Author’s Note: Hey guys! Okay, so I got a ton of response from my recent post “Bait Dog”. As many of you probably already know, that piece was loosely based on our current rescue, Panzer, but, like I said, loosely, since I have absolutely no clue what happened to him, more than I can decipher from his behavioral quirks and medical problems. But Panzer isn’t the only dog out there that has a story. So I decided to start shooting for a weekly post I’m going to call the “Shelter Stories” series. I’m hoping to get it going every Wednesday, and we’ll see how it goes. If you’re here for training information, don’t worry, that’s still going to be here, there will just be a special Wednesday blog about different stories I’ve heard while doing rescue work that inspired me to fictionalizing them some. So here’s another.
Once upon a time, there lived a dog and her family. They lived on the rough side of town in a tiny row home that had too many people and not enough space. The adults of her family were not always kind, but the dog loved her children, so she persevered.
Most days, she would get fed low quality kibble in a plastic bowl on the ground. She tried to eat quickly, because the adults would forget that she was there and step on her if she didn’t get out of the way fast enough. Sometimes though, she wouldn’t have to worry about getting out of the way because she would not be fed.
She led the life of a dog, not a pampered princess, but a simple dog who loved her children. The laughs of her children filled her soul and eased the gnawing hunger. Each day she would amuse them by licking their faces and running away with their toys, being careful not to puncture them. Toys were sparse for her children, as food was for her, and if she broke them her children cried, and the adults hit her, so she learned to play her game safely by being careful.
Each night, she settled down beside the bed of her oldest child and slept soundly. She dreamed a dream where she was alone with her children, surrounded by food bowls and piles of plush toys. It was on such a night that her world changed.
She smelled the fire long before the humans did. It woke her from her slumber. She raised her head and sniffed deeply, her floppy ears pricking at their folds. She sniffed again, and her lips curled back around her teeth as she smacked her tongue against the roof of her mouth in disgust. She stood and stretched, then padded downstairs to find out where the smell was coming from.
In the living room, she found one of the adults snoring loudly. She approached the ash tray littered with butts and curled her mouth once more. Disgusting, but not the smell which had roused her. Careful not to wake the adult who often woke in a rage, she sniffed her way into the kitchen. There, she saw it.
Flames lapped over the cheap curtains like her tongue over water, consuming more and more of the rotting wood with each passing second. Quickly, the smoke and heat began to burn her eyes and nose, and her paws became hot. Her eyes rolled, and she turned and ran back to the living room. Throwing caution to the wind, she mustered up a bark that sounded more frantic than meaningful. As her terror rose, she found she was unable to turn the barking off. Again and again she barked with the urgency of a jackhammer, “Get up! Get up!” she screamed in the only tongue she knew.
With a growl and a lurch, the adult rose and grabbed her muzzle, silencing her. And then he erupted into a stream of barks in the only tongue he knew. With one massive paw, he flung her aside and launched himself up the stairs. She stood, shook her short fur and followed. She found him in his room, yelling at another adult who was flinging green paper and white power into a suitcase. She stayed only a moment before she hurtled into her children’s room and began to bark at them, “Get up! Get up!”
One by one, they woke and stretched and smiled at her. Then they saw her quivering and their eyes filled with fear. The youngest ones began to cry. The oldest grabbed her and held her close, rocking back and forth, the two of them trembling as one. She panted and squirmed and barked, “Get out! Get out!”
In another moment, the adults charged in. They ripped her from her child’s arms and ushered them all downstairs. She stayed until last. When all of the children were out, she followed.
Downstairs, the house was full of smoke and fire, but she found her way to the door by tracking the scent of her children. When she found the door it was closed and her children were nowhere in sight.
She barked and scratched, heaving her weight into the door as the fire crept into the living room. Knowing she could not make it budge, she moved to a nearby window. Through the spot her wet nose made in the ash collecting on the panes she saw the adults dragging her oldest child into their car while he kicked and screamed and reached his hands out to her. She scratched at the window and barked, all to no avail. That was the last time she ever saw her children.
She tried to escape long after her children were driven away. As the neighbors gathered on the sidewalk, the fire spread into the living room, choking her keen nose with its stench. The heat grew. Her feet blistered and bled, the waves of heat turning her fur to ash. Just as she was about to lie down and let the fire consume her, the door flew open and a woman charged inside. The woman scooped her up and delivered her into the open air which dizzied her as she panted. She looked up and recognized the woman who lived next door. The woman would often bring toys and small presents for her children. Carefully, she arched her neck and touched the woman’s chin with her parched tongue, “Thank you.”
She has a new home now with new children to delight and adults who are kind and feed her twice every day. These children have many toys which are separate from her own. But they still squeal and chase when she runs away with their things, and the adults give her treats when she spits them out with no puncture marks. Her feet will always be scarred, the fur will never grow back, but they no longer hurt or blister or bleed. She misses her children, but she loves her new ones, and her dreams are different now. In them, she sees her new home with her new children. They are shortly joined by her old children and everyone plays together in perfect harmony. In her slumber on the bed of her new oldest child, she smiles and wags her tail.