Kelly flipped pages on the tablet and swiped through the images. He needed to get out of his funk. In the six months since his beloved dog Sally had passed, he hadn’t wanted to even look at another dog. He missed her companionship. At this point, he missed any companionship.
He scrolled through the search results for basset hound rescues in Ohio. One site caught his attention. Bagles, bassets, beagles… Many of the dogs reminded him of Sally. His heart squeezed. He should look at every dog, but was he ready to make a commitment and possibly adopt one? Did he want another Sally?
As much as he preferred to say no, his heart was leading him to another dog. There had to be an animal out there who needed his love as much as Sally had, right? No, he wanted one that had character of its own.
He spotted one dog and paused. A one-eyed bagle. Adorable. He tapped the specific page for the dog. Louie. He knew nothing about the animal, save for his name and his one-eyed condition, but he’d already fallen a little in love. What caused Louie to lose his eye? Glaucoma. Huh. He rubbed his chin. Could he handle a dog with a disability?
He located the application section. If he wanted to adopt Louie, then he had to fill out the form. He added his information and hit Send.
If he had any second thoughts, it was too late now. He couldn’t take the application back. When Sally was still alive, he’d been convinced she’d have wanted a brother or sister to play with. Dogs were pack animals and he was the only member of hers. If the adoption was approved, he’d get Louie settled in, then find another dog to add to their pack.
He put the tablet down and returned to his day job of importing codes into medical files. The work wasn’t exciting, but it paid the bills better than his writing. Plus, he could do it at his leisure.
Four hours of coding later, he left his desk. His back ached and his activity band buzzed, reminding him he hadn’t moved lately. He’d been sitting for too long and needed to be more active. He stretched his legs. Why not get ready for a run? He wouldn’t be fast, but he’d be moving and could think without interruptions.
His phone rang, but he didn’t recognize the number and rejected the call. If the person wanted him, they could leave a message. He changed his clothes and grabbed a glass of water before returning to his phone. He drank the water while retrieving the voicemail.
Hi, this is Rob McMann. I’m the director of Triple B Rescue. We’ve received your application. I’ve gone over it and have a couple questions. If you could call me back, we can get this sorted out. I’d love to help you find your furever friend. Thanks.
Well, all right. He dialed the number. After two rings, someone answered. “Hello, Rob McMann, director of Triple B Rescue. How may I help you?”
The guy had a nice voice and seemed businesslike, but charming. “Uh, hi. This is Kelly Haas. You phoned me with questions on my application. I’m free and ready to answer anything you’d like to ask. If you look at my social media, you’ll see it’s filled with photos of my previous dog, Sally. She went with me everywhere.”
“I saw that. I take Squish with me everywhere, too. He’s my shadow.”
“I love shadow dogs. Makes me feel less alone.” He probably shouldn’t have said that.
“I know what you mean,” Rob said. “I’d be lost without Squish. So, the questions. I’ll be calling your veterinarian. Have you let them know they’ll be contacted?”
“No, I haven’t, because I didn’t realize I’d get this far through the application process this fast. I’ll call them next.” He hadn’t considered calling the vet, but if the rescue center wanted to prove he took his dogs to the vet, then the call was vital.
“Great. Next, we require a donation of two hundred dollars for the adoption of every dog. Is that within your means? You didn’t check that particular box.”
“I’m sorry. I can pay it, no problem. I didn’t realize I hadn’t checked the box.” Embarrassment washed over him. He’d gone through the application too fast.
“No problem. That’s why I called. You have no idea how many people want to adopt a dog, but don’t realize they have to pay. They think we should release the dogs for free. They get angry with me, but they don’t understand we run on donations.”
“Understandable.” He stared out of the window in his kitchen. He missed seeing Sally running through the yard. The squirrels were playing in his grass. “My dogs are my kids. I can’t have kids, so I spoil my dogs.”
“I spoil mine, too. Dogs, I mean, not kids. I don’t have human children.” Rob chuckled. “Which dog were you interested in?”
