What Wags the World
by Sarah Pinsker
They have him mislabeled as "mixed-breed" at the shelter, but you recognize him for what he is. More importantly, he recognizes you. The other dogs are doing tricks and throwing themselves at the people walking past. They're begging for attention. He hangs back, waiting, but when you pass his enclosure he gets up to leave as if it's already decided.
He's too arthritic to jump into your car, so you lift him. He sits on the back seat and braces against the movement. You open the window partway since there's no danger of him jumping out. He leans his head on the sill and breathes deeply, taking in the smells. At home, you count his fatty tumors, feed him supplements for his joints. He leans his white head against your leg. He's too deaf to hear that you're calling him Merlin, Merle for short.
He rewards you in the ways that only an old dog can. When you get home, you run your hands over his sides to let him know you're there. He lifts his head from his bed, then sighs and lowers it again, his tail thumping a gentle welcome. He sleeps on your feet while you watch television, his soft snores a reassurance.
He's with you for a year before you're sure you're right about him. The tumors shrink to the size of pebbles, then they're gone overnight. The cataracts disappear a few months later. One day, when you say his name, he turns his head to the sound of your voice.
You start to take long walks together, then longer. His limp smoothes out. The stiffness gives way to his true gaits: a surefooted trot, a headlong gallop. On a June hike, he darts into the brush and emerges soft-mouthing a sparrow. You take it from him, praise him, release it unharmed. This is the first of many.