I want him badly, but my house is at capacity, animal-wise. So the search is on.
It's early December when Nancy emails, asking if I'm still looking for a home or group to take the barber's dog. Nancy runs one of the most highly-regarded pit bull-focused rescue and advocacy organizations in the nation - ColoRADogs - out of Fort Collins, Colorado. We'd met in person only a couple of times, but she'd been following his story.
Nancy writes that she hasn't been able to get Fella out of her mind. She tells me a voice keeps needling her about him, and she's been doing this work long enough to know not to ignore it. I give her as much information as I can about this dog - and acknowledge the many unknowns. She listens, and then offers to drive out to Oakland in January to get the barber's dog. I'm more than welcome to ride back with her and help him get settled. She even has a foster home already in mind and how does that sound to me?
I tell Nancy that I never thought this day would come. I tell her if she ever needs a kidney, I've got a spare. I tell her she's making an optimist out of a card-carrying cynic and that they may revoke my sarcasm privileges.
January is still a month away, so I make the most of my visits to the barber's dog. If I time it just right, usually a little before noon, I see the man with the grocery cart. His clothes are tattered and he mumbles to himself as he rummages through the recycling bins and trash cans that line the street. He never acknowledges me, just tosses the scraps he's scrounged over the fence to Fella. Sometimes it's a few pieces of pepperoni pizza, sometimes leftover Chinese food. Sometimes chicken wings, bones and all.
It messes with your mind a bit to see this. A human with so little, sharing his spoils with a dog who isn't his. The whole scene eats away at one's pessimism. And prejudice. There are more than a few of us who care about the barber's dog.
One day, an art student and her roommate come by. They say they, too, have fallen for this big stinky blockhead. We share concerns about his lack of fur and the bumps on his muzzle and his long hours alone. I tell them I'm going to be away for the holidays later in the month. They offer to take up the daily visits in my absence.
I get to know the super for the property as well - the guy who feeds Fella. I learn he isn't paid to do this. He buys Nutro and Alpo with his own money and he comes by daily to replenish Fella's food and water because he doesn't want the dog to starve. With the owner absent, he could've surrendered Fella to Oakland Animal Services (almost a certain death sentence). He could've chosen to do nothing at all.
And so I come to appreciate each piecemeal, discrete act of kindness. They never added up to a particularly happy existence for the barber's dog, but they were enough to keep him alive.
I talk to the super to arrange the hand-off, and on Thursday morning, January 8, we meet at the property. He unlocks the gate to the cement lot, and for the first time ever, I kiss the barber's dog without feeling metal chain link pressing into my face. I open the door to my car and Fella scrambles in.