At night she breathes, just like me, in and out, sometimes exaggeratedly, and she wonders as I lay beside her half asleep if I am responding with my deep breathing as an answer to hers intentionally. I am. Deep cleansing breaths are a human thing, and I play along just for fun, because there are only so many biscuits allotted to me in a day.
I’m not going to say I don’t need her, because I think I do, but I also think if things were different; if humans didn’t rule the world and I was out there on my own, I’d have a better chance than her at survival. There is something in her breathing that tells me so.
There is this thing she holds in her paws, as if her paws were designed to hold it. It is not quite square in shape, it is longer on two sides, and it makes noise. Bings, rings, and songs that are often different, sometimes repeated more times than I care to hear. I watch her as she shakes her head to it, and moves her fingers swiftly, and wonder if she is instructed to do so, like the way she insisted I shake her paw, doling out treats until I got it right. If she gets a reward, she gives it to herself, from paw to mouth, and I watch and wait, anticipating the stray crumb that may come my way, accepting my fate when it doesn’t.
Besides the intake of food, my human’s mouth is very active opening and closing rapidly throughout the day with sounds unlike my bark projected towards others like her and even me and I do believe she expects me to know what she is projecting, because when I tilt my head from side to side trying to makes sense of it, she seems to think I understand. Let’s just say I aim to please.
And then there are the moments during the day when we just sit, side by side, without that thing she usually holds in her paws, just gazing out at the landscape with fluttering eyes looking at everything and no thing, breathing together silently along with the birds and all the others beyond us rhythmically, and it is then that I suppose she learns more from me than I from her….
Living is only as complicated as you make it.
They Call to Me
I descended from wolves. Ancient as mammoths. Fierce like the sabor toothes. My sinews shriek of survival.
Yet here I am relegated with the task of watching this box- an apartment so small my ancestors cry. I hear them howling down the street, late in the night after the popping sounds in the dark. Nothing comes in the door I don’t admit. I’m that good.
The forests don’t smell or feel like they used to. Here the ground is light grey, hard as a rock and level all over. Giant mechanical beasts parade in lines. Even the trees are caged in their tight little corner amonst the shelters.
My mother passed down old knowledge, licked it into my brain. The smell of the pines when the rain picks up, the sweat of prey as it panics, the manner to salve a wound in the wild. And I long to use it. To feel the wind in my fur as I stretch out my legs till they burn. I want my sides to ache with a dull heat from the strain of a sprint. I need to clean my paws of the mud that is caked in their crevices from the agile shifts of my hunt.
Yet, here I am. Pacing. In this room that is my cage.
I must escape.
The window is cracked to allow the cool air to breeze in. It is much too small and we are far too high for me to jump down. There is no exit save the door. I stare at the slender black handle that curves down into a loose piece to push. The lock is closed. I’m not a young pup.
In fact, most of my life I was content to sit here and wait for my master. My master with his black shaggy hair falling into his eyes and his kind words for me. We used to run together, down the rough roads as we panted as a pack. We would pause in the park to catch our breath and to stare at the ducks. I always want to catch their slender throats in my jaws and squeeze. Such instints are eternal.
But I’ve aged. The white fur has graced itself into my muzzle and surrounds my eyes in a mask. I look into the pool of water and see not me. My hips they ache- a dull, pain that makes it hard to rise. I fear that by sitting here I will not get up the next time. That I will die in this place with the sky just outside the window and not over my head.
I’ve waited all day. Now is the time he returns. He will not expect me to run. Not his good companion, the one he can trust. What is one little betrayal at the end of my life? Surely, he will understand. Someday when he is unrecognizable to himself, won’t he ask himself what was it he was meant to do? And he will think of me and know. Without words because words are not passed down deep inside of us. It is the feelings. And his feelings will sense me and that will be enough.
I can hear his feet on the stairs, far outside the door. It gives me time to get up. My right leg doesn’t want to be extended. I force it to obey. I stare at the handle and hold my breath. It begins to move and I can hear the gliding of the bolt, smooth as a stream. I lick my lips.
