Harley was once just a Lab X (Labrador Mix), a yellow creature with short ears and an overall sea lion appearance. When he had no name other than his breed type, he was a ward of the Harbor Animal Care Center (under a different name at the time) in San Pedro, California. I found him there on a warm November day, resting on his side, blinking his chestnut eyes at me, muzzle flapping open in an unintentional grin. He panted and snorted, perhaps wishing the kennel cement were a slab of ice that would eventually tilt and let him slide into the cold sea. I didn’t know he hated water then.
I read his I.D. card (Lab X, seven-month-old, unaltered, male, born on April 1), but found nothing to keep me from moving on to see the other dogs. I was at the shelter with my college boyfriend, Ben, to adopt a dog (years away from where we stayed together too long, never married, and I realized we should break up). Our black puppy, who had originally been saved by Ben from the heartless traffic of Los Angeles, had passed away. After a few months with us, the innocent pup with long black tendrils of hair and a terrier snout walked back into traffic as though fate had only given him a slight reprieve. He was gone, but his absence in our lives remained.
Some people who lose a dog seek out the same dog; sometimes even give that doppelganger the same name, but not me. When I agreed with Ben that we should go to the animal shelter and adopt another dog, I wanted one different in every way from our rainbow bridge pup. Having lost many animals in my life, I knew there was only one of each one I ever knew.
Ben and I made the rounds of the animal care center and returned to Lab X. Just for a final glance at him because none of the dogs seemed to be the right one, at least not to me. A shelter employee offered us more information on the yellow puppy. Lab X was mixed with American Staffordshire terrier. He was described as a digger by the kennel workers, which didn’t sound too bad. Who knew the extent of what a digger could do? Ben explained we were considering him, even though I had not quite considered Lab X at all. The dog had kennel cough, which was treatable but might cause him to be put down soon because he was sick in a crowded shelter.
Nearing sunset left the shelter empty of visitors; we were the only souls remaining who might save Lab X. How terrible would we feel later if we left him there to his certain demise? Still unsure how this dog would fit into my life, Ben and I signed the paperwork and picked Lab X up the next morning.
Lab X was ready to go on our return. He had a scheduled neutering appointment, and would need to see the vet for his kennel cough. Ben and I adorned him with a collar and leash. Lab X sensed freedom as soon as his paws hit the dirt outside the shelter. He grabbed his leash in his jaws and shook it back and forth like a great white, ripping apart his prey. That was the first, albeit not the last, time I ever shouted his name. Since he did not recognize “Harley”, he kept right on with his reckless display, bounding along on either side of me, bucking like a horse who was trying to dismount an invisible rider.
Harley was no longer Lab X; he was a completely different creature altogether…