Stray Dog Style
Elias sat in the waiting room, one foot tapping restlessly against the vinyl floor. He hated the sterile smell that filled the room, hated the eyes he could feel on him from the few other people sat around him. He held the puppy in his jacket a little closer, rocking it slightly, not knowing if it was in an attempt to comfort the dog or himself. The walk to the veterinarian practice had felt like torture, and to say he was shook up would be an understatement.
He had hoped that with it being midday Monday in his suburban town that the streets would be empty, but that hadn’t been the case. Every time someone had walked past him he had tried to call out, wanting to ask if they knew anything about the dog, only for the words to get lodged in his throat. In return for his efforts he had received odd stares, and one particularly cold glare from an elderly lady who was walking her own dog. He wasn’t exactly dressed in a respectable manner, and with the puppy whining almost constantly he probably looked like he’d stolen the pup. The worst thing was, there hadn’t been a lost dog poster in sight.
“Coffey-sama, Yoshimura-sensei is ready for you.”
Elias started, before nodding and standing up, allowing himself to be led to one of the examination rooms. He swallowed heavily before walking in, knowing exactly what kind of reception he was going to get. His heart in his throat, he watched nervously as the nurse closed the door behind him, sealing his fate.
“What the hell have you done.”
Elias scratched the back of his arm nervously, one hand still cupping the messy pup bundled up in his jacket. He had known it would happen, but being lectured still wasn’t a pleasant experience. He glanced up at his long-time friend, eyes filled with guilt. Takumi Yoshimura was the only real friend Elias had made since he came to Japan, and he knew him better than anyone. Elias watched as he raised an eyebrow, dark brown eyes flickering between Elias and the puppy in his arms.
“I don’t see you in three months and now you bring me a stray dog?”
“You, the guy who can’t even pick up the goddamn phone, picked up a dog. You?”
“I know, okay?”
The other man shook his head in disbelief. “You’re lucky we’re not busy on weekdays… So? Spill.”
Elias explained what had happened, leaving out the bit about the excruciating walk to the clinic. As he reached the end of his story, he realised, “Crap. I didn’t go to the convenience store... I don’t have any money on me.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Takumi sighed. “You owe me drinks - oh no, don’t think you’ll get away with just that. You’ll be paying me back in full, too.”
“So, what? You want me to check this mutt over?”
“I was hoping you could check if it’s microchipped first… I read that’s what you’re supposed to do in this situation. And please give it a general check-up, I don’t think it’s a healthy weight and its fur is all matted and god knows what else is-”
“Okay.” Takumi replied, cutting off what he knew would become a long ramble otherwise. “Hand it over.”
Elias did as he was told, hands still slightly shaking from the wait in reception. He wasn’t exactly comfortable being around groups of people, especially when they were all staring at him. He felt like they were judging him as some terrible person who couldn’t look after his dog - or shut it up, for that matter. With the puppy now safely in the vet’s hands, Elias shook out his arm, realising it was slightly numb from being in the same position for so long. He watched as Takumi pulled out a scanning machine, searching the dog’s neck, or at least trying to as it relentlessly wiggled around.
“Nope. No microchip. Could you hold it still while I look it over?”
Elias nodded, moving forward and gently grasping the puppy by the sides of its stomach, the feeling of dried mud under his hands making him feel sick. The dog was still shaking, whining as it tried to wriggle free from his grasp. He watched on as Takumi shone a light inside the pup’s ears, pushed his fingers into its mouth to look at its teeth, checked its eyes, nose, and each of its paws. He then moved Elias’ hands aside, smoothing his own hands down the dog’s ribs.
“Well, you’ve got a pretty unhealthy girl right here.” Seeing the panic in Elias’ face, Takumi changed his tone. “Don’t worry, she’s not on the verge of death or anything. I’d say she’s been outside for a while though, and considering she’s only a few months old at most… Here, hold her again while I get the scales.”
Elias held the dog in place, her soft whining suddenly making his sinuses sting. She’d been alone for so long, and with no microchip… Had she been abandoned?
“Don’t cry, she’s going to be fine.” Takumi stated bluntly, signalling for Elias to hand back the dog so he could weigh her. “Have you reported this to the police?”
“I read that most dogs that are taken into shelters are exterminated.” Elias blurted out, a part of him wanting to cover the dog’s ears. Seeing Takumi exasperated expression, he looked to his feet, his fingers gripping the dog’s sides a little tighter. “No, I haven’t.”
Takumi sighed for what felt like the millionth time. “You have to report this. What if she’s lost and someone is looking for her? Knowing you, you couldn’t ask anyone on the way here if they recognised her. You don’t have to hand her over but… Don’t tell me you’re planning on keeping her?”
“Do you have any idea how much of a responsibility that is? This is a dog, Coffey. Taking care of a dog is like having a kid. You can barely take care of yourself, how do you expect to take responsibility for another living thing?”
Silence hung heavily in the air.
“I’m not taking that back.”
“You don’t have to. I know you’re right. I understand that, but-”
“This isn’t about you, Coffey.” Elias flinched, eyes still on the floor. “Look, the bottom line is, you have to report the dog. You have to look for her owner, even if she’s been abandoned. But that doesn’t mean you have to hand her over. You can take custody of her while you search, but you have to be prepared to take responsibility of her until the end. If you end up abandoning her… It’s just too cruel. You can’t take in an animal with half-hearted feelings.”
Elias nodded, taking in the gravity of his friend’s words. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t thought this far. If anything, he’d already imagined all of the things that could possibly go wrong several times over. There was so much risk involved, so many things that could happen… But from the moment the puppy had pushed her head into his palm, a part of him had known he wouldn’t be able to let go. He watched as Takumi lifted the dog from the scales and placed her back on the examination table with one hand, making a quick note with the other.
“She really won’t quit whining, will she?” Takumi said in a light-hearted tone, trying to clear the stifling atmosphere. He scratched behind the puppy’s ears. “You must be hungry, huh?”
Elias watched as Takumi set the dog down on the ground. She started sniffing around, exploring.
“I’m going to go get the dog food, you stay here and watch her. You’ve got a lot of thinking to do.”
“Yoshimura!” Elias blurted out, making the other man stop before he reached the door. Takumi turned around, one eyebrow raised, waiting for Elias to continue. “...Thanks.”
Takumi laughed through his nose before shaking his head and opening the door.