The door pushes in and I’m to the side with my nose already gliding into the gap, noticing his posture and the leg movements he’s about to take. He widens the opening and I press forward when he leans down. His satchel flows down in a heavy movement and smashes into my face, stunning me from my plan.
“Hey, boy,” he says and smiles.
It’s the tenderness that hurts and I dart around him in a full gallop, down the hallway to my freedom.
“Brody!” he’s calling behind me but I’m frantic and the hallway is a long tunnel. I can feel the years, how they have slowed me. A younger me could have moved much faster. He’s running after me and I look ahead and there’s a door. But this time the door to the stairs is closed. Sealed shut. I skid to halt and breath heavy as he comes panting beside me.
He kneels down and holds me, so gentle like my mother used to. I almost imagine that he will lick me.
“Where are you going?” He grabs my face and looks at me. He stares into my eyes and I wish I could tell him. I descended from wolves I would tell him, and they call to me each night. And they beckon me to run.
Let Them Lie
Something is prodding my rib cage. I squeeze my eyes shut tighter. I am not ready for this. Two hands shake me. One nudges me in the armpit. The other scratches behind my ears.
“Damnit, Jenna. Stop poking. What do you want?”
She smiles too big. She is crouching down next to me. Legs bent, grasshopper-like. Her fingers are spread in the fur at my neck, stroking absent-minded. A whining sigh creeps up my throat uninvited, and I jerk away from her. She frowns momentarily, then brightens as she digs her hand into her pocket.
“You left your lighter at my house! I wanted to return it.”
“I don’t smoke anymore, Jenna. No one smokes when they are sleeping.”
Her smile slips, again. This time it doesn’t return. She gets to her feet and begins kicking at the ground. She bites her nails. Weighs her words.
“Ok. I was bored. This place sucks. I haven’t had fun in...”
I cut her off here. A sharp bark escapes me before I have time to compose myself. I should have known. She is ever prepared. She would come with excuses.
“Surely, you could have asked the cat? She’s a riot.”
“Gillian? She scares me. She has no regard for my life.”
I want to tell her that Gillian has nine lives and therefore, has little regard for life at all. Now doesn’t seem to be the time. Striking a conversation will only prolong this meeting.
“Jenna. I’m going back to sleep. Wake up the cocker spaniel, Billy? Bobby? Benny? I don’t know. I’m sure he will be up for anything you like. He has a soft spot for you.”
“M, I’m so lonely. I needed to talk about it.”
I have a soft spot for her too. My body does that twitching thing. A shiver from my tail up to my shoulders. I try to shake it out, but it lingers. I feel heavy, even for a Mastiff.
“Alright. Well, you woke me up. Buy me a drink, at least.”
Jenna never makes me wear a collar or a leash. It is just one of the things that fuels my amity for her. She could. I’ve seen people tie up smaller breeds in hopes that they don’t run away. So they don’t chase their tails. To control the situation. Dogs are strong. Jenna knows she has no control. I’m awake. She has no control. She is quiet as we walk to the bar. I am rambling lazily. She trots to keep up. When we get to the bar she orders sparkling water for herself and an IPA for me. Something is off. She’s not talking. I feel anxious.
“You’ve got cigarettes on you?”
She rummages in her purse, then hands me my lighter and a square. My brand, not hers. I know why I’m awake.
“You’re sober now?”
She doesn’t answer. I know why I’m awake.
My name is M, and I am Jenna’s addiction.
I down my beer and order two shots. The first goes down hot as fire. The second, like syrup soothing my raw insides. I order two more, hand Jenna my cigarette. She takes a drag, blowing the smoke into the bartenders face. They both laugh, but hers sounds hollow, forced. I push one shot to her and paw at the other.
“To waking up?”
She looks like she might not accept the toast, but then she laughs again, raises her glass.
“To waking up.”
She throws her head back, swallows hard. I lick her nose, and now she laughs for real. A giggle. Small, but genuine.
