It would be a dog. It had to be. I’d always been a dog person, and dogs loved me. Whenever I took a walk through the park they flocked to me, tales wagging, mouths wide and smiley, desperate for me to throw them a stick or a ball or give them a tickle behind the ear. I’d never come across a dog I didn’t like, or who didn’t like me. I was 99.9% sure I was going to matched with a dog.
Waiting in line at the adoption centre was torture. I could hear the barks and meows and squeaks and squawks from the back of the line, and excitement was bubbling throughout the entire queue. Some people had already picked out names for their pets, despite being clueless as to what type of animal they were destined to be matched with.
That’s how Pawfect Match works, you see. You don’t choose your new pet – they choose you. You walk amongst the pens, past dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, snakes and lizards, and the animal that is destined for you points you out and makes you their own.
But I was confident that the animal that chose me would be a dog. I didn’t care what breed or size or colour it was. As long as it was canine, I’d be happy. If it wasn’t? Well. I guess I’d give a polite “No, thank you” and head to the dog shelter around the corner and pick one out. But it was definitely going to be a dog. Dogs loved me.
As I reached the front of the line, the Pawfect Match adoption manager ran through a series of questions I’d already memorised, having heard them be asked ten times over while I waited in the queue. Are you permitted to keep animals in your home? Do you live with anyone else? Will you be solely responsible for the keeping of this animal? Are you financially stable enough to pay for veterinary bills whenever they might arise. Do you understand that you will never be able to swap the animal for another from Pawfect Match? And on, and on.
I gave snappy yes and no answers to the questions, practically bouncing up and down on the spot as I waited to be matched with my new pet. I could hear the faint whine of a dog and wondered if it could sense that it’s perfect owner was near.
“Okay, we’re all set. Follow me – we’re going to take a slow walk through the corridor. Feel free to look at the animals but please don’t speak to them. The right pet will speak to you.”
I nodded at the adoption manager and followed him into the corridor.
First came the dogs. There was a huge, fluffy white one that looked like a wolf and gazed at me with calm, patient eyes. Beside him was a tiny Chihuahua which appeared to have yapped for so long that its voice had almost disappeared. Then there was a bouncy little mutt chasing its tail and panting like a maniac. Finally, there was stocky Staffordshire Bull Terrier which wagged its tail joyously to prove that it wasn’t anywhere near as tough as it looked.
While I would have taken any and all of them home in an instant, the volunteer said nothing to me; it seemed that none of them had “spoken to me” just yet. But that would change, I was sure, when I made a second sweep of the corridor.
The dog pens soon gave way to tiny glass enclosures in which rodents and reptiles resided. A snake flashed its forked tongue at me, while a hamster dozed in a bed of cosy wood shavings in the cage beside it, oblivious that it would have been prey to its neighbour had a plastic divide not separated them. I saw lizards basking on rocks beneath heat lamps, shaggy-haired bunnies nibble on carrot sticks and darling little guinea pigs whose noses wiggled as they sniffed at the air.
Birds came next, but most of the avian enclosures were empty. There was a single, yellow parakeet which hopped up and down its perch. As I peered at him he stopped his dance and bobbed his head toward me.
“Fuck off, you bastard!”
The adoption manager tutted and told the bird to pipe down. “Don’t take offence, he says that to everybody.”
Then there were the cats. Lots of them. They all glared at me with indifference, their bright, piercing eyes exhibiting as much abhorrence for me as I felt for them. I could feel a tickle in the back of my throat already. I was so little a cat person that my body even rejected their fur. There was no way I’d be taking a cat home. I was all about the dogs.
We reached the end of the corridor, and as I turned in readiness to make my second sweep and have a dog fall in love with me, I caught the eye of a small, ginger cat which was rubbing its face along the bars of its enclosure and purring like a chainsaw.
The adoption manager saw me look and I immediately turned away to prove my disinterest.
“This is Princess. She’s a female. Ginger females are pretty rare, y’know?”
I gave an indifferent “Mm?” in response, and focused my gaze on the opposite end of the corridor, where I was sure my canine companion lay waiting for me.
“Not a cat person?” the adoption manager probed.
“Nah, not really.”
“Tough. You’ll take me.”
I looked at the volunteer. He gave me a nervous laugh. “Looks like she’s chosen you.”
Princess gazed at me with cold, green eyes. Her purring had ceased, and the tip of her tail flicked back and forth threateningly.
“You’ll take me, and you won’t complain.” The voice was deep and undoubtedly female. It was also from the home counties, judging by the rounded vowels and considered enunciation of the letter T. It appeared that the adoption manager, who had a broad Yorkshire drawl, was highly skilled in voice acting. And ventriloquism.
“But I don’t like cats,” I said bluntly, both to the adoption manager and to the cat, just in case.
“I’m afraid she likes you,” the adoption manager said with a shrug.
“Like is an awfully strong word. But I could quite possibly tolerate you, provided that you fed me well and –”
I stared at the adoption manager, looking for any tell-tale signs that it was him uttering the words.
“Pay attention, you dolt!”
My eyes went back to the cat. She looked angry. I supposed I’d better listen.
“Provided that you feed me well and only stroke me when I give clear permission and don’t even think about trimming my claws, then I shall tolerate you.”
Her vivid green eyes never left mine and I couldn’t seem to break her gaze.
“You will feed me only fresh, raw meat, and you’ll allow me to sleep on your chest each night, regardless of your supposed allergy. I’ll be permitted to scratch at the furniture at will, and you shall open and close doors for me whenever I demand it. And you will fall in love with me, given enough time. Although I’ll continue to simply tolerate you. Do you understand?”
“Then tell the man.”
“I’ll take her.”
Wait, what? The words came out of my mouth before I even knew they were in my head.
The cat broke out her chainsaw purr once more, and the adoption manager grinned at me.
I shook my head and tried to backtrack, tried to say I wouldn’t take her, tried to avoid signing the adoption contract, tried to resist picking up the her cage and driving her home, but I couldn’t. The spell had already been cast and it seemed I was incapable of breaking it.
And that is how I became a slave to a small, ginger cat with a home counties accent and a penchant for scratching the furniture.
This short story was inspired by a prompt no. 312 from ThinkWritten.com: “Wait Your Turn: Write about having to wait in line.” Although I guess I got a little off track…