Frequently, it takes a while for a shelter dog to bond with its new companion, but Mistro was an exception.
When I first saw his smiling photo in the Muttmatchers Messenger, a California publication that contains hundreds of photos of shelter dogs, I knew we were meant for each other. But he was in a no-kill shelter in San Clemente, and I lived in Lynwood, almost 60 miles away. If you have ever experienced California traffic, you will understand my reluctance to make the drive, so I checked on Mistro’s availability by telephone.
By the time I arranged to meet Mistro, he had been in the shelter for five months. It is always difficult to find a home for a 3-year-old big black mutt — they are the hardest to place and the first to be euthanized.
I arrived in the early afternoon. Mistro was in a second-tier cage kicking up a fuss whenever someone walked by. A volunteer hooked up a leash, and the three of us went for a walk. I asked if I could be alone with him. She left, and Mistro and I sat down on the curb, his eyes focusing on a point somewhere over my right shoulder. It was almost a year before he would look me directly in the eye.
I talked to him, asked him whether he liked me, what he thought about coming home with me and whether he intended to be a good dog. The people inside, spying through the office blinds, must have thought I was crazy for talking to this big dog, but I knew that he understood.
My mind was made up. Mistro followed me inside and sat quietly while I filled out forms and wrote checks. The staff must have noticed something, too, because they decided to violate their policy of requiring two visits before any adoption. They let me take Mistro with me that same day.
As we were leaving, they handed me a foot-long rawhide imitation bone. My hands were full, so, on an impulse, I handed the bone to Mistro and said, “Here, you carry this.” To my surprise, he took it in his mouth and carried it to the car. Although I tried, I could never get him to repeat that performance. I guess he was just showing off so they would let him go home with me.
Mistro and I were good buddies from the beginning. But he was an escape artist, and it was difficult to enclose him. Several times, he got out and was usually walked home by a neighborhood kid who knew where he lived.
One winter day, I was taking Mistro on his morning walk around the local park. As I encountered a patch of ice, my feet slipped, and I fell flat on my back. I wasn’t hurt, but Mistro thought I was, and he hurried over to take care of me, as dogs do, by licking my face.
A neighbor, who was just entering the park with his dog, saw me fall. He ran toward me, calling out, asking if I was OK. Mistro jumped up and stood between me and the neighbor. His hair stood up, and a low growl came from his throat. I had never seen my dog look so scary.
I yelled to the man that I was OK and to stay back until I got up. I crawled over to a nearby bench and pulled myself to my feet. Mistro relaxed. A crisis had been averted.
On another occasion, Mistro and I were sitting on my porch when the mail carrier came by. As she passed my neighbor’s house, his dog got out and chased her, barking loudly. As she ran away from him, Mistro took off down the steps and chased the dog back home.
As soon as the dog went in his own yard, Mistro walked back home to collect his reward — lots of strokes and some dog biscuits. He had made a new friend.
Mistro lived with me in California and Maryland and ended his days several years ago in Peru at the age of 14.
I still miss him. Dogs just don’t live long enough.
Ken Wibecan is a retired journalist. Once an op-ed and jazz columnist, later an editor of Modern Maturity magazine, these days he and his two dogs enjoy the country life in Peru. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.