The Story of Betty
When I first saw Betty, I barely noticed her. She looked very unremarkable. All I saw was an ordinary looking, chunky lab mix, mostly black, with some white on her muzzle.
She was neither an adorable puppy, nor a sleek, exotic looking greyhound, nor a muscular, wriggling-with-affection pit bull entreating you to cuddle.
She was just an ordinary looking dog.
Then I read her information card.
It said that Betty was six years old and had spent three years in a shelter in Louisiana.
I was filled with sadness. Half of this dog’s life had been spent in the confines of a Louisiana shelter.
Betty was no ordinary dog.
At that moment, I made it my mission to “totally love on” Betty whenever I came to the shelter.
The first time or two, I took her out for a walk and petted her, Betty interacted in a very subdued manner. It was if she had resigned herself to her lot in life. It was if she had decided she was going to make the best of a bad hand life had dealt her.
But gradually Betty Dog came to life. After a few visits, she would leap up in the air and wriggle with joy when I came around, knowing it meant: A) going for a walk, B) getting scratched and her belly rubbed, and C) hot dog slices.
As the weeks went on, I fell in love with Betty and her sweet, soulful personality.
Although I loved seeing her and was probably as thrilled to see her as she was to see me, I was saddened that no shelter visitors seemed to be looking at her.
Then one day as I put her in the back of her kennel, I heard a man’s voice say “Oh, here comes Betty.”
What, I thought, someone is here to see Betty? Even better, the voice sounded excited about the prospect.
Because the back of the kennels are cinder block with only a tiny window to look through, I couldn’t see who owned the voice. I went around to the front of the kennel and there stood a big, friendly looking man named Steve, along with his partner, Jen, along with their teen-age boy Raymond and little girl Abby. I asked them if they knew Betty. Steve said they had seen her at their last visit and were considering adopting her.
While I was thrilled that someone was interested in Betty, I also hoped it wouldn’t be just anybody, but rather people who would truly treasure this sweet dog.
Not wanting to hover as they talked about and interacted with Betty, I left them and went on to walk other dogs. Later, I sought them out, both to extol Betty’s virtues, and to experience them with her.
Steve and Jen told me how during their last visit, they had zeroed in on Betty, despite the many adorable puppies that were available. They shared their concern that Betty, not being an adorable little puppy and being rather quiet and unassuming, was being overlooked by other visitors. That was one reason why they were initially drawn to her.
I shared with them that Betty reminded me of that kid in school who wasn’t “one of the cool kids” but when you made the effort to get to know them, you discovered they were an amazing person and they became the most amazing friend.
They too saw that in Betty.
Their tender spot for Betty as somewhat of an Under Dog and their appreciation of Betty’s sweet nature and gentle charm made it clear that these warm-hearted people would make a wonderful family for Betty.
What convinced me that this would be the ideal family for Betty, though, was what happened when Steve hunkered down so he could get closer to Betty.
As soon as he did, Betty became a Surface to Steve Missile, launching herself at him. She licked him right on the mouth. First, I had never seen her that affectionate with anyone except me, and second, his response to being licked on the mouth by a dog not his own—laughter—made it clear: this is the family for Betty.
We talked some more and then I left, so they could talk amongst themselves. Later, when I walked by with another dog, they said they were going to go in and talk to the staff.
Later, as I was leaving the shelter, I saw them getting into their van.
“We’re going to get our dog Luca to see if he and Betty get along. If they do, we’re going to get her,” they told me.
The next day, when I came to the shelter, I made a beeline for Betty’s kennel.
What I saw, and how I felt, reminded me of one of my favorite movie scenes ever. It comes from the movie Good Will Hunting.
If you’ve ever seen Good Will Hunting, you might remember that touching scene near the end of the movie, when Ben Affleck’s character knocks on the door of Matt Damon’s character’s apartment, signaling that he’s there to pick him up to go to work. When there’s no answer, Chucky (Ben Affleck) peers into Will’s apartment’s window. The apartment is bare.
Will is gone.
Chucky smiles knowingly. You see, earlier in the movie, there’s a scene where Chucky and Will are taking a break from their work at a construction site. Chucky is challenging Will to break free of this life and make use of his incredibly gift—his one-of-a-kind mathematical mind. He tells Will that, even though Will is is best friend, the favorite part of his day is when he knocks on Will’s door in the morning to pick him up, because every time he does that, he hopes that Will won’t be there, that he will have just up and left, “no goodbye…no nothin’.”
As Chucky peers into the empty apartment, he smiles because he knows that the empty apartment means that Will has just taken a step to a much better life.
As I looked in Betty’s kennel, and saw two puppies instead of Betty, I too smiled, knowing what it meant.
The new occupants meant that after spending half her life in a shelter, Betty had closed that chapter and had just begun a new chapter. This chapter would be about living with a loving family who clearly adored her.
While Betty’s story is particularly sweet for me, given who she is and what she went through, her story is in many ways “every pet’s story” at the shelter. She symbolizes the amazing joyful change of fortune in animals’ lives that shelters, their donors, and their volunteers make possible. Shelters truly are places of new beginnings.
By: David, AWS volunteer
Epilogue: Steve Caya and Jen Cheplic graciously agreed to a photo and video shoot several months after adopting Betty, so I could capture Betty’s new life. Steve also sent pictures of Betty in their home. Is it safe to say Betty is now living the Good Life?
About Steve Caya and Jen Cheplic: Not only did Steve and Jen give Betty a new life, Steve and Jen continue to support AWS by buying their dog treats from the shelter store and still stop in with Abby to visit the dogs. Thank you Steve and Jen for all that YOU do.