Chapter 2 – In The Dog House

“You’re going to be in the dog house when you get home,” Grace teased the Jack Russell attached to Jules’ collar.

They marched him down the boulevard to the address on the runaway’s tag. She stopped at a gate between two buildings set back from the street. They were connected by a glass atrium but each building was fenced off from the other. The bars were tightly spaced to keep intruders out, Grace assumed, until a Border Collie raced around the side of the building and began herding them up the path. He barked and hopped and shooed them towards the door.

“Nice dog fence,” she said, “designed to keep Little Mr. AWOL here from busting out, I bet.” The runaway pulled and strained towards the door but, anchored to Jules, could not tow her any faster than she was willing to go.

The grass on the left side of the building was worn and stained yellow. Like a twister board, it was littered with green tennis balls, red toys and knobby bones. Stainless-steel water bowls glinted in the sun near a sliding glass door. An old greying Retriever snored in the shade of a lilac tree. Flies buzzed around a pile of poop and over a trash can. Tall grasses and wildflowers encircled the yard but were trampled. Mature trees lined the broad path but swayed in the breeze.

On the other side, birds swooped down from their branches to dive-bomb the squirrels raiding their feeders. Grace glimpsed a tabby cat hunched in the grass, its head low and its haunches up. Shifting from paw to paw, it tensed, ready to spring. It crept towards a blue jay, paused, then crept further. Suddenly it lunged and almost reached the feeders before the line on its collar came to a sudden end, snapping it back. An elderly woman began pulling in the line as she hauled the cat towards her like a fisherman reeling in his catch.

The right wing stood in immaculate contrast to the left. It was neatly trimmed, with thick green grass edged by flowerbeds and garden plots displaying hand-painted ceramic signs by “Alberta’s Garden of Eden” and “Fred’s Fresh Tomatoes.” It had a white-washed gazebo, trellis tables and chairs, and a croquet set laid out along the end.

The cat lady looked up, curling her lip and tsk-tsking Grace and company as they were herded up the steps.

Grace’s finger traced the list of names and entry codes beside the phone until she stopped at Russell, Jack. “Haha,” she laughed, “that’s your Dad’s name on your collar.” The phone beeped politely until a faded voice finally answered.

“Hi, my name is Grace. I’ve got your dog, Mr. Russell.”

He paused in confusion, “You have JR? I thought he was with his walker?”

“He was, but he ran away and I caught him. Can you come out to the lobby or shall I bring him in?”

The door buzzed and Grace stepped into the whalebone atrium, the Canadian flag flying proudly over top. Like a gargantuan rib cage, its beams soared up to join its arching spine. It was a neutral zone people passed through before accessing either the left or right wings. There was no confusing the two camps because the right’s elevators demanded “NO DOGS” in giant letters.

She herded them through a riot door before stopping at the first apartment. JR scratched at the door and clawed the carpet. Before she could knock the door opened a little, and then a little more. JR tried to race inside but Grace stomped on his leash again. An elderly man bent over a walker looked down at JR then up at Grace, Jules and the box of kittens in surprise.

Grace was dressed for the office but covered in dog and cat hair. She was thirty, fair and fit. Her long strawberry hair was tied in a ponytail. The sun had streaked her bangs blond and although she pinned them back, they defied confinement. Her legs were muscled from cycling and walking, and her arms and shoulders were defined by shelter dogs straining their leashes, trying to escape the pound.

“Thank you, Miss. I appreciate you taking the trouble to bring him home.”

“I’m just glad he made it home safely.”

“He’s an absolute devil,” he said, then ruffled the little rascal’s fur and unhooked his leash. The dog bolted inside. Grace shifted the box of kittens in her arms.

“Where did you find him?”

“He was running out of the park into traffic. Almost got hit by a car – he’s a very lucky pooch. Traffic stopped for the light so I was able to grab him. He’s okay, though.”

“And where is the man I hired to walk him?”

The phone began ringing so he said, “Come in, please.”

