Read an Excerpt
A Novel of Shared Vision
By Tom Sullivan, Betty White
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Tom Sullivan
All rights reserved.
It was noon—when the sun was at its highest point and the dog was at his lowest moments. There was an aching in the black Labrador retriever's heart as he circled the area where his people had left him. If he could, he would be asking the question why. Why did you drive into this park, open the door, bring me out, hug me, pat me, and then leave me? But dogs never ask questions like that, and they never question if they should love us forever, because love is an absolute. And they don't operate in real time, so for the big animal, returning to the spot where he had been left was something he did as part of his daily routine. And since the ache in his heart wouldn't go away, he would continue to return to that very spot, with the sun sitting high in the sky, and walk in a circle, with his nose down to the ground, hoping to pick up the scent of the humans he loved.
Actually, the young Lab had never met a human being he didn't like, and as he adapted to his surroundings in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, he naturally began to befriend everyone with whom he came in contact, with the exception of the ducks who inhabited Stow Lake. These quacking creatures just didn't understand the game. He was supposed to chase them, on land or swimming in the water, wasn't he? That quacking sound they made—it was wonderful. He loved it when they flapped their wings and flew out of the way of his charging enthusiasm. Because, naturally, they were supposed to run away. That was how the game was played, but a few of them just wouldn't budge. And a couple of them even chased him, hissing and drooling as they scooted after him. Still, he could play this game for hours until he was completely exhausted, lying on the grass with his tongue hanging out, panting hard in blissful doggy contentment.
At the far end of the park, he found another activity he couldn't resist. In warmer weather, humans hit little hard balls with a stick, and as soon as the ball was struck, he would run after it, pick it up, and bring it back. Off he would gallop with the humans yelling, "No, dog, no. Leave it alone. Leave the golf ball alone." Okay, okay, he got it. He understood. He didn't have to pick the thing up. The fun was in chasing it. Occasionally, he'd come across a human who would appreciate it when he brought the ball back, so he would follow that person for a while and wait politely for another ball to be hit. After the game he would wander over to where the people were eating food, and often if he wagged his tail enough, one of them would share a delicious hamburger.
He drank from the lake whenever he was thirsty, and he'd found another ready source of food just outside the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. The big dog had wagged his way into the heart of a street vendor selling hot dogs, and this very good man usually saved six or seven especially for the dog's arrival just after the lunch crowed.
It was at the National AIDS Memorial Grove that he met the human who slept outside like him. This man would cuddle with the big dog on cold nights, and his hugs reminded the animal of how very good it had felt when he was just a few weeks old and slept snuggled against his brothers and sisters.
During the day, the man would stand at an entrance to the park and make a very pleasant sound with his voice and something that he held in his hands. The dog really liked the ... what was the word he had heard? ... music. It made him feel happy, but at noon he knew it was time to go back to the place where he had been left. Maybe his people would be there. His animal clock would always tell him he needed to be waiting in just the right spot with the sun straight up in the sky, and he would hope—a constant feeling in his doggy heart.
Enrique Ramirez was troubled by his job. Growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico, on a farm and working the fields, there had always been lots of dogs around, and from the time he was a little boy he had always loved them. His mother used to say that Enrique could never pass up helping a lost stray dog, and so their small house was always full of animals that the family couldn't afford to feed or take care of.
Enrique didn't know why he loved dogs so much, but he thought it was because of their honesty—and the fact that, in his mind, all they wanted was to be loved by people, and that seemed to him to be the right way to live. Working for the SPCA over the last five years, he had never, ever been bitten by an animal. In fact, he couldn't even remember when any of the dogs he had picked up had growled at him or been really upset when he enticed them into his van.
He knew he had a way with animals, and he was sure that they knew he cared about them. He tried not to think about the dogs he brought in when he considered that many of them would never find good homes and would have to be—what was that gringo word they used?—yes, euthanized. That seemed to be a big word for something he believed to be cruel and unnecessary. So, sometimes he asked himself why he did the job, and his answer was always the same. The animals he took off the street could never make it on their own. The best chance they had, he knew, was that the SPCA would find people to love them, so he continued to try and do his job in the best way possible.
Right now he was studying a young black Lab—probably not even one year old—that seemed to have a very specific purpose. He watched as the dog circled in a small area with his nose down to the ground, as if he must be looking for something. Enrique had seen this behavior before, and he knew that this animal was one of those who must have been abandoned and was now waiting for his master to return. How could people do that, he thought, just leave these beautiful creatures to suffer or even starve?