“He’s a special needs dog because he suffered from glaucoma. He has macular degeneration in his remaining eye. Is that a problem for you? He’s still perfectly happy and gets around quite well. He just needs a little help,” Rob said. “Is that okay for you?”
“It’s not an issue for me.” He loved the dog even more and he hadn’t met him. “His having one eye drew me in.”
“Aw, good.” Rob sighed. “Would you be interested in meeting Louie? I’ll call your vet, but if it goes well, would you like to visit with Louie? I’ve had him as a rescue for six months and this hound is ready to find a home.”
“Name the place and time. I’ll be there.” Four hours ago, he hadn’t been sure he wanted a dog and now he couldn’t wait to bring Louie home.
“How about six-thirty tonight? It’ll give me time to contact your vet but there will still be sunshine enough to visit the dog park,” Rob said. “I just need to check you take your dogs to the vet regularly, use heartworm meds and are up to date with your shots. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t use heartworm meds. If you’ve never gone through helping a dog recover from that condition, you’re lucky. It’s not fun.”
“I haven’t seen that, but that’s because I kept Sally on heartworm meds,” Kelly said. “I know where the dog park is. I’ve been there often. Sally loved the room to run. I have a backyard, but she liked running with the other dogs.”
“Squish loves the sand pits,” Rob said. He laughed. “He’ll dig for hours if I’d let him.”
He’s been to the dog park? Why was he surprised? Rob had a dog and was within his rights to visit the facility. Had he seen Rob before?
“I bet we’ve run into each other there and don’t know it,” Rob said. “We go almost every day.”
“Probably, then.” With his luck, Rob was the super hottie who always showed up in the ripped jeans, concert tees and those aviator glasses Kelly loved. “Well, I’ll plan on seeing you at the dog park tonight.”
“Wonderful. I’ll plan on seeing you in a couple hours.” Rob hung up, leaving Kelly in silence.
Kelly left the phone on the counter. He couldn’t stop the giddiness in his veins. He could be on the verge of adopting a dog. Sweet. “Sally, I’ll make sure this one has a friend. I promise.” He’d talk to Rob about adding another hound to his pack.
He called the vet and gave consent for them to speak to the rescue group. He had no worries about his rating with the vet. When Sally had got sick and slowed down, he’d spent more hours than he wanted to count making sure she got the proper care. Time to go for that run.
At a quarter to six, he stepped out of the shower and dressed in running pants and a loose T-shirt. He tucked treats into his pockets and checked his outfit. Sporty, but clean. He wanted to make the right impression. He placed his checkbook and a leash in the glovebox of his SUV. If he was going to adopt Louie, he wanted to be prepared.
Kelly drove across town to the dog park and stopped in the lot. He didn’t see any bagles or bassets running in the enclosure. Maybe he was too early. He left his vehicle and headed into the fenced space. When he checked his watch, he nodded. He was early. The process had gone so fast and almost too well. There had to be bumps. Everything had bumps.
He tensed. He knew that voice. Daniel. “Hi. How are you?” He didn’t see a dog with his former friend. “Where’s your reason for coming to the dog park?”
“My dog? With Arik. When we split, Arik took Rufus.” Daniel shrugged. “I never liked that dog. He bit me.”
“He knew you didn’t like him and probably didn’t like you either.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Why are you at the dog park if you don’t have a dog?”
“To meet people like you. Duh.” Daniel rolled his eyes. “It’s a great place to hook up.”
Meeting people was one thing. Hooking up? Gross.
“I hear this is the place to find a boyfriend. I heard it’s popular. Didn’t you see the article in the paper? The dog park is rocking.”
“You’re supposed to bring your dog, not find a date.” Trust Daniel to find ways to bastardize a place like the dog park.
“And I’m looking for a boyfriend. Are you still single?”
“I am, but I’m not in the market for a boyfriend.” He’d rather find Rob. He wasn’t sure what Rob looked like and should’ve asked for details. But he’d been too excited to think about what was going on. He could be meeting his new best canine friend!
“It’s a shame. You’re a nice guy.” Daniel sighed. “The pickings are slim today.”
