I am the very reluctant, slightly disappointed sponsor of a small dog that can't stop shaking. Her name is Ellie and I must confess, though I feel for her they way one might feel for something that is pathetic, helpless, and nice and soft for the purposes of petting, my relationship with Ella is a purely transactional one. But I cannot in good conscience say no to a puppy – even a blurry photograph of one, behind plastic sheeting, inside a binder. If homeless people had sad puppy faces and liked to have their bellies scratched, I would be bankrupt.
In a way, I brought this upon myself. I was waiting for a friend, and chose the worst possible meeting point – leaning against a wall near the entrance of PetCo. (A colder, more impersonal name for a pet store would be difficult to imagine. Amalgamated Whiskers? FurCorp? Animal Factory?) I was positioned directly next to those pet carriers housing all sorts of blind, tick-ravaged pit bulls with trench mouth up for adoption. Obviously, someone was going to ask me for something at some point. I might as well have suggested a meeting place on the steps of the Hare Krishna temple.
Within seconds, a woman with a three-ring binder and "VOLUNTEER" pin on her tennis shirt pounced on me. She looked like the kind of girl who embroiders pillows for her cats and believes the soundtrack to the Broadway musical RENT is "edgy." She was thick around the ankles, loud, and aggressive – an amateur musical theater actress-turned-activist, and she got very close to me, then propped the binder open to a single-page spread featuring two clinically depressed-looking dogs, ELLIE and STELLA.
"Sponsor a dog! Sponsor a dog!! Awwwwwww!!! Wook at 'em!!! AWWWWWWW!!!" The volunteer pressed the open binder around my head as if she were using it to create a life mask, totally eclipsing my peripheral vision. She told me about Stella, a mini-Pinscher with deformed legs and a very stunning head shot. I remembered another friend of mine telling me she was sponsoring a dog named Stella, and I assumed this was her. Honestly, going by photos alone, it was easy to see why someone would want to invest in Stella over Ellie. Stella had star power, and seemed like she wasn't in a terrible amount of pain. By comparison, Ellie, was hopelessly pathetic. She was one of those MD kids Jerry Lewis hides in the back row at his telethons – the poor kids who can't control their wild muscular fits long enough to ask for help. Stella was the kind of dog that brings in sponsors – a $500 a day breadwinner – and Ellie seemed like the kind of dog that most of that money would go to, behind closed doors.
The volunteer emphasized the importance of tossing money Ellie's way. "She can't stop shaking! Check it out!" Then she jostled the binder a bit, making Ellie's picture double and triple up, to simulate the effects of a chronic neurological disorder. I was somewhat disgusted by the presentation and pitch of this sale, but not half as disgusted as I would have been had I said what I was thinking, which was, "I'm really more of a cat person."
I had already been feeling karmically imbalanced because earlier that day I had terribly inconvenienced a friend. And, because I'm a superstitious person instead of a spiritual one, I decided instant karmic payback was manifesting itself in the shape of a wobbly Jack Russel with more malfunctions than the HAL-9000.
So I handed over my credit card, and signed my name, while the volunteer danced around and high-fived one of her cohorts – perhaps meant to demonstrate this high energy activity was something Ellie would never be able to do, were it not for my generous donation. At the end of the transaction, I was handed Ellie's press kit, and informed that now Ellie will receive $20 a month from me, to be applied to her incurable shakes. (At my request, 5% of my monthly donations would be allotted for wardrobe and hair.) And, since this is a big city and other people must be equally conscience-stricken, particularly when it comes to dogs with the shakes, Ellie could be pulling in up to $200 a day – about as much as night manager at Taco Bell.