Then there was Edgar, a Boston terrier, one of the oldest Woodley dogs.
Edgar didn't win every heart. At the Halls of Hope, the 10-year-old sat quietly in his cage, seemingly oblivious to the activity around him. "He was just checked out," says ALDF director Wells. "No personality. My impression was, he must be near death because he just doesn't engage."
But Joyce Tischler, ALDF's general counsel, noticed how Edgar followed her with his eyes. "He had this very earnest look," she says. "He didn't bark. He didn't jump. He just sat there calmly like a little gentleman. I realized, 'Oh my gosh, I'm ignoring this dog because he's quiet.'" Inside the kennel, Edgar sat on Tischler's lap and let her scratch him—not something every Woodley dog would do.
Tischler, 56, began visiting Edgar regularly. "I was a little obsessed with him," she says. The day she left for home in California, she kissed him goodbye for what she assumed would be the last time. But whenever she telephoned the shelter, she always got the same report: No one had called dibs on Edgar.
As the Halls of Hope emptied out, attorney Wagman said, half-jokingly, "No one's taking this dog, Joyce. You're going to have to get him."
The last thing Tischler needed was another dog; she had two already, plus a teenage daughter, several cats, and a rigorous travel schedule. And Edgar was a mess—unsocialized, unhousebroken, and in need of polyp surgery, along with extensive dental work.
"Pack his bags," she told Wagman. "He's coming to California."
Tischler flew back east and picked him up. As they drove to the airport, the dog's teeth clattered in fear. But when they boarded the plane—the only first-class trip Tischler has ever taken—she slid Edgar's soft carrier beneath the seat in front of her. He was soon snoring at her feet.
Flying home, Tischler could not imagine what the next three and a half years would hold. She didn't foresee having to get Edgar past a biting phase. She had yet to understand how his racing through the yard, or making slobbering sounds during meals, would teach her to live "fully in the moment—to be a little less human and a little more dog." Nor could she predict whether Edgar would really recover from the Woodley ordeal.
All she could feel, as the plane landed in San Francisco, was pure jubilation. "I have you 3,000 miles away from that woman," she thought as they walked briskly across the terminal. "And you are never going back."
Audio slideshow: Watch Joyce and Edgar's story
Barry Yeoman's work has appeared in OnEarth, Audubon, and AARP The Magazine. His website is barryyeoman.com
Find out what you can do to help homeless animals
We Hear You!