I woke up this morning feeling down. My eyes were swollen and gritty. My mouth and throat were bone dry. My head throbbed. No, I wasn't hungover. That's what a normal morning feels like these days. But today was outside normal; in addition to the usual pops, creaks, and groans, the joints in my feet, ankles, hands and wrists were swollen, red, and achy. Six hours later and the application of ice, heat, and long periods of rest, and they are a little better. I can walk without too much pain. I can type, which means I can write, and writing brings me joy.

I've been thinking a lot lately about joy. It's been missing from my life for a while now. Happiness comes and goes, but joy has been absent entirely. Until the last couple of days.

Just by chance, I happened to cruise across the animal shelter website on Tuesday night. I look once or twice a month, because you never know what you'll find, but I wasn't specifically looking for an animal to adopt. After all, I already have two dogs - Tucker, my big, goofy Golden Retriever whom I love dearly even though he does continually carpet my hardwood floors with tufts and clumps of yellow fur; Christie, a mini-poodle/terrier cross who is alike an M80 in a fire-cracker's body, is my youngest daughter's dog. I adopted both these great dogs, Tucker from my friend and former boss, and Christie from the animal shelter. They are both beloved in my household. I didn't need another pet. My house is small, and a pet is a lot of financial, physical, and emotional responsibility. But sometimes, a pet just needs you.

I saw a lovely little dachshund on the shelter's website, and it looked very much like Snoop, a dachshund my ex-husband and I adopted together. Snoop remained with him when we divorced, though he visits me occasionally. Seeing the little guy, whose name is Sparky, tugged at my heart. I decided that I would just slip over to the shelter on my lunch break on Wednesday and see if he was still there. If he wasn't, fine - I wasn't looking for another dog anyway.

When I got there, a young man was sitting at a desk filling out forms, and I heard the attendant confirm that he was there for Sparky. Shoot - I didn't even get a chance to meet the little fellow. But I could hear the dogs barking in their cages and I decided to walk through and take a look around anyway. I could pet some of them, and that might make them and me feel better. I walked around and looked at the animals. Mostly they were pitbulls, or pit-mixes. A litter of pups were clustered around their mother in one of the pens. Outside, I saw more dogs - some students from the local college were in the cages with them getting some pet therapy during finals week. I toured around the other side, to the crates that house the dogs that have been there for a while. I was getting ready to go when I saw a solemn little creature with his nose pressed through the wire. I approached him and he regarded me with wide eyes. His tail didn't wag. He didn't move. Just stared. I reached down and let him sniff my fingers. He must have found them acceptable, because he licked me. He was a dachshund, red with darker red dapples, a brown nose, and golden-brown eyes. His skin had the slightly loose appearance of a dog who has lost weight in a short amount of time, but he was still roly-poly. I had already decided against taking any animals home that day, since Sparky was already taken. But when I walked around the corner, back into the building, this little red dog followed me all the way to the gate of his cage. I stopped and looked at him again, and he put a foot up against the wire, and waited.

Long story short, I got a leash, opened his crate and he came out to me. He walked me right to the door, and I guess that was that. I brought him back to work with me and then home afterward. Now it is two days later, and I am sitting on the couch. I went out without him for the first time earlier, and when I came back, he climbed up into my lap and curled up as if to say, "you aren't going ANYWHERE without me." Right now, he's lying beside me with his head in my lap, sleeping soundly. That kind of trust can't be bought. That kind of love is beautiful - even though my leaving made him afraid, he still loved me when I came back.

Unconditional love. Is there anything more joyful?


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