Chapter 1 – Prologue & The Runaway

The View From Above

I’ve met a few saints since I died and most of them remind me of Grace.

That stubborn devotion to their cause is as inflexible as the ties that bound them to the stake while the flames tickled their feet. They’ll suffer for the sins of a world they cannot change, and sacrifice their lives for all they hold dear, making fools of themselves in the process. Dead fools.

I first heard about Grace when she was a child, from some mutual friends. Even then, we could see her determination. I began following her a few years ago when I arrived here and needed a distraction from my regrets. I was selfish — I refused to bear children for my husband, who saved me from evil. Now I see him down there, left to mourn and die alone, and want to atone.

When I rewound the story of Grace’s life, we discovered a phoenix emerging from tragedy. It was then that I started writing this addition to the Lives of the Saints. Grace isn’t a martyr in the Christian tradition, but one who prays for all of God’s creatures and tries to deliver them from evil. She does what she can and lets Karma do the rest.

History has had its share of saints who lit a flame for mercy and enlightenment that was dowsed by ignorance. As society evolves, so does its view of people once dismissed as lunatics and extremists. You’ll see in Grace that same kind of craziness, a habit of talking to animals, and a self-righteous bent that turns people against her — and is driving her to doom.

St. Roch bristles when I call her The Patron Saint of Dogs but I know he’s watching over Grace. Divine intervention may be frowned upon up here, and I’m no angel, but — on the day she is fired — you just might notice his fingerprints on the screen…

 

The Runaway

“I told you Friday not to bring that in again,” Charles Burns pointed to her backpack. “I’ve been patient because I know what you’ve been through, Grace. But this is a law office, not an animal shelter.”

A weak mew escaped the backpack.

“I let you bring Jules to work because she’s a good girl. She’s quiet and well behaved, so there weren’t any objections. But you can’t bring newborn kittens in, too. We’re getting complaints about the smell – it lingers.” The scent of urine and sour, regurgitated milk hung in the air between them.

He ran his manicured fingers through his greying hair then adjusted his cufflinks. “The partners have had enough. Take them home and leave them there or we’ll have to let you go.”

Grace’s first thought was not for herself but her dependents, Jules and Psycho Kitty, and she began to panic.

Charles glanced at the big black dog sitting beside her. Jules put her snout on Grace’s lap then nudged it under her palm. As she began rubbing Jules’ ears, her breathing slowed and deepened. Grace thought about praying for salvation but knew they were doomed.

“I tried Charlie, but my neighbour bailed on me at the last minute. They need to be bottle fed every three hours or they could dehydrate and die like the others. Give me a few more days, c’mon.”

He set his jaw and shook his head.

“Is this Andy’s handiwork?”

“It was discussed and we concurred. Do yourself a favour and let me call in animal services and have them taken to the shelter.”

“Over my dead body.”

“Don’t make a martyr of yourself, Grace.”

“I’m not letting them die, too. The shelter will euthanize them — they’ll say they’re too young to survive without their mother. I found them, I saved them, and I’ll take care of them until I find them a good home.”

“Then hire a pet sitter. You need this job — you can’t take care of your pets without a roof over your head.”

“They aren’t pets, they’re my family. And I can’t leave them with anyone because all I do is obsess when I’m away that…”

Not now, not now, don’t think of that now…

“…something terrible is happening at home.”

He looked at Grace with pity. “Speaking of home and family, are you ever going back?”

She looked at the wall and shook her head.

“Are you still seeing a psychiatrist?”

“Why?”

“Because this obsession you have with saving animals has gotten worse. We’ve known each other for years — we’re still your friends. Lex is worried about you. She’s always asking me how you are. Call her — you need someone to talk some sense into you.”

Grace gritted her teeth, afraid to respond in case she exploded.

“Take the kittens home and you can keep your job.”

“No,” she said, gripping the backpack.

“Lex told me you’d do this.” Charles sighed, picked up the phone and dialed zero. “We’re ready,” he said, then dropped the receiver into its cradle and wiped his hands.

“You should consider going back to law school and studying animal rights again. I was disappointed you dropped out – we all were.”

“I wasn’t meant to be a lawyer. I was put on this earth to help animals, not avenge their death.”

“Then get a job at the shelter.”

“It’s too depressing. I can’t handle seeing so many dogs and cats put down for lack of a home.”

He sighed in exasperation. “You’re your own worst enemy, you know that, don’t you?”

She knew he was right but refused to admit it. Grace stared back at him until he couldn’t stand the silence any longer and looked away.

