This is one of the stories from Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun (Jass Richards) (available wherever you buy your books online!).
(from Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun, Jass Richards)
“Hello, are you the dog walker?” The woman sounded stressed, tired, sad, and hopeful.
“Yes, I guess so.” I sounded stupid.
“I’m calling from the local shelter, and we’ve got a dog here we’re hoping you’ll add to your roster.”
“But don’t you have someone who comes every day to take all your dogs for a walk?” I thought the local high school provided a co-op student every term to do just that. And, well, to clean out the kennels and provide general help while learning enough to figure out if they wanted to become a vet or a vet assistant. Used to be we’d just volunteer.
“We do, yes, but Rosie’s very depressed and refuses to—she won’t even get up anymore. We’re hoping a new person, a new bunch of dogs—”
“I’ll be there in an hour,” I interrupted. She had me at ‘she won’t even get up anymore’.
So I called everyone. I had a lot of faith in Snookums, but I called Chum, Spunky Doo, Hunk, and even Little Miss—hopefully one of them would somehow, or all of them together would—or, yes, I said to Kess, maybe the sight of a brand new fluorescent green tennis ball would do it! I went to the closet and let her get a new one out of the somewhat depleted 100-ball pack.
Chum, Spunky Doo, Hunk—as soon as we turned right, not left, at the critical intersection, he broke into a howl. (Her person had relented. Finally.) Little Miss was sitting on the front yard primly, though barely so. She contained herself until we actually pulled into her driveway, then let loose and got up, wiggling her behind just a bit.
Hunk leapt out when I opened the back door, ran toward her, but stopped a few feet short. Something was different. She smelled—different. He approached and started sniffing. No…no…no….no…yes! His nose was in her underparts. This is different! Something is different here, something happened here!!
“Could you please not let him do that?” Little Miss’ person had appeared at the front door.
I gently pulled Hunk’s nose out of Little Miss’ crotch. “Later,” I said to him.
Once I pulled into the small parking lot, I put Snookums’ snuggly thing on, put her in it, then went to the shelter’s front door, leaving the rest of them in the car, all windows open, with strict instructions not to jump out—there was no stink to escape this time, but I felt I needed to point that out to Spunky Doo.
Merrill led me to the back, to Rosie’s cage. A mottled beige greyhound was curled up in the corner. She looked like a despondent lump of meat. As I went inside her pen, I saw the fresh scars along the length of her back.
“What happened?” I asked, quietly.
“We don’t know for sure,” Merrill said, just as quietly. “Someone found her at the racetrack, lying beside the trash can. Looked like she’d been whipped half to death, then kicked. Repeatedly. We had to suture—her back was in shreds. And she had several broken ribs.”
“My god. Who would do such a thing?”
“An owner who had a lot of money on a race? Angry because she placed second instead of first?”
So he whipped her? Because she didn’t run fast enough?
I thought of the scene in The Piano where the guy chops off the woman’s finger. With a single stroke, he destroyed a life. He’d taken not just a finger, but her source of—not just pleasure, not even just bliss, but passion. Playing the piano was—it was what she lived for.
At least, I thought, Rosie’s owner hadn’t broken her legs.
Rosie looked at me then, and for a moment, I saw her eyes flicker. I saw the hurt in her eyes. The betrayal. She’d run as fast as she could. Those beautiful brown eyes, so full of hurt and betrayal. Then they went dull again. Flat.
“Will she ever run again, do you think?” I asked.
“Doubtful. My guess is she’ll fall apart if she gets anywhere near a track.”
“So you’ve had her for how long?”
“Months. The wounds had to heal, and we wanted her immobile anyway for her ribs to heal. Then when she was ready, she started to join the others for the daily walk around the block, but I guess it was just too depressing, given what she used to do. Karen, our walker, tried to take her by herself a couple times, breaking into a jog, but it was a no go. Rosie refused to do more than walk. Then she started refusing to do even that. She hasn’t left her cage at all for the past week. We started to think euthanasia may be the kindest thing we could do, but then someone heard of you, and now that her back and ribs are completely healed, we thought maybe you and your pack could get her walking again...”
“Actually, I think I can do better than that.” I had an idea.
But for now, I set Snookums down at my feet. She tiptoed to the corner to where Rosie lay. She knew. Snookums knew something was very wrong here, something was very sad here. She gently crawled over Rosie’s folded up hind legs, no doubt thinking there must be more than two of them, and tucked herself into the space she’d made. After a while, Rosie lifted her head to look at Snookums. Snookums smiled and gave her a lick, right on the tip of her long pointed nose. She thumped her little tail hopefully. Then she crawled out of Rosie’s hind legs and clambered over her fore legs. Rosie kept moving her legs to accommodate Snookums, then finally decided that what with all that movement, she may as well just get up.
