Everything was gray-cold in this place. The floor, the air, the steel bars. Though the sun was already up, Midnight nestled closer to his sister Indigo for warmth.
He looked over at the back wall of the pen. Midnight saw 11 scratch marks, the ones he had put there every day since they came to this place called the shelter. He reached out and made another mark—twelve days.
Midnight and Indigo were rescued from the second-floor bedroom after the hurricane swept away their humans and flooded their home. The water had come so fast and so high there had been no time to get their toys or blankets before scrambling upstairs. They had nothing. With no food or people to care for them, they had been howling and crying from hunger, fear and loneliness for three days. Shivering and dehydrated, they had just about given up when they were scooped up in a crate and flown away by helicopter. Indigo was so dizzy and terrified, she had thrown up all over the human who rescued them.
The first day in the animal shelter was a nightmare. There were hundreds of dogs barking and howling and puppies crying. Bully breeds growled and tried to intimidate everybody else. There was no calm as shouting humans picked them up, tagged them, took their pictures and shoved them into a pen. Midnight and Indigo had never known such chaos in their lives. Their home had always been safe and comfortable. No one had ever shouted at them—ever. And no one had ever handled them so rough, pulling on their collars and pushing them into a cage with bars on it. And they had never had to sleep on a concrete floor before.
In this place, Midnight knew he had to keep his wits about him. Although he and Indigo were the same age, his sister was high strung. She was depressed—afraid, sad and not thinking straight. That’s why he was the one who marked the days with his nails. He remembered hearing about these places called shelters. And he knew they had only 14 days to stay there before the quick sleep.
That’s if they were lucky. He had never seen so many dogs in one place and he knew they all couldn’t be kept there forever. Even though the caring humans would get angry and cry about it, they would still do what they had to do in the end.
As Indigo finally roused herself, Midnight barked loud and insistently so they would be taken out first. That way they got a little more time to do their business and be outside before breakfast.
Today was especially critical. It was Day 12 and Midnight knew he and Indigo had only 48 hours to get out of the shelter alive.
As soon as Indigo had finished peeing, Midnight took her aside.
“Sis, listen to me. We gotta get out of here. And I mean today.”
“Midnight, what are you talking about? I can hardly move, and I still don’t feel so good.”
“Indie, look at me! “ Midnight did not like to snarl at his sister, but he had to get her attention. He knew she was scared, but this was too important.
Indigo's cheeks started to quiver. She didn’t know how much more she could take, and now Midnight was yelling at her.
“Indie, this is not a place where we can stay. If we don’t get out by today, the humans are going to put us down.”
“What do you mean put us down?”
“You know. They’ll take us to the big white room with the steel table and send us to the quick sleep. They have to. There’s just too many of us…”
Indigo began to cry, but Midnight quickly muzzled her with his own jaw. He did not want the other dogs to hear him.
“I have a plan, but you have to listen and do what I say.”
Indigo was shaking. What was Midnight talking about?
“Our best chance for getting out of here is another human. You know they bring humans in here every day who are looking for their pets, right? Sometimes they find them, but most humans leave alone because their animals are gone for good. You can tell because they’re the ones who spend a lot of time leaning against the wall before they go. Some of those humans come back more than once because even though they lost their pets in the storm, they can’t imagine life without them. We have to take advantage of that.”
Midnight looked around to make sure no one was listening.
“Today we are going to do whatever we have to do to survive. And that means getting out of here. Today when the humans come in, we are going to get ourselves adopted together. Do you understand?
Adopted? But how, Indigo wondered. Everyone knew black dogs were always the last to be adopted and Indigo and Midnight were siblings. What if no humans wanted two dogs? She would rather die than be separated from Midnight. He was all the family she had.
“When the humans come today, we are going to right away put our paws through the grate and shake hands. You remember how to shake don’t you? And we are going to do everything together. If I get in play position, you get in play position. If I go over to someone, you come with me. If I get a toy to play with, you play too. We have to make everyone see that we are family, that we belong together.”
