He was filthy. He got so close I could see the dirt encrusted in his hair. The scars on his face told of a rough life on the streets.
Our brown eyes met, unflinching and steady. He ran his tongue on my face. It smelled like a sour cold cut.
Without hesitation or doubt, I knew he was mine. All flea-covered, twenty pounds of him.
I signed the adoption papers, and led the little dog out of the Newark Humane Society with the cheap chain leash the shelter provided.
I held him on my lap in the back seat of the car driven by my boyfriend of that time. I felt his heart beat as he pressed against my chest.
“It’s okay, buddy,” I whispered into his large ear. “I’ll always take care of you.”
His head nestled into my neck, I held him closer, and we rode like that all the way back to Jersey City.
That’s how it began with me and my first, long-awaited dog. I had always wanted a dog when I was growing up, and had resolved I would get one upon college graduation.
My boyfriend at that time, C, woke me that fateful October morning in 1993 with the question, “How would you like to get a dog?”
I couldn’t have known at that time of day, or my life, that those words would lead me to the true love of my life.
I was moments from signing adoption papers for a puppy at the Newark Humane Society when C directed my attention to the little brown dog watching me from a few feet away. He held my gaze the whole time he inched toward me, then sat right on my feet.
That dog knew I was his before I bent down. He kissed me to reward my good behavior.
The shelter worker told me his name was Shadow.
Shadow, I thought. What a timid, lame-ass name.
I named him Brisco County, Jr. after the lead character in “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” and he was everything that television macho hero was not. Everything made Brisco nervous: car rides, thunder, vacuum cleaners, wind-blown garbage bags.
But he was just like me: small, brown, and anxious. And we were both on new adventures: he was rescued from the streets by Newark Animal Control, and from doggie-death row by an unknown Puerto Rican woman to whom he would now be loyal and entrust his fortunes.
I was fresh out of college, new to Jersey, in my first semester of graduate school, and overwhelmed by working three jobs, living with a man, and applying deconstruction literary theory.
But Brisco and I had each other, completely.
That October morning was the beginning of an eleven-year adventure.
Indulge me over the next few postings as I reminisce and share highlights.