She was possibly one of the least attractive looking dogs I had ever seen. Shorthaired bristly black, medium height, with a long, thin tail (balding), and one ear that perked upward, the other bent in half. A sad looking mutt, I thought, with few obvious redeeming features.

I noticed her while walking through the foyer of the shelter in Connecticut where I volunteered a few hours each week. She was being brought in from the car park, urged gently toward the door of the dog section, from which the thunderous noise of barking and whimpering issued. In my time at the shelter I had tried to stay well clear of the dog kennels because the collective, desperate clamoring for attention broke my heart.

Something about this dog, however, made me reconsider. My cat duties completed, I took a deep breath and stepped into the pandemonium of the kennels. Busy volunteers hurried about; it was feeding and fresh water time, and some dogs were coming in from a final evening walk. I walked slowly up and down the rows of kennels, looking for the mutt. Tails waved and wagged; the little ones leapt in the air, trying to be noticed; others yapped and twirled about. The bigger dogs stood on their hind legs, some holding their kennel toys in their mouths. “Look at me!” they all seemed to be saying. “Pick me!”

But there she was—curled into the farthest corner of her kennel, quivering from the tip of her long nose to the end of that ridiculous tail. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her lashes trembling. My heart somersaulted in my chest with pity. I put out a hand, stretching through the bars to try and tempt her forward, but she wouldn’t move. I had never seen a dog look more desperate.

Abruptly, I turned and went to find a volunteer. Did she know anything about the dog? Not very much, she told me. It was the policy of the shelter to keep their kennels filled. Whenever there was an empty space they would visit other shelters and offer to take any single dog they were having real difficulty in finding a home for. This mutt, named Georgie Girl, had spent the past six years in Yonkers in a no-kill facility, sharing a kennel with seven other medium-sized, all black mutts. It must have been a rare lucky day for Georgie Girl when she was selected to come to Connecticut.

In a matter of hours, the shelter released Georgie Girl into my care. I signed the papers, paid the money, and we went home. She was weary and dispirited; it seemed she was absolutely broken. Her tail curled tight between her legs, she shook and shivered with fright. Indoors, released at long last from the restriction of a leash and metal bars, she went crazy. She leapt up at the windows, pawing to escape, terror in her sad brown eyes. The only way I could calm her was to put her back into my minivan. There, in the back section of the Odyssey, surrounded by quilts and cushions, food and water, she spent her first night.

Georgie Girl spent a full three weeks living in my Honda minivan. Each day, she grew a little less afraid of the big world outdoors. We ventured out—on a leash—into the yard for brief walks, but she always tugged me back towards her place of safety, the car, her replacement kennel.

One day, just after the first snow had carpeted the ground and flakes were spinning in the air, I slipped the leash from Georgie’s collar. She stood looking at me, her tail, as usual, tight between her legs. She looked slowly around the garden and lifted her nose to the air, then met my eyes once again, fear written all over her. It was now or never, I thought.
“Go on,” I told her. “You’re quite safe now. Live a little!”

Snow had begun to settle on her black coat. Suddenly, her funny looking tail shot up into the air and she began to run. She ran in circles, twirling around and around until I thought she must surely fall over with dizziness. She tore around, weaving in and out, leaping and jumping for joy. I burst into tears of relief.

Georgie Girl lived in our house for eight years. She never fully recovered her sense of trust in human beings, but she was a loving, happy dog who brought us much happiness. Every day, we went on long walks to remote places where she could wander off-leash to her heart’s content, making up for the many years of enforced incarceration in a place where dogs, for the most part, are forgotten.