“Yes, Midnight. But what about the way we look? We haven’t been groomed in weeks. And I am not going to let anyone put me in a tub with water. I’m afraid of water now, I’m afraid I will drown…”
“Now that’s where we’re lucky,” said Midnight. “Our humans took good care of us. We have short hair and our coats are shiny. I’ll groom you and then you groom me. But let’s hurry—it’s time to go back inside.”
Midnight and Indigo finished peeing and then carefully smoothed and licked each others’ coats. After breakfast they licked the kibble from their teeth and gave each other another quick groom.
About ten o’clock, the first group of humans came through. Everyone started barking and jumping with excitement, hoping to be reunited with their humans. You could feel the sadness as the humans and their children came to each pen, looked way inside and then left when they didn’t find their pets. You could feel the disappointment when the dogs did not find their owners among the visitors, and laid back down on the floor.
Midnight and Indigo peered way down the hallway and saw several humans lean against the wall, some crying with their heads in their hands. Others looked down at their feet, and then looked back down the hall towards the dogs.
Midnight watched sharply; there were two humans in particular he was keeping an eye on. The man was holding the woman and was
saying, “I know, I know…” into her ear. They were clinging to each other and the man seemed to need the woman as much as she needed him.
“I can’t believe they’re not here,” said the woman.
“They?” Midnight knew this meant the humans had lost at least two dogs. He and Indigo had a chance… if only he could get the humans to come back down the hall.
“Indigo! C’mon! Remember what I told you and follow my lead.”
Midnight stuck his nose through the grate and began a sorrowful cry. In between he yelped a little, as if he were in pain. Indigo saw all the humans in the hallway look up. Then she started crying too. Not so much loud as just enough to get some attention.
It worked. The man and woman started back down the hall towards them. Instinctively Midnight began whimpering like a puppy. Indigo echoed him, and stuck her muzzle through the bars.
“Oh, poor babies!” The woman spoke very softly.
“Here boy, here boy!” said the man. Midnight immediately raised his paw and put it through the bars to the man.
Indigo followed her brother’s lead. She looked up at the woman, then stuck her own right paw through the grate.
“Look at how they are,” said the woman. “So smart!”
Indigo and Midnight heard the shelter guy tell the man and the woman that they were brother and sister and were rescued by a helicopter. He said they were housebroken and knew how to sit and stay. When he opened their pen, Indigo and Midnight made sure to jump up and smile ear to ear. When the shelter guy said “Down!” they went down and stayed down. But they kept eye contact with the humans. When the couple asked to take them walking out back they jumped with excitement.
They were so close. Midnight kept a watchful eye on his sister. But Indigo was holding her own, turning on the charm with those big dark eyes. He was so proud of her.
After the outside walk, the siblings were put back in the pen. Indigo and Midnight put their paws through the grate a final time and began to whimper again at the humans.
“Please don’t leave us. Please don’t leave us…”
But they did.
Indigo burst into tears. Midnight wanted to cry too, but he had to be strong.
“It’s all right, Indie,” he said. “More humans will come. They come all day long until dark, remember?”
And they did come. But no one left the shelter for a new home—not Midnight and Indigo, not anybody. When night came and it was feeding time again, Midnight saw Indigo refuse her food and turn her face to the wall. This time he did cry a little, but not so Indie could see. It hurt him to see his sister so sad. At the last walk of the day, Midnight actually scanned the fence for a hole or a gate left open to escape. But it was no use.
Now, in the night, the other dogs cried out and wailed for their humans. Midnight hated the night. He knew they couldn’t help it, but those dogs made it harder on everyone. He didn’t know how Indigo could fall sleep with all the noise, but she was sleeping almost all the time now. Skooching closer to his sister and laying a protective paw over her, Midnight started plotting a way out, but finally, he too fell asleep. In his dreams, water swirled all around him and came right up to his throat. He paced wildly on a rooftop while rain and wind whipped around him. He heard the chopping sound of helicopters. Blaring sirens from rescue boats stabbed his eardrums. And just when he thought the water would overtake him and he would drown, he awoke in a panic. He had the same bad dream every night now, sometimes more than once.
