I found myself squinting at him in disbelief again. Not for one moment did I believe he’d remember to come with me. I was too used to being alone, and I was positive something would come up to keep him from coming with me. 
Just thinking about the imagined future slights fouled my mood.  I stayed silent and cranky all the way to the car.  Never mind that Prince Charming was there to handle the more rambunctious Fina.  Never mind that it would have been almost impossible to get both dogs back into the car without his help.  My focus was on my bleeding palms and my torn pant leg.  I wasn’t ready to forgive and I definitely wasn’t ready to forget.  

MARY DE LA PEÑA,  author of Scruggs and Samantha

I’ve been thinking too much about death lately, not because I consider myself morbid or anything, but rather grief is surrounding me bringing death up close and personal. It has me wondering how we survive having our faith tested by loss. Do we just fold our tents and give up, or do we find a purpose and reason to continue forward—or, does God send angels in different forms and personas to give us messages of hope and compassion?
Recently, a man who my husband considered not only one of his closest friends, but also his comrade in arms, died from cancer. The men were more than just friends; each had played a major role in saving the other’s life in in the jungles of Vietnam and Laos. But, it was more than just my husband’s loss, great as it was, Jack’s wife was also my dear friend and her grief brought into close focus the question of what I will do should my much older husband predecease me? It is that question that has spun me into fear, anticipatory loss, and panic—how can I live without him?
A few years ago I was surrounded by loss—my mother, my children’s paternal grandparents, my ex-husband, and too many cats, as well as a dog. It was the succession of losses that finally sent me on a journey to rescue an animal, truly believing that if I rescued an animal I would find meaning in my life. The quest became the catalyst for my book, Scruggs and Samantha, How a Shelter Dog and Kitten Saved Cinderella’s Marriage. Yet, more importantly, rescuing my golden dog Scruggs and the tiny black kitten (now a very overweight cat) brought into focus that God gives us angels in many forms, we only need to open our hearts and minds to see His gifts.
Here’s what I mean: Last Friday I was in the cafeteria of the local courthouse worrying about my clients and my husband. I was in a real funk, dragging my chin on the ground, convinced I had been forsaken. Lost in thought I have no idea from whence she came, but suddenly a woman appeared and placed a small booklet on my table. She said, “This will help,” and then she disappeared. I looked down and the book was entitled, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled. 
Reaching for the booklet my hand felt as if it was shot through with an electric current—a peace settled over me as I opened it. I read, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Psalms 46:1) and “Cast thy burden unto the LORD, and He shall sustain thee.” (Psalms 55:22)
There was more, but the first few phrases broke my dissolute spell, and I felt my heart stir. Yes, I was still afraid, but at least I my faith in angels was restored. But, God came to me again. When I returned home that afternoon my dogs and Boo Bear, my new cat, did not leave my side. They stayed near me, sleeping on my feet, sitting on my lap, comforting me with their presence.  My own precious angels were again working their magic.
So, as I ponder death, grief, and the anguish of loss after my friend’s funeral and internment in the National Cemetery, I am accompanied by my angel Boo, with my other angel Scruggs at my feet. Their presence gives me comfort, and I know that God will give me the strength I need by sending His angels to restore me when I most need them.
To all of you reading this, let not death frighten you. Let not loss deter you. For you are surrounded by angels, you only need to look, listen, and let them into your hearts.

For more on my precious angles, read Scruggs and Samantha, How a Shelter Dog and Kitten Saved Cinderella’s Marriage, available through

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

CHAPTER EIGHT SCRUGGS MEETS THE “KIDS”—MEET TARA and FINA (31st installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)



