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A Home For Patch

By: Barb Chatman

Patch is a small, two-year-old spotted terrier. He is white with a black patch of fur around his right eye and black patches of fur all over his wiry little body. He was the runt of his litter. When he closes his eyes, he has the appearance of wearing an eye patch, and so the name Patch came to be.

Patch loves to romp with his best friends-Chester, Miss Alice, and Bruiser (when Bruiser is in a good mood, that is). Patch lives with his friends in the Lakewood Animal Shelter. Mr. Jackson, who is in charge of the Shelter, is a funny little man with a graying beard. He is a kind person who loves all the animals. He often sings songs like "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" or "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Patch often finds the words to his songs rather strange, but the soothing tone of his voice is always comforting. The Animal Shelter is a fine brick building that often smells of noodle soup, Mr. Jackson's favorite lunch on a cold winter day.

Patch was very young when he arrived at the Shelter and has no memories of his family or why he is there. One day Patch asked Miss Alice how and why he came to live at the Shelter. Miss Alice is a nine-year-old, white Pekinese with a sweet Southern bark. She has lived at the Shelter for a long time and knows how most of the dogs have come to live there.

She took a deep breath. "Well, Patch, it seems that one hot summer day, two summers ago, John Hopkins was out working in his field. John owns that big white farm down the hill by Rainbow Orchards, the farm with the old tire swing hanging from the oak tree, next to Mary Nelson's place. I heard John won first place at the county fair last year for his sweet corn. Where was I now? Oh yes, he was clearing out some old bushes when he heard some soft whimpering sounds coming from behind the barn. He followed the sound and was surprised to find a cardboard box full of puppies.

"There were three male pups and one female pup. There was no mother dog in sight. John could tell the puppies were very young. He knew he could not keep them because he was always too busy caring for his farm.

"John called the Animal Shelter and spoke with Mr. Jackson. He explained his find. 'It looks as though someone has dropped the puppies off,' said John. 'The runt of the litter has a perfect black patch around one eye. Funniest thing I have seen in a long time.' Later that afternoon he dropped the puppies off at the Shelter.

"Sorry to have to tell you that story, Patch," said Miss Alice.

Patch was silent for a minute and then said, "Thanks. The story needed telling."

Miss Alice is a gracious dog who is worldly and wise. She has earned the respect of the other dogs. One might say she "has class."

She has a gentle way of making all the dogs feel special and has a reputation for telling wonderful stories. She loves to mother all the new puppies who arrive looking lost and scared. She barks out, "Ya'all are welcome here," in her sweet Southern way. Patch has been comforted many times by Miss Alice.

Patch's friend, Chester, is a handsome, pedigreed golden retriever. He has green eyes and beautiful golden fur that ripples in the breeze as he walks. He is always performing for the ladies and admiring his reflection in his water bowl.

Now, Chester's former owner, Beth, was wonderful. She adored Chester and pampered him with dog treats, sent him to the finest obedience schools, and entered him in dog show contests (many of which he won). Only the best for Chester.

Beth was a member of the Army Reserves. One day she received a letter from the Army saying she was to report for active duty. Beth found out that she would be in another country for a long time, and she was unable to take Chester along. She told him how important it was to protect this great nation so we can all be safe and enjoy our freedom. Chester had a sense this was very important.

It was a sad time for both Beth and Chester. They had shared a lot of love and fun times together. Beth assured Chester he would be well treated at the Shelter and that he would always hold a special place in her heart. They said their goodbyes and sadly parted ways forever.

Chester loves to retrieve sticks and bones. Sometimes, however, Mr. Jackson comes looking for Chester to retrieve missing items belonging to his staff. Why, just last week, for example, Miss Mason's new angora scarf came up missing. She looked everywhere, but the scarf was not to be found. Miss Mason is a rather large woman with dark brown hair and eyes that crinkle when she laughs. She is in charge of arranging all the social events for the shelter and assists Dr. Clarkson, the veterinarian.

Mr. Jackson, hearing about the missing scarf, suggested Miss Mason might want to see what Chester was doing. Sure enough, she found Chester cuddled up with her scarf. She laughed and said, "Chester, this is not one of your little friends." Despite Chester's little flaw in character, he is loved by all.

Bruiser is a rough, tough, stout, medium brown bulldog with an attitude. All the dogs run when Bruiser sets his legs in a strong stance and raises his chin in the air. Nobody wants to mess with Bruiser when he is mad.

Bruiser arrived at the Shelter a year before Patch. He had lived with the Maples, and there were many problems in his family. Mr. Maple and his wife often argued. Things got really bad when Mr. Maple lost his job. It wasn't long before Mrs. Maple announced she was going to Florida to live with her mother. Soon the money ran out, and Mr. Maple's health began to fail.

