a trip to the zoo (but not really)

We had just left a seafood market and were driving down the road towards home when I saw the sign: “Fairbanks Animal Control.”

“Hey, let’s stop,” I said to Drew. I’d mentioned to him before that I wanted to take Lukas to an animal shelter. We’ve spent almost two months here without our two furry felines. And there’s no zoo or indoor nature center in Fairbanks. So in my mind, a trip to the animal shelter would fulfill two desires: Lukas could pretend he was visiting Trixie and Tupelo. Maybe we’d even bump into a fluffy ginger kitty or a blue-eyed Siamese. And we’d get to see a plethora of dogs and cats, which I was sure would make my little dude smile.

We walked in and I was only expecting cats and dogs, but the first room held one chicken and three bunnies; so not your usual animal shelter residents. All four looked perfectly content to be there. The chicken was scratching away, while one of the bunnies busily worked on his newspaper, re-arranging it to optimal fluffiness.

The dog room was an entirely different story. A few dogs had been barking before we pushed the door open. One was howling. As soon we stepped inside, there was a pause, the briefest moment of complete silence. And then all hell broke loose. The barking resumed, this time excitedly. I could practically read the dogs’ minds.

“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh, it’s HUMANS!”

“Hurry up, come over HERE!”

“Pick me, pick MEEE!”

We passed a few sad eyed dogs, one or two wildly excited ones, and a gray pit bull that reminded me of Fitzgerald, my sister-in-law’s pooch. Some dogs sat politely, eyeing us anxiously, while one guy stood up, huge paws on the chain link fence, practically grabbing at Drew’s jacket as he walked by. It was heart breaking. I eyed Lukas carefully, thinking he might burst into tears—the barking was amplified in the concrete block room and the noise was intense—but he just stared at everyone and everything, taking it all in. No smile, but no tears either.

When the door of the dog room clicked closed, I let out a sigh.

“That was painful,” I admitted to Drew. Dogs wear their emotions in their eyes and I felt like an awful person for not taking one home.

The cat room was quiet and peaceful. The residents were either sleeping or giving us the once over. The first cat we approached, a black kitty with huge yellow eyes, took one look at me and the kiddo and let out a hiss. “Whoa, I don’t think this one likes us,” I observed, taking a step back. We lingered in front of that cage, talking to the cat who, seconds later, determined we weren’t a threat (after all, she reasoned, what could that tiny child possibly do to her?) and came up to rub herself against the cage. These cats were hanging out, playing it cool, and definitely not wearing their hearts on their sleeves like the dogs.

“I wonder if I’d even like their house?”

“They smell strange.”

“Meh, I can wait for a human that doesn’t have a tiny human.”

Call me heartless, but therein lies my love of cats over dogs. I remember our family Golden Retriever and the way she would lay on the kitchen floor with her face in the food bowl. Her brown eyes would be fixed up as she pathetically tried to convey to us that she hadn’t eaten in weeks (try two hours ago) and that she didn’t think she had the energy to get up (throw a ball and watch her sprint).

I was born with an overabundance of guilt and dogs know this about me. The Golden only had to plop her face in my lap and stare up at me sadly and I’d feel compelled to take her for a walk. Cats, on the other hand, are independent. Sassy. Opinionated. For the most part, they don’t need me to do anything for them (there are cats and then there’s our Siamese Trixie…but she’s an entirely different blog post. That crazy feline is a dog living inside a cat’s body).

Lukas (no surprise here) is so much like his daddy-o. His deadpan expression had him in and out of the dog room with not a single smile cracked or tear shed. From the looks of it, he was most interested in the chicken and bunnies. So the next time we visit an animal shelter, I’ve decided we had better be in the market for a dog. Because this guilty conscience of mine won’t be able to say no to all the sad puppy eyes for a second time.