(31st installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

My heart was light as I rushed home to collect the “kids” for their appointment with Agent Tamara and Scruggs.  I wasn’t overly concerned that either of my two dogs would have a problem with meeting another dog.  They were dog park pros, after all, and were used to meeting other dogs. The only thing that I was concerned about was my physical ability to handle the two large dogs by myself.
Tara, my full-blooded Rottweiler, was a gentle spirit.  Although she was more than twenty-six inches at her shoulder, and weighed a German-svelte 116 pounds, she had no concept of her power and strength.  As with Katie who had come before her, and our beloved Alice, she had been front-loaded with obedience training. 
Fina, a rescue who had found her way into our household, was my major concern.  She was a Rottweiler mix of indeterminate origin, and I had long told her that, while her momma may have been a Rottweiler, her daddy was a coyote.  She had the distinctive black and tan markings of a Rottweiler, but her nose was sharply pointed and her body was lean with the long coyote legs made for trotting great distances.  More telling than her body shape and size was her tendency to howl and her desire to hunt.  She howled at everything, including the moon, and the coyotes who sang at our back fence and any dog that passed by on the street.  Worse yet, she was almost a year old when she was rescued from a backyard and made her way to my home.  But it was during a time I had been preoccupied with my mother’s illness and eventual death.  Prince Charming had also been an absent “daddy” during that time, as he was too busy taking care of business during my absences from the office.  As a result, Fina was never properly trained in obedience other than basic commands we used around our house. 

Like the other dogs in the house, Fina had learned to “get out of the kitchen” and wait patiently at the invisible line separating the kitchen from the dining room.  She would “potty” on command, squeezing out a few drops when necessary to earn her treat.  She even knew sit and “lay down,” which was the more informal command meaning “come lay down next to me,” rather than immediately drop to the ground.  But some of the other commands were beyond her.  She did not know how to walk quietly at my side, either in the “heel” position or the casual walk.  Most troubling of all, she only came when she wanted to, which meant only when she thought food or a treat was imminent.  So, while I wasn’t worried too much about my ability to handle Tara, I was very concerned about Fina.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

CHAPTER EIGHT SCRUGGS MEETS THE “KIDS”—WE’RE NOT GOING IN THERE (33rd installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)



(33rd installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

The scene of me trying to load the two dogs in the quietude of our own neighborhood was bad enough, but the shelter was worse. Instead of the quiet of my neighborhood, we were met with the cacophony of barking from the dogs confined in cages. Trucks were coming and going, and the usual number of people were milling around the front of the building.
The noise was enough to send both dogs into exaggerated behaviors.  Fina became more boisterous, while Tara was more reluctant and more alert.  Fina was determined to find the dogs she heard barking, and Tara was convinced she needed to keep me from entering that hellish place.
Fina immediately bolted from the car, almost jerking my arm from its socket.  Tara refused to leave the safety of the car. She rolled her eyes at me, pleading with me not to go anywhere near those cages.
Figuring Tara was safe in the car, I tried to get Fina under control.  “Fina,” I said firmly.  “Fina, come.”
She looked back over her shoulder at me and continued to dance at the end of the leash.
“Fina, damn it, come!”
Her eyes widened at my voice.  Maybe it was the use of the D-word, or maybe it was my tone, but she tucked her stubby tail close to her tan butt and slinked back to me.
That was enough for Tara; she immediately leaped from the SUV and came to sit next to me, leaning her considerable weight against my knee.  Fina wiggled her way over to the larger dog, licking her face and head, and then she also sat down.
“All right, you two,” I said.  “You have to behave.  We’re meeting a new dog, and you have to be good.”
Right, as if the dogs could understand me.  It wasn’t a Disney tale.  Both dogs just took up where they left off, with Fina surging ahead and Tara cross-stepping in front of me in an attempt to herd me back to the car.  Barely in control I tripped and pushed and pulled the two dogs to the entrance of the Humane Society.
 Of course, as most wives do whenever they are faced with a situation they can’t control they blame their husbands.  I blamed Prince Charming.  I silently cursed him as I sweated from the effort of controlling the two large dogs.  Then, I cursed him aloud at the entrance to the shelter when Fina came to a sliding halt and Tara began to back up, pulling hard against the leash.  Both dogs decided they wanted no part of entering hell.
Fina bolted back to Tara, again licking her face as if telling her, “You’re right, we don’t want to go in there!”  Both dogs turned and started pulling me back toward the car.  I slammed on my brakes, trying to dig my heels into the concrete walk, determined not to lose the ground I had gained.  But the dogs outweighed me, and their fear gave them extra strength to pull me along as I slid and stumbled backward away from the front gate.
Frustrated, hot, and aching from pulling on the two dogs, I started to cry, blaming Prince Charming for the mess I had created.
“Damn it,” I cried.  “Why do I always have to do this alone?”
With tears streaming down my face, I braced harder against the dogs, ordering Tara to stop.  It was a command she had learned years before, and she knew it meant that whatever she was doing she was to stop immediately.
She halted, one foot raised in mid-stride.  She rolled her eyes back at me, pleading but still obeying.  With Tara frozen in place, Fina stopped her headlong rush to the car long enough to come back to her buddy.
The area where we came to rest was the grassy strip of land fronting the Humane Society.  I pulled both dogs off the sidewalk onto the grass.
“Wait,” I said.  “Just wait, you two.”
I gathered the leashes into my hand, not moving, just letting the dogs sniff the air and the grass.  We waited for about five minutes to settle our emotions.  Finally, Tara began to relax.  She came to me and sat by my side.  Fina followed. It was enough to make me believe I could do this.