Bruiser's owner just seemed to forget about him. Sometimes Bruiser would go days with no food. Mr. Maple no longer brought Bruiser indoors when it got cold. Once when Mr. Maple came outdoors to get into his car, Bruiser jumped up on him. He was hungry and cold and just wanted to remind Mr. Maple that he still had a dog! Mr. Maple hit Bruiser and tied him to a stake in the yard.

Then several days went by when Bruiser didn't see Mr. Maple. There were no lights on in the house, and Mr. Maple's car was not in its usual place in the driveway. Finally, a man in a blue uniform with a shiny badge came out and put boards over the windows of Mr. Maple's house and locked the front door. He put a leash on Bruiser and loaded him into his car. He dropped Bruiser off at the Shelter. Bruiser never did find out what happened to Mr. Maple.

Bruiser was in pretty bad shape when he arrived at the Shelter. His ribs were sticking out because he was much too thin. His once thick fur was thin and dull. In places, fur was missing from his back. Bruiser often threw temper tantrums when things didn't go his way. It took him awhile to learn to trust people again.

Mr. Jackson took a special interest in Bruiser. He knew that Bruiser had had a rough life, and he wanted to help him heal. He often took Bruiser home with him in the evening. Over the last year, Mr. Jackson has pretty much adopted him as his own. This seems to work out well for Mr. Jackson and Bruiser. Bruiser loves to go home with Mr. Jackson, but he also enjoys playing with his friends at the Shelter.

Bruiser has changed a lot in the last couple of years since Patch has known him. He is learning to be more patient with the other dogs. He still sometimes plays too rough, and his temper gets him in trouble. When he gets mad at Patch, he calls him names. He calls him "Quilt" instead of Patch. Yeah, you heard right. He says, "Patch looks like an old quilt that someone threw away." When Patch won the weekly game of hide-and-seek, Bruiser suddenly jumped out from behind a bush, scaring Patch and causing him to fall rump over ears. Bruiser laughed and strutted away as Patch picked himself up and shook the dirt from his fur. Bruiser used to really hurt his feelings until Patch realized he is like that with everyone.

Although Bruiser acts tough, Patch suspects he has a kind heart. Why, just last week he said, "I am full and can't eat another bite of this dog treat." He gave the dog treat to Patch. Patch believes that was Bruiser's way of sharing with him without looking soft and caring.

Now, lets get back to Patch. Patch is a simple dog with simple pleasures. One of his favorite things is to roll in the dirt and then lay on his back, basking in the hot morning sun. Miss Alice sometimes tells Patch stories about his brothers and sister. They have since been adopted by loving families. Patch would lay and listen to Miss Alice's stories for hours at a time. He would twitch his whiskers and move his ears at the most exciting parts. He knew all the stories by heart but never tired of hearing them. Oh, to be part of a family and be loved by someone special. This was Patch's dream.

Many dogs have come and gone during the time Patch has lived at the Shelter. There was Ella Sue, a spirited poodle, who was adopted by old Mrs. Pursey. Shadow the shepherd went to the Simpson twins. It seemed every time Patch made new friends, one by one they would leave the Shelter for a new home. Patch felt sad. Would he ever find a loving family?

Last year Mr. Jackson took all the dogs on an outing to Moonlight Lake. Miss Mason went with them, as well as many volunteers. It was such fun. Everyone played ball, jumped hurdles, and went on a long walk along the Old Indian Trail.

The trail has many winding curves with rough, sandy looking cliffs that overlook the valley below. Patch was a little too fascinated. In his curiosity to see what was below the cliff, he slipped on wet leaves and went plunging to the ground below, dropping a great distance and landing with a thud. This all caused quite a commotion. Patch was carried back to the Shelter with an injured hind leg. Dr. Clarkson examined Patch's leg and proceeded to put it in a splint. The leg healed, but he was left with a limp. Patch was no longer able to run and keep up with his friends.

Once a year the Shelter holds its Adopt-A-Pet picnic for the public, and it was coming up the following week. People come from far and wide to admire all the dogs and choose the lucky ones to share their homes. Before the picnic, the staff gives everyone a bath. "We are all puffed and fluffed with wonderful smelling soaps and powders," Patch said.

It was so exciting. Patch was hoping this would be his lucky year. He was thinking about all the past picnics and his hopes and dreams of finding someone special to love him. Here he was, a year later, still hoping to find the perfect home. Patch promised himself he would not get his hopes up this year. That way he would not be disappointed when he found himself still living at the Shelter. "That's just life," he told himself.