So Rosie slowly unfolded herself, and stood. Snookums looked up. Way up. And giggled.
With Snookums back in her snuggly, and Rosie on a leash, we walked out to the car. Oh. Right. I hadn’t anticipated adding a greyhound to the pack.
I really should’ve sold the car. And gotten a bus. Or something.
I set Snookums into the driver’s seat beside Kessie, then walked around the car, considering all possible rearrangements. There was no way around it.
“You’ll have to get in the trunk,” I told Spunky Doo.
He was delighted. So was Hunk.
“No, just kidding,” I said. “Your brain can’t afford any oxygen deprivation.”
I stuffed him into the passenger seat foot space. He had, after all, fit into the firefighers’ bucket. More or less. Chum and Snookums would just have to be careful not to step onto him. Or not.
Rosie got in beside Little Miss and Hunk, who were already sitting as close together as possible. So it worked.
Even so, since I happened to see a car dealership two blocks later, I pulled in. A salesperson came out immediately.
“Hi,” I gestured at my little car full of dogs. “I’m in the market for something roomier. What are they making these days?”
She looked at Hunk, Little Miss, Rosie, Snookums, Kessie, and Chum. And Spunky Doo, who somehow managed to pop his head up.
“Well, you could go with an extra-long SUV. Or a minivan. Do you want a back seat or would you rather have all open space behind the front?” Open space would mean a lot of inadvertent jostling. Or it might mean, on longer trips, that they could stretch out and lay down.
“Can I have both? A back seat that could fold down?”
“Yes. We can get that.”
“Do different makes have different sizes of seat? I mean, see where their front paws are? When they’re sitting?” I pointed to Hunk and Little Miss. “Their paws are so close to their body, they’re more teetery than they want to be. Another couple inches of seat would make the bigger ones more comfortable. More stable.”
“Hm. No one’s ever asked about that before. But I do know that some makes suit taller people better, so…I’ll look into that,” she started making notes. “Failing that, we may be able to get some sort of custom-fitting boxes that can be put in the footwells. You never transport people?”
Silly question. I ignored it.
“And the front seat,” I said a few seconds later, “can I get, you know, how they used to be all one? Without the gear shift in the middle?”
“A bench seat. I can look into that,” she made a note. “Air conditioning, of course?”
“Yes. And lots of windows. That open. Remote-controlled. Individually.”
“You’ll want the back window to open as well?”
“That’d be good.”
“What about a sunroof?”
I thought of Spunky Doo, and his purple octopus head. “Sure,” I said, “that could be fun.”
Twenty minutes later, we were at the beach. Free at least, free at last, thank god—Spunky Doo took off as soon as he wriggled his way out. He could’ve waited until Chum had gotten out, but it was more fun not to. Chum and Kessie followed him, after a short, but frantic, search for Kessie’s tennis ball and Chum’s beach ball, both of which had gotten dislodged from where they’d been set, carefully on the seat.
I opened the back door next for Hunk and Little Miss, who got out on the same side, of course, and waited, glued together, until I walked around to open Rosie’s door. She got out and came with us, reluctantly, even with Snookums’ encouragement, as we walked down the short path to long expanse of sandy beach.
We were in luck. There she was, running, far in the distance. The sprinter I often saw. Charmaine.
Rosie—unbelievably, given typical canine eyesight—also saw her. I swear I felt the longing in every cell of her body.
“Go,” I whispered, and gave her the slightest of nudges.
She did. And Oh. My. God. It was— She ran on joy. Her fuel was pure joy. She didn’t run so much as soar across the beach in a series of split leaps. Her body was wonderfully aerodynamic, from her pointed nose, to her slightly broader muzzle, to her slightly broader yet skull, to her narrow but powerful shoulders. And her stride was as wonderfully efficient. Every hurdler struggling with the least bit of vertical movement would just pack it in if they saw her.
Then my jaw dropped. Rosie had caught up with Charmaine. I watched as she overtook her. Charmaine upped her speed. Ten meters from the marker she’d set, Rosie upped her speed as well. And won. Rosie won!
As soon as she was able to straighten up—having doubled over as soon as she came to a stop—Charmaine looked around for Rosie’s owner. I waved. She returned the wave.
Rosie started loping back toward us then, Charmaine jogging behind. When Rosie got back to me, I praised her to the hilt. We all did. Yes, we all saw you RUN! And you WON! Rosie turned then and saw Charmaine still in motion. I raised my hand, made a circle, pointed back down the beach, then made pathetic running motions with my arms. Charmaine understood. She turned and broke into another sprint.