Silly me. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

CHAPTER EIGHT SCRUGGS MEETS THE “KIDS”—YOU WANT US TO DO WHAT? (32nd installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)



(32ND installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

The afternoon of the temperament and bonding meeting between Scruggs and my other two dogs was very hot by the time I attempted to load both dogs into the SUV.
Loading them was nearly disastrous. We were a scrum of dogs, leashes, under-the-breath curses, and near-death trips and falls as I tried to load the dogs. Fina was pulling on the leash in her effort to be first. She didn’t know where we were going, only that we were going somewhere; wherever that place was, she wanted to be first in line.
Tara was more reticent.  She sensed I was distracted and somewhat apprehensive. That was all she needed to know to put her on hyper-alert.  She went into guard mode, which meant she kept trying to put herself in front of me to ward off the unseen danger she knew was lurking somewhere near.  I was left to twirl, push, and pull the dogs toward the SUV.
As soon as I opened the rear lift-gate with the automatic opener, Fina rushed headlong to jump into the rear compartment. Unfortunately for her, her leash stopped her mid-leap.  She crashed down just short of her target, causing me to trip over her as I tried to encourage Tara to jump into the car. With Fina thrashing around on her back, tangled in the leash, Tara decided there was no way she was going anywhere near the area causing the other dog’s distress. She threw her 116 pounds against the leash and pulled her collar off her neck. With nothing to stop her she bolted back to the safety of the front door, and sat firmly on the welcome mat, rolling her eyes at me when I called.
Fina, on the other hand, finally disentangled herself from the leash and jumped gracefully into the rear area of the SUV.  However, whenever I pushed the button to close the lift gate, she jumped out of the car and ran around it in her self-devised game of chase. As the game continued, I caught her leash, led her to the rear of the vehicle, and again opened the lift gate for her to jump in, only to have her jump out again as soon as she saw the door start to close.
In and out, around and around we went. Finally, I just stopped.
“Enough,” I said.  “Enough, you two!”
Fina froze in her tracks, staring hard at me. 
Tara, come,” I said with a deep growl to my voice.
Tara came around the corner of the house and looked at me but continued to lean toward the front door.
“Both of you,” I said.  “Enough. Fina, stay. Tara, come!”
Fina, who really had never learned the word “stay,” flopped down on her back instead, waving her legs in the air in complete submission.  Tara slinked toward me, her stump of a tail pressed hard against her tan butt.
I pressed the remote for the lift-gate, glaring at Fina, daring her to move. She continued to wiggle on her back, legs straight up in the air. Tara froze watching me intently.
“Both of you,” I said in my commanding voice. “Get in the car, now.”
Fina flipped over and immediately jumped in the car. Tara came toward the car and danced at the rear, pleading with me to help her into the car.
“Don’t give me that, Tara,” I said.  “You can jump.  Get in the car.”
With one more pleading glance back at me, she rocked on her hind legs a few times. Then, with a clumsy arching leap, she landed in the rear compartment of the SUV.
“Now, stay, you two,” I commanded as I pressed the button.  Neither one moved while the rear door closed, safely locking them inside.  
Exhausted from the effort, I again wondered if I could handle three large dogs. These two were hard enough, with one of them trained, and the other slightly trained. Scruggs was clearly a street dog with no training at all. He needed calm consistency, not emotional tirades.
I closed my eyes in silent prayer and prayed for strength.  As I did so, I felt my resolve to adopt Scruggs and Samantha again come coursing back into me.