“I hired you as a researcher – over Andy’s objections — because you’re smart, resourceful and good in a crisis. I’ll give you a reference based on that. But whatever you do next, I suggest you start leaving the sanctimonious crap at home. It didn’t make you any friends here.”

“Listen, I’m not going to apologize for speaking up when I hear someone’s about to declaw their cat without considering the long term effects of –” but Charles held up his hand to silence her.

“You need to consult a lawyer before signing these.” He pushed the Termination of Employment and Benefits papers towards her then stood. “Don’t sacrifice yourself for your cause, no matter how noble you think it is. It’s already cost you one life.”

“Screw you,” she hissed. Grace grabbed his pen, signed both documents, then threw it down.

Jules padded to the door, pulling her by the leash that looped around her wrist.

Charles went to the door but Grace beat him to it. She flung it open then jumped back in alarm. Security stood there. A pompous chest barred the way, bearing a tin badge below a pair of pretentious epaulets. A massive belt encircled his massive waist with umpteen keys dangling from it, proclaiming his self-importance. Little leather cases were attached to the belt, hiding God knows what devices to restrain disturbers of the peace until the real police arrived.

Two more guards and an animal control officer stood behind him. One was holding two boxes from the archives that were overflowing with bowls, pet food and toys, threatening to break open and make another mess of everything.

Fired. In disgrace.

She turned on Charles. “What the hell is this?”

“Andy insisted,” he said, but did not look her in the eye.

The guards stepped forward. Animal control reached for Jules’ leash to escort her off the premises but Grace jerked her arm away, “Don’t touch her.”

Jules’ chest expanded as the fur on her spine stood on end. She emitted a deep grrrrr that raised the hair on the back of everyone else’s neck.

“We’ll leave in peace but don’t do anything stupid. She won’t hurt anyone unless she thinks they’re trying to hurt me.”

They looked at Charles. He nodded.

“Puppy come.” Grace held her head high as Jules fell into a heel beside her. Two guards darted in front of them as they made their way down the hall, trailed by animal control wielding a choke stick and the guard carrying her personal effects. Charles followed them. Everyone in the office stood and turned as they passed. The kittens mewed for their mother.

One of the partners came to his door and sneered, “It’s about time. Good riddance.”

Grace turned to face her childhood nemesis, “Andy Boyles, you’re a bully. You cheated on the LSATs. You bought papers when we were in university. And you’re screwing both Cheryl and Jennifer.”

The junior clerks jerked their haughty heads towards Andy then sized each other up, their faces livid.

“They’ll be comparing notes with your wife during the separation proceedings. Good luck,” she winked.

Bitch!” Andy shouted as they reached Burns and Boyles’ reception. “They should’ve kept you in the insane asylum.”

As they waited for the elevator, Grace looked back at Charles and Andy. “Do you know the Karma Curse?”

Charles’ eyebrows raised then furrowed. Andy put his hands on his hips.

“May all that you have done to us come back upon you — nothing more, nothing less.”

The whispers rose to a crescendo that peaked with a thunderclap as Charles retreated to his office and slammed the door.

* * *

They walked Grace, Jules and the kittens to the sidewalk and left them on a bench outside the office tower’s property line. It was ten o’clock, break time, and the mews were urgent. The fake-fur-lined backpack was shaking as the kittens crawled over each other in search of a nipple.

Drawing formula into two eyedroppers, Grace gently lifted a pair of two-week old orange cats out of her pack. Turning them onto their back, she laid them in her lap. Their eyes were still closed as their front paws kneaded her hands while they suckled.

Grace bent over them, purring and nuzzling the kittens as their mother would have. She blew into their tiny ears until they twitched and then tickled their toes with her pinkies, watching their minute claws stretch. She checked them over from top to bottom, satisfied they’d survived the morning oblivious to their fate.

She had found them in a box beside a dumpster a few days earlier. Six kittens abandoned on a chilly, late summer’s night behind a row of derelict townhouses. Overgrown with weeds and littered with rusty cars, their yards were cluttered with vandalized bikes and broken toys. The gaping fences and crooked stairs were an ugly reminder of failed urban renewal projects and employment retraining programs.

Two of the cats were already dead by the time she discovered them. The other four were crying for their mother and crawling over each other to find her. Weak from dehydration and hunger, they fell back upon their dead siblings before struggling up to try again. Frantic, Grace kept calling for their mother so she could keep her with her kittens — they needed the antibodies in her milk at that fragile age.

