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Twenty years ago, I didn't know that pet stores were villains who marketed puppies from puppy mills in the Midwest or the East Coast. I only knew that I didn't like pet stores because of the small cages, and the wire floors the poor tender-footed cats, dogs, kittens, or puppies were made to live on. I always avoided pet stores, but one day—a very despondent overcast December day—when I was feeling despondent as well, I found myself entering that very place. I went into a dense crowd of people grouped around the glass windows, behind which sat mostly smaller dogs in their small cages. I hung back, just looking. Then I saw him. A soft white adorable bundle, a German Shepherd puppy that resembled a miniature polar bear more than anything else. At eight weeks, he was already twenty-five pounds, which promised a large dog to come. “Wow,” I may have said out loud. A store employee slid up beside me and said, “You can play with him. I'll bring him out and you can go to the play room with him.” “Sure, okay,” I replied. He brought the white puppy into the play room and put him down. Immediately, the feisty puppy began to run throughout the room, investigating each toy, sniffing everything within range. “He likes you,” the employee said. The white puppy had barely noticed me. “Do you think so?” I asked. 

I wrote a check for, what was for me, an astronomical amount of money, almost $1,200. I knew the check would bounce, and it did. But that, and making payments, would be later. In the meantime, I lost my mind for a moment and bought the little white puppy, placing the rubber check on the counter. We left the store together, and my life was forever changed.

Kapunzel was his name. Many people hated the name at first, but Kapunzel he stayed as he grew to an enormous and beautiful 120 pounds. He grew overnight—every night. He slept in bed with me, waking me in the morning by sitting on my chest, each morning a little heavier and floundering a little more to balance on my shrinking torso as he grew. I had some concern about being suffocated to death by this sprouting gangly creature. He began to fill my life in many ways.

It seemed that once Kapunzel moved in with me, I began to notice stray dogs everywhere. In fact, he and I seemed to become a magnet for dogs that needed help. Within a couple of years, I opened a nonprofit animal rescue organization, leaving my job as a massage therapist. Over the next decade, Kapunzel and I opened our doors to hundreds of helpless needy dogs, providing a home for them while soliciting funding for medical care and ultimately adopting them into new homes. As I learned more about the plight of all the homeless animals, and the soaring euthanasia rate of every kind of dog from puppy to pure breed to anguished seniors at animal shelters, I became a firm believer of adoption and not purchasing from pet stores; though, of course, my precious Kapunzel had come from a pet store. 

We grew older. My Kapunzel would constantly place his huge legs into my lap wanting me to tickle him, and he would look at me with his big brown eyes—the eyes I knew so very well that I could tell what he wanted with just a glance. Then one day, I noticed a lump on his ankle. It would be diagnosed as bone cancer. The veterinarian told me that to save him and allow him to live longer, he needed to have his leg amputated. I made the appointment. For the next few days, before the amputation, I would turn around to see Kapunzel looking at me differently, as if he knew something. Each time, I would drop anything I was doing, go to him, wrap my arms around his neck, and tell him what a special angel boy he was and how much I loved him. He would break into a huge grin, as he had every time I'd called him my angel boy over the last eleven years. He was one week from turning twelve.

Kapunzel never came home from surgery. He died after having his leg amputated. My world shifted, darkened. I wanted to go with him. It took many months before I could talk easily about him, my wonderful friend.   

My work with homeless dogs continued for a few more years, and then I went back to school, enrolling into a veterinary technician program. I will graduate this coming fall. I think of Kapunzel often, and I thank him for being such a good friend, for teaching me and for enriching and enlightening my world. His name is now tattooed on my right ankle, in flowing script. I will always carry him with me. My special boy.


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