I wish I could say that my two dogs were better at the shelter, but of course they weren’t.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

CHAPTER SEVEN A TEST OF HEARTS—TWO HEARTS YEARNING TO BE FREE (30th installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(30TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

For what seemed like hours I watched Scruggs as he kept his nose pointed to the street, with freedom beckoning him. I sat quietly watching the dog I wanted to take home with me, feeling his yearning, and letting it seep into my own soul.
But, soon, the young kennel man heard his name called over the intercom.
“Hey,” he said to me, “that’s me they’re calling.  I’m not supposed to leave you alone with the dogs, but will you be okay while I answer that?”
“Just leave me the leash,” I said.  “I’ll be okay.”
He snapped the lead back onto Scruggs, handed me the loop, and left the enclosure, leaving me alone with my dog.
As soon as the worker was gone, Scruggs began to dance and twirl, spinning in excited happiness.  I had to stand to keep up with his gyrations and, before I knew it, he again led me to the far end of the enclosure. He gently rose up on his hind legs, placing his front paws on the chain-link fencing, thrusting his nose through the openings, snuffling the wind from the outside.  I stood next to him, my fingers laced through the fencing, watching the street and appreciating the same breeze as it rustled our blonde hair.
“Aw, Scruggies,” I said, taking a seat on the grass, pulling him down next to me.  “You want to be free, don’t you, boy?”
He turned to look at me, giving me a quick swipe with his tongue.
“It’s calling you, isn’t it?” I asked.
He looked at me again, this time letting his gaze linger on my face.
“You want out of this place, don’t you?  You know there’s something better just beyond that hill, don’t you?”
Scruggs let out a deep sigh.  He turned to look at the meadow and the hill beyond, gave a brief blink at a singing meadow lark, and then settled down next to me.
We sat gazing out at the street, both of us lost in thought, both of us dreaming of being out of our respective prisons.
“You know, Scruggs,” I whispered, “I don’t want to be here either.  I’m tired.  I’m tired of trying to hold back the government from stripping away what few rights we have left.  I am tired of clients who make such bad choices.  And, most of all, I’m tired of not being a good wife to my husband.  I just can’t do it anymore.  I’m failing at all of it, and I’m just so tired.  I want to be free, just like you do.”
Scruggs lifted his head from my lap and swiped my face with his tongue, then gently licked my fingers.  I pulled him close, and we sighed together, both of us understanding the need to be free.  It was a test of our hearts to trust enough to let someone enter.  Yet, in the quietude of that moment, I felt a shift in my heart.  The rusted hinges of the door to my soul groaned as it began to open.  My heart began to beat a little faster as I let the scruffy dog in.  And, even as I felt my heart stir, Scruggs sighed again, closed his eyes, and let me enter his.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CHAPTER SEVEN A TEST OF HEARTS—A NEED TO BE FREE (29th installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(29TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

