A short story by: Thomas Pryce
I’m trembling, but she’s holding me so tight I can’t be sure it’s not her. Lying on my side I look up to see tears streaming down her cheeks. Some fall free and touch me. I sense pain as much as I smell the salt in her tears. At the moment I’m confused, I don’t know why she’s crying. Of all the tricks I’d learned over the years - sit, fetch, roll over, play dead - none tested my intellect, or were anywhere near as important to me, as mastering the trick of how to stop a little girl from crying.
To start, I’d wag my tail and circle and walk into something clumsily. Once distracted, I’d nuzzle in close and put my long nose on her lap, or feign a whimper of my own. Or sometimes I’d simply take the tears from her cheeks with a few playful licks of my tongue. And in no time at all she’d stop crying. Then she’d hug me and sing the song that I always longed to hear, forgetting why she’d been crying. But tonight, I can do nothing to stop her tears. Because for the life of me…
I can’t even lift my head.
As you might’ve guessed, I’m a dog, Canis lupus familiaris - German Shepherd, to be exact. William Princeton Wanderlust is my full AKC name, but most folks just call me Willie. At the moment, my mind’s a little fuzzy, and I’m at a loss. Why I’m lying here in the arms of my best friend, I don’t exactly know. When it comes back to me, I’ll fill you in. Meanwhile, to kill time, I could tell you about my life. Especially since, for some reason, it’s all right in front of my eyes right now.
I was born almost nine years ago in the luxurious home of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Stratford of Bedford, NY. The Stratford’s were wonderful folks, generous and caring, and had been human friends to my parents since they were puppies. Like my parents, the Stratford’s were of the finest pedigree themselves, blueblood and pure-bred, no ifs ands or mutts about it.
My folks were both famous; dad won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show two years in a row, and mom was a cover-girl for Purina before she got pregnant. But those accomplishments paled in comparison to the job they did as parents.
Mom took up the lion’s share of raising us. And even though dad spent a lot of time traveling, when he was around, he was caring and supportive. Retired from the dog show scene, his top-dog genes were in such high demand that he was often called away for stud. It would seem that Mr. Stratford’s seed was also highly desirable. For almost every Tuesday while Mrs. Stratford was off playing tennis, he’d breed with the Spanish housekeeper, Dominga, bending her over the custom-made luxury leather sectional in what could only be described as doggie style style.
Of a modest litter, I was the first to emerge, followed by two brothers and two sisters. Along with mom, dad, the Stratford’s, Dominga, and a fancy Himalayan cat named Gertrude; we made up a tight knit nuclear pack. I remember those days like it was yesterday, can see it all in my mind’s eye, hear the echo of my mother’s soft canine voice as she’d tell us we were good doggies. Blessed with health and a caring family, we enjoyed a storybook puppyhood from the moment we nursed until we grew into weenagers. The sky was the limit with a start like that.
Months later, one by one, we began leaving home. My four younger siblings all left before me, each time to a handsome human couple in exchange for a handsome pile of green paper. The excitement of those moments was always an emotional conflict; the promise of adventure neutered by the stark reality of splitting up. Since we were bred as show dogs, there was always the chance we’d meet again at competition. But there were no guarantees.
It took a while, but my day finally arrived. Mom kept my spirits up by assuring me that every dog eventually has his day. Having been passed over so many times it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was somehow different. It seems I lacked the sloping spine that was essential to show dogs of my breed. And although healthy and strong, even stronger than most of my kind, a straight back was the kiss of death for a German Sheppard show dog. In a case of categorical canine irony, my flawless spine made me flawed, I’d never be able to follow in my father’s paw prints.
I never let it bother me, far be it for me to cry in my kibble. Besides, I never really craved fame and fortune anyway. I was a simple pooch, all I ever really wanted was to be wanted, to have purpose, to be a good dog, to be somebody’s best friend. And in exchange for a modest pile of green paper, I got all that, and I was off to run with a new pack. I couldn’t have been happier with my fate.
I was off to protect and serve.