She had taken off her sweater and laid it over the kittens to keep them warm. Shivering in her bra, she had picked up the sodden cardboard box and, with a wail and a curse, strode home with them as fast as she could, Jules trotting beside her, her leash flying free in the wind.

The kittens had improved since she’d found them, but they were still in a delicate state. After she fed the first two, she rubbed their bottoms where their mother would have licked them to stimulate their vital organs so they’d pee and poo. She pulled paper towel from her backpack and wiped them clean, then washed them with Wet Wipes until they were damp and smelled like baby powder.

They fell asleep, their tiny bellies distended with milk, their purrs soft and contented as they snuggled up to each other. She emptied one of the banker’s boxes and placed the kittens in it. Then she repeated the process with their siblings. Finally, she pulled the fake-fur out of her backpack, cleaned it, then scrubbed out her pack.

Jules sat beside her, watching, waiting, keeping an eye on everyone and everything. Business people hurried by, straining their necks as they passed this curious scene. Trucks waited in the turning lane to the loading docks, cussing at the drivers who would not let them turn in but were pulling forward, blocking their way instead. Traffic was constant, horns honked. Pedestrians cursed drivers turning right on the red, nosing through the crosswalk crowded with sneaker-clad admins.

Mmrrmmm,” Jules murmured, shifting her weight from her left paws to her right, raising and lowering each eyebrow and calling her, “Mmrrmmm.”

Grace looked up from her labours, “You can’t be hungry yet, can you?”

Jules panted, her long tongue hanging out and licking her lips before breaking into an open-mouthed, doggy smile. “Thirsty? Sorry, I got sidetracked.”

She rummaged around until she found a water bottle, a bowl and a couple of biscuits. Jules wolfed them then drained the bowl, licking around the rim for a taste of breakfast. “So, got any ideas how we are going to get ourselves – and all this stuff – home?”

It would take an act of God now to deliver them from her self-induced misfortune, Grace thought. No job. No rent. No health benefits. There were food banks, but not for dogs or cats. There were free walk-in clinics, but not for Jules or Psycho Kitty. The kittens and the five cats she fostered were funded by the animal rescue group where she volunteered. They might slip in a bit of extra food, but it wouldn’t be enough to feed a ninety pound dog.

Jules panted in the late-summer sun. Her black fur gleamed now, a far cry from what it had been when Grace had rescued her. She looked into Jules’ eyes, amazed by the kindred soul she recognized there.

Most people scoffed at her belief that if we have souls, animals do too. She’d suggest they read The Life of Pi and urged them to look beyond the dogma. Animals display love and compassion and mourn the loss of family members, much like humans. They have a will to live and an ability to survive and adapt to inhuman conditions, accepting sanctuary and friendship in the most unlikely places.

Her last boyfriend had laughed at her. “You’ve got to be kidding — animals have souls? That’s just a fantastical movie based on a boring book. Besides, it was allegorical, Pi doesn’t really drift across the ocean with a Bengal tiger. Get serious,” he’d scorned.

“No cab will pick us up, not with you with us, you big silly puppy,” she joked, rubbing her palm against Jules’ forehead. Grace put all the supplies she could fit into her pack, slung it over her back and picked up the box of kittens.

Then Jules spun around, turning towards the park, her ears twitching as she homed in on the sounds of shouting and a chorus of barks.

Grace looked over the traffic towards the park’s gate. There was a break between cars just then and she glimpsed a Jack Russell terror – a terrier – a breed of dog as independent as they were hell-on-four-paws. The dog was running up the path towards the road, its leash trailing behind it. A harried dogwalker was trying to chase him but was impeded by five other dogs.

When the runaway reached the gate and started to squeeze under it, Grace dropped the kittens and her pack on the bench. She barked, “STAY! WATCH!” at Jules, then raced into the street to save the dog before it was run over.

Jules seemed torn between following her mother and obeying, but she stayed, shifting from paw to paw, yipping and calling a warning to the Jack Russell to stop or die. It looked up and paused in time to miss a taxi racing for the light.

When the light turned red, cars began slowing down. Grace dodged between them, leaning this way and that, trying to find the little troublemaker, dead or alive.

A car had stopped on his leash and the dog was trapped. He was darting under and around the wheel, straining backwards to slip his collar off.

The driver of the car looked startled by the sight of Grace bearing down on him.

“BACK UP!” she commanded the driver.

The terrified dogwalker stood on the sidewalk, desperately looking up and down the street as his dogs barked and lunged at the traffic. Grace shouted, “He’s under here.”

The driver rolled down his window. “What the hell happened? Did I hit something?”

“There’s a dog trapped under your car. Back up slowly, but do it fast.” Grace tried to reach under the car but couldn’t grab the dog’s leash.

Panicking, the driver struggled to get the car into reverse. His wife dug her nails into his arm. “What did you kill this time?” She rubbernecked around the street, glimpsing the horrified dogwalker watching them. “You hit a dog! Ohmygod! Another dog! Oh my dear Lord, this car is cursed.”

“The light is changing!”

Horns were blaring, drivers were hollering, the light was green and cars were speeding by on the one lane left open. Children’s noses were pressed up against the windows of a passing school bus, making faces.

Slowly, the car eased into reverse. Unpinned, the Jack Russell tried to run but Grace stomped on his leash as he emerged from under the car. She picked up the squirming dog then held out an arm to stop traffic as she headed back to Jules.

“Thank you!” the dogwalker called. “Wait there, I’ll cross at the lights and meet you.”

As they waited for him, Grace held onto the bucking, indignant terrier under one arm and used her free hand to check his funky collar. It was an imperialist purple decorated with little white bones with a silver dog tag engraved with his breed, address and phone number. He lived on this side of the park.

“Huh, never seen a dog tag with the name of its breed instead of its name or its owner’s name. Stupid. Well, okay Mr. Jack Russell, nice to meet you. This is Jules.” She wiggled his paw to wave at Jules but he snapped at her.

“NO BITE,” Grace growled in a deep voice that ended on a higher note, imitating a canine mother disciplining her pups. She jerked him sideways then stared him down until he looked away and dropped his ears.

“Don’t even think about giving me attitude, little Mister Almost-Roadkill. You’re one lucky pup. You couldn’t have met anyone more dog-friendly than me today.” The dog looked away from her then bared his spiky teeth at Jules.

“Ha ha, very funny. Think you’re tough? Trying to pick a fight with a dog four times your size? Nice try, she’d just ignore a pupsqueak like you. Seriously, dude, the nerve.”

As the dogwalker approached, he struggled to control his pack and untangle their leashes. Grace watched him let go of one handle at a time instead of guiding each dog around the other. Amateur, that must be how the Jack got away, she thought.

“Thanks,” he said, taking the Jack Russell’s leash with a sigh of relief.

When he turned to go back to the park the little dog balked. The dogwalker pulled, but he refused to follow. He started dragging him but the dog locked his knees and his claws scraped along the sidewalk.

The dog put his head down and the collar slipped over his neck. Freed, he turned and ran for home. Grace lunged, tackling him before he could get far. She picked him up and marched back, then took the collar and leash from the dog walker.

“Is his owner home?” When the man nodded she said, “I’ll take him, I’m going that way. You already have more than you can handle.”

“I only have six,” he protested. “That’s not as many as they walk in New York. And I’m within the by-law – I have a license.” She noticed his t-shirt, Alpha Dog Day Care.

“Look, he won’t go with you and he’s already escaped twice. I’ll make sure he gets home.”

As his five remaining dogs tangled his legs, he said, “He’s a pain in the ass, but if I don’t take him back, the old man will wonder…” Then he slumped like an underdog who’d just had his big fat puppy butt whipped by the toughest dog on the block.

Grace put the Jack Russell down, tied his leash to Jules’ collar, then picked up the kittens and headed down the boulevard towards the address on his silver plated bone.

 

© Copyright protected and all rights reserved by the author, Colleen MacDougall

Contact: thepatronsaintofdogs@gmail.com

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About The Patron Saint of Dogs
Writing The Patron Saint of Dogs is my way of helping to save abused and abandoned dogs and cats in the real world. A portion of every sale will be donated to animal rescue organizations in Canada and around the world. My name is Colleen MacDougall and I was a dog walker and pet sitter for 11 years. Many of the furry characters in this book are reincarnations of wonderful animals I was able to know, love and help, especially Jules, who is Grace's partner-in-crime now, but was my furbaby and the very first person I hope to see in that great off-leash park in dog heaven.

29 Responses to Chapter 1 – Prologue & The Runaway

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  2. Audra Dymond says:

    Am delighted to share this book and the joy of rescue! My life is dedicated to rescue. It is wonderful to be able to share this book with others.

  3. Pingback: Chapter 1 – The Runaway | Peeves and Rants

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