“If you come for a date and don’t have a dog, then it looks creepy,” Kelly said. “I’m meeting a friend and I’m early, so I’ll see you. I need to find him.” He spotted a man with two bagle dogs. The pups were the perfect mix of basset and beagle. His heart skipped a beat when he looked over the man. Of course the sexy guy with the ripped jeans and concert tees would be Rob. The man was probably straight, too. Straight, married and a dad. “I should go. My friend is here.”
Daniel stayed put. “Rob? I didn’t know you were friends.”
“Yeah.” He walked away from Daniel. He needed space. Daniel could be too clingy and annoying. He made his way to Rob. “Hi. Are you Rob?” Was Daniel listening in? “I’m Kelly.” He offered his hand to the dogs. “Hi, guys. You’re adorable. More than in your pictures.”
“Aren’t they?” Rob grinned. “They seem to like you.” He laughed. “I’d offer my hand, but they’re both full.”
“Hi.” He stood. “It’s a pleasure to meet you in person. I like Louie. Hell, I like Zeus, too.” He reached down to pet both dogs. “I’ve seen you before.”
“I’ve seen you, too. That’s how I knew you were a good fit for Louie.” Rob gestured to the nearby picnic table. “Why don’t we sit?”
“Sure. Want me to take a leash?”
“Thanks.” He offered the lead. “Louie’s nosy, but he’s not a puller.”
Kelly walked the dog to the table. He sat on the end and Louie settled by his feet. “I wanted to say hi before now, but I didn’t. I’m not usually shy, but I’m not great at making a move.” Shit. He shouldn’t have said that.
“I’m off-putting, I’m told,” Rob said. “I get wrapped up in my own little world and don’t pay attention. I try to play the chess game of matching people with pets and I get too snagged in it.”
“You have to dog watch and it’s an important job to do. You need to concentrate,” Kelly said. “But you can’t ignore these guys.”
“True.” Rob sat opposite him. “Are you friends with Daniel? It’s none of my business, so you don’t have to answer.”
“Sort of. We worked in the same building for a couple years. I was a clerk for Dr. Moore and Daniel worked for the dietician down the hall. We had a mutual friend who found out we’re both gay and tried to set us up. It was a disaster.” He’d probably said too much. He was good at overstepping.
“It happens. There are so many choices and plenty are bad. That’s why I like dogs. They’re loyal, cute and even though they talk back, it’s not because they’re bad.” Did he sound goofy? Rob didn’t seem upset, but still.
“I hear you. My last boyfriend didn’t see the need to rescue dogs. They’re just dogs, he’d say. No, I’d reply, they have feelings.”
“They do, and expressions, as well.” He knew that for certain. “How many dogs do you have?”
“Right now, I have four under my roof. Zeus and Louie are my two current rescues. I had five, but Norm has been adopted. I thought I had someone lined up for Zeus, but they changed their mind. Louie has been with me for six months. No one seems to want a dog with one eye. They think he’ll be harder to care for. He’s not.”
“That’s what made me like him.” He stroked Louie’s fur. “What about the other two?”
“I’ve got Squish, my bagle, and Twiggy, my dachshund.” Rob blushed. “I like dogs.”
“I can tell.” The more Rob blushed, the more Kelly wanted to make him smile, too. “I’m glad I’ve met you.” He glanced down at the dog. As soon as he’d laid eyes on Louie, he’d known he wanted him. The dog wasn’t Sally and that was fine. He needed this change. Besides, Louie gave him a connection to Rob. If he wasn’t mistaken, there was something brewing between him and Rob. He kind of liked Zeus, too. Maybe he’d gone soft, but he wanted to spend more time with both dogs and especially Rob. He liked animal-loving guys with big hearts. Rob fit the bill. Was he gay? Kelly wasn’t sure, but they had time to talk and he’d find out.
“Why don’t you walk Louie around? Zeus is busy power snoozing.” Rob grinned. “I’ll be right here. Get to know your dog.”
“Yeah?” He winked at Rob, then headed across the grass with Louie. He’d made the right decision by going to the rescue page. He’d not only found his next dog, but also met a new friend that could lead to more.