I worked for the state troopers in Westchester, N.Y. and I loved my job; and at the risk of sounding immodest, I was one a heck of a cop. My partner Jeb was also a great cop, and one heck of a human. Kind and understanding, Jeb had a delightful aura. From the moment we met my instincts told me we’d be best friends. Dogs know these things because dogs can see a lot more than meets the eye. A kind of ESP (extra sensory pawception), we see animal essence as glow, and Jeb had an almost saintly glow about him.
Jeb and I did everything together, and I even got to live with him. Although I sometimes missed my biological family, I never regretted not becoming a show dog. Weighed against my day to day endeavors as a police dog - busting drug pushers, search and rescue, arresting drunk drivers - the notion of strutting down a runway posing for ego treats seemed more than a trifle frivolous to me. I’d found my niche, I was happy, and more importantly, thanks to Jeb’s constant reassurance, I knew I was a good dog.
A year later my life changed dramatically. It happened during a routine stop along the Taconic State Parkway. We pulled over to help a woman whose car had broken down. Jeb got out and helped her with a flat tire as I watched from the back seat of the cruiser. Although not really our job, with snow falling a few miles north and heading our way, the Road Rangers were all already slammed, and no way Jeb was going to make the poor woman do it by herself. Besides, it was the holiday season, the time of joy and giving. Jeb’s aura reflected the spirit; he glowed like the road flares spaced along the road behind us.
I saw the threat coming from several hundred yards away, my danger radar set off by a faint squeal of rubber audible only to the ear of a canine. Through the back window I could see the SUV swerving as it approached from behind. My first instinct was to bark and show teeth, which I did, enough to make a grizzly bear shudder and shit. But the gesture couldn’t be any more irrelevant to this predator, a hulking heedless beast of steel. As the vehicle drew nearer I could see the driver behind the wheel. His diseased glow told me more than anything that trouble was imminent. I turned and barked as loud as I could to try and warn Jeb. But my cries were lost amid the sounds of the running engine, traffic, and the interloping shrill of storm. Jeb and the young lady remained unaware of the approaching danger.
Shatter-proof glass or not, I had to get out, I needed to warn my partner. Without thought, I slammed my shoulder against the side window. Nothing. The glass absorbed the blow. I regained my balance and looked back. The car was now closer, still swerving in a careless and inebriated pattern. At all costs, I had to get out. It was my job to warn them, or take the bullet. Coiling back on my haunches I launched at the glass again, head first; hoping the hard bone of my skull would do the trick. The glass spiderwebbed with an earsplitting crack, but the window remained intact. My head filled with fog and my vision went dark. I smelled blood and tasted dripping metallic warmth. I shook my head to clear it, looked out. The noise had been enough to get Jeb’s attention. Kneeling by the front tire, he looked up to see the out of control SUV. But it was too late. My warning only served to allow Jeb the witness of his death. Through fading vision I watched as the SUV swerved past our police car and slam into the car parked ahead. Jeb and the woman were crushed road-kill flat. The driver of the SUV managed to survive the wreckage. His only injuries were a broken collar bone, a few scratches, and a hangover.
Following a long stay in the hospital, I mended, at least as much as I ever would. A good part of me wished that my coma be eternal. Measured against the loss of my best friend, the lingering pain of a shattered orbital bone and permanent blindness in my right eye were trivial.
They told me I was a hero, that I was special; they even gave me a medal - honors I felt I did not deserve. The surveillance camera on the dash had recorded the entire event – video of the crash along with the audio of my actions - even the so called animal experts couldn’t believe the degree of my resolve. The praise did little to offset my inner pain, and only served to underscore my failure to protect and serve. Jeb was gone forever, and I shouldered a great deal of the blame. No longer was I so certain that I was a good dog.
