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Story of a Street Dog
Eight AM. Business as usual for the kennel. Curious men, women, and children file in to check out their potential new best friends. All of us are lined up with our kennels facing the outside hallway. At the opposite end, we’re inside and sheltered. I’m at the opposite end.
They always take the cute ones, I grouchily grumbled to myself as I moped in the corner facing the onlookers. They all strolled past me like I was a lump of dirt on a cold city highway. There’s no point in me even trying. The puppies go first.
At two years old, I wasn’t exactly young anymore. A chocolate lab with a sweet face, I had been dumped here after my owners had a baby that was allergic to me. The young ones always win; babies and puppies alike.
A green plastic card on the outside of my concrete and chain-link cage was visible for all to see, except me. I already knew what is said anyway; that this cage was home to a two-year-old chocolate lab mix named Kara that was fixed and microchipped. The one thing that ruined my appearance was a serrated scar over my left eyebrow.
For the first hour or so, I ignored the volunteers in their bright red ASPCA shirts. I never found their day-to-day duties very interesting. However, at around nine-thirty, one of them came walking towards my cage with the end of a leash in their hand.
The creaky chain-link door swung open as the college-age boy led a big, bulky, grey-and-white mound of Alaskan malamute fur into my cage. I pretended like I didn’t care. I’d seen dogs come and go out of my same cage.
As the malamute turned around to look at me, I could see that he was very old. He was panting, and his entire face and body seemed to sag. I could tell that he had been a fine dog at one point, but now he was all washed-up like me.
“Hello there, miss. And what would your name be?” he asked. He had a very deep, smooth voice that would’ve boomed even if he’d whispered.
“Kara,” I mumbled in reply, not taking my head or my paws up off the floor. The malamute pondered around me for a moment as if he were inspecting me, and then plopped down by the chain-link door, his tail wagging slightly.
“What’re you wagging your tail about?” I asked in a bad-tempered tone. “They’re not going to stop and stare at a couple of rejects like you and me.”
The malamute turned his big head around and stared back at me, “It’s worth a try. Better than sitting in the corner like the depressed little lab you are.”
Angry and insulted, I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. The malamute continued to stay planted in front of the chain-links, panting and gazing at the people that brushed right by him.
Six PM. The last of the browsers file out and into their cars as the parking lot empties and empties. Finally, the last volunteer locks up, flips the OPEN sign around to CLOSED, and flicks off the lights while twirling her car keys around her index finger.
All the humans are gone. They’ve got places to go, unlike the unlucky bunch that’s cramped up for the night. And even when there’s nobody to stare at, the malamute’s still staring out at the empty parking lot.
“What are you gawking at?” I hissed, turning around so I was underneath the indoor part of the cage. As my eyes narrowed and my eyebrows dipper, my scar became more of a jagged line than ever. “There’s nobody left, airhead.”
“What is up with you and your attitude?” the deep voice that had been gone all day returned. For the first time since he arrived, he stood up and shuffled over to me. “Maybe this is the reason why you’re not getting adopted.”
“The reason!?!” I rose at that insult. The malamute didn’t flinch. He just shrugged his sagging shoulder, so I continued, “No, the real reason why I’m not getting adopted is because I’m too old! Haven’t you noticed by now, fuzzbrain, that only the puppies have been adopted all day? Haven’t you figured it out yet?”
The old grey dog sighed, “You think you’re old, girl? Look at me,” he heaved his old bones up so he was standing. “Don’t I look old to you?”
I just rolled my eyes, partially because I knew the malamute was right, “Man, I hate it when they close. There’s nothing to do here.”
The aged malamute gave a wrinkled, friendly smile that made his dark eyes scrunch, “I’ll tell you what, Kara. I’ll tell you a little tale. How ‘bout that?”
I just slumped my head down further. Story time. What fun.