Grace held the door as he turned his walker, taking careful steps with his rubber soled slippers across the beige carpet. His blue cotton pajamas were crisply ironed and looked so comfortable Grace would have worn them all day. He had huge hands and a full head of white hair and would have stood over six feet if it wasn’t for his stoop. Mr. Russell lowered himself into a recliner by the sliding doors. It was a comfy spot overlooking the left lawn where he could watch the dogs cavort. As he settled in JR jumped up on his lap

He picked up the phone, “Yes? Yes, this is quite the surprise. I thought he was safe with you.” Mr. Russell listened then said, “He’s here now, seems okay. A woman just brought him back.”

Grace heard the tinny voice pleading its case. She wondered if he was accusing her of kidnapping JR for a reward – the papers were filled with stories of the latest dognappings. She pursed her lips and looked down at Jules, who looked up and licked her lips, hoping for an edible reward.

“Really? Well, he is kind of particular about people, and he didn’t seem to like your other dogs much, so that’s no surprise.” He rolled his eyes at Grace.

“Yes, she’s still here. Call me back tonight, will ya?” He was shaking his head as he hung up.

“I saw you coming up the walk but didn’t realize that was JR with you. I thought he was with that damned dogwalker,” he said, waving Grace towards the chesterfield.

She put the kittens down then went and sat on the flower-patterned sofa. Jules settled at her feet. With a snarl and a yap, JR jumped off Mr. Russell’s lap, charging at the intruder, barking and snapping in defense of his territory. Jules jumped up but JR leaped up and bit her nose. She shook her head then dodged the next bite.

That’s enough,” Grace growled. She poked him sideways to throw him off balance then stared him down again. JR dropped his tail, rolled onto his back submissively, and with his front paws dangling, averted his eyes.

“Good boy. Okay, go lay down.” She pointed towards Mr. Russell’s chair. JR jumped up, ran to his master and lay at his feet, but he kept his eyes on Jules. He raised his lip and sneered at her, a cuckold in his own home. Grace apologized but stuttered to a stop when she saw the look on the old man’s face.

“You have a way with dogs, Miss. I have never, ever seen JR listen to anybody like that.”

“He knows a real alpha dog when he meets one,” she said and laughed.

“I was given JR as a Christmas present two years ago because they thought I was getting lonely,” he harrumphed, “but he’s quite the handful.”

“They chose a Jack Russell because my name is Jack Russell, you see. They thought that’d be cute. But he thinks he’s the Jack Russell that owns this place and everyone in it. I sent him to obedience school but he didn’t learn anything.”

“Dogs should never be given as presents, especially not a Jack Russell. It’s a dominant breed that needs experienced owners.” She felt bad for him, stuck in a situation he hadn’t gotten himself into.

“Is this your first dog?”

“First one with a mind of its own,” he said and slapped his knee.

“I like his name.”

“We didn’t have any children, Gertie and I, so I named him Jack Russell Junior, kind of a joke, you know, like he was our son.” He looked at his dog wistfully.

“I shortened it to JR so it didn’t confuse people because when someone called him, I’d answer. Then we tried Junior, but he didn’t like that. But JR stuck.”

“Is your wife here? Gertie, is it?” Grace asked, looking around. Mr. Russell looked so sad so suddenly that Grace clapped her hand over her mouth.

“No, no, Gertie is gone now, she died four years ago this Christmas.” He turned to an old black and white photo of an ethereal woman taken in the 50s. She looked up and to the left, towards the light. There was a hesitation in her slight smile and gravity in her eyes.

He turned back to Grace, “I have a woman – Lana — who cooked and cleaned and took care of Gertie before she got too bad. Since I broke my hip, Lana’s been living here again until I’m back on my feet, without this damned thing.” He waved at the walker standing sentinel beside his chair. “Her and her fiancé gave him to me, but I think she regrets it now, especially after my hip.”

“How did you break it?”

Mr. Russell nodded at JR. “He’s terrible for pulling on the leash. They didn’t teach him anything at obedience school. I was walking him back from the park, we hit a patch of ice and I went down.” He looked down at his dog then shook his head.

“I had to stay in a seniors’ home for my rehab. I didn’t think I’d ever get out alive. I hated it there, it was a miserable place — all those old people abandoned by their families, waiting to die. I don’t know how kids these days can dump their parents in those places. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have children, they might have left me there.”