My days taking a bite out of crime officially over, I was adopted. I remember the moment I met my new owner. I call him an owner, as opposed to human friend, because that’s what he was, and I was a possession. Although a cop too, his aura was all wrong, his glow sick and misshapen with distemper. His deception carefully portrayed and cloaked in blue, nobody else could see the lies of course, but to me it was obvious. From the taint of K-9 rage on his skin to the nose on his face, this person was no friend to animals, least of all dogs. I knew this experience was not going to be good, I’d rather have been adopted by a Korean chef, but what could I do. I was just a dog. So I did what I was told and left obediently, tethered on the end of his leash.
His name was Vic Michael.
Several months later, after allowing the fanfare to die down, Vic drove me to a rundown warehouse on the edge of the county line. Approaching the warehouse, it didn’t take long to put the pieces together, the smell told me everything. Although packed with ugly odors and ugly animals, human and canine alike, the makeshift arena inside the warehouse triggered nostalgia, reminding me of my family. I’d never been to a dog show before, but the arrangement, crude and as it was, brought me to the occasion of such an event. I found myself breathing a sigh of relief knowing that my siblings were somewhere far away from here, somewhere safe; and glad that it was me that fate had dropped here instead of one of them. I was pretty sure that an elegant sloping spine would be no great advantage in this dog eat dog world.
Turned out, it was a dog show alright. But this extravaganza was geared to entertain a whole other type of crowd. A crowd made of people that glowed with callous souls, the very breed Jeb and I had once spent our days trying to bring to justice. Like the wretched spread of fleas, the many caged dogs had taken on the parasitic glow of their owners, mangy and frayed and red with rage. Looking at them, I was never so happy to be born with a strong feral spine and the spirit of the wolf. At least it’d give me a fighting chance. Before heading off to take in the festivities, Vic sold me to some thug with an equally scabrous glow for a fistful of dirty green paper.
The dog standing before me was clearly built for this shit. All muscle and mandible and boasting the name Mayhem, that it was a dog was only vaguely apparent. The beast could’ve just as easily been a monster bred in the womb of nightmares. Standing eye to eye with this aberration, I’m not afraid to admit…
…I was afraid.
Tossed into the arena without warning, it was trial by fire in this survival of the fittest meat grinder. There was no doubt I was the underdog. Mayhem had the obvious advantage – experience, pit-bull pedigree, teeth like a crocodile – but I was not just a helpless herding dog. And although not so obvious, I had a few tricks of my own - superior intellect, leverage, and a displaced rage just looking for a pound of flesh in which to be placed. Mayhem also didn’t have three metal plates screwed into his skull. Knowing how much humans valued their little green paper, I hoped Vic had placed his entire pile on Mayhem.
I knew Mayhem wanted to taste the gore of my throat, because I wanted to taste his just as bad. But if he got hold of my neck with that drooling bear-trap of a mouth, I was in for something mawful. And to make a lunge for his would risk just that. He was clearly a quicker dog, but not so quick. So I knew I had to use my head.
The look on his face was one of utter shock – eyes going wide as lips lifted in lupine surprise - when he saw me bend down, crawl close, and let him bite down on my head. I was careful to offer my right side, the side with the metal plates, the side where I had lost the eye. Truly blind-sided, Mayhem never saw the ruse till it was too late. He clamped down eagerly; certain he had the upper paw. Once affixed, I knew he’d hold on like a tick. Even as I stood to my full height and he came up off the ground, his front paws scrabbling in a heedless dog paddle. He held on even as I began to lope across the arena. He held on even as I began to pick up speed and growl so deep and menacing that many in the crowd flinched in primal fear. Only when I slammed him into the steel I-beam support did he let go. And to his credit, it was not because he wanted to. A mouthful of shattered teeth and a severely fractured spine simply made it impossible to do anything but.
The tactic I used to kill Mayhem was the same I used to beat all the rest. From the likes of Animal Lector, Jaws, Disembow-wow and David Barkawitz; they all fell for it. Sure it took a toll; my once majestic good looks shredded to rawhide and my psyche corrupted with hot spot anxiety. But I did what I had to do to survive. With victory came great sacrifice.