“Go,” I whispered again to Rosie. She took off again, running full out. This time, when she caught up to Charmaine, she did not overtake her. She just matched Charmaine’s speed. She didn’t need to win again. She just needed to run. Beside someone. Preferably, with someone.
And Charmaine was the perfect someone. I’d met her here a while ago and discovered that she was a student at the local university and a sprinter on their track team. Every second day she was here, putting herself through a grueling routine of ten 100-meter sprints, then ten 200-meter sprints. In the sand. It sounds idyllic, going for a run on the beach, but it’s frickin’ hard. I tried it. Once. Sand is great because it cushions your impact, but it gives you nothing to push off of. That’s why no one wants to be her training partner.
But the benefits are immense. Charmaine said that after running on the beach, running on a track feels like you have springs on your feet. Without any extra effort, her stride increases almost 25%. And, so, her times decrease by almost the same percentage.
Charmaine was determined to make the national team. It looked very possible, given her times this season, and her age. Not to mention her dedication. And the glow she had going when she was out here. She loved running fast, that’s all there was to it. She was born to race. And would do so whether she made the team or not.
“Hey,” she said when she reached us. I noted that Rosie had stayed with her this time, walking beside her as she jogged. (Yes, walking beside her as she jogged.)
“Hey,” I said back, throwing Kessie’s ball back up the beach, then Chum’s ball back into the water.
“She’s magnificent,” Charmaine murmured as she ran her hands along Rosie’s shoulders to her flanks, caressing, massaging the solid muscle under the silky coat. Rosie’s eyes met mine. They were glistening. And oh god, I wept.
Rosie wasn’t much to look at, her coat actually looked like it had stains on it, but neither of us was talking about that.
“She’s a new addition to your crew?” Charmaine asked, nodding to Hunk and Little Miss, and bending down to say hi to Snookums.
“Not exactly, she’s from the shelter.”
“You mean— I could adopt her? She could be mine?”
“And you could be hers,” I said. I told her Rosie’s story then, what little I knew of it.
“Do you know the guy’s name?” Charmaine asked in a tight voice, “Or where he lives?” Her hand reached down protectively to Rosie. “I have friends who would love to kick the shit out of him. I’d even buy a whip for the occasion.”
“If I knew,” I said, “I’d tell you.” And I realized that I meant it.
“She’s perfect,” Charmaine said then, turning her attention back to Rosie. “She didn’t trip me like almost every other dog I’ve ever run with.”
Speaking of which, I looked around for Spunky Doo. Ah, there he was. Tripping himself. And laughing about it.
“And she just—just—kept ahead of me, pulling me forward a little faster. I increased my speed, she increased hers. But just enough so I still felt it was possible to overtake her.”
“You’d never overtake her.” Pigs would never fly.
“Nor would I want to. After what she’s been through? She’s felt enough defeat to last her lifetime.”
Oh wow, please adopt her.
“How old is she, do you think?”
“I don’t know. Two? Three?”
“I live in a townhouse,” Charmaine was thinking out loud. “There’s a bunch of us from the team.”
“But I’m away a lot. At meets.”
“Is everyone who lives with you on the team?”
“Well, no. Celine isn’t. I could ask her if she’d look after Rosie when I’m not there.”
I nodded again.
“I couldn’t take her with me, right? She’d freak at the sight of a track?”
“That’d be my guess. What about an indoor track though?” I wondered. “Do you think she’d enjoy racing on an indoor track?”
“I dunno. They’re banked. Wouldn’t that wreck her legs?”
“Probably. Yeah. And maybe we shouldn’t risk it in any case,” I said. “It’s enough that she ran today. That she will run on the beach. With you. That’s amazing enough.”
“It is. You are,” she said to Rosie, giving her another full body stroke. Rosie leaned into her.
“Okay,” Charmaine looked up at me, beaming. It was settled. “So, you’ll take her back to the shelter and—”
“Do you want to keep her now?” I asked. “It might—”
I grinned. I gave her the name and address of the shelter, so she could go do the paperwork.
“I don’t actually know if you have to pay an adoption fee or something,” I said. “If you do, and it’s too much—starving student and all—call me, and I’ll take care of it.” I gave her one of my cards.
I bent down to say good-bye to Rosie. She rested her long muzzle against my cheek. Thank you.
“And if Celine says no, do not take her to a kennel. And do not miss your meet. Call me. I’ll look after her.”
Charmaine turned then, since she still had several sprints to do. Rosie turned with her. And never looked back.