“Bentley bit me,” I said.
“Mel, you need to calm down,” Mason said.
I cried so hard that my husband heard my tears through the cell phone, two thousand miles away in Pomona, California.
“Calm down? He’s aggressive. Do you know what that means?”
“Was he provoked?” he asked.
“Mason-“ I stopped, gathered my breath. It was important he understood. “I couldn’t control him.”
I called Donna next.
“The first thing we have to do is cancel all his meet and greets. We can’t adopt him out knowing he has aggression issues,” she said.
Her tone got softer, concerned. “How’s your leg?”
“Screw my leg. I couldn’t control him,” I said.
Bentley’s been abandoned three times. First, in a tree, the second time by his almost-forever family, and lastly by a woman that kept him for one night before she cried uncle. I can’t blame her. He wasn’t socialized properly, which might mean nothing when it comes to most dogs, but with Bentley it mattered. Now he’s too big to control, a fifty-pound mutt with a keen mind and enough energy to fuel a nitro car. If I don’t deem him trainable within a few months, we need to surrender him to the Robertson County Animal Shelter or euthanize him ourselves.
That’s an awful lot of responsibility.
But I feel responsible. I’m the one that found him in the oak tree’s trunk during a spring storm, rain pelting, thunder cracking, a sopping six-week old puppy screaming loud enough to cut through all that clatter. I’m the one that gave him to Laura, the one that miscalculated her commitment. Looking back, I realize that I always knew she wasn’t the right person for Bentley, but I had a lot going on in my life. She was an easy out.
I don’t even need to close my eyes to see him when he was small. He looked like a stuffed animal come to life, scurrying behind me on the Springfield greenway, unleashed, too short and klutzy to get anywhere fast. In respect for my fellow dog walkers, I’d swoop him up whenever we saw anyone else. He’d deliriously lick my face, and I’d stick my nose in his pink mouth, gulp his puppy breath, the joyful stink of a six-week old animal experiencing everything for the first time.
But he’s changed in the five months he lived in Clarksville at his almost-forever home. It’s undeniable. Besides his physical appearance, something inside has changed too. Playful innocence doesn’t sparkle in his eyes, but outlines them, as though pushed to the very periphery. Instead, he watches me with a look hooded by confusion and fear.
I wouldn’t have admitted it before yesterday.
But every time I pull down my pants to use the bathroom or change clothes, the angry teeth marks on my left thigh remind me about the kind of damage Bentley is capable of causing. Nancy, my best friend and walking partner, said she’s glad it happened (she’s from New Jersey and blunt, which I appreciate.) She said I needed to see it. Others had warned me, but I didn’t listen. I thought they didn’t know any better.
The bruise is tender, red at its core with deep purple dots spreading around the center. It’s not the physical pain that’s tearing me up. It’s the knowledge that I can’t help him. Quite simply, I don’t possess the knowledge, experience, or physical strength to break him. He bit me diving at a 120-pound Bullmastiff named Ruby. Even with Ruby thirty yards away, Bentley barked and lunged, suddenly transformed into a whiskey-drunk Hulk. I tried to break his attention with commands he understood, like sit and look, but he didn’t even recognize me. By the time we reached Mick and Ruby, there was nothing I could do besides hang on, praying that Mick had more control over his animal than I did over mine.
“Are you still willing to work with him?” Donna asked.
My leg was just starting to throb, but emotionally I had calmed down. Donna was good at talking people off the ledge. Bentley slept on the car seat, exhausted from his walk, completely oblivious that we were discussing his fate.
“Do we have another choice?” I asked. He looked so peaceful. I wanted to touch his ears, but I held back. I was still mad at him for biting me.
Donna didn’t answer. She didn’t need to say what I already knew. Mace and I are Bentley’s last option.