My boy didn’t smell right. Usually, he smelled like the dirt we rolled in sometimes when we played ball in back of the house, or like the trees in the forest down the road. Or whatever he was eating and sneaking to me under the table. But, he hadn’t wanted to run and play with me for a while, though. And he was only eating some water my lady fed him from a bowl. He used to run everywhere, with me chasing circles around his feet. Then, he stopped getting out of bed.
They took him away one day. He was gone a long time. I went to the window and the garden gate so many times before they finally brought him home. My man was carrying him and my lady kept saying, “down” when I tried to jump up to lick my boy’s face. When they put him in our bed, I leapt up and that’s when the smell hit me. What was going on with my boy? I even had to snuggle my head under his hand, ’cause he couldn’t lift it. He smiled a little as he said, “hey, Zeus, hey buddy,” but then he just closed his eyes and went to sleep. So, I did, too.
We did a lot of sleeping. Every now and again, I would wake up to see my lady or my man next to the bed watching us, water leaking from their eyes. They would stroke me and say, “good boy, Zeus.” I don’t know why since I was just lying there with my boy, sleeping, waiting for him to smell right again. But I would wag my tail a little and lick the water on their faces.
Then one day, he no longer smelled funny. He didn’t smell at all. And somehow, I knew that my boy wouldn’t be rolling in the dirt with me anymore.
Oh my friend, I feel so tired. You are sitting with me on the floor...not on the couch like we usually do. I know you are crying and I’m doing my best to make you happy. I’ve only ever been happy when you are happy. You get up and tell me it’s time to go. You’re putting my leash on, but I promise I won’t try to go after the deer or peacocks today. You help me into the car and it’s hard for me to get my tummy onto the backseat. The drive feels over in just a minute. I don’t want to go inside the building, even though I’ve been here before. There are young dogs in the big room and I’m scared. I don’t feel too good and I don’t know if I can make friends with them and protect you. I finally go in, because you beg me to. In our private room, the lady in white comes with her familiar voice. She is nice, but I never liked it here. It smells funny and the floors are cold. I hear you crying but I can’t lift my head, so I just raise my eyes to you. You put your head down against mine and talk to me. I haven’t heard well in years, but I feel your voice and it reminds me of the day you brought me home. I love you so much. I feel a little poke on my skin. I’m not sure where it came from. I’m so sleepy, best friend. Thank you for holding me.
He’s finally left for work. Now I can get down to business. First, I knock over the garbage and eat all the leftover goodies. I walk through the ketchup leaving tracks into the living room. Now he’ll know where I’ve been. I chew up all the plants and leave the dirt on the floor but they don’t taste as good as the garbage. But it’s a lot of fun! Next, I look for some other activity and eye the furniture. Sure, I’ll jump up on it and make myself comfortable but first, I will sink my teeth into the material and tear it to shreds. Soon, I enter the bedroom and snooze on his bed, leaving a few fleas. Better there than on me!
It’s entirely his fault. He should get me a female companion so I would have something to do! (fast tail wag). He should have fenced the yard so I could play in the backyard and bark at all the neighbors. Well, at least, I can bark at the postman!
Uh oh! I hear a car drive up! I don’t know how the time went so fast. Quickly, I run over to my dog bed and close my eyes and pretend I’m innocent and asleep. “Who, me?” I pull my lips back from my teeth and try to grin innocently.
It’s deceptively simple,
not much in terms of principles.
I play - all day.
I have an eagerness
The man gives me food
because I’ve been so good -
it’s the same story.)
Today he seems perplexed
when he should be impressed -
I’ve worked so hard
at digging up the yard.
There’s a cat next door
that I see every day -
barking will surely
scare it away.
What a life,
never leaving the house,
if only for a mouse -
(and it doesn’t like to be pet,
how about that?)
Barking it up a tree,
why are the neighbors
yelling at me?
I live a life of
with a panting
the man’s anger
in the cone of shame.
Ending the night
at eight o’clock,
in his socks.
The man doesn’t understand
that his love
I am proud of.
We as a breed
are all he needs.
We are terriers
We are poodles
We are terrors
We are droolers
We are -
We are man’s
Lost: A Dog’s Perspective
I’d been wandering for days. By the time I lost count of them, my paws were rough and torn and I knew every inch of the neighborhood by smell.
