January 24, 2008
“CRACK!” My head bashed into the ceiling. Ignoring the searing pain, I scrambled around for my clothes, and flinging open the mosquito net, jumped out of my top bunk and landed squarely of the hard, cold cement floor. I sprinted down the cold, dark hallway and hurtled through our screen door into the early morning. I live in Arua Uganda, and our house was one of the nicer brick ones. This explains the luxury of screen on the doors and mosquito nets to keep out the pesky bugs.

Once outside in the dark, starry morning, I took a deep breath and smiled. It was Christmas. My Mom and Dad talking in the hallway had abruptly woken me and as I realised what they were talking about, the excitement in my chest rose till I felt I could burst with it. Our playful, beautiful, marvellous German Shepherd Scout had just delivered puppies!!! Today, the day that we remembered for the birth of our Lord also had the added joy of newborn puppies. A radiant smile on my face, I dashed around calling Scout. I found her beneath our large grey sea container. As I wriggled under to be near Scout my shirt was coated in the rough dark soil and the stench of thrown away gasoline cans filled my nostrils. With hardly any room to move and breath, I glanced around. But all my discomforts were forgotten and my glowing smile widened as I saw three squirming healthy, lively puppies around Scout. Scout’s black and brown eyes were soft with a new motherly instinct and she gently licked them. Then she turned around at me and, her mouth half open in her typical comical smile, thumped the ground with her tail. I knelt by her puppies in rapturous delight. The idea that Scout might not like me close to them didn’t even cross my mind. For why should she? I was her playmate, and she trusted me. As I held the little squirming pups, I smiled at Scout. She was perfectly at ease. The wonder of this Christmas morning overtook me.

Later that Christmas morning I still sat by Scout, who was now moved to a little structure my Dad had constructed outside with a bit of chicken fencing around it to keep the puppies inside when they got old enough. I sat there petting her and watching the puppies stumble blindly around. Then it happened. Scout arched her back as she shuddered under a sudden spasm of pain. Breathlessly I watched a black form slowly and painfully slip out. The blankets underneath Scout were stained red with excess blood. The puppy was coated with a disgusting cover of even more blood. But Scout didn’t care. She licked the still form and tried again in desperation. I had actually watched Scout give birth to her fourth puppy, and it seemed hard to believe that it had come out dead. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. The puppy lay on the blanket still and cold. It would never see the blue sky or come running to get food. I wondered numbly in the misty morning how many more would follow this puppy. Scout did not give up as easily. Out went her pink tongue, and she impatiently nudged the puppy. How did she know all of a sudden that she was to do that? How did she know that something was wrong? I marvelled at the motherly instinct God gives creatures. My brothers removed the puppy to be buried and Scout slumped down and resumed cleaning the other three. Jocque the older dog, also a pure German shepherd, followed the boys as they buried the puppy under the mango tree. Dead mango leaves drifted gently down and covered the overturned soil.

“Scout, Jocque!” I watched our two large dogs hurtle around the corner of our house, their tongues hanging out as they fought to keep their place ahead of the two lively puppies that had seemingly shot up in the past few weeks. Ever since their eyes had opened they had become more and more bold. White Fang and Beowulf were active pups, and it was a joy to watch them grow so fast. But their sister…Turning to the corner again, I called “Wolf!” Another puppy painfully hobbled around the corner, gingerly keeping pressure off one of her front legs. I watched her in pity. Scout gave me her ‘let’s play’ bark. But I shook my head. “No, I have to take care of Wolf.” I gently picked up the soft pup and kissed her head. Wolf had a deformed leg. We are not sure how it was formed, but we were told that since she was still so young her bones were soft and we could put them in a splint. Then it would become straight. But dear Wolf’s splint had been made with sticks. It dug into her leg and now the result was plain. A large swollen white paw bears proof of our mistake. But the ugliness of that leg was made up for in Wolf’s eyes. They were full of love and trust. I gently lowered her down to the floor, and put her paw in some hot water. As her paw soaked I stroked her head gently murmuring to her. Her eyes, half closed in delight, were like those of her father, Jocque. Big liquid brown eyes, irresistible when she looked at you in her certain gaze. I bandaged her paw after I put some medicine on it. I did this often and she knew that she was done as soon as the bandage was secured. With a little bark she hobbled out the door. A lump rose in my throat as I ran out to play with Scout and patient Wolf lay down on the steps with a resigned sigh. Her black coat seemed to shimmer in the sunlight and her little wet black nose pushed itself into the cobwebs. Wolf’s miniature teeth were lined in perfect rows inside her mouth, and her pink tongue fitted easily inside of them. If it wasn't for her leg she would be a perfect puppy. Questions rose inside of me. Why couldn’t she be like the other puppies? How was that leg even deformed? Would it ever heal and be normal again? But then…if she was ‘normal’, would she have this relationship with me? I knelt down beside her, my hand smoothing her fur into place. If Wolf was a ‘normal’ puppy, she would have to be given to someone else, as were White Fang and Beowulf. With this thought in mind, I turned around and ran with Scout and Jocque and the two ‘tag alongs'. Wolf barked encouragement to her siblings to catch up to us. I grinned and ran even faster. The wind blew in my face and whistled past as Wolf’s barking faded away into the distance.

It is now almost a month later. Beowulf and White Fang, Wolf’s siblings have gone to their homes. I called Wolf. When she didn’t come I knew something was wrong. Wolf now had sores on her thin body and, despite my efforts, was slowly dying. But she still answered to my call. I searched for Wolf and found her, lying on the porch steps. I ran forward, afraid that she was dead. But her skinny tail thumped on the cement, and she rolled her eyes at me. I bent down and stroked her head. Wolf turned and gazed at me. If you think dogs can’t convey emotions, you are wrong. I used to think that too. But the last look that Wolf gave me seemed to come from her soul. It was warm, and so full of that simple trust and beautiful love that tears began to trickle down my cheeks. Wolf gently licked my hand, and then lay still. Her eyes were covered with a filmy white, and her heart was still. Gently I picked her up and through a blurry vision of tears I whispered, “Goodbye Wolf.”

I had seen birth and death. I had experienced joy and sorrow. The morning and the night, so to speak, had passed before my eyes. This is the story of Wolf, written not only on paper, but also on my heart.

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