After my run-in with Prince Charming at the office, my need to see Scruggs was forefront in my thoughts. At the Humane Society I scurried to cage 83.  Floating from the wire mesh was a yellow ribbon.  For the first time that day I smiled. Agent Tamara had kept her word. Scruggs was safe.  Better still, as soon as he saw me his eyes lit up and a smile split his face with a lolling tongue grin. I sat on the concrete floor, my feet in the gutter, thrusting my fingers through the mesh to rub his face.  Resting my head against the gate that separated us, he licked the top of my head, giving me the kisses I had so desperately wanted from my husband.
As the two of us sat, a shelter worker came through the building.  When he queried me about the dog and the yellow ribbon, I told him I was adopting the dog.  He asked me if I wanted to spend some time with the dog in the “adoption run.” I was surprised at his question but readily agreed.
It turned out that the “adoption run” was a fenced outside area with a couple of benches, a tub of toys, and a container of dog treats.  It was a quiet, peaceful area separated from the shelter, with a clear view of Elephant Hill and the small meadow at its base.  The cacophony of barking and the hustle-bustle of the dog runs were muted, and the only intrusive sounds were from the occasional car as it passed by on Mission Boulevard.  It was the perfect place to interact with a dog to form the first bonds of a lasting friendship.
Scruggs readily came with us when we leashed him up to take him to the run. He was almost giddy with delight at being free from the confines of the dog run. He twirled and laughed and prancing with delight as we traversed to the backside of the property.  We led Scruggs through the four-foot gate and into the grassy area of the adoption area.  He came easily with us but, as soon as he saw the street and meadow through the fencing, he froze, lifting one foot as he sniffed the first air of freedom.  I watched as he took his first tentative steps onto the grass, nose held high, letting the breeze ruffle his shaggy coat and whiskered face.  He closed his eyes, frozen in place, tail held erect. I watched the dog, feeling his joy.  A smile split my face as my heart filled with love watching this street dog find happiness in the simplicity of a breeze on his face and grass at his feet.
We stood like that, frozen in our shared joy for what felt like an eternity.  Looking back, however, it was probably less than fifteen seconds or so.  The young man who accompanied us reached down and undid the clasp of the leash.  Suddenly, the mood was broken.  Scruggs bolted like a race horse out of a starting gate.  He hit the end of the enclosure at a full run, and threw himself at the fence in a mad scramble to scale it.  His toes dug into the chain-link fence.  For a frightening moment I thought he was going to make it over the fence.  But quicker than Scruggs was the worker who was at his side, quickly disentangling the dog’s toes from the fencing and gently pulling him off the fence.  He carried the struggling dog back to where I stood, frozen in horror.
“Happens more times than I can count,” he said.  “They see the street and want to escape.”
I was still too shocked to respond as he reached into the doggy treat barrel and handed me a biscuit. 
“Here, try this,” he said. He held onto the chain collar of the dog while handing to me a dog treat, making sure to run it close under Scruggs’s nose. 
I extended the treat to him, but the dog didn’t even flinch.  His eyes were still on the Great Beyond.
“Can he escape?” I asked.
“Not unless he goes for the gate, which most dogs don’t.  They all go for the fence to the street.”
I tried the treat again, stepping between Scruggs’s street views, blocking it from sight.  He shifted his eyes toward me as I softly spoke his name.  I said his name again, taking the biscuit up within inches of his nose.  He sniffed, sniffed again, and then gently took it from my hand.
I was surprised at that.  I had expected a stronger reaction to the food.  As thin as he was, food had to have been a scarce commodity, one I expected he would have lunged for or protected.  Yet, he took it from me as if I had offered him a cherished gift.
“Can we let him go again?” I asked.
The worker shrugged as he let go of the chain collar.
This time, Scruggs ran the perimeter of the fence, but did not try to jump it.  He ran around and around the enclosure sniffing at the ground, stopping only to stare at the street and the meadow beyond.  He vibrated with longing.  Everything about him telegraphed a need to be on that street and continue on a journey interrupted by his capture.
I felt desperation begin to seep into my certitude.  What if this scruffy dog had belonged to a boy somewhere and gotten lost?  What if someone was looking for him and longing for him, just as I looked and longed to find Cosmo, my missing cat?  How could I take this dog if he had somewhere he needed to be?
I turned back to the young man who was intently watching Scruggs’s behavior.  “What if he’s looking for someone?” I asked.  “What if he’s lost and can’t find his way home?”
“Naw,” the young man answered.  “I was here when they brought him in.  He’s been a street dog for a very long time.  He was skin and bones—almost dead—dehydrated, and suffering mild anemia from the ticks and fleas.  If he was lost, he’d been lost a long time.  My guess is that he’s always been a street dog.”
We watched as Scruggs continued to circle the enclosure.  Around and around he went, sniffing and circling.  The only thing I could think to do was interrupt him by offering another treat.
“Scruggs,” I called, offering a second biscuit.  “Come here, boy.  Look what I have.”
That time he stopped to look at my outstretched hand.  Tentatively he approached me, extending his nose to sniff the treat.  Again he sniffed it several times before gently taking it from my hand.  As soon as I handed Scruggs the treat, the shelter worker handed me another.  We worked this assembly line for several minutes.  Each time I handed Scruggs a biscuit, I pulled my hand a little closer to my body, forcing him to come to me.  Eventually, he stood directly in front of me, allowing me to stroke his head between me handing him the tidbits of food.
Eventually I cupped a biscuit in my hand and eased my way to one of the benches, taking a seat.  Scruggs tentatively followed me, his nose following my cupped hand.  The young man handed me several biscuits then faded to a far inside corner of the adoption area, letting me interact with my dog.
I watched closely as the dog leaned toward the street, his eyes shifting from the treat in my hand to the siren call of the meadow.  With every offering of food, I was rewarded with a slight wag of his tail.
I took the opportunity to rest my hand on his back, running my fingers down his spine, feeling every protuberance of his vertebrae.  His ribs were visible through the shaggy coat, and he definitely smelled of the oily, tar-based street.  Maybe the shelter worker was correct.  Maybe this dog was not meant to be a companion dog to a human, but rather was imbued with the free spirit of long ago wolf ancestors, needing to howl at the moon and run free.