I beat up more dogs than I care to remember, but never killed another after Mayhem. It wasn’t that Mayhem deserved it, or was any worse than any of the other mongrels. They were all bad dogs. Mayhem just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The others simply needed to know that there was a new sheriff in town, and what better way than to convey by example. As I tore out Mayhems throat all I could think about was the drunk driver that killed Jeb. After taking out Mayhem, my bloodlust for revenge had been sufficiently slaked. I had gotten my eye for an eye.
The police raid came a year later. I was in the midst of a fight and cut up pretty bad at the time. Odd as it may sound, I was one lucky dog. Had I been penned when they came, I’d have been trapped and taken away like the others, instead of being able to flee. I actually felt a little sorry for the poor bastards stuck in their cages, for their fate would no doubt be cruel. They’d likely pay for their crimes with their hides, while the Pavlovian puppeteers of their sins would get a mere three to five.
Once free, I ran and ran till every molecule of rot from the warehouse was free from the sky. Only then did I stop, rest, and lick my wounds. Hunkering down in an overgrown culvert behind a strip mall, I sighed and counted my blessings, the nightmare was finally over. Under no circumstances would I ever go back to fighting, not even at gunpoint. My time as a gladiator was so dreadful that it seemed much longer than a year. To me it felt more like seven.
The next few months I wandered the streets, rabid with distrust, doing my best to avoid human contact. And anytime anyone did see me, even a glimpse, their reaction was always the same - dogmatic fear. Even friendly folks looked away and hurried off with their proverbial tails between their legs. Who could really blame them; I was hideous, my face damaged beyond the point even a mother could love. On the upside, at least I now had dog show talent; I’d be a lock to win any ugly dog contest.
I survived by feeding on urban Alpo; squirrels, rats and occasionally cats, which turned out to be my new favorite food. A single cat not only provided sufficient protein to last several days, but had great texture, and tasted like chicken. Dumpster diving could be productive, but the risk often outweighed the reward. Making too much of a mess could upset the man, and in so doing, bring down the wrath of the local Animal Control Office.
I eventually settled down in a narrow alley a little closer to the city of White Plains. It was the perfect place to rest my bones. Although dark, dirty, and cold, the alley was quiet and seemingly safe. Save for the occasional human strays that slept in cardboard condos, the place was all mine. Three busy restaurants were backed up against the alley, making it a happy hunting ground. Plenty of garbage not only meant plenty of leftovers, but plenty of rats. And since one of the joints served traditional Chinese fare, I still got to enjoy my favorite dish. Even sautéed and vigorously seasoned I could still smell the cat meat a mile away. More than once I was amused by the study of homeless people squatting in the alley eating cans of dog food while I dined on leftover human cuisine.
Trying to mentally escape the dark walls of alley and skull was about as productive as chasing my tail. Dogged with chronic depression, all I did was sleep. And that’s how the Animal Control Officers were able to sneak up on me. Sure, I could’ve escaped, fought my way free. But my body just didn’t respond, depression manifesting itself in shock-collar surrender. Besides, evading the two ACO’s would’ve meant putting teeth to flesh. And although I’d bitten plenty of other animals, I’d never bitten a human, and I didn’t think I even could. These two ACO’s were just doing their job; there was no trace of malice in their aura. A heavy set black man and a young blonde lady, they both glowed brightly with animal empathy. So I laid my head down and allowed them to slip the harness around my neck, and without even a whimper of protest, I quietly left with them, even knowing full well I was a dead dog walking.
Three weeks locked in a cage at the pound and I was about ready to do the deed myself, but I lacked the suicidal will of humans and lemmings. Miserable as a mutt with a severe case of heartworm, and my nose crusted dry with depression, I’d truly lost hope. The folks at the shelter were all humane humans; the decision to destroy me did not come lightly. Dogs subjected to violence rarely got a second chance, that’s just the way it goes. By scanning my micro-chip, they knew I was a police dog at one time, and they were all duly sympathetic. But weighed against a dubious history since, a poor attitude, and a truly menacing appearance, I was not a viable candidate for adoption. I couldn’t really blame them. If I was a person in search of a shaggy companion, I’d probably go with the cute frisky schnauzer mix in the next cage over as well.