That was the worst part about being a homeless mutt.
Drool-worthy scents and sounds came from every corner, followed by the blissful laughter of happy parents and children drifting out of the open doors. Always, I would instinctively track down the trail of grease and raw meat into the dark alley behind the cafe and end up with my nose pressed against the huge metal box sitting there. The food was inside it, I was sure, but even though I stretched up as far as I could with my paws on the side of the box, I wasn’t tall enough to get to the delicious smells.
Why did humans put the food they didn’t want in metal boxes just to rot away? Why didn’t they share them with starving, homeless dogs like me? I had to satisfy myself with the crumbs and bits of fallen food scattered around the box and the nearby door. There was never enough to make the gnawing go away.
Almost as terrible as my growling stomach were the frightening yells and shooing and shoes thrown at me for no reason. Sometimes I even had to run away from scary humans with scary-looking sticks who chased me all around the neighborhood. Once, my leash got stuck around a pole and they almost trapped me, but I got away at the last second.
I couldn’t understand. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, was I? But apparently, begging for food scraps at back doors or politely waiting near families eating lunch in the park were considered bad behavior by these humans. It made me feel hurt and confused. How else was I going to find food to eat?
Maybe humans couldn’t be trusted after all.
When I wasn’t hunting after a scent or wandering along the creek in the park trying to stay out of the way of bad humans, I lay in the cool grass next to a towering tree, head between my paws, listening to my stomach make strange noises and watching the busy street in the distance. I studied the people passing by and hoped with all my heart that I’d catch a glimpse of a familiar soft brown head with one little tail popping out of one side and laughing blue eyes. This was the last place I’d seen my small human, and my brain told me that she’d come back here looking for me. I couldn’t stay away for long.
As each day passed with no sight of her, and each night of painful hunger dragged by, my head drooped more and my pattering footsteps turned into aimless stumbling. I started to become dismal, my hope sinking further away. Every time I heard a child’s excited squeal, my ears perked up, only to fall again with yet another dashed hope.
Yes, I was a mutt, but I was a lovable mutt. My human loved me. I knew it. She’d told me that every day, along with suffocating hugs and many kisses to prove it. And I loved her too, so very much. Ever since she’d rescued me from the dog shelter when I was just a pup, she had been my entire life. My whole purpose and reason for living. Every minute she was at home I spent by her side, and every minute she wasn’t I spent staring at the door waiting for it to swing open again.
I’d never stop loving her. Didn’t she still feel that way about me? I couldn’t lose faith in her.
One afternoon, I was sniffing around a picnic table in the park after an abandoned bag of food underneath. I’d scented it from a couple blocks over and my whole focus was zeroed in on that incredible smell. With my head squeezed under the bench as far as I could reach, my teeth finally grasped the edge of the paper bag and I pulled it across the ground until I could see what was inside.
Finally! I’d made a discovery most dogs only dream of. Some kind human had left half a hamburger, a pile of french fries, and an entire hot dog slathered in ketchup for some lucky mutt to find. Today, I was that lucky mutt. My stomach chirped in anticipation and I let my tongue hang out of my mouth happily. I’d hardly eaten anything since the half empty can of tuna two nights ago.
Licking my lips, I opened my mouth, prepared to gobble this feast down in two seconds, when I suddenly became aware of something that my distracted senses had missed before.
A low, threatening growl came from beside the tree to my left. I whipped my head to the side and saw a mangy hound tensed to attack, his eyes cloudy and half-crazed, gray-brown fur matted with open sores, and drool dripping from his bared teeth. His hungry gaze was on the bag at my paws. I glanced around for any human nearby, but it was obvious he was on his own. It looked like this dog had been on the streets for much, much longer than I had.
My hackles rose and my lips automatically curled in response. Maybe it would be smarter to drop the bag and make myself scarce, but I was starving. In a split-second, I made my decision: I’d found this food first, and I was going to defend my property.
