I tried to be good, but it’s been so hard since my master didn’t come home. That was the last time it was cold. It’s since turned hot, and now it’s back to cold again. I’m sorry I broke things, but I was hungry, and after four days… I knew where the food was. Eventually people came – people I didn’t know. They swatted my nose and yelled. I didn’t know what to do, only that they didn’t want me around, so I fled.
I wasn’t wanted on the streets either. The pavement had been hot – so hot – under my paws that just finding a patch of grass to rest on was comforting. Until I was shooed off again, at least. I figured out the trash bin routine pretty easily, and survived off those for a while. Not everyone was mean, though. The shorter ones – the ones that giggled – would even play with me until their taller counterparts took them away and kicked at me until I left too.
I miss my master terribly. He was nice, and had grass. I could run. He called me a good boy.
But that’s over now.
Eventually one of the people found me and caught my fur. I realize now that the moist food was a trap, meant to lure me in. I was just so hungry! They snared me, tying a rope around my neck to keep me there. I was handed from person to person – I can’t tell you how many, only that most smelled like animals that had been as panicked as I felt in that moment.
I ended up here, on this hard, cold floor, surrounded by metal and other barkers. I try to tell myself that I’m a good boy, like my master always said, but I get scared sometimes. It’s not so bad, I know. I don’t have to dig for good, and the humans – on the occasion that I see one – are nicer. But there’s no room to run, and I miss running. Sometimes I even dream about it. Until my claws scraping the concrete wakes me up again.
Now, just as I’m putting my head on my paws to huff a sigh, a barking chain starts. It originates from several kennels down and quickly floods the whole building. My nose reflexively goes to the air. Humans. But not the humans that bring food. There are two distinct kinds of humans nowadays. Some smell like all the other animals here, and they always come and go, sometimes even petting me when I’m good.
The other kind scare me. There are more of the, and they come smelling like all sorts of things. They seem kind enough, but I’ve noticed that sometimes when they visit another kennel, that animal doesn’t return. In a couple of days the spot is refilled by a completely different dog, and its previous occupant is gone forever.
Every once in a while a crazy whim would overtake me, hoping that once – just once – it would be my master to take me home. But it never was.
This time the humans smelled like one other dog. There were two humans, linked together as they sometimes tended to be. Slowly they grew closer, looking like hunters as they scanned the kennels.
The instant they stopped in front of mine, I confess I cowered. Why were they were? What did they want with me?
The female knelt in front of the chain-link gate without opening it, instead jutting her fingers through and cooing. I looked from her to the male human behind her. He was smiling, watching her, not me. Were they safe? How could I tell? Slowly I stood to all fours and stepped closer, just to get a real sniff. She smelled like that other dog – not one in a nearby kennel – and beyond that, wet dog food. I panicked, backing away even though I knew from experience that that gate was only passable by the other kind of human.
The male behind her knelt beside her, fingers poking through also. He smelled the same as her. I approached again. Maybe they were nice?
The joy on their faces was unmistakable then. I reminded me of the kids I would play with on the streets. I waged my tail – cautiously at first, then sincerely. They were nice! I liked them!
And then they left.
Life went on, back to the normal routine of urine-scented cold concrete inside and barely enough room to do my business outside. Four meals came and went without any visitors doing more than glance in my kennel.
Then they came back. The smell of the other dog was stronger on them this time. I expected them to kneel and stick their fingers through again, but this time they didn’t. They stood back and waited for the common human to open the gate. Confusion compelled me to tilt my head. That gate only opened when they brought food, but there wasn’t any this time.
Before I knew it, the common human had slipped a lead around my head. Panic saturated every fiber of fur on me, and I dug my paws into the ground. This was it – I was about to disappear, like the others had. I didn’t want to! Whatever I had done, I was sorry! I could be a good boy, like master wanted. Just don’t make me disappear.
The humans were talking to each other, but the female knelt to eye level with me, holding out her hand. When I stopped pulling, so did the human on the other end of my leash, though it didn’t match me when I sniffed the woman’s hand. Was she safe? She started patting my head with her other hand as soon as I was close. She seemed nice enough.