I sensed her before I even saw her. The leading edge of her glow enlivened the air with hope, even from down the hall. Basking in her aura at that moment was like chewing on a Prozac Milk-bone, exhilarating and calming all at once. A strange sound suddenly issued fourth, pulling me from my thoughts. Thump, thump, thump. My head came up off the floor as my ears stood tall. Why were they knocking, was my first thought? Then I realized that the thumping noise came from somewhere else. I looked behind me and more surprised I could not be. But there it was, slapping against the side of the cage in time with my racing heart. I couldn’t remember the last time my tail wagged.
Along with her parents and a volunteer from the Animal Control Unit, she entered the holding area. The anticipation in the air was palpable as this little girl made her way down the corridor; you didn’t have to be a bloodhound to sense it. Dogs all up and down the line were aquiver with hope, tails flailing at the prospect of adoption. Even flea-bag Phil, the 13 year old setter across the way was up and doing the pick me dance. Starved and left for dead in an abandoned old building by his former owner, I found it more than laudable that at his age, and after all he’d been through, he had not abandoned hope.
As one of the largest shelters in Westchester County, there were always folks coming through, which usually led to several successful pairings of man and best friend each week. Feeling unworthy and resigned to my fate, I had never once taken part in these dog and pony shows. But on this day, that all changed. Frisky with desire I stood and moved to the front of my cage, eager to meet her. The competition was stiff, no doubt about it, and I was far from the pick of the litter. But I just had to give it a go, ugly face and all.
Coming into view, I became aware of her damage. The crutches, the body cast, and the cautious gate told me less of her condition than the powerful smells of daubed tinctures and blood weeping from derma that had yet to fully knit. The rest of the story came in sound bites as her parents shared details of their eight-year old daughter’s surgery with the attending ACO. The little girl had recently undergone an extensive procedure to help correct the scoliosis she’d been born with. I was deeply moved by the news, felt solidarity of spirit with this young creature, and was convinced more than ever that we were meant to be together. I knew I could provide her with all the love and protection she’d ever need, as well as the service of a sturdy back to lean on while hers continued to mend. I just had to convince her that I was the one, and, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that I was a good dog.
With willowy brown hair and innocent blue eyes, her physical beauty outshined the promise of her glow. Her charming smile appealed to my inner puppy, and I began to smile too. I moved to the front of my cage, allowing her to see me fully. As hideous as I looked; it’d do no good to start off with a lie. So I muzzled my anxiety and stood tall, and looked into her eyes. She stopped before my cage and slowly reached out. Careful not to startle her, I pushed my nose through the bars and gently licked her hand. And in that instant, I knew that she wanted me too. Somehow, someway, she managed to see the beauty beneath the beast.
With all that this child had been through, and all she undoubtedly still faced, she was undaunted in her joy. Even burdened with countless titanium rods and wires, her smile never faded, her glow never dimmed. Against the backdrop of her courage, I suddenly felt embarrassed by my recent behavior. Her mettle gave me strength, reviving my will to go on.
On that day a bond had been formed, without motive, without explanation, two souls merging in wonderful symbiosis. Apparently the powers that be took note of our connection, because my adoption was green lighted. Exactly how it happened, I don’t know. But after considerable debate and a long afternoon of closely supervised interaction, the miracle happened. It would seem that they realized I was only a sheep in wolf’s clothing after all. Later that day, following the signing of disclaimers and the exchange of a paper thin pile of green paper, I was free. Happy and inspired I was once again hopeful of the future, now that I had a new leash on life, a new home, and a new friend named Lisa.
In the dog show of life the next years were the best in show. Six years seemed to pass almost as fast as the replay flashing before my eyes right now. Coming nearly full circle, the Duckworth’s home was not far from the idyllic upscale neighborhood where I was born. Quiet and filled with suburban bliss, we even had a fenced back yard that encircled half an acre of manicured greenery. I did my part to keep it all well fertilized. So content was I with my new home that I didn’t even mind sharing turf with Larry, Curly, and Moe; the cat, the hamster, and the goldfish that lived with us. I was just thankful to be part of a well bred pack again. We were all family, even the stooges, and that’s all that really mattered to me.
