Home > The Best Is Yet to Come(6)

The Best Is Yet to Come(6)
Author: Debbie Macomber

   As if he knew exactly what to do next, Jasper leaped into the rear of the red SUV and lay down, taking up a good portion of the seat.

   Hope watched as the happy couple drove off. Seeing these rescue animals find homes was gratifying on several levels. As she returned to the shelter, she passed the kennel where Shadow continued to lie, weak and sad. The poor boy tugged at her heart.

   Once again, she hunched down and placed her palm against the kennel. Shadow’s dark eyes met hers. “I see you ate everything out of your bowl. Good boy.” In soft tones, she continued talking, letting Shadow know he wasn’t alone and that when he was feeling better and regained his strength, he would go to a family who would care for him. He need never worry about anyone mistreating him again.

   As she had the week before, Hope stayed for the entire afternoon. When she left, she wasn’t able to get Shadow out of her mind. While stopping off for groceries, she wandered through the pet food section and on impulse bought a rope toy for him, thinking he might take out some of his anger on the rope. Shadow had every right not to trust humans. Perhaps with a bit of patience and love he would begin to believe there were good people who would care for him the way he deserved.

 

* * *

 

   —

   Sunday afternoon, Hope returned to the shelter. After signing in, she made her way to where Shadow was confined. Because of his temperament, his food and water were delivered through a small door cut out in the kennel. Again, she noticed that his food dish was empty, which pleased her. With the proper nourishment, he would soon regain his health. Then the real work would begin. When Preston said he wasn’t sure about him, Hope was all too aware of what he meant. If Shadow continued to be a threat to others, the shelter would have no choice but to put him down. Hope didn’t want to see that happen.

   Sitting cross-legged outside his kennel, she spoke in a soft, soothing voice. “Hey, boy,” she said, “I brought you a gift.” She held up the rope toy, then slipped it through the small door in the kennel. He gave no response and continued to stare blankly at her.

   “I’d be careful with him if I was you,” Don, the head of the volunteers, said, as he walked past.

   “He’s okay.”

   “Just don’t go inside his kennel. No telling what he’ll do.”

   “I won’t,” she assured him, although the idea of gaining Shadow’s trust enough to do so started to grow in her mind. If she could visit often enough for Shadow to feel comfortable with her, then perhaps the time would come when he would allow her to get close.

 

* * *

 

   —

   That week, every afternoon, as soon as she finished her counseling duties, Hope drove to the shelter and sat outside Shadow’s kennel. Each time she scooted a bit closer, inching her way toward gaining his acceptance. It encouraged her to see an improvement in Shadow’s physical condition and overall demeanor. Not once did he bark or show aggression toward her, which mystified the staff. Several commented that she was the only one Shadow tolerated.

   Three times over the course of that week, Hope saw Cade. They didn’t speak, although he always greeted her with a nod. She always smiled back. She noticed how patient and kind he was with the animals, both the cats and the dogs. She found herself watching him, intrigued by his silence and his demeanor. He didn’t seem to have struck up a friendship with any of the staff or other volunteers. He came, worked with the animals, and left with barely a word to anyone.

   The following Saturday, Hope signed in the way she always did, and Cade stood at the counter in front of her.

   After signing in himself, he turned to face Hope. “He waits for you,” he said.

   His words stumped her until she figured it out. “You mean Shadow?”

   He nodded.

   “I’m hoping Preston will let me inside the kennel today.”

   Cade’s brow rose in question. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

   “Shadow is learning to trust me.”

   “He’s got a lot of psychological damage.”

   Coming out of his office, Preston must have overheard their conversation. “Unfortunately, Cade’s right. I don’t know if the kind of mental damage Shadow’s suffered can ever be reversed.”

   “I agree,” Cade said.

   Just the way he spoke made Hope think he was referring to more than the issues with Shadow. It came to her that he was speaking about himself. No matter. Hope wasn’t willing to give up on Shadow without doing everything possible to give him a chance for a loving home. “I’d like to try going in his kennel. I’m confident after the work I’ve put in that Shadow won’t hurt me.” She tried to sound confident, although deep down she didn’t know if what she’d said was true. Nevertheless, she was willing to take the chance.

   “Sorry, Hope,” Preston said. “I can’t allow you to take that chance. There’s no telling how Shadow will react.”

   She sighed, certain there had to be a way. “Can we compromise?”

   “What do you mean?”

   “After everyone has left for the day, can we open his door and see what happens?”

   “Not a good idea.” Preston sounded adamant.

   “I’m willing to take the risk.”

   “I’m not ready to let you. Let’s give Shadow another week. He’s getting stronger by the day, which is a good sign. But if he remains territorial and aggressive, then we won’t have any other option…”

   “He doesn’t act that way toward me, and as Cade just said, Shadow waits for me to visit.”

   Preston looked to Cade for confirmation.

   “He does. I noticed it for the first time on Thursday when I was here. Shadow looked up every time the door opened. When Hope arrived, his demeanor changed, and he wagged his tail.”

   “He did?” She hadn’t seen any response from Shadow to her visits. It encouraged her that Cade had noticed.

   “I saw it myself.”

   “That’s good,” Preston said, with an approving nod. “But he’s got to be accepting of more than Hope before we can make a decision about the next steps.”

   “Next steps?” Hope asked, as dread filled her. She knew what Preston meant.

   “I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” she hurried to add, before giving Preston an opportunity to respond.

   “Give Hope more time to work with him,” Cade encouraged.

   “Yes, please,” she added, grateful for Cade’s support.

   “Another week,” Preston agreed. “We can assess Shadow then and make a decision after that.”

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