Chapter 3 – The Sanctuary

October 1993

The school bus took the corner too fast and everyone grabbed the bar on the back of the seat in front of them and held on for dear life, crying “Wee!” or “Whoa, horsey!”

The next stop was Grace’s farm. Her nervous little ten-year old hands were so sweaty that she lost her grip and tumbled into the aisle. The children around her laughed raucously because the hem of her dress had ridden up, revealing her pink polka-dotted underpants.

As she scrambled onto her hands and knees to get up one boy mocked, “Look at the doggie on the floor!” Almost everyone burst into a chorus of hoots and catcalls.

“Dog Face!” one girl called. “See, she walks just like a dog!” teased another.

“Poochie-woochie want a dog biscuit?” An older boy leaned into the aisle and waved a chocolate chip cookie at Grace. “C’mon, show us how you walk on all fours and we’ll give you this treat!” Grace burned with shame.

Dust was billowing in through its opened windows as the bus rattled and shook down the bumpy country road. As she struggled to stand a foot hooked her ankle and pulled. Grace tumbled to the floor again.

“See, she can’t even stand up like a real girl,” Andy Boyles said, untangling his foot from Grace’s legs. “She’s a mutt,” he jeered, and let out a yowl, “Aroooooooo.

Andy began the chant that ushered Grace home from school every day, “Dog Face! Dog Face! Dog Face!” the children chorused.

As the bus slowed to a stop in front of her farm Grace pulled herself up. She grabbed her books and her Beethoven lunch box and started up the aisle. The drooling St. Bernard on its lid reminded everyone that her best friends were animals. Grace dodged the slaps and pokes of the riotous children as she ran the daily gauntlet.

Opening the door, the driver would not look at Grace. He maintained his policy of not interfering in the juvenile antics of his passengers. Every day Grace wished he’d come to her rescue and every day she was disappointed. She hoped he’d stand up and yell, “That’s enough,” or “Leave her alone,” but he never did.

Most of the children crowded to the right side of the bus. Some began hanging out the windows, barking and howling at the pack of dogs that waited for Grace at the end of her driveway.

“Your only friends are dogs,” Andy said, and everyone laughed along with the king of bullies. A few of the children played along in fear that, if they didn’t, they’d be the next target.

When she stepped off the bus Grace broke into an enormous smile. Relieved, she dropped her books and Beethoven and threw her arms around her welcoming committee. She rubbed their heads and ruffled their ears and scratched her way up their spines. Excited to see her, the pack of dogs encircled their little master, licking away her daily wounds, emitting cries of delight.

Five dogs met Grace’s bus after school. London was a mutt, a runaway from a chaotic home who’d ended up at the pound so often his next trip would have ended with a needle. Driving through town one day, Grace had suddenly opened the truck’s door, forcing her mother to slam on the brakes. She’d seen him loitering outside the butcher’s again and, ignoring her mother’s protests, dragged him into the truck. He was content with his new pack, as were his family, who were relieved of one less mouth to feed and no more fines from animal control. He pushed ahead of the others to greet Grace first.

Fetch was a Yellow Labrador of uncontainable energy who dropped his tennis ball at Grace’s feet. He picked it up, dropped it again, jumped back and barked until she threw it. Fetch tore up the driveway after it, barking mine, mine, mine, although he was the only one chasing it. Genetically engineered to retrieve water fowl, Fetch had been owned by a woman living in an apartment. She did not hunt, hated throwing the soggy, dog-slobbery balls and only walked him fifty feet from her building until he peed and pooed. Then she dragged him back to her curio-cluttered rooms where he paced constantly while she read an endless series of romance novels and drank copious cups of sweetened, milky tea.

Two of the dogs were mixed breed terriers, Mutt and Jeff. They joined the afternoon ritual faithfully but were employed on the farm. Her father had brought the experienced ratters home to catch the vermin that darted out from under bales of hay when they were moved or split. The dogs became