 The distracted dog standing in front of me was not the same exuberant dancer I had fallen for the week before.  This was a dog that was focused on getting far, far away from where he was at the time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

CHAPTER SEVEN A TEST OF HEARTS—AN OFFICE SKIRMISH (28TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

(28TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)

When I arrived at the office I was immediately met with a barrage of complaints and messages from my secretary.  She was a well-meaning person, but she had yet to understand I always needed a few moments to decompress before she laid the problems of the day at my feet.  Her nature was gentle and she was completely unable to handle conflict.  Thus, she always greeted me with the newest “emergency” as soon as I walked through the door.
Unfortunately for her, it was the last straw.  My response was quick and vicious.
“I have repeatedly told you to leave me alone for at least five minutes,” I snarled at her.  “These problems will wait for another ten or so minutes.  Now take them back to your desk and wait until I tell you I am ready for messages.” 
I whirled on my heel and stalked back to my office.  I slammed the door, rattling the pictures on my wall.
No more than thirty seconds later there was knocking at my door.  The door opened just as I was getting a good head of steam to yell at the intruder.  Standing in my doorway was my partner husband.  His face was controlled but angry.
“M. J.,” he said, “that was uncalled for.  She was just trying to do her job.”
All the warm fuzzy feelings I had for him from our earlier encounter evaporated.  Worse yet, I knew he was right, but it only made my feelings of abandonment stronger.  How could he take her side?  I was his wife and the law partner.  I had status, or at least in my mind I thought did.  Anger swelled at the slight.  He should give me the respect I thought I deserved because of both positions I held in his life.
I growled at him, giving him the slant-eyed stare women use on offending men.
He shrugged his shoulders in response.
We stared at each other, neither one willing to give in during the contest of wills. 
Finally, I broke the stare.  “You know, I don’t care at this point,” I said.  “I have the right to have a few moments of peace.”
He did not soften his face.  “Yes,” he answered.  “But not at the expense of the staff.”
God, why couldn’t he just take me in his arms and soothe me?  Why did he have to be so . . . right?
I fluttered my hands at him in an ineffectual attempt to wave him away.  He was correct: my behavior was inappropriate. But I was also tired of feeling so wrong in everything I did.
He stood looking at me, then with a shake of his head he said, “Why don’t you go home and change.  You have to take the dogs for their test with the new dog.”
“Scruggs,” I said.  “His name is Scruggs.  Aren’t you going with me?”
He took a deep breath before answering.  “M. J., with you gone out of the office today, I need to stay here to hold down the fort.  You don’t need me.  You’ll be fine.”
It was the finality in his voice that prevented me from arguing back.  He was wrong, of course.  I wouldn’t be “fine.”  How was I supposed to take two large dogs into the shelter with all of the other barking dogs and have them behave? 
A dark thought intruded that maybe he wanted me to fail.  Maybe he really didn’t want us to get the golden dog with the laughing smile.
Panic and anger filled me.  I slammed my purse onto my desk, jerking my keys from their holder.  “Fine,” I answered.  “You’re right, I’ll be just fine!” I stormed out of the office, trying not to slam the door to the waiting room as I left.  One stupid showing of juvenile behavior was enough for the day.