"All right," he told himself, "that's why I do this job. I can save some of them, and that is the right thing to do."
Climbing out of his truck and taking a couple of doggy treats from his pocket, he moved slowly in the direction of the dog and began to gain the animal's attention by talking softly and shaking the treats in his hand. The dog's head came up from what he had been doing, and Enrique believed he could almost see the animal smile with pleasure.
This is one of the ones who really likes people, he thought. This one won't be hard at all.
"Come on, boy," he said persuasively. "Come on over and have a treat."
The handsome dog trotted over and took a biscuit from the man's hand as if he had known him forever.
"That's a good boy," the man said soothingly, and the sound of his voice made the Lab wag his tail. "That's a good boy," he said again. "Now just stand still and let me put a leash on you."
Enrique took a heavy nylon lead from his pocket, and the Lab didn't object at all as the lead went over his neck.
Very good, the man thought. Very good.
"Come on, boy," he said. "Come on. Come with me."
Enrique took two steps, and in that moment the big dog understood that the man wanted to move him away from his place, away from his mission to wait for his masters to come back.
No, the Lab registered. No! And he dug all four feet into the ground, whining as if he was hurt.
"It's all right," the man said. "It's okay, boy. I'm not going to hurt you. Come on, boy, let's go. Come on now, boy."
The animal was even more determined not to leave his place, not to give up. He pulled hard in the other direction, tightening the sliding lead around his neck, nearly choking himself with the effort.
The man was quick to respond. Stepping forward he snapped a muzzle around the black Lab's nose and placed his hands under the dog's chest, lifting him into the air, making him helpless.
Now the big animal found himself tossed into the back of the van, unhurt but visibly upset. Everything in his doggy head was crying, No, no! My people will be back. I know they'll come back. I can't leave this place. I can't ever leave this place.
Enrique looped the handle of the leash around a tie-down and closed the van doors.
"I'm sorry, boy," he said. "I'm very sorry. I hope you find a good home. I really hope you'll find a home."
Thirty minutes later, the young Lab was being registered and going through the intake process of vet checks and shots. The muzzle had been removed because the animal clearly wasn't interested in biting anyone or hurting the people. All that he was feeling was a deep, deep sadness because now there would be no master coming to get him. He was not in the right place. He was not where he should be.
He was in a four-by-eight-foot area surrounded by concrete, except for the wire mesh fencing that allowed him to look out and people to look in. He was given water and food by some humans who spoke in very soft, soothing tones, but it was hard to hear them over the noise of all the other dogs. None of the animals were happy, including the big Lab, and no one slept very much, as day and night didn't matter at all because there wasn't any sun.
Sometimes new people came and spoke to the dogs, and sometimes dogs were taken out of the cages and not brought back. People spoke to him too, but they were not his people. Even though he had been taken from his place, he knew his people would come—he just knew they would come.
He watched the man and the excited little boy move down the line of cages and dogs. He watched because something about the man said kind—said good. He watched as they talked to other dogs up and down the line, and he waited for them to come and see him.
"What about this one, Uncle Smitty?" the boy was saying as he pointed to a dog next to him. "I like this one."
"Well, Danny, you might have picked just the perfect one," the man said. "She looks like a combination of spaniel and ... let's see ... maybe ... hm. There might be border collie in her. That would be an interesting combination because she would be playful with you. In fact," the man laughed, "she'd probably chase you around, biting your feet, herding you like you were a sheep. That's what border collies do. And she'd have that spaniel kind of quality; just the perfect dog to cuddle at night. Let's see if we can take her out of the cage and go into a room where we can sit on the floor and socialize with her."
While the man was speaking, his practiced eye was watching the black Lab. The young animal's eyes showed intelligence, and the man instictively moved to the big animal's cage, placing his palms against the wire and dropping down on his knees to the level of the dog.
"Hello, boy," he said. "Why are you in here?"
The dog liked the sound of the man, so he stood up, placing his nose against the wire and wagging his tail. The man put his face against the cage from the other side and blew gently into the Lab's nose—a sign of love and connection going back to the wolf. The dog responded, trying to lick the man but only rubbing his tongue on the wire.
"Good boy," the man said. "You really are a good boy, and you're handsome. Gosh, you're handsome. You're a perfect-looking black Lab. Somebody really made a mistake abandoning you. I'll bet you even have papers. You certainly come from good breeding. You know what? Let me help Danny find a new friend, and I'll be back to see you, okay?"
