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Rescue Me

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I'll make this quick: I have another dog. He's unofficial, temporary, a foster who arrived when I was truly minding my own business. A couple of months ago my 14-year-old neighbor knocked on my door to show me what had followed her home from school that afternoon (this is the second dog she's brought to me in a year; I've trained her well). This dog was a smallish terrier mix of indeterminate color, filthy and matted, its eyes barely visible underneath the hair that hung in its face like Spanish moss. It was clear that it had been on its own for a while, but despite that had a good temperament -- friendly, if a bit wary. After my neighbor and I had coaxed it into a crate, she went home for dinner and didn't come back. We both knew that her parents would never let her keep it. It was understood pretty much from the moment she knocked on the door that dog was going to be my project. She had just delivered it, like mail. She'd done her job.

Darby -- that's what I named him -- is still around. He's long since been cleaned up and groomed, shaved of the tumor-sized clumps of hair and looking quite adoptable, if about half the size he was before. I've been trying to find him a home, something I've done many times in the past with other dogs, with pretty good success. But something's happening this time out that I'm somewhat ashamed to admit: I don't want to give him away to just anywhere.

That's right, anywhere, as opposed to anyone. I'm concerned about the quality of Darby's future home, real-estate values, that sort of thing. That sounds terribly elitist, and it is. Of course my husband I have gotten attached to Darby, which for us can happen with any dog after a couple of days. After a month -- an eternity in dog/human relationship time -- we were as bonded with it as we'll ever be. So instead of simply being someone trying to find an abandoned dog a good home, which I was in February, I am now a full-fledged social worker who won't place my charge in any home that isn't better than the one he's already got. What I've decided that means is that if he goes, he's got to go to a neighborhood where he can relax, go for long walks, perhaps eat in special dog restaurants -- in other words, I don't want him living in the hood. Yes, much as it troubles me to say it, I prefer Darby living well west or north of here, someplace where there are coffeehouses and Trader Joe's and yoga studios and farmers markets, maybe a PetCo on every corner. Somewhere with dog parks and no food deserts. Basically I want to give this dog all the advantages I never had when I was growing up, to have all the suburban amenities that I know at this point in my life are beyond my reach.

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Let me say that I've placed plenty of dogs in the hood. The owners have been conscientious dog lovers like me, and everything has always worked out for everybody concerned. I don't for a moment believe that dogs should go only to people who live in certain ZIP codes or who earn a certain amount of money; dogs first and foremost need attentive companions, and those exist everywhere. The first dog I acquired was through a rescue group in Redondo Beach, and when the white volunteer/social worker brought him to my house in Inglewood to meet us and do a 'home check,' I can only imagine what she imagined she'd find. Whatever it was, she liked us and our digs just fine, and Toby has been living here like a prince ever since. I still see that volunteer occasionally for coffee, and she always says with a note of satisfaction that he ended up with the perfect people.

He did. It's just that this time I want a perfect place to go with a perfect owner. My neighborhood is fine, but some other neighborhoods within a five-mile radius are not so much. I worry about Darby staying home because the owners fear walking him, maybe because too many stray dogs in the neighborhood make walking potentially dangerous or at least problematic (the higher incidence of stray dogs in working-class neighborhoods like mine is exactly how I got so adept at dog rescue in the first place). When my landscaper recently expressed interest in adopting Darby -- well, he knows somebody who's interested -- I hemmed and hawed partly because he lives in Florence/Firestone. I know I was being unreasonable, snobbish. We've actually given the gardener a dog in the past, and, as happens so often, everything worked out fine with him and Jenny, a lovely golden retriever mix.

But this time I want things to work out better than fine, I want idyllic. The biggest luxury I want to secure for Darby isn't money or even a big house, but the luxury of uneventfulness, of not having to think about his life at all. I don't want him accosted by other strays, or cooped up because walking isn't always advisable or because his otherwise perfect owners are working too hard or too much to do a lot of walking at all.

I know I'm asking for too much, because the truth is I want to keep Darby myself. I know that I'm making distinctions I wouldn't ordinarily make, for a reason. In these still-tough times I know that I'm living my own struggle-free, unthinking, uneventful life vicariously through Darby and this latest narrative of animal rescue and redemption.

Because of all this I'll keep him as long as I can, maybe forever. I do have a friend who's interested who lives in Woodland Hills. Talk about amenities. Curiously, while I'm certainly more open to letting Darby live there, I'm not yet convinced. Does Woodland Hills really have more to offer him than the place he is now? Yes, and no. Right now the no's have it.

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