But once in my car I began to cry.  Frustration, hurt, anger—but, most of all, the feeling that control of my life was slipping away from me—filled my heart. Without thinking, I drove the few miles to the animal shelter.  I needed to see Scruggs.  I needed to make sure I was doing the right thing.  Was I jeopardizing my marriage and my livelihood for a shelter dog?  Was I as crazy as I felt?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

CHAPTER SEVEN A TEST OF HEARTS—A COURTROOM BATTLE (27TH installment, Scruggs and Samantha, by Mary de la Pena)


After the fight with Precious Princess One and Two, I was exhausted and emotionally drained. I knew that but for the intervention of my prince charming I could have lost both Scruggs and Samantha. It was a loss I knew I could not have withstood.
As I left the Pomona Valley Humane Society, my emotions overwhelmed me again.  Twink was gone, but God had given me a glimpse of the man I loved and thought was lost to me.  However, the test of wills at the shelter had severely tested my self-confidence in my ability to problem-solve.  I ping-ponged between elation and sorrow, confidence and trepidation, and exasperation and smug self-congratulation. My emotions finally rested in the familiar zone of depression.
My appearance at court was supposed to be brief and should have been very routine.  It was a simple misdemeanor pretrial where all I had to do was speak to the prosecutor about a potential plea agreement, then put the matter over to a new date for my client to appear to enter his plea.  But instead of a simple in-and-out appearance, it became another test of my will and desire to continue practicing criminal defense.
Over the years I had become almost immune to the insults leveled at me and my clients.  I had heard it all: Officers told me I had “gone to the dark side” when I left the District Attorney’s Office. The public asked me, “How could you represent guilty people?”  And some people called my clients miscreants and evil.  But in my heart I had always known I did the work to protect others, the innocent public who would have unwittingly given up their constitutional rights had someone not taken a stand to keep the justice system honest.
But that day in August, my patience had already been tested beyond my ability to withstand another insult.  The Precious Princesses had depleted my store of good humor, and my emotions were rubbed raw.  Thus, when faced with a new deputy who was hiding her inexperience by a show of bravado and insult, I flashed my anger in return.
“Your client beat the hell out of his girlfriend,” she said.
“Yes, I know,” I answered.  “That’s why we’re just looking for a plea offer.”
“But your client is an animal,” she said.  “You know he split her lip and bruised her eye?”
“Yes,” I answered, smothering my irritation. 
“I don’t know why it was only filed as a misdemeanor,” she said, flipping through the police reports.  “It should have been a felony.  If he doesn’t take the deal today, I’ll refile it as a felony.”
“My client’s not here today,” I answered, my patience worn thin.  “I’m here to get the offer, then relay it to him.”
“Well, we don’t do that in this courtroom,” she said.  “Defendants are expected to be in court on their pre-trials.”
I found myself clenching my fists in anger.  She was wrong, of course.  I had been coming to that courtroom and appearing in front of that judge for more than twelve years.  The customary practice was that when a defendant hired a private lawyer they did not have to be present in court for misdemeanor pre-trials.  The young D.A. was either flexing her muscles or terribly ignorant.
I tried again.  “This is my first pretrial on this case,” I said, using my patient voice, while picturing in my mind slamming her head repeatedly into counsel table.  “It is customary for me to get the offer and then relay it to my client.  I am sure the judge won’t have a problem with that.”
She responded with the “sniff.”  What was with all the young women crossing my path that day?  Did they all have allergies?  Did I smell?  Or were they just using the universal gesture of disgust?