Quickly, I glanced around. I saw a part of the park that rose into a sort of hill and had a few rocks perched on top. It was higher up than anywhere else; maybe if I could get there, I’d be able to fight the enemy hound off successfully.
The incoming dog gave a sharp bark, the message of “this is your last chance to get out of this alive” coming across unmistakably. Lowering my head slightly, I made it look like I was about to show submission, but when the mongrel released his threatening stare ever so slightly, I took the opening and darted as fast as I could in the opposite direction, my teeth firmly embedded in my precious prize.
Weaving and winding my way through the trees and benches, I bounded toward the little hill. By the snapping jaw and pounding paws behind me, I knew the other mutt was right on my tail. I took in gulps of air, my breathing rapid and heavy, and mustering up an extra burst of energy, I pushed my legs harder and cleared a bush at the base of the hill.
At the top, I leapt onto the biggest rock and scrambled to gain traction before my attacker could get the upper hand. I grit my teeth together defiantly and planted my feet firmly, staking my claim on the rock and my tasty prize. The other dog let out a vicious howl, and I knew the battle was far from over. He was really angry now. He circled my fortress a couple times first, looking for any weakness or vulnerability, but I refused to give him an inch. Then he lunged, pushing off his hind legs and snapping at the bag I still had clutched in my teeth. I avoided his sharp fangs and growled menacingly the entire time, hoping I was sending him a clear message that I would stand my ground.
After several minutes, the mongrel narrowed his demented eyes at me, a sort of determination filling them, and then he gave a frenzied yelp and leapt onto the rock, forcing me to the other edge. I immediately lunged back, snarling angrily, and managed to push him off the rock again, but not before his teeth had found my ear and given it a nasty nip. I whined in pain, but there was no time to focus on my wounds now.
As he repeatedly attacked, I felt my strength draining. Once again, he succeeded in getting his teeth into me, this time my hind leg. I started to feel anxious. My stomach still panged in hunger, and I was exhausted and aching from sleeping on the cold ground. I wasn’t used to this life. Could I really hold my own against this seasoned street veteran? A soft whimper escaped my mouth, and I was sure I saw my enemy’s lips curl in an evil smile. He knew I was faltering.
Why not just give in and surrender the food to him? Was it really worth fighting for when I’d only be grumbling with hunger again in a few minutes? I wasn’t sure anymore. I wanted to cry out for my human to come and save me, but I knew she wasn’t anywhere near to hear me. How I longed for my soft warm bed right then, for my human to stroke my coarse brown fur with loving caresses until I fell asleep with a full, happy stomach. Where was she right now? Was she safe? Had she forgotten about me after all? I felt an unfamiliar pain deep inside of me and it made me uncomfortable and confused.
Before I could register that I’d lost my focus and gotten distracted, I felt the air rush out of my lungs as my attacker darted in and flipped me onto my back. Startled, my jaw opened and the precious bag tumbled out of my mouth. I lay back, stunned, and realized that I had lost the fight. I was going to go hungry again.
I watched for the mongrel to grab his prize and escape with it, but he still hadn’t released his threatening stance over me. Panic flooded into me as he leaned down, his jaw bared toward my neck. When I noticed the full-on deranged look in his eyes, I realized that he wasn’t going to be satisfied with simply taking my food. He was out for revenge.
Was he planning to go for my throat? Was I going to die right here and now, without getting to see my little human’s smiling face ever again? The strange feeling of pain inside me sharpened, and I let out another slow, despairing whine.
The mongrel lowered his mouth toward me, fangs dripping, hot stinky breath clouding my face and lungs.
This was it. I was really going to die. I closed my eyes, panting softly, and waited for the snap that would end me.
A squeal broke into the fogginess that had filled my head. A child’s voice, one that I’d know anywhere.
I jerked my head to the side, looking around wildly and hope flooding me again. My human! She’d come back for me!
The enemy dog jolted at the sudden shout and released his sharp focus on me for a split second. He quickly looked back at me, but it was too late.
I lunged forward, ducking out from under him and landing a good bite to his shoulder. He yelped in surprise and tried to fight back, but I leapt over to another rock and bared my fangs in warning. You just try to pull that one on me again, buster!