From the moment of my rescue Lisa and I did everything together. Over the years I watched her grow from a little girl into a fine young lady. Her spine healed straight and strong, only a thin scar remained as evidence of the surgery. When we played in the yard, she was even able to run and roll in the grass with me, and did so with the full blown zest of adolescence. Life was good and Lisa was the best, and in my eyes, she could do no wrong. It didn’t even bother me when she dressed me up as a reindeer each Christmas or a bumble bee on Halloween. It never bothered me when she painted my toes with pink nail polish or combed my hair till it hurt. And it didn’t bother me when she washed me in the bathtub and got soap in my eye, normally a major pet peeve of mine.
Over the years, Lisa made sure to always tell me that I was a good dog, something I had not heard in some time. She even put the words to a song that she made up as a child, and sang it to me every night before we went to sleep. “My Willie, Willie, Willie…My Willie is a good doggie.” Simple as it was, the song was more reassuring to me than she probably ever realized. Considering what I had been through, and after some of the things I had to do to survive, I had grown more than a little insecure about myself. But thanks to her unconditional love I learned to trust again, which restored my self esteem to its former rank. Once again a proud dog, I gave myself over to her without terms. Lisa and I became BFF’s.
I’m trembling, and now I know why. The scene has just replayed in my mind’s eye, the confusion has cleared. I now know why I’m lying in her arms on the side of the road. It happened only moments ago. We were in the midst of our evening walk. I had my nose in the grass checking out the smells left by other dogs and leaving a few marks of my own…you know, doing the Facebook thing. The stroll had been uneventful, the night sky beautiful and still, the quiet scratched only by crickets and toads offering hymn to the moon. But as we walked slowly along Green Lane the peaceful night suddenly turned threatening.
I had just lifted my leg to a shrub when I heard the sound from behind. Subtle as a dog whistle, Lisa did not hear it. But to me it was jarring, enough to halt my pee stream mid-squirt. The growl of Goodyear on pavement had my head up in an instant, the hair on my back stiffening in kind. The car turning into the neighborhood took the turn way too wide and way too fast, and I knew right away that something was wrong. From the haphazard manner of its advance to the sick glow behind the wheel, I knew what it meant; I’d seen the symptoms before. The metallic beast was diseased.
I stared for a moment, monitoring the creatures advance, but the drunk driver made no correction. The swerving vehicle was still approaching from behind on the wrong side of the street, and heading right toward us. I looked back to Lisa. She was still unaware of the danger. I thought to bark out a warning, but then I thought better. That would draw her attention to me, and not to the fast approaching apex predator. And by the time she reacted, it might be too late - a chance I was unwilling to take.
An idea struck, and I took note of the leash. It was wrapped around her wrist, as it usually was. Perfect. I knew the move would be sudden, and might startle her a bit, but I also knew that it would insure her wellbeing. And that’s all that really mattered to me. It was in that moment that I had a strange rush of clarity. It all suddenly made sense - my path, my purpose, my reason for being alive; even my strong straight spine factored into the moment of fate.
I leaned back and pulled to take up the slack in the leash. Then in one quick move I stepped back and turned, pulling harder. The move was perfect; using my strong back I was able to sling her off the street and onto the grass. She landed a yard and a half onto the neighbor’s lawn, and there was even a thick Maple Tree between her and the car, just in case - this beast was so unpredictable.
Lisa was safe, and I was proud of my action. It was a perfect maneuver, textbook in both execution and result. The fact that the move left me exposed did not diminish its perfection. Lisa rolled once and pushed up to a sitting position, shocked but uninjured. She opened her mouth to question my action, but by that point the reason had already become apparent. I looked into her eyes and watched them fill with terror. She screamed. I moved to escape, tried to jump away from the out of control automobile, but it was too late. The speeding beast slammed into me.
Her scream hurt me far more than the impact.