I again clenched my fists at the perceived insult.  Enough!  I had enough of the disdain for one day.  I turned on my heel and walked away.  My anger was surging and I needed more space between me and the young prosecutor, afraid I would take action on my imaginings.
About that time the judge retook the bench.  He smiled at me as the clerk handed him my file.
“Good morning Mrs. de la Peña.  How are you this almost afternoon?”
I knew I was late getting to court, and I also knew he wasn’t insulting me, but my patience was gone.  I tried to smile back, but I know it came across as a grimace.
The judge picked up the file and asked me if my client was present.  To which I started to state I was appearing “9-7-7,” a code to say my client was not in court that day and I was alone.  Unfortunately for me, the D.A. immediately interrupted me.
“The defendant is not here today, your honor,” she said.  “The People request a bench warrant issue.  I have also told defense counsel that if her client does not take the offer today, we will refile as a felony.”
That did it!  I’d had my fill of young women trying to use their perceived authority to usurp my position, first as an animal adoptee, and then as a defense lawyer. 
I whirled on the D.A. and almost hissed my disapproval.  The clerk and the bailiff heard my intake of breath.  They knew me well and knew I was the more volatile of the de la Peña partnership.  The clerk’s eyes widened and the bailiff stepped around from behind his desk, each preparing for the eruption they were sure was to happen.
The judge also knew me well. He held up his hand to stop me before I started, knowing there could be proverbial bloodshed, or at least a verbal drubbing of the young prosecutor.  I took the hint and closed my mouth.
“Mrs. de la Peña, I see this is your first pretrial on this matter and I assume you are appearing 9-7-7.  Without your client here, I presume you cannot tender the offer to him.  You will have him here at the next date?  What date did you want?” he asked, almost smiling.
With those simple words he had told the prosecutor it was sufficient for me to appear without my client.  But it left on the table the matter as to whether the offer for a plea bargain would remain open.
I desperately wanted to snitch on the young woman sitting at counsel table.  I briefly imagined storming up to her supervisor’s office and laying on him the insults she had tendered in court.  But it would have been only temporary revenge to rub her nose in her inexperience.  She would spread stories of my transgressions throughout the minions of younger D.A.’s and my reputation would suffer.  My years of experience told me to just be humble and swallow my anger.
“Your Honor,” I answered, “about the misdemeanor plea, will it remain open?”
“Speak with the D.A.,” he answered.  “I am sure her office wishes to dispose of this case without further delay or cost.  Filing a felony would incur both.”
As I turned back to the D.A., she again sniffed at me, saying, “This judge always expects the defendant to be present at pre-trials.  Also, I will speak with my office about refiling this as a felony.” 
At that point there was nothing I could do.  My client was not present because he was at work.  The chance of me getting a hold of him and into court was certainly impossible.  I had no real choice other than to do the criminal defense lawyer equivalent of a “throw-down.”
“Fine,” I answered.  “You do that.”
Again she sniffed and snapped her file shut.
I hoped my bravado was not an exercise in folly.  This wasn’t the first time I had represented this client with regards to his unhealthy relationship with that girlfriend.  It was usually mutual combat, but in keeping with the idea that someone had to go to jail when there was blood spilled, it usually was my client who spent the night in jail.  All I could do was hope the reviewing felony deputy would decide the case was more trouble than it was worth and let the original offer stand until the next pretrial.

By the time the judge recalled the case and we set dates for the next appearance, I had a splitting headache.  My jaw hurt from clenching it and I had deep grooves in the palm of my hands from my fingernails.  Worse yet, I was again feeling impotent.