“Bad dog! Get away! Get away from my baby! Bad dog!” My human’s frantic screams came from a little ways off, and I turned to see her picking up rocks and sticks and throwing them at the bad mutt. He cowered slightly, but let out a low snarl. Clearly, he hadn’t taken my previous warning seriously. I barked sharply and growled deeply at him again, then cautiously retreated over to my human’s side.
An older human female came running over, yelling at the bad dog the whole time and then saying something into a little black thing she held against her ear. I recognized her as a member of my human pack. She grabbed my human’s arm and pulled her back. “Emmy, stay back! That’s a wild dog and we have no idea what he might do.”
“But Petey! He’s trying to hurt Petey. We have to do something.”
“Petey’s okay, baby girl. See, the bad dog is backing away already.”
I looked over at the enemy dog, and sure enough, he was slinking away behind the rocks. A crowd of curious humans had gathered around, and it was probably making him nervous. Finally, he tucked his tail and snuck off in the other direction, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We were safe. And...my human was here! I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. I turned to look up into her blue eyes and they were wet with something. I didn’t care. I sat on my haunches and just stared at her, taking in her brown hair and her sweet scent and I felt so happy I could burst. My tail began thumping hard on the ground and I realized that I hadn’t wagged it in days. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been happy enough to wag my tail.
My human squealed so loudly my ears hurt and threw her arms around me. “Oh, Petey! What happened to you? I’ve been looking for you everywhere! Why didn’t you wait by the tree like I told you to?”
She waved her finger in my face and I cowered a bit, my ears drooping guiltily. I hadn’t meant to wander off, honest. I’m a good dog, and I really intended to sit there patiently until she returned. But the cafe down the street had been grilling hamburgers that day, and I tried, I really did, to stay put. But when more than five minutes had passed without seeing my human come back, I’d noticed my leash was loose and I couldn’t help going over to do a quick check if they’d be nice enough to share some of that mouth-watering meat with a hungry dog. How was I to know that the mean man would throw an odd-shaped metal stick at me and shout angry words that I’d never heard before? It frightened me, and when I ran away to find my human, I realized I was lost and didn’t know how to find my way back. By the time I did find the place again, she was gone.
Anyway, why did that matter anymore? Here she was, safe and sound, and I was back together with her. Everything was okay again.
She sniffed and buried her face in my neck. “I missed you so much! I was so worried about you. I’m so glad I finally found you.” She planted a huge kiss on my nose, and then looked upset at something. “Oh, Petey, you’re hurt! Mommy, Petey’s hurt. That horrible, evil dog! He’s in so much trouble for hurting you. I hope they catch him and put him in evil doggy prison.” She ran her fingers over my coat gently and leaned down to hug me again. “Oh, you poor baby. I’ll fix you up and make you all better. Don’t worry. I love you, Petey.”
I let out a happy grunt and licked her face. I didn’t even feel the pain of my wounds anymore. The older human muttered something about the vet and shots, but I didn’t care about that, either. I’d go to the vet every day if it meant I could be with Emmy.
My human picked up my ragged, torn leash that had somehow stayed attached to my collar and tugged me gently. “Let’s go, buddy.” I trotted after her, letting my tongue flop out the side of my mouth as I panted happily.
I would follow her anywhere.
from “The Diary of My Beloved Beagle, My Long-Eared Shakespeare”
(July the First / 09:28AM / Year 4)
Oh, the shear savory goodness of this blissful treat,
Bringing me feral pleasure both fair and fleeting,
Tickling my buds with tastes so complex,
That I shall be ensured a most comfortable sleep
And to the goldliness of that toy that will soon come-hither,
unseen by me so far,
within that crinkly plastic bag that you most teasingly hoist,
perhaps from the fertile lands of faire Walmart
Now, I will address you directly new toy,
For you will be torn to endless shreds,
Both dotty eyes annihilated,
Your very soul beseiged by canine’s gaping yaw
My dear toy,
Bork bork bork.
Bork bork bork bork.
Bork bork bork bork bork.