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    Sienna’s Story

       Janice Boekhoff lifted Benny onto the high table. His whole body shook and his short legs strained to move. With her arms wrapped around his stomach, he couldn’t go far. But that didn’t keep him from trying and his nails scratched at the stainless steal table.

       She gave the vet an apologetic smile. “Sorry. As you know, he’s not a very easy-going dog.”  

       Doc Howie placed his hand on Benny’s neck, pressing gently. “I don’t blame him. His skin doesn’t look any better than it did last time.”

       “His allergies are getting worse.” Janice swallowed the lump in her throat, wishing she could swallow the helplessness, too. It had been four long years of vet visits and medications and nothing had helped poor Benny regain his health. If only there was something she could do to make him better.

       Doc Howie moved his hand from Benny’s neck to his back, pulling at a loose tuft of brown hair. With the fur in hand, he hunched over, peering closely at the skin.

       Janice turned her head away. She didn’t need to see the bald spot to know Benny’s skin was turning black. At his last appointment, Doc Howie had made it clear—if his symptoms got worse, there weren’t many options left—let him suffer or put him to sleep.

       Benny whined, his round brown eyes pleading for her to let him down. No doubt he wanted to sniff the floor and visit all the dogs kenneled on the other side of the clinic.

       Janice glanced at Doc Howie, keeping her gaze away from Benny’s skin. “Are you done examining him?”

       He nodded and Janice lifted Benny off the table, expelling a deep breath. She’d discussed the options with Todd a hundred times. He didn’t want Benny to suffer any more than she did.

       “Let’s try adjusting his thyroid medication. It might help.”

       “Okay.” Maybe this time Benny would get some relief. She didn’t want to play God, deciding the timing of her beloved dog’s life, but he seemed miserable. Several sections of his hair had fallen out and he constantly itched, causing him to bite at his skin. If this didn’t help him, it would be time to let Benny go.

       Janice moved into the entryway of the veterinary clinic, her emotions dodging and colliding like bumper cars. In a daze, she stopped in front of the desk and handed her credit card to Erika, one of the receptionists. The sooner she paid, the faster she could get out of the clinic.

       Handing the card back, Erika gave her an encouraging smile. “We just picked up two stray Labradors in Henry County. Do you want to see them?”

       Janice ran a hand through her curly brown hair. Was Erika trying to make her feel better or did she want someone to adopt the dogs? Todd wouldn’t want another one. Not so soon, after paying for all of Benny’s medications. But just looking at them couldn’t hurt. “Sure, I’ll look at the dogs.”

       “Great. Right this way.” Erika led her into a backroom with kennels lined up against the walls. Most of the kennels were empty, except one in the corner where a small puppy nuzzled its nose against a large black lab.

       Erika kneeled down next to the kennel. “Do you want to hold the puppy?”

       “Yeah.” The word was out before she could stop it. But how could she say no to that adorable little face? She led Benny into one of the open kennels and shut the door. As she turned around, Erika placed the wiggling animal in Janice’s open arms.

       Holding the puppy, childhood memories resurfaced. Like watching an old video recorder, she imagined her little girl-self playing in the backyard with Wendy. The black lab jumped on top of her as she rolled in the grass, giggling. Wendy had been such a good dog.

       In her arms, the puppy let out a yelp.

       “It’s okay, girl.” Janice scratched behind the long floppy ears, then ran a hand over the puppy’s neck. Her fur was as soft as silk and Janice had to resist the urge to bury her face in it. “How could anybody leave you?”

       The puppy stuck her tongue out, swinging it wildly over Janice’s chin. She laughed, the sound unexpectedly reverberating through her chest. For a moment, the puppy stopped licking and looked up, her chocolate brown eyes melting Janice’s heart.

    ***

       Todd Boekhoff gripped the steering wheel and let out a breath. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”           

       Janice turned toward him, leaning against the middle console. Her hair dipped below her shoulder. “Just keep an open mind, okay?”

       “We’ve already got Benny and he isn’t an easy dog to live with.” He didn’t want to remind Janice of Benny’s problems, but surely her feelings for this puppy were just a longing for what they didn’t have with Benny. Plus, she couldn’t have developed a close bond with a dog in such a short time period.

       Janice bent her knee, pulling her foot up to the seat. She hadn’t been able to sit still since they got in the car. “Just wait until you see her. She’s perfect for us.”

       Todd turned onto Washington Street. If only he could turn the car around, but he had to see this dog for Janice’s sake. It would make her happy.

       He pulled into the veterinary clinic and Janice swung her door open, hopping out of the car. He followed her inside, ten steps behind. Hopefully, this wasn’t a bad visit. If the dog didn’t react well to Janice this time, his wife would be crushed.

       Erika stood behind the front desk. “I’ll go get the puppy.”

       Janice turned to face the hallway, her gaze meeting his. She reached for his hand, squeezing it. “Thank you for coming. I really appreciate it.”

       Todd leaned down and kissed her lips as nails clicked against the linoleum floor. He looked up to see a black fur ball rounding the corner and dashing down the hallway. Her long floppy ears swayed back and forth, but as soon as she saw Janice, she picked up speed.

       His wife bent down, kneeling on the floor. The puppy jumped into Janice’s arms as if she’d missed seeing her owner after a long day apart. Janice kissed the puppy’s head, a big a smile spreading across her face. She looked up at him, her eyes sending an I-told-you-so look.

       Todd’s chest constricted. There was no doubt Janice had a connection with his dog. He smiled. “What do you want to name her?”

       Janice gave a little jump and her eyes lit with excitement. “I like the name Sienna.”

    Where are they now?