The day of the picnic arrived, and, oh, what a beautiful day it was. The sun was bright, and the birds sang loudly from their perches in the trees. Patch felt happy and nervous all at the same time.

The guests began to arrive. Soon the large reception room was overflowing with people. The reception room was a recent addition to the Shelter, providing some much needed extra space. The room was pale yellow with big windows along the south wall that overlooked the exercise yard.

Patch looked at the crowd. There were all kinds of people. Light people, dark people, large people, small people. The excited children were being given commands like, "Don't run, you are scaring the dogs," and, "sit down so snacks can be served." Patch just tried to keep out of the way. He shyly looked through the crowd. He spotted Chester being stroked by a little boy in blue shorts and a red baseball cap.

The little boy's parents were "oohing" and "ahhing" over Chester's beautiful features. It was obvious that he was loving the attention. He puffed out his chest and was showing off his proud walk.

Patch had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He imagined again losing some of his friends. Although he would be happy for them, finding a loving home and all, he would miss them. The adopted dogs and their new parents were invited to attend all future Adopt-A-Pet picnics. Patch always enjoyed seeing his old pals and hearing their stories about their new lives.

The crowd started to thin out as the picnic was coming to an end. Patch said goodbye to some of his friends who were leaving the Shelter for new homes. Miss Mason started clearing the bowls of snacks and empty cola cans left on the table. Chester pranced at the end of a silver leash held tightly in the small fist of the little boy. As Chester lifted his paw, the little boy called out, "Mom, Mom, Chester shakes hands!" He threw his four-year-old arms around Chester's neck. His new best friend. Chester nodded his head, barked his goodbye to Patch, and left with his new family.

Patch looked up and saw a little girl entering the doorway. She was in a chair that had wheels on it. When the girl's mother pushed her, the chair moved about. Patch had never seen anything quite like that before. The girl appeared to be seven or eight years old. Her mother called her Emily. Patch liked Emily's face. She had sparkly blue eyes and a smile from ear to ear that revealed a missing front tooth. (Bet she recently had a visit from the tooth fairy.) Emily's hair was bright red, and when she laughed her two pigtails seemed to do a little dance on her shoulders. Her face was covered with brown freckles. She sometimes giggled as if someone was tickling her.

Mr. Jackson brought a large curly cocker spaniel over for Emily to see. Emily laughed as he licked her arm, but she said, "This dog is too big for me." Mr. Jackson said he would be right back. He returned with Harriet, a small spotted beagle. Harriet was very nervous and shied away from Emily. Just at that moment, Emily looked up and saw Patch. She wheeled her chair over to where Patch was sitting. Patch jumped up on her lap and nuzzled the side of her face. Ah, she smelled of strawberry bubble gum, his favorite flavor.

"Oh, look at you," she said. "When you close your eyes, you look like a pirate with an eye patch. When you lie down, you look like a patched quilt my grandma made for me."

"Well here it comes. This is it, I'm history," Patch said to himself. Emily used the same words Bruiser had used to describe him. "Maybe Bruiser was right about me all along."

All of a sudden Emily started to giggle. "You are so funny, you make me laugh," she said.

Mr. Jackson stepped forward and said, "I want you to meet Patch."

"Oh, the name fits him," said Emily.

"Patch is easygoing and is wonderful with children," said Mr. Jackson. He also told Emily and her parents about the accident that happened at the lake last year. "Patch hurt his hind leg and walks with a limp. He is no longer able to run like the other dogs."

"Oh, this is wonderful, Mr. Jackson," said Emily. "I can't keep up with the other dogs either. They move too fast. Patch is the perfect dog for me." She held Patch tightly to her. She said, "You even feel warm and soft like a quilt." Patch couldn't believe what he was hearing. He never thought he would enjoy hearing himself being referred to as a quilt. She wants me? She wants me!!! His little dog eyes welled with tears. He felt great love for Emily at that moment.

Before Patch left the Shelter, he said his goodbye to his friends Mr. Jackson, Bruiser, and Miss Alice.

Bruiser lowered his head and said in a whisper, "I'll miss ya, Buddy."

Miss Alice made Patch promise to remind Emily of the picnic next year. She wanted to hear all about the adventures of Emily and Patch.

Patch was excited as he left the Shelter, the only home he had ever known. As he looked up at the smiling face of Emily, with her missing tooth, her brown freckles, and her bright red hair with those dancing pigtails, he knew everything would be okay. "I have the feeling we will share some unbelievable adventures together," said Patch. Life is good!!!

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