When Cody gave his first kiss, it was almost as if he didn’t quite know how to do it. He nuzzled his forehead against his shelter volunteer’s head, started wagging, and gave her the tiniest lick on the cheek.

“It meant so much to me,” Marie McCurry remembers.

adoptable dog Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

Source: Cynthia Raven / Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

To understand what was so special about that kiss, you have to go back to 2015, when a bruised and battered dog arrived at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter in Long Island.

The veterinarian assumed Cody must have been hit by a car and left on the side of the road, but even after all his physical wounds healed, the gentle dog curled up in a ball and trembled when he was left alone inside his kennel.

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Cody was frightened, but he never lashed out at anyone but himself. In the beginning, the little dog was so nervous he chewed on his own paws. When he was outside on walks, he desperately looked around for someone to bring him home and away from the shelter.

shelter dog with tennis ball

Source: Cynthia Raven / Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

Cody slowly but surely learned how to trust through games of fetch. When he’s outside, Marie describes him as “joy in motion.”

When she opens his kennel door after days away, he rushes towards her, unable to contain his happiness.

Source: Cynthia Raven / Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

Source: Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

She’s also discovered something else: Cody knows “sit” and “paw.” She doesn’t know how— perhaps he was in a home at one point. Cody gets so excited when Marie asks him for his paw that it’s more like a high-five than a shaking of hands.

The way Cody plays is especially poignant because for him, the whole point of having fun is sharing it someone else. After they play fetch, Marie takes Cody on a walk, and he always brings the tennis ball with him as they go.

Related: Lonely Dog Has The Most Heartbreaking Reaction To Tennis Balls

“He’s carrying the tennis ball because he thinks I want him to,” the volunteer says, “He thinks it’s his job, and it makes him proud to be doing a good job.”

dog gives paw

Source: Cynthia Raven / Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

When it’s time for him to go back inside his cage and say goodbye to the volunteers, Cody grows sad and depressed.

The other day, Marie was looking through old pictures of Cody, and she saw one of him playing in the snow. She knew it couldn’t have been taken this winter, so she checked the record for Cody’s intake date. She was stunned to see her friend had been at the shelter for over a year. It had gone by so quickly, and the gentle dog had never had a single meet and greet with a potential adopter.

Source: Cynthia Raven / Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

Source: Cynthia Raven / Hempstead Town Animal Shelter

With every passing month, Cody loses out the chance to be a part of a family, but Marie says it’s more than that.

“Cody’s family, wherever they are, is also missing out every day they don’t come for him,” she explains, “These are days they are never going to get back.”