I kept my tail between my legs as I followed her past the other kennels of barkers. The smell of that other dog was getting stronger pelting me like a sprinkler as soon as the door opened. He had found a rope and was snapping his head side to side, freezing as soon as the door opened. He glanced straight past me to the humans, becoming a blur of tan and white as he bolted to them.
My tail stayed between my thighs as I waited there, in the center of the small but clean room with no windows. The humans took the rope from the other dog’s mouth and threw it past me. He pranced to it, picking it up before really spotting me. Tail still wagging, he went right in front of me, pausing before putting it down at my paws. For me? I looked to the humans. The male was walking out the door, but the female was encouraging, so I dropped my jaw to the rope.
Just before I could reach it, the other dog snatched it away again. Spinning once, he looked at me, seemingly as vexed as I was. I wasn’t sure I should go for it a second time, but when he nudged it toward me with his nose, I picked up a knot. The other dog was quick to take the other side of the rope and start tugging.
I knew this game! I bent my knees and tugged back, yanking in pulses as my new friend was waving it back and forth. We played like that for a time until a bright green ball went sailing overhead. My new friend abandoned the rope for the ball, fetching it and giving it back to the human. She had dropped it? She must be clumsy, because my new friend had to get it for her four more times before she could keep a hold of it.
She took it from my new friend and looked straight at me. I was standing now, following the ball’s path as she waved it in my fiend of vision. Suddenly she tossed it straight over my head. Why would she do that? I watched it go, tail inadvertently slowing as I looked back at her. It was almost like she was losing the ball intentionally.
My new friend was quick to find the ball and return it to her, but she was praising me, playing with my ears and smiling. I liked her, clumsy as she was. I licked her face to let her know.
Not long later I was outside the building for the first time in weeks, excluding the little patch of weeds and concrete on the other side of my kennel. We four headed to one of the sleeping monsters. I had seen people willingly be eaten by them, and the way my new friend hopped into the back made me think it was probably safe. Still, that hatch could close on me at any moment. What if it clamped down just as I was struggling to get in? I looked to the humans, who were patting the cushions, smiling and cooing. Their movement summoned a while new collection of smells. Of plastic, of bar-be-que, of coffee. They reminded me of my master!
I took the leap of faith, landing with two paws on the back seat. I pumped the air with my back paws as the human hugged my shoulders, helping me the rest of the way in.
The ground inside here was soft. Was I allowed here? I had never been allowed on cushions before. My new friends curled up and put his head down, unmoving as the monster closed its jaws with a loud noise and started its journey. I was trapped! Why wasn’t my new friend panicking? I whimpered, unable to see the humans. Barely able to turn around. The humans spoke to me then, which helped for a time.
I could feel the monster stop moving. So did my new friend, apparently, as he immediately stood up, tail wagging again. The monster went to sleep and I couldn’t help it – I started whining again. If it was asleep, how was I going to be able to get out again? What if I had to go potty? Would these humans be mad at me? I liked them; I didn’t want that!
The massive jaws opened again. My heart calmed as my tail started up once I saw the humans there, on the other side, palms facing us. My new friend sat, watching them, so I sat too.
Then I spotted the world behind them. It was big – vast and green. Trees dotted the yard, begging me to mark them. Pushing past the humans, I ran for them. I ran and ran and ran. I could feel the wind in my ears and the cool grass under my feet. I could smell the marks of my new friend all over the place, so I marked on top of them as often as I could. My new friend joined me, running by my side. I could feel my muscles stretching, as if exhaling in this new, beautiful place.
The humans started cooing again. My new friend was quick to send his ears straight up, and just as prompt to bolt back to them. I looked that way, debating between the grass and the humans. The female was kneeling, looking like she did when I first saw her put her fingers through the metal gate of my kennel. She was cooing again, patting her leg. Okay. I ran back to her, tail whipping the air. My enthusiasm got the better of me, and I collided with her. I licked her face repeatedly, telling her that I liked her. I was happy here.
She played with my ears once more, speaking words I never thought I would hear again.
“Good boy.”


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