The man turned back to his nephew, and involuntarily—for the first time since he had been in captivity—the dog whined.
The man laughed. "Okay, pal, okay," he said. "I told you I'll be back, and I will."
Over the next half hour, the man helped the boy socialize with his new friend, and it could not have gone better. The little border collie/spaniel mix loved to play and cuddle, and the boy could not have been happier.
"What are you going to name her?"
"I don't know, Uncle Smitty," the boy said furrowing his brow, "but I think I might name her Abigail."
"Abigail?" the man said, surprised at the choice. "Why Abigail?"
"Well, my sister has a doll named Abigail, and I like the name."
"That's good," Uncle Smitty said. "You could call her Abby for short."
"What do you think of that, Abby?" the boy asked. "Is Abby or Abigail okay with you?"
On cue, the little dog licked his face, drawing a peal of happy laughter.
"All right, then," the man said, "Abigail it is. Now, Danny, you stay here with Abigail for a few minutes. I just want to take another look at the dog that was living next to her, okay?"
The man borrowed a leash from one of the SPCA volunteers and got permission to take the young Lab out into the parking lot. The animal was surprised, but the man's voice and the way he touched him and scratched his ears just so made him happy enough to keep wagging his tail.
"I don't know if you've had any training," the man said. "You're pretty young, but let's fool around a little, okay?"
The man began to teach the animal to heel and sit, and the big dog loved it. When he got the idea what the man wanted, it was natural for him to want to please, and the man saw it immediately.
"You know what? You might just be one of the good ones; one of the very, very good ones. And I might just have the job that will make your life special. What do you think of that, boy?"
The dog looked up at the man as if to say, I think that would be fine, just fine.
A half hour later, the man's car pulled out of the SPCA parking lot with the man and the boy in front and two very happy dogs sharing the backseat.CHAPTER 2
The young man stood, silhouetted against what he believed to be the bluest sky on earth. As always, he felt at one with the mountain, never conquering it, only sharing its beauty with all of nature's creations lucky enough to ascend its peak. For a brief second, he shivered as the whitest of white clouds passed overhead, temporarily blocking the intense noonday sun. It was the summer solstice, June 21, when the great orb stood above the equator and time was suspended as the earth balanced precariously on the edge of the changing seasons.
Today, Brenden McCarthy was in the Elk Range above Aspen, Colorado, at the top of the Maroon Bells. In actual fact, his feet were planted firmly on North Maroon, the toughest of the Bells to climb. It was a moment of utter happiness.
In McCarthy's short life—twenty-five years and six months, to be exact—he had climbed all fifty-four peaks of fourteen thousand feet and above in the state of Colorado. Climbing was his passion—or rather, one of them. He was just as passionate about becoming a great orthopedic surgeon.
Having just graduated from the University of Colorado medical school, he was in his first year of residency at St. Joseph Hospital, overwhelmed by work but somehow loving the experience.
That's who Brenden McCarthy was—a young man who loved the experience of being alive. This morning he drove up from Denver on his prized possession—a rebuilt 1959 Harley Panhead motorcycle that took every penny he could scrounge from jobs he worked all through undergraduate school at Colorado State. The bike was a total trip as it roared along I-70 traveling west and turned onto Route 82, crossing Castle Creek and then turning south on an access road that allowed him to be more aggressive. He pulled in and wheelied to a stop in the parking lot of Maroon Lake Campground.
He knew he was showing off, but on this Thursday there wasn't anyone around. And frankly, he just couldn't help himself. With this perfect weather, he figured the climb would take around six and a half hours with the descent actually slower than the ascent because of having to be so careful of a mountain climber's most deadly enemy—scree—loose rock that at any time could send even the most experienced climber plummeting to—what? Injury? Death? Brenden didn't want to know.
He shook off the thought as he began to prepare for the climb. Today he chose a familiar route to the top of North Maroon. Though he was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt, heavy socks, and hiking boots, he was experienced enough always to be completely prepared. In his daypack he carried a simple but appropriate hiker's first-aid kit—a bottle of water, along with a filtering pump that would allow him to take water from mountain springs, power bars and a banana for energy, and a gigantic tuna fish sandwich. He also never climbed without a signal mirror, compass, and topographical map that he certainly didn't need but was never without. As an Eagle Scout, he never forgot the axiom "Be prepared."
Excerpted from Together by Tom Sullivan, Betty White. Copyright © 2008 Tom Sullivan. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.