Excerpt from Play Dead by David Rosenfelt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Play Dead

By David Rosenfelt

Play Dead
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  • Hardcover: May 2007,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2009,
    384 pages.

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Play Dead

“ANDY, YOU’RE NOT GOING to believe this.”

This is the type of sentence that, when said in a vacuum, doesn’t reveal much. Whatever it is that I am not going to believe might be very positive or very negative, and there would be no way to know until I see it.

Unfortunately, this particular sentence is not said in a vacuum; it’s said in the Passaic County Animal Shelter. Which means that “positive” is no longer one of the possibilities.

The person speaking the words is Fred Brandenberger, whose job as shelter manager is an impossibly difficult one. There are far more dogs that come through his doors than potential adopters, and he therefore must helplessly supervise the euthanasia of those that are not taken. I know it drives Fred crazy; he’s been in the job for two years, and my guess is he’s not going to last much longer.

It bothers me to come here, and I rarely do. I leave this job to my former legal client, Willie Miller, who is my partner in the Tara Foundation, a dog rescue operation. We rescue a lot of dogs, over a thousand a year, but there are many more worthy ones that we simply do not have room for. I hate making the life-or-death decisions on which ones we will take, and Willie has been shouldering that responsibility.

Unfortunately, Willie and his wife, Sondra, are in Atlantic City for a few days, and we’ve got some openings for new dogs, so here I am. I’ve been dreading it, and based on what Fred has just said to me, I fear that dread has been warranted.

Fred leads me back to the quarantine room, which houses dogs who are sick or are unavailable to be adopted for other reasons. The other reason is usually that the dog has bitten someone; in that case they are held for ten days to make sure they don’t have rabies, and then put down. “Put down” is shelter talk for “killed.”

Fred points to a cage in the back of the quarantine room, and I walk toward it, cringing as I do. What is there turns out to be far worse than expected; it’s one of the most beautiful golden retrievers I’ve ever seen.

Golden retrievers do not belong in cages. Ever. No exceptions. The dog I’m looking at is maybe seven years old, with more dignity in his eyes than I could accumulate in seven hundred years. Those eyes are saying, “I don’t belong in here,” and truer eye words were never spoken.

I can feel myself getting angry at this obvious injustice. “What the hell is this about?” I ask as Fred walks over.

“He bit his owner. Eleven stitches,” Fred says. “Not that I blame him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for one thing, the owner is an asshole. And for another, he might not even be the owner.”

“Tell me everything you know,” I say.

It turns out that Fred doesn’t know that much. A man named Warren Shaheen, who had just come home from the hospital, called him to a house in Hawthorne. He said he had been bitten by his dog, Yogi, for no reason whatsoever. He wanted the dog taken to the shelter and put down.

As Fred and Yogi were leaving the house, a young boy who claimed to live next door approached. He said that Warren was always kicking the dog, and he was sure that the dog bit him in retaliation. Further, he claimed that Warren had found the dog wandering on the street less than three weeks ago and apparently made no effort to find the real owner.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

Fred shrugged. “You know the drill. After ten days, we put him down. We’re not allowed to adopt him out.”

I ask Fred if he’ll open the cage and let me take the dog out. He knows he shouldn’t, but does so anyway.

I take Yogi into a small room where potential adopters go to get to know the dogs they might take. I sit in the chair, and Yogi comes over to me. He has cut marks on his face, clearly visible in this light. They look old, perhaps remnants from some long-ago abuse. It’s likely that Yogi has not had the best life.

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Copyright © 2007 by David Rosenfelt

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