Grace gulped. She wondered what Mr. Russell would think if he knew she was guilty of it herself.

Looking at JR, he grumped then motioned to the walker, “Now I can’t walk him with this thing, which I hate. JR hates it too. He tries to get away from it, so he pulls and goes too fast. I can’t keep up with him anymore. If I tie him to it he pulls it away from me, and if I hold the leash he pulls and I’m afraid I’ll go down again.”

He rubbed the stubble on his chin, “I hired those Alpha Dogs thinking that would solve my problem,” then nodding at Grace pronounced, “but obviously not.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Russell, but obedience school doesn’t train dogs, it trains people. It should teach them how to be a pack leader, give commands and understand how a dog thinks. Obedience school teaches you how to teach your dog, not the other way around.”

Mr. Russell puffed up his cheeks then exhaled in a gust. “Guess I didn’t pass that class.”

“Don’t feel bad, it couldn’t have been a good school. Most people don’t understand how to raise a dog. They treat them like they’re children – but you can’t ask a dog what he wants or else he’ll think he’s the boss. Next thing you know, the dog is trying to run your life because you’ve made him think he’s the leader of the pack.”

“I think you just hit the nail on our heads,” he said. “Lana spoils him and he’s running us ragged. JR barks and she jumps right up to get him whatever he wants.”

He looked up at the sound of keys at the door. “Speak of the devil.”

Lana came in, lugging grocery bags. She stopped in the foyer when she saw Grace.

“Hi,” she said, pausing in front of the kittens. “What have we got here?” She went into the kitchen, dumped the bags on the counter, then returned to the cats. “Look how tiny they are, their eyes aren’t even open. How old are they?”

Grace lifted one out and put it in the palm of her hand. “I think they’re about two weeks, give or take a day. They were separated from their mother. ”

She stroked the little orange cat as Jack made the introductions. Lana put it back in the box and gently picked up another. She was in her thirties, a pretty blond with an easy smile and a warm, comforting manner that made her a natural at caring for the elderly.

“I can’t believe JR let your dog into the apartment. We can’t have people over to visit and bring their dog anymore, he’s so territorial.” JR looked at Lana then sighed before putting his chin on his paws and closing his eyes.

“Is it because your dog is so big, is that why JR didn’t run her out of here?”

Mr. Russell guffawed, “Oh he tried, Lana, he tried. He even bit Jules but she wouldn’t take him on, just turned the other cheek. Grace has a way with dogs, you just watch her. She brought JR home today when he ran away from that damned dogwalker you recommended.”

Lana’s jaw fell, “JR got away? I’m so sorry, this is all my fault.” She put her hand up to her mouth, “I never know what he’ll do — what are we going to do with him?”

“Say, do you train dogs?” Mr. Russell asked, “or just people?”

“I’m not a dog trainer, but I’ll work with dogs and their owners sometimes, mostly for friends though.”

“What is it that you do?”

Grace winced, “Nothing, now. I was a researcher at a law firm but they fired me this morning.”

They watched Grace with curious expressions as she explained, “It was my fault — they told me to stop bringing the kittens in. I should have called in sick today. They dehydrate so quickly at this age and need to be fed every three hours, which takes an hour…” She trailed off and rubbed Jules’ head, as if for luck.

“What kind of dog is Jules?” Mr. Russell asked.

She stood, as if on cue, and wagged her tail. She was tall and had long legs, ears that flopped forward, and a glorious tail that curled up and back so that its tip touched her spine and bounced as she walked. Black with touches of brown, her forehead and muzzle were tapered and her body was long and lean and trim. Jules resembled a racehorse, built for speed.

“They said she was a Rottweiler-Shepherd — she turned out nicely for a mutt.”

Lana was puzzled, “I thought Rottweilers didn’t have tails?”

“They’re usually docked at birth, but it’s mutilation as far as I’m concerned,” Grace said. “Originally, they were cart horses so their tails were cut off so they wouldn’t get caught in the wheels. But it’s still the breed standard.

“How old is she?” he asked.

