He arrived at the shelter when I wasn't there, so the first I saw of him was a rather pathetic lump of fur in the middle of a kennel floor. He was dehydrated and malnourished, and had quite likely not been bathed or brushed for most of his seven-year life. His eyes were milky, his tail as bare as a rat's, and he seemed to have a perpetual snarl on his face that was rather off-putting. And something about him just tightened around my heart and wouldn't let go.
I mixed puppy kibble with wet food, and brought it to him to nibble on while I brushed out his tangled mass of fur. About an hour later, Clifford looked slightly more dog-like, and the floor was sooty with the dirt of ages. I got a few half-hearted tail wags before I left, and that was more than enough.
In the days that followed, Clifford was bathed and fed. His fur became less matted, his eyes brighter, and his energy level much higher - he still had his "rat tail," but that was all right. And the snarl turned out to be nothing more than an awkward fatty tumor on his cheek. Things were on a slow and steady climb for my timid pal. Then one day, everything changed.
Returning from a walk outside, Clifford insisted on veering a hard right away from his kennel. What was originally a brief detour turned into a walk around the entire shelter, with Clifford pausing in front of each new dog that had come in. He was making the rounds, greeting each one and trying to embolden the frightened dogs. After that, Clifford stuck with me whenever I could let him, helping out as our original "therapy dog for dogs." Every bit of kindness we gave him, he seemed to pass along to timid and frightened neighbors tenfold. Except for Olson.
Olson was a bit of a problem dog - big, bossy, aggressive, and disrespectful. Doubly so toward other dogs. One day, when Clifford and I passed his kennel, Olson launched himself at the door, barking and snarling at the little spaniel as if he were going to chew his way through the wire. Clifford stood his ground, slowly turned, and just stared at the larger dog, clearly unimpressed. Olson barked again, a bit less confidently. Then timidly. Then he retreated to the back of his kennel, and curled up on the floor. Clifford turned to me, wagged his tail, and we continued onward as if nothing had happened.
As all great shelter dogs should be, Clifford was rescued, then adopted. He was given to someone as a gift, however, and the recipient didn't want a dog. Shortly thereafter, he found himself back at the Dallas SPCA. Since then, he's tested positive for heartworms as well. With his age and health counting against him, they've not found a good home for him yet (although his heartworm treatment is already paid for, apparently).
Clifford now, at the Dallas SPCA
If you have patience, dog-savvy, and a quiet place for him to recover, I would think that Clifford could be a great companion. He got perfect marks on his behaviour tests, even - no small feat for a spaniel. Although he's probably a bit long in the tooth to even consider training as a therapy dog, I would love nothing in the world more than for him to hook up with someone far more talented than I, who can bring out that "spark" I saw in him, and nurture it into true greatness.
UPDATE (July 29): Clifford's profile isn't on the SPCA page anymore. I really, really hope that means he was adopted over the weekend. The world kind of needs a dog like him about now, I think.