Lying in her arms, I taste blood and I know that I’m going to die. I know this because I know what death looks like. Based on the damage and what I know of deaths timeline, I can count my remaining breaths on one paw. I look down to see that my body has been cut in half, my spine crushed and twisted horribly. Most of the pink tubes that keep me alive have spilled out on the pavement and glisten in the moonlight. Steam rises slowly from the pooling blood. I’m a mess, I’m weak, I’m afraid. Surprisingly, there is little physical pain.
Lisa hugs me fiercely in her arms; I can feel her anguish in tremors and tears. Her glow is blue with heartache, her cries cutting and cold. I am worried about her. All I want to do is lick the tears from her face and let her know that everything will be okay. But I cannot lift my head to do so. My mind fills with panic - I don’t want to die. I don’t want to leave her. But I must stay strong, for her distress is already in the danger zone.
Lights come on in the houses around us. A spot light comes on from the closest home. A young man runs toward us. He has a good glow; he’ll help see Lisa through this. Hearing the commotion, others come out of their homes to help. My breathing has suddenly slowed and my thoughts begin to fade. A sharp pain stabs at my chest, and I know that my heart cannot go on. I will not be here by the time help arrives. I hear someone shout to call the police.
The moment has arrived and I’m cold and frightened. Before my eyes close for eternity, I look up at Lisa. Her face brings me comfort. Her tears have slowed and her aura has regained strength. Through fading vision I see her lips moving, then hear her soft voice. She is singing. “My Willie, Willie, Willie…My Willie is a good doggie.” Over and over she sings the words as she strokes my head. The song eases my pain and I am no longer afraid to die. Because I know that in time she will be okay. And I know in my heart, and without any doubt, that I was a good dog.
Although a work of fiction, this story was inspired by true events. Twenty-something years back, I was sitting in my parents basement, hammering away on my Brother word processor when I heard the squeal of tires, a sharp thud, and a short scream. It was evening, maybe nine PM. I quickly got up and ran outside, turning on the spot lights as I did. Down on the ground on the edge of the front lawn was a young girl from the neighborhood (maybe 14 years old, Jeremy was her name as I recall). In her arms was her dog, a large German Shepherd mix that she walked around the block every evening like clockwork.
As I approached my heart nearly stopped. I could see that the dog had been run over and nearly cut in half, its torso twisted and horribly broken. Blood was everywhere. The young girl was holding the upper portion of the dog in her arms, rocking and crying. The leash was still wrapped around her arm as well as fastened to the dog collar. I was stunned, felt a cold stab of panic and my knees weaken. I don’t know what affected me more at that moment - the fact that the dog had been so badly crushed, or the depth of pain in this young girls tears. She was in shock and trembling uncontrollably. To this day I am hard pressed to recall ever seeing tears so genuine and powerful. I thought the poor girl was going to spontaneously combust on the spot. I kneeled down and put my arm around her, asked if she was hurt (she wasn’t) and told her that everything was going to be okay. To her credit, she actually handled the situation about as well as anyone could have. On the periphery I heard other neighbors running out to help. Mr. Lemaster was running over from across the street, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing the stability of an adult was on the way.
The dog took two breaths as I kneeled next to them. Two breaths. Two breaths and then he just stopped breathing. I’m no dog whisperer but I swear I saw three things in that dog’s eyes during those two breaths – he was scared, he was proud, and he loved Jeremy with all of his heart. I have forgotten much over the years, but I will never forget those two breaths.
The dog had been hit by a drunk driver. Given the direction the car came from, he had to have swerved all the way across the street to hit them. He never stopped. A witness had gotten a fleeting look at the car, and we all had a pretty good idea who had done it. But somehow the guy got out of it. The details are vague on how he managed, but as I recall, his wife had covered for him somehow, and there was little follow up by the police. Back in those days the crusade against drunk driving had yet to really coalesce, and the cops just let him slip away without much follow up or investigation. The fact that the girl was not physically hurt probably played into their lack of effort. And after all, it was only a dog that got killed.
*photo courtesy of dailypuppy.com