“She’s four now — I found her when she was seventeen weeks old, playing in traffic, just like JR. Our children like to live dangerously,” she said, winking at Mr. Russell.

“It was Christmas and I was delivering flyers for my dogwalking business. I could see her up ahead, this skinny puppy, eating garbage on the road. I was afraid she’d get hit by a car so I tried to catch her but she was too skittish. That flushed her home, though.”

“The kid who answered the door told me it was his sister’s, but she’d moved away. When I asked who was taking care of her, he said ‘no one.’ Can you imagine? A beautiful puppy like that, left to roam?”

“She had worms and fleas so they wouldn’t let her inside. When they tied her up she barked so much they had to let her loose. He said no one would adopt her so they were going to take her to the pound, where I knew she’d be put down.”

“So you took her?”

“Damn right I took her. They offered me the rest of her food but it was an adult discount brand that didn’t even have a veterinary seal. It wasn’t fit to be eaten, especially not by a fast growing, large breed like Jules.”

Hearing her name again Jules called, “Mmrrrmmm.”

“Okay, we should be going,” Grace stood to leave but Mr. Russell insisted they stay for lunch. She froze.

“Oh, are you a vegetarian?” Lana asked. “It’s okay, we’re only having grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.” Grace seemed relieved to have avoided the question.

As Lana headed into the kitchen, Mr. Russell asked her where she found the kittens. Like most seniors, he didn’t meet many younger people, so he peppered her with questions, curious about this dog lady who JR had dragged home.

“They were abandoned in Rowntree.”

He grunted as Grace told him how she’d found them and was returning to the same spot every night, hoping to catch the mother.

“Aren’t you scared of that area? Taxis won’t go in there, I hear. What’s a nice girl like you traipsing around back alleys for? And why aren’t you scared of being out at night like that?”

Grace chuckled and pointed at Jules, “Meet my head of security. People cross the road when they see us coming. Ain’t no one going to mess with a ninety pound Rottweiler, no matter how strung out they are.”

“So what were you doing in a back alley that time of night?”

Grace nodded at the kittens, “There are a lot of strays in Rowntree. I feed them, and if I can catch them, I take the females in to get fixed and keep an eye out for anyone that’s sick.”

“That must cost you a pretty penny.”

“I take them to a friend of mine who’s a vet, then I re-release them. I volunteer at his hospital in exchange for discounts on check-ups and medication.”

“What will you do now that you’ve lost your job?”

She shrugged, “I haven’t thought about that yet.”

“What happened to your dog walking business? Can you try that again?”

Grace shook her head, “I doubt it. It takes a long time to build up clientele enough to pay the bills. For a while there I was taking part time jobs, but I ended up racing around town on my lunch hour, trying to take care of everyone, and wasn’t doing either job very well.”

“I’ve been paying Alpha Dog $140 a week to take JR out once a day. You won’t need many clients at that rate. You should try starting your business again, maybe offer some of that people training to folks like Lana and me. Why don’t you leave me your number, I know a few who might need someone like you.”

Grace’s face lit up, “Sure, that would be awesome. Thank you.”

“I have friends in the building with pets. People don’t get away much because they’re particular about who they leave minding their critters.”

Grace nodded in agreement then said, “I can pet sit too.” She started to feel hopeful — maybe this wasn’t the end of her life in the city afterall.

“This is quite the complex,” she said. “You have separate areas for cats and dogs — it’s like pet heaven.”

“We nicknamed this The Dog House,” and he nodded at the right wing, “and that we call The Cat House. Dog people and cat people don’t like to mix too much. Cat people are always uppity they’ll get eaten,” he said, then chortled.

“We got everyone separated into the two wings — which ruffled feathers — but it turned out in the end. They have their own elevator and a yard for their cats, and we have ours, so it works most of the time.” It wasn’t quite that simple, but in a nutshell it was true.

Lana called them to lunch then leaned over to put JR’s bowl down. Grace told her to wait but JR jumped up, put his paws on the bowl and forced it down. Some of the kibble rolled across the floor as JR chased it and ate it up.

“Sorry Lana, but it’d be a good idea to wait and feed JR when you’re done.”