At dawn, Midnight was still awake, so he scratched “13” into the grimy back wall of the pen. Looking across the aisle, fear clamped his breath as he realized that pen #9 was empty. Jack the terrier and Marnie the mixed-breed had been there when he and Indie arrived 13 days ago. Now they were gone. The humans had done what they had to do.
Midnight woke Indigo and they barked to go outside. As Indigo sought privacy in the corner, Midnight could think of no gentle way to break the news.
“Indie! Jack and Marnie are gone to the quick sleep. It must have happened last night…”
“I know Midnight,” Indie barked softly. “I saw the humans take them to the white room in the middle of the night. They tried to be quiet but I heard them anyway…”
The siblings blinked at each other. Indigo’s eyes reflected nothing but sadness, discouragement and hopelessness. Suddenly, Midnight became enraged. All the pain and loss and fear and desperation of the past two weeks exploded in his heart and in his brain.
“We did not get rescued just to die in this place!” he growled to Indie. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
Back in the pen, Midnight paced angrily. He ignored his food and water, and just snorted at the bowls. His eyes were black glass, focused everywhere and nowhere. Indigo had never seen her brother this way—ever. And now she was almost as afraid for him as she was for herself.
When the keys clanged and the shelter guy came through, Midnight couched low and snarled. But it was Indigo who heard the man say, “You mean these two over here?”
Indigo immediately recalled the scent of the man and woman from yesterday.
“Midnight! They came back! It’s them—from yesterday!”
But Midnight wasn’t listening.
“Midnight! Midnight! Come on- You said we have to get out of here today. Get it together!” Indigo commanded.
The man and woman from yesterday stood in front of their pen. Indigo leapt into puppy mode, smiling and pawing the grate. When the woman bent down, Indigo stuck her right paw through for a shake. When the shelter guy opened the grate she jumped into the woman’s arms and lavished her face with tongue kisses. Then she ran around in quick circles and pounced into play position. Humans understood that, she knew.
When the man reached for her, Indigo went to his side and stood, gazing up at him.
“Good girl. Good girl! The man knelt and ruffled her coat. Indigo hated that but she didn’t let on.
“What’s with him today?” The lady human pointed at Midnight.
The shelter guy said that Midnight was having a bad morning. Indigo knew this was not good for the woman to hear. She rushed over to her brother and poked him hard with her nose.
“Come on, Midnight! They want us,” she whispered under her breath. “Don’t blow it!”
Indigo boxed her brother into play position. She nudged him and bumped him and kept at him until he relented and began to play back.
“Oh there they go! Just like yesterday!” the woman said.
Midnight stepped over to the man human and looked up. When the moment was just right, he licked the man’s hand.
“You want to come home with us, don’t cha boy?”
Did he? Midnight did his special circle dance and finished on his hind legs, his front paws on the man’s belly.
“Down boy,” said the man and Midnight responded instantly. Indigo dropped to the floor right next to him.
The man and woman looked at each other, but did not speak.
“That's a nice pair of dogs there,” said the shelter guy. They can be company for each other. Healthy, too.”
Midnight and Indigo held their breath.
It was the woman who finally said “I think we just got ourselves some new dogs.”
And so that was that. Tomorrow, Midnight and Indigo were going to a new home, together. It would not be what they had before but with warm, soft indoor beds, good food, clean water and plenty of loving human companionship, they could start over. Together they watched the humans sign all the papers.
Midnight hugged his sister. In the end it was Indigo who had gotten them out of the shelter. The admiration and gratitude he felt for her was overwhelming. But all he said was “I never knew you could take charge like that, Sis…”
Indigo winked. “Nothing to it brother dear, she said. “I just followed your lead.”