“Bobbie and Me,” Friend, Aug. 1999, 16
The summer I volunteered at the animal shelter, I met Bobbie. He had sandy hair that flopped in his eyes, and he smiled all the time. Bobbie liked to feed the animals, and he played with them a lot. But he never took them for walks, gave them treatments, or talked to the visitors who came in.
“Bobbie can’t do anything too complicated,” Ray, the director, explained to me. “He has a mental handicap. But he has some special gifts that make him a great help.”
I nodded—I’d already noticed that Bobbie didn’t understand the simple directions for the flea treatment we used on one dog’s skin. It didn’t matter to me. Bobbie was friendly and listened well, so I figured I might be able to teach him how to do some of the different chores.
The next morning, Bobbie wanted me to open a kennel for him.
“Watch,” I said. “I’ll show you how.”
Then I used my thumb to press down a button while I flipped up a lever with my other finger. Bobbie tried, and I guided his hands until the latch clicked open.
“I did it!” He grinned, proud of his new accomplishment.
“Way to go,” I told him, feeling pretty happy myself. I liked helping Bobbie.
Ray didn’t say anything, but then I’d already discovered he wasn’t a big talker. I did catch a glimpse of a smile on his face, though, before he sat down at his desk to fill out some forms.
Later that day, someone brought in a small, stray dog that had been abandoned in a field outside of town. The poor animal trembled every time we came near it, and his coat was ragged and matted.
“Someone didn’t treat this little fellow right,” Ray said as we gave the dog a bath. “He’s almost afraid to breathe.”
Ray gently scrubbed the dog’s reddish coat; then I rinsed it. The whole time, the dog cowered with his tail tucked between his legs. I wondered how he could ever be a good pet for anyone.
“What should we name this one?” Ray asked Bobbie.
Bobbie came over and looked at the wet straggly dog.
“Call him Happy,” Bobbie said. “He needs a good name.”
“Happy it is, then,” Ray said, but I’d have named that dog Scruffy.
After Happy’s bath, Ray put him into an empty kennel. Happy went all the way to the far corner and curled into a tight ball. Bobbie sat down on the floor by the kennel door and quietly watched him. “He’s afraid,” Bobbie told me.
I nodded, thinking that terrified was a more accurate word.
Bobbie started talking to Happy. His voice almost sounded like a lullaby, but the dog didn’t respond. He just trembled in the corner. Bobbie kept talking softly to Happy for the next hour. Finally Bobbie had to leave, but first he put some treats near Happy. The dog still didn’t move.
Every day that week, I watched Bobbie with Happy. One day, he brought in a little stuffed bear for Happy to sleep with. Each day he talked and talked to the dog in that same soft, reassuring voice. Bobby started sitting inside the kennel, each day just a little closer to the shy dog, and Happy’s ears began to perk up every now and then.
“Bobbie really likes that dog,” I told Ray. “He’s spending hours with him. Do you think Happy will come around?”
“No doubt. I think Bobbie could talk the birds out of the trees if he set his mind to it.”
Ray was right. It took another week, but Bobbie finally had Happy going to the front of the kennel to greet him. In a few more weeks, I couldn’t believe Happy was the same dog. His tail wagged behind him like a furry red flag, and he came running to me when I called, nuzzling my hand so that I’d pet him. Ray even allowed Bobbie to let Happy out of his kennel all day, and the little dog stuck to him like a shadow.
One day, an older, quiet lady came to look for a pet. I noticed that Bobbie was really staring at her, and I wondered what the problem could be. Usually he didn’t pay attention to our visitors.
The lady looked at a few dogs, but she didn’t seem very interested. Suddenly Bobbie walked over and tapped her arm to get her attention. “I have a dog for you.” He bent down and scooped up his furry little shadow. The dog wagged his tail as Bobbie put him into the lady’s arms. “Meet Happy,” he said.
“Hello there,” the lady said in a gentle voice, and the dog tried to lick her cheek as she scratched his ears. Then he rested his head on her shoulder just like a little baby. “Oh, I like him!” The lady smiled.
Fifteen minutes later, she had signed the papers, and she and Happy walked out with Bobbie’s little bear. He had insisted that she take it. I just stood there staring after them.
“I thought you were going to keep Happy,” I told Bobbie. I’d figured that was why Ray let Happy follow Bobbie around.
“My mom’s allergic to dogs,” Bobbie explained. “She gets itchy spots and sneezes a lot.”
“Oh,” I mumbled, not sure what to say next.
“Happy will like the lady,” Bobbie told me. “She talked soft. She won’t yell at him. Happy will have a nicer home than the kennel.”
“You’re right,” I said.
Bobbie started filling dishes with dog food. I noticed he had to stop to wipe a few tears away with his sleeve. I turned around and stared at Ray. He was shuffling papers on his desk, and I wanted him to say he would call the lady and tell her there was a mistake and that she had to bring Happy back.
“Bobbie always helps with the animals that are timid and scared,” Ray finally said as I stood there unable to speak. “He likes to help them find good homes, even if it means his heart is a little broken each time they leave. I told you that he has some special gifts. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
I nodded and slowly began filling food dishes with Bobbie. We worked side by side, and neither of us said a word. It didn’t matter. I had thought that I had a lot to teach Bobbie, but the tears slipping down his cheeks were teaching me more about the true meaning of love than a million words ever could.