“Well, to start off with, my name’s Diablo,” the malamute paced around the cage slowly as he spoke. “I may be elderly and grey now, but I had a prime. I was still grey, or course,” he chuckled. “But I was in my prime. I was a street dog, and between me, Morty, Rojo, and Conan, we ruled the downtown.”
I knew I wasn’t going to weasel my way out of Diablo’s long, droning story about the ‘good old days’, so I just sat tight and tried my hardest to fall asleep.
“Yup, it was the four of us. Stealing out of the pizzeria’s garbage cans, harassing the neighborhood dogs, and dodging the ASPCA van like a never-ending game of hide and seek. It wasn’t easy, but I liked the rushed flow of things,” Diablo paused.
“Morty could sniff out half a slice of pepperoni from a mile away. That’s what a bloodhound is born to do. Rojo was the big bully boss. Nobody messes with a full-grown male Akita. And Conan? Smartest German Shepard I ever met. Clever and brainy. Oh, how I loved it there. I was born on the streets. It was in my blood.”
“So when did this all change?” I asked in a mumble, half-interested.
“Well, one night, the four of us had just outrun Guido after he caught us in our nightly trash raid and chased us halfway across downtown with a broomstick. We were tired and panting, so Conan suggested we find a place to crash for the night. Well, while the boys were poking around in a back alley, I heard this whining noise, so I went over to investigate.”
“And what did you find?” I asked. His story wasn’t exactly boring, I figured at that point. It was better than sitting in the corner in all my misery.
“Well, huddled in the corner, shivering and scared to death, was a beautiful young yellow Labrador. Her coat was practically golden, and she had the sweetest face with long eyelashes and glistening almond eyes. Two trembling little puppies, one black and one chocolate, were huddled up next to her. She just looked so pitiful.”
I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t really one for mushy details. Diablo had this distant gleam in his eye, like he was swept away back to his younger years.
“Just continue,” I grumbled.
“Well, anyway, she saw me, and I bet she could tell by my ratty appearance and toughness that I was a street dog. She begged for mercy, but I told her I didn’t mean any harm. She told me that her name was Lily. Oh, sweet, beautiful Lily, with those two helpless, piteous little puppies snuggled up at her side.”
“What were the puppies’ names?” I asked. Diablo ignored me and continued.
“She told me that she was lost, and that she lived in a neighborhood called Mulberry Park, at house number 1625. I told her it was far too late for such a young mother to be traveling, and so I brought her to a sheltered alley a little further down the street away from my other boys, and the four of us fell asleep.”
I was waiting apprehensively to hear the rest. This story was actually getting to be quite interesting. For the first time since the old malamute had arrived, I smiled at him. He smiled back. He could tell that he had my attention now.
“The next morning, while the others were still sleeping, I pondered down to the local dog bakery to see if I could snag a few treats out of the free-samples jar they kept outside for Lily and her puppies. I returned, and Lily told me how grateful she was that at least one street dog was kind. I asked what she meant, and she told me that an Akita had chased her and her puppies two days ago and tried to bite her. That made me mad.”
“Was Rojo the Akita?” I asked curiously. Just like before, Diablo didn’t answer my question and simply continued with his story.
“I stomped back off to the alley where Morty, Rojo, and Conan were staying, and told Rojo off about what a jerk he was to terrify some helpless lab mother. Well, Morty and Conan were on Rojo’s side, and they all started insulting me and calling me a sissy. I got into a bit of a brawl with Rojo, but then I saw Conan run off in the corner of my eye and followed him.”
“Why was Conan running? Why? Why?” I begged to hear the answer. My scar began to shine brighter. A full harvest moon was out and gave the kennels and the Earth a white eerie glow, which made the story all that much more interesting.
“Well, when I got back to the bakery,” Diablo’s voice began to choke up, and I suspected that this was the tragic part. “Lily was screaming and Conan had his jaws clamped around the chocolate lab puppy’s head. I was so enraged that my friend would do such a thing that I charged Conan and we got into a two-on-two brawl. That was enough time for Lily to grab her two puppies and flee.”
I cringed at the thought of a helpless little puppy and a big, tough German Shepard holding him by the head like he was going to eat him. I felt a little sick.
“I finally broke free of the bloodshed and ran after Lily. I was bruised and a little bloody, but I couldn’t let her run away by herself and risk another dog attack. Yet, that was when the absolute most terrible thing happened.”
I held my breath, waiting for this catastrophic moment; the climax of Diablo’s tale. He took a rather long pause, and he started to tear up.
“The white ASPCA van happened to be going down the road, and scooped up Lily and her black lab puppy. I grabbed the chocolate lab puppy before he could see me and dove into an alleyway. Lily was gone, and I was stuck with her puppy. I somehow had to get the pup home. I checked it out and saw that the puppy was bleeding real badly above its left eyebrow. I found an old rag that somebody had tossed away and held it up to the puppy’s head. It was a miracle that the puppy didn’t die.”
“Then what happened? What!?” I was practically screaming at that point. My entire body down to the tips of my toes seemed to jolt at the excitement at this story. My scar flashed. Diablo simply yawned and stretched like a seal.
“Naw. It’s getting late, and I’m getting tired. Don’t forget, these old bones need their rest from telling this hero’s grand tale. I’ll tell you the ending in the morning.”
And with that, Diablo plopped down in the corner of the cage, right under a sliver of moonlight, and began to snore softly.
“Aw, c’mon, Diablo!” I pushed on his shoulder with my paw. “You can’t just tell me a story and leave me hanging like that! Tell me the ending! What happened to the chocolate lab puppy!? Please tell me the rest! Pleeee-eeease?”
I got about a minute and a half of nothing but snoring, but then he finally mumbled, “Anticipation only makes a story better, Kara. Now go to sleep.”
* * * * *
When I got up the next morning, Diablo was gone.
I couldn’t believe it. I peered over at the wall clock that hung next to the door. It was nine-thirty. Had the kennel really been open for an hour and a half already? I didn’t usually sleep as late as I had. But then again, I’d never stayed up that late at night to listen to an elderly malamute’s story either.
“Diablo?” I whimpered like a puppy. Where was he? I couldn’t believe that he was gone. Just simply gone. Then, a horrifying thought washed fear into me. What if Diablo had been euthanized? They did that a lot with elderly animals that couldn’t find homes.
“You looking for Diablo?” a middle-aged Basset hound on the other side of the cage asked. He sounded either sleepy or mopey.
“Yeah. Where is he?”
“Diablo got adopted about half an hour ago by some elderly woman who was looking for an older dog. He tried to wake you up, but you were out like a log,” he replied between bites of his morning bowl of kibble.
“What? He’s gone!?!?!” my eyes were wide and my mouth was open. I looked like I had just stuck my finger in an electric socket. The Basset hound nodded, confused. I bet he was wondering why Kara, the grouchiest lab in the universe, cared about an elderly Alaskan Malamute like Diablo.
I slouched down in the corner, facing away from the outside world of people. I tried as hard as I could to hold it in, but tears eventually began to slip down my nose and onto the concrete, where they collected and formed a tiny puddle.
Diablo was gone. Now I’d never hear the end of the story. I stood up halfway and stared down at my pool of tears. I saw the sadness-stricken face of a two-year-old chocolate lab, with deep mocha eyes and a moist coal-black nose.
The scar across my left eyebrow shone brighter.
I blinked. My mouth fell open as I stood there in stunned shock. The Basset hound on the other side of the chain-links gave me a funny look.
I thought nothing of it and forced a smile on my face. Remembering Diablo, I pondered over to the front of the cage and plopped myself down, wagging my tail and watching the passing people. Maybe one of them would notice me, maybe not. But if an elderly Alaskan malamute with a drooping face who had saved a chocolate lab puppy as a street dog could find a home, then why couldn’t I?
So thanks, Diablo.