Lana’s mouth formed an O.

Mr. Russell chuckled and said, “Lana, dear, I think our lessons have begun. Put the bowl back on the counter, will ya?”

“They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch – so why don’t I give you some advice while we eat?” Grace offered.

Jack nodded, but the little dictator barked and pawed at them, indignant at the turn of events. When he harassed Grace she’d make him lie down, but as soon as she turned away he’d pester the others. She told them to ignore him.

“Only pack leaders eat first — if JR is going to recognize his proper place, he has to eat last,” she began.

Lana blurted, “But he always eats with us.”

“To be the top dog, you need to act like the top dog. JR has to earn his keep. Before you give him anything, tell him to sit or shake a paw — only after he obeys you can he eat.”

She turned to Mr. Russell, “Start initiating affection — next time JR jumps up on your lap without an invitation, shoo him off — he needs to learn that he can’t demand your attention.”

Mr. Russell raised an eyebrow, “Easier said than done.”

“It’s best if you only tell JR something once — if he doesn’t do it the first time, make him do it. And always praise him when he obeys as positive reinforcement.”

“I see what you mean by training the humans.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight.”

“So what was the name of your dog walking business?” Mr. Russell asked.

Dog Gone It!

He slapped his leg, “Ha! I like it! Where’d you get that old saying?”

“From It’s A Wonderful Life. It was Jimmy Stewart’s favourite curse. I wanted something fun,” she said. “But getting customers wasn’t easy. When I couldn’t pay the rent I had to ask an old friend for a job at his law office, where I got fired from this morning.”

“Listen, I think I need to have a talk with those Alpha people. JR doesn’t like them, and I like you. And he listens to you, which is more than I can say about anyone else. I wouldn’t mind giving you a try. Can I call you later? I might ask you to come back tomorrow. “

Grace grinned.

“It’s time I started being the boss around here again,” he said as he slurped his soup.

* * *

They’d left her bike at the office so Grace and Jules walked home. She detoured through Rowntree hoping that, if she returned the kittens to the scene of the crime, they might get lucky.

From inside a townhouse a cat began to caterwaul. The mother had been trying to get out every night but her owner kicked her away from the door, snarling, “Get out of my sight!” He was angry she’d had another litter. It never occurred to him that it was his responsibility to get his cat fixed.

Because she could smell her kittens approaching the mother would not stop wailing. She returned to the door brazenly, keening louder. Heavy with milk, she scratched and clawed at it, trying to reach her children. When the door finally opened she dodged a dropkick then raced down the steps, following their scent. She hissed to a stop in front of Jules, arching her spine, her fur standing on end.

“Jules, go lie down,” Grace said, her heart bursting. She slowly lifted the box’s lid but the mother spat. “You’re welcome,” she chuckled.

Tears came to her eyes as she watched her put her front paws on the edge of the box and peer inside. Sensing Mom, the kittens began mewing urgently. She jumped into the box then touched her nose against each little face. But she kept searching for the other two.

Grace started to cry, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry about the others. I didn’t find them in time.”

The mother turned around in the box then settled herself. She lay on her side and the kittens scrambled over each other to find her nipples. She seemed as relieved as their saviour should have been.

Grace cried until she was spent. She felt better but not victorious. Sad and happy, guilty and triumphant, conflicting emotions turned end-over-end inside of her in the seesaw pattern that characterized her life.

She lifted the box with a grimace. Although heavier now, it had become a lighter burden. But as she carried them home she worried — between her own cat, the five she was sheltering and now the new mother, she was one cat over the by-law’s limit.

Grace lifted her chin and carried on. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d packed pets to the rafters – she’d been doing it since she was eight.

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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.

3 Responses to Chapter 2 – In The Dog House

  1. Great job, Colleen 🙂 But you know I love this story already, right?

    As for your blog-layout, on my eyes, the difference between the red and the white is too much, it makes it difficult to read the text in the middle, but I do enjoy the larger font you’ve gotten now 🙂

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

  2. Jackie says:

    Great job Colleen keep those chapters coming. Looking forward to reading Chapter 3.

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