What a Good Girl | Teen Ink

What a Good Girl

May 10, 2013
By Taylor Arndt BRONZE, Mount Prospect, Illinois
Taylor Arndt BRONZE, Mount Prospect, Illinois
3 articles 1 photo 0 comments

I am a good dog.

I can sit, and I can stay. I can balance a treat on my nose and play fetch. I love to play fetch; I always bring the ball back and give it up without a fuss.

All I want is a face to lick, and a lap to sleep in.

I give my best smile, opening my mouth wide, tongue hanging out of my lips, as people walk pass my kennel. I wag my tail so fast that my butt is forced along for the ride. I bark once or twice to try and get you to look at me. Still, person after person walks right past me without a look at me; they only see the paper. My tail stops wagging. What am I doing wrong?

Does my breath smell bad? Is my fur sticking up funny? Do I look stupid or mean? I try my best to be the dog everyone would want, but that does not seem to be enough. People look at the paper that is attached to the chain-link fence, above my head and out of my reach. They look at it and point, shaking their heads in disappointment. They all say the same thing.

Pit bull. I don't understand what that means, yet it is somehow the reason that no one rescues me from this cage.

Days pass and I am slowly pushed further down the row, lodged into the corner into which no one wanders. On three sides is the same white wall; I can hear dogs on the other side, but I can never see them. They are cold and leaning against them gives little comfort. The ground underneath my paws is concrete; it makes my legs sore and my paws raw from pacing. None of the kennels is kind to my nose. I can always smell the dog that had previously occupied it, and I know that he is never returning.

The fourth side of the kennel is mesh fencing. I can see the dog in the kennel across from me; he is a quiet mutt with a sad face, and he cries at night. He is not the only one. My other abandoned dogs howl in desperation. They are the forgotten and unwanted.

The only people we see are the rough men in brown shirts that smell of human sweat and other bitter scents that turn my mouth sour. They dump dry food into the bottom of our kennels. They skitter across the concrete, even slipping out of the kennel and out of reach at times. They do not say a word, do not try to pet us, and leave us when their work is done.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be touched, to be petted by someone who wants to love me. That was until the little boy in the red cap came. He had stolen away from his mother, ignoring the tiny white dog that she had pulled out of its confinement. The boy ran along the cages, examining each dog that sat inside until he stopped at mine.

Cautiously, he laced his fingers through the links and called out to me. I glanced up but did not move, too afraid to come closer. It had been too long since someone had touched me, and that last experience had been painful. I did not want to repeat that experience.

Again, he called and wagged his fingers.

I climbed to my paws and padded over to him, nose outstretched. When I was close enough, he ran his fingers down my muzzle delicately and smiled. I closed my eyes, my tail thumping against the cold ground, and shivered with contentment. His fingers were warm and smelled sweet and milky. He cooed and made human noises; they were kind and soft. I moved closer, pressing my side against the fence, as close as possible to the little boy. He moved his hands lower and rubbed his fingers through my short fur.

His smile grew bigger as my tail started to thump against the floor, and I pushed far enough into the fence that it started to creak. It felt amazing to be loved, to be touched, and to be wanted. Nothing could be better. I turned my mouth toward him and gave him my winning smile. I then moved to give him a kiss, to show him what this meant to me.

Then a shriek echoed throughout the kennels. The boy's mother ran down the row of cages and snatched the little boy by the back of his shirt. His fingers disappeared from my fur and I barked in dismay. She shouted words at the boy, jammed a finger in my direction, and proceeded to shout at me. Her loud words hurt my ears, a long whine escaped my throat, and I backed away until I cowered against the back wall.

With one final shout, she started to drag the little boy back down the rows. I rushed back to the front of the kennel. I wailed and threw myself against the fence, desperate to get back to the boy. He couldn't leave me. The little boy glanced over his shoulder at me, wet lines falling from his eyes, but he soon disappeared. He never returned.

The days started to blur together after the little boy. No one stopped at my lonely kennel, and I started to move toward the back wall, finding the cold wall was more comforting than the eyes that ignored me.

Then the girl came. She was older than the boy in the red cap. She wore the same brown shirt that the scary men did, but she didn't smell sour as they did. Instead she smelled like strange dogs, dogs that were not dirtied by a kennel. She smelled clean and sweet, as a home was supposed to smell.

She would stop at every kennel and look in. When the dog rushed forward, she did not flinch when it slammed against the fence or snarled, only moved to the next kennel. If the next dog approached with a wagging tail and maybe a bark or two, she would offer a biscuit.

When she reached my kennel, she peered inside and covered her mouth. I didn't move. I did not want anyone but the little boy. I kept my eyes trained on the white wall, but I could smell the biscuits in her pocket and the dog fur that covered her shirt. She smelled friendly; she smelled like a friend.

She laced her fingers between the links and reached out, calling to me. It took a couple minutes, but I rolled over to face her before climbing to my paws with a sigh. I padded over to her with a weak wag of my tail.

A smile broke out across her face, and she scratched the sides of my face with gentle fingers. She repeated the same four sounds over and over again, four words that I had not heard since my owner left me here. "What a good girl." Her voice was soft. She said each word as if it existed alone, as if each sound mattered. It was as if she knew that I had been deprived of the praise, and she repeated it until it filled me with joy.

I licked her fingers to show that I appreciated them, and she pulled out a biscuit, offering it to me. With some hesitation, I took it from her hand delicately, careful not to pinch her fingers. I tried to savor the taste; it was much tastier than the brittle food that I had eaten day after day.

I looked at her, hoping for another, but she had already stood and started to walk away from my kennel. I cried after her; it would be the little boy all over again. She was going to leave, and I would never see her again.

I was wrong.

Each day she would take her stroll down the row of kennels. She would stop at some, feed some biscuits through the fences, and continue on her way. When she reached my kennel, I rushed to the front, my tail wagging hard, wearing my winning smile. She would coo and crouch down, rubbing my fur and head. Compared to the other dogs, she spent more time at my kennel, giving me all the love that I had missed over those lonely, cold months. She made up for everything of which I had been deprived since I was dumped at this kennel.

She was my best friend, and I loved her. She never raised her voice, never moved to strike me. Not once did she glance at that paper, point at me, and say pit bull. That label did not matter to her; she only loved me for me. I started to imagine what it would be like if she rescued me from these cages and took me home. I wanted nothing more. I could join those dogs whose hair she wore on her shirt. They would be my friends, and I could spend the rest of my days with the girl.

One morning, as I waited for the girl to come as usual, I heard shouting. There were two raised voices in the next room. One belonged to the biggest and scariest man, the alpha of the kennel. A large man with violent hands, he smelled of bitter smoke and his fingers were rough. He bossed around the other humans and just the sound of his words terrified me. The other voice was the girl. Despite the screaming, the sound of her voice made my tail thump against the floor.

After a few minutes of fighting in the other room, I heard their footsteps enter the row of kennels. The girl continued to scream and pointed in my direction. This fight had to do with me, I realized. I backed up against the cold wall, and as their voices grew closer, I could hear the same words over and over. Pit bull, vicious, illegal.

I did not understand, but I knew my situation was bad as the alpha male stalked away, the smell of his rage rolling off him in waves. The girl began to cry. She had wet streaks down her face as she walked along the kennels and stopped at mine.

She crouched down, and I smashed myself against the fence. I licked at her face; it was salty and wet. She started to weave her fingers between the fence chains, but she stopped and pulled away. For a long, terrifying moment I thought she was going to leave.

Then she took the keys that jangled at her hip, and there was a click as she unlocked my cage. At that moment, I thought she was going to take me out. She was going to take me home.

Instead she brought herself into my prison and sank down to the floor. She crossed her legs underneath herself, and I took a few steps closer to her, unsure of what she wanted. Then she patted her legs, there was just enough space for me. I pushed my head into her chest and stepped into her lap, laying down across her legs. She wrapped her arms across my neck and pulled me in closer. She was warm and soft, better than any concrete floor on which I had ever slept.

She buried her wet face into my fur, and she made a lot of sniffling noises as she clung to me. Over and over again, she told me I was a good girl. More jumbled human noises came from her mouth, and I took care to lick away all of the water that fell from her eyes.

For a long time we sat like that. She held me close, and at one point, I fell asleep. It was the best sleep I had had in a long time. I had forgotten what it was like to sleep in a person's lap. It was better than a biscuit, a belly rub, and an ear scratch rolled into one. It almost felt like home again.

Then it was time to wake up. Her legs moved from underneath me, and she tried to slide out without waking me up. She tried to lift me away, hands shaking in the process. The tears had stopped, but her face and eyes were still red. I stared up at her in confusion, and she hugged me close one last time, planting a kiss on the top of my head. "You are a good girl." She told me three times, pulling me close and giving another kiss to my head. Her eyes started to water again, but she wiped her face with her arm.

She turned away and left, locking the kennel behind her, and I knew she was leaving for good. As she walked away, I threw myself against the links and called out to her retreating back. I cried. The pitiful sound bounced off the walls. I wanted it to reach her ears, to tell her to turn around, to take me home. The other dogs grew silent and watched. She couldn't leave; she was supposed to take me home; she was supposed to save me. Instead, she never turned back. She kept walking until the sound of her footsteps disappeared with the tinkle of a bell.

And she never did return. Days went by and I never saw her. A new girl replaced her, walking down the row of kennels without biscuits or love. She would glance at me with a look of disgust, point at the paper, and say pit bull. I did not understand; it did not matter to the girl that had loved me. Why did it matter to this new girl?

The next person to touch me was the alpha male. He unlocked my kennel, and for a moment I thought he was there to love me. I would have been happy for anyone to pet me. Instead he grabbed me roughly by the scruff of my neck and dragged me out. I knew exactly where we were going.

There was a room from which no dog emerged from. The alpha male would take the dogs from the back kennels, dragging them by their collars. The door would close behind them, and that would be all.

I tried to struggle, to escape from his clutches, but he was too strong for me. I had seen some dogs bite and snarl as they fought against the man on their way to the room. But I could not bring myself to harm him. I only wanted him to love me and if I bit him, he never would.

Inside the room, he hauled me onto a table, and another man held me down. They injected something into my leg, and it hurt at first. Then everything seemed to slow around me, my fear started to ebb away, replaced with peace. I was slowly falling asleep.

In the silence, I could hear the girl's voice. Her voice was soft. She said each word as if it existed alone, that each sound mattered. "You are a good girl." And that made me wear my winning smile one last time. In the last moments before falling asleep, I did not think of the men who had yelled at me, and the people that had pointed at me and called me pit bull. No, I thought of the little boy in the red cap, oblivious to the fear that other people had. He had merely seen a sad dog and offered some love to help.

And I thought of the girl, with her smiles, and the way she had fought the alpha male to save me. She had loved me more than any other human, and I showed her that love in return. They were the people that loved me, those who saw past the paper that said 'Pit Bull'. They instead loved my smile and my wagging tail. They were the ones that I remembered.

And realizing that those people had loved me made it easier to drift off into sleep. I was a good dog; I still am.

The author's comments:
In late 2011, my family fostered a beautiful American Staffordshire terrier named Emma. She liked to be sprayed with the hose, lick your chin, and snuggle in bed at night. She was adopted two months later by a great family. However, during the time we had her, I noticed something surprising. People would cross the street as we walked near, there were whispers and nasty looks, and that was because Emma was thrown under the classification of 'pit bull'. And it was during this time I became aware of Breed Specific Legislation.

While not in place where I lived, there were many cities that had this law that banned pit bulls. I read horror stories about pit bulls being taken away from their families and stuck in kennels and pounds where it became illegal to adopt them. These dogs were left without a hope of finding a new home because of their breed. They could be the loveliest dog and never hurt a soul, but they would never make it out of the kennel. And that broke my heart.

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