Marci walks down the sidewalk clutching Shelly’s harness. Not that Shelly needs it. She stays by Marci’s side no matter if she’s secured there or not.
“Morning, Joanna,” Marci says with a glance through her sunglasses. She keeps walking, sensing Joanna’s eyes on her.
Marci never misses a socialization opportunity. Normally, they visit for at least a few minutes while Joanna pulls weeds, plants the latest hosta variety on the market, or just generally digs in the dirt.
Marci spots the mailman coming her way. There isn’t a driveway between them, so she knows she’ll have to greet him too.
“How’s it going?”
“Okay, Mac,” she says with her head facing front. She blinks to hold back the tears welling in her eyes. Shelly keeps pace as they head for the end of the block. Marci knows Mac’s watching her.
She stops at the curb, debating. Should she cross and head back or keep going straight, never stopping? Shelly stops with her, standing still.
A car is coming. Marci steps off the curb, taking this last chance to perfect Shelly’s training.
Shelly resists moving forward. Marci steps back up onto the curb.
“Good,” she says.
When it’s all clear, they move forward together.
Marci starts down the other side of the road. There’s Mrs. Porter in her lawn chair positioned in the center of her driveway, maintaining her personal neighborhood watch.
Marci’s two houses away when the elder lady calls, “Marci! Come on up here and give me a visit!”
Marci’s head nods, almost imperceptibly. Her whole body heaves with a sigh.
Marci makes her way to Mrs. Porter’s side. She and Shelly stop, waiting.
Mrs. Porter studies Marci. Marci knows the woman can see right through the glasses. Or maybe she sees her clenched jaw.
“Today’s the day,” Mrs. Porter’s voice quavers.
“I’m praying for you. You’re doing a good thing and I’m proud to know you.”
“Thank you,” Marci whispers.
She keeps going. Six more houses, then the Center in the biggest of all the Victorian mansions on this street, with the biggest yard.
They’re in the Meeting Room, Marci and Shelly, seven other dogs, seven other handlers. They all stand on one side.
On the other side, chairs form a semi-circle.
Marci says “sit”, and Shelly does.
The people make their way in.
An older gentleman by himself, tapping his white cane. A teenage girl leaning on her father’s arm. Several adults, some with canes and a helper, some with just an assistant or family member.
Shelly holds her position.
Next, a little boy enters, guided by his mom on one side and his dad on the other.
Shelly shifts. Marci looks down at her. No, she hasn’t shifted. Her full, golden tail is sliding along the floor one way, then the other. Swish, swish. Ticking the seconds off.
Marci watches the last of the recipients come into the room. Shelly watches the little boy.
Sometimes the people find their dogs. And sometimes, the dogs find their people.
All the guests to the Center are seated. The director gives his speech. Shelly’s tail cleans the floor, never stopping its rhythm.
The handlers are told to walk their dogs around the room. They know the routine. Watch for any signs from your dog. Watch the people. Spot any connections. Report back to the director.
Marci stays in line with the others. Shelly never takes her eyes off the little boy.
They stop in front of the family. Marci releases Shelly. She knows it’s against the rules, but how could she not let Shelly have her way, just this once?
Shelly slips her head under the little boy’s hand dangling from his side.
The little boy slides his hand over Shelly and scratches her back.
The little boy says “sit” like he was taught in the classes, and Shelly does.
Marci looks at her empty side, then at the little boy’s full one.
Shelly is home.