This story was a response to a challenge to write about a first pet. I took a little different slant on the idea and come up with this.
The place smelled like a dozen dogs had peed in the corners; about right for a dog pound. Nicer than some places I’ve stayed. When you’re a pit bull you see a lot bad spots. The yard had real grass even. I was alone when they brought in a litter from a puppy mill. Sad cases every one of them. Breaks my heart how people abuse us in the name of having a pet.
One pup broke loose from the squirming mound drinking from their mom, and staggered over to the cage that divided us.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hey,” I said and eyeballed him from where I lay on my mat. The rest of the pups were black, but this one had black blotches on grey fur. Reminded me of this Aussie I once met. The kid had these crazy blue eyes. All pups have blue eyes, but I wondered if his wouldn’t glow a little when the humans turned off the lights.
“What are you doing?” He tried pushing his nose through the mesh, but the humans were onto that and it was too small for even his nose. I crawled over to put my nose against the mesh and we breathed each other in.
“Sleeping, kid.” I said after we’d done sniffing each other.
“Where are we?” He shook himself and peed on the floor.
“This is the pound,” I said, “The beginning for some, end for others. You might want to pee over on the paper there,” I pointed with my nose. “Humans are funny that way.”
“So what about the humans?” he said. “I don’t need ’em”
“Yeah, kid,” I said, “you do. I was only a little older than you when I got my first human. Boy came in and didn’t know a pit bull from a poodle, He wanted me on account of the black patch on my eye. It reminded him of some movie he’d just seen. I was going to be his very first pet.”
“What’s a movie?”
“Beats me, kid. Never seen one. Anyway they put a collar on me and he led me away on a leash. He named me Patch; proudest day of my life. I had no clue. The boy put out some of that paper in a box and a bowl of food and left me there. All night I howled in terror. I had no idea where I was or what was going on, and I missed my mom and my litter mates. The mom came and shushed me, then the dad came and yelled at me. The boy came after them and carried me up to his room. Don’t tell Mom. He whispered to me. I slept on his pillow. He took me outside in the morning to do my business on the grass.”
“I thought you said to do it on the paper?”
“On the paper when you’re inside and a pup, but outside the rest of the time. Nothing makes a human happier than a dog peeing on the grass.”
I could see the wheels turning in the kid’s head. This pup was a smart one. He stumbled back to the pile and attached himself to his mother. She hardly had the energy to look at me. Poor girl was worn out, but then I was pretty worn out myself.
Woke up next morning to the sound of pee on paper and opened my eye to see the kid whizzing like a pro on the paper. He pranced over to me.
“Tell me more about humans, Patch.”
“Sure, kid.” I got up and stretched, then shook the cobwebs out of my head. Enough exercise for the day. I lay down on my mat. “Well, soon as I learned to pee on the grass, the boy started teaching me tricks.”
“That’s when a human tells you to do something silly, then gives you a treat, food usually, but I’d do tricks just to get him to scratch behind my ears. The boy, his name was Sam, taught me to sit, and stay, and rollover, simple stuff really. When I got good at those he started teaching me to shake a paw or play dead. We had this game where he’d put a biscuit on my nose and I’d balance it until he said Go then I’d throw it in the air and catch it. That game was my favourite thing in the world. Most of the time we just ran around and wrestled.”
“Wow,” The kid panted at me, a natural. “So, then what happened?”
“Sam went back to school. That’s some place all humans have to go. It’s like peeing on the grass. Doesn’t make sense, but they do it anyway. I waited by the door for him to come home and we’d go play in the yard or he’d take me for a walk. Every night I slept on his bed.”
Thinking about those days made me want to howl like a puppy. You can’t go back, you just can’t go back. The kid wandered off and piled into his litter mates, and left me with my thoughts. If I could only do that one thing over again. I closed my eye and snoozed a while. To be honest, just watching that much energy made me tired. Hadn’t thought about Sam in ages. Even if humans didn’t grow as fast as us, he’d be a lot older; maybe even finished with that school thing.
The door opened, and some humans came in. A little girl ran over to the cage with the puppies.
Look, aren’t they cute?
The kid pulled himself out of the pile and wobbled over to her.
He’s an unusual colour, looks like a seal.
He’s a catahoula.
Well, wouldn’t you know, the kid’s something more than an odd looking mutt.
Can I pick him up? Please?
The pound human opened the door of the cage and put the pup in the girl’s arms.
“Remember, pee only on the paper!” I said to him. I know what pups are like when their excited. Sure enough he wriggled away from her and went to pee on the paper like a champ. She picked him up again when he came back.
“Lick her face, kid,” I said. “They can’t resist that.”
He did what I said, and the girl laughed. Sam used to laugh like that. I put my head on my paws and watched them.
I want this one, Mom.
Are you sure? We haven’t looked anywhere else.
Please, Mom? I want this one. I’ll call him Patches.
Ok, Sue, if you want.
You’ll have to wait a week for him to be weaned and get his first shots…
The adult humans walked away while the girl cuddled the pup. A little while later they came back. They put a collar on the Patches, then left. The girl walked backwards out the door waving at him.
The pup came running over to me.
“Did you see that?” he said. “This thing feels funny.” He scratched at the collar.
“Wear it with pride, Patches,” I said. “The collar tells the humans that you belong.”
“Listen, Patches,” I said. “I have to tell you something, so you don’t make the mistake I did.”
He sat down and wagged his tail at me.
“Sam took me for a walk one day. I was grown by then. Humans grow slower than we do, so Sam wasn’t much bigger. We met another kid. He was bigger than Sam. I could tell Sam was afraid of him. The other kid came over with his friends. They yelled at Sam and pushed him around. I growled at the kids. Sam told me to stop. One kid laughed at Sam and punched him in the face. I bit the kid.”
“That’s brave,” Patches said.
“No,” I said, “it was bad. We mustn’t bite a human. We can growl or bark, but we can never, never bite, especially a young human.
“The kids ran away screaming and Sam took me home. Later that night a human came and took me away from Sam. They brought me to a place like this one. I went off with another human. He liked me cause I was a pit bull. He tied me on a chain and left me in his yard. I think I went a little crazy. Another human bought me and put in a worse place. I don’t want to tell you, or I’ll give you nightmares.”
“Is that when you lost your eye?”
“Yeah,” I said, “my eye and more than a little of my soul.”
“So pee on the grass and don’t bite,’ Patches said and panted happily.
“That about sums it up,” I said. “Just make your human happy.”
The week went by in a flash. Patches went off with his girl and the rest of the pups went too. Even the old girl went to a new home. I ate my meals, did my business on the grass though the humans had to help me out there. The place stank of pee, but I didn’t care. There were worse places. I’d been to most of them.
I dreamed Sam put a biscuit on my nose. We stared at each other. All the horrible things melted away. Every part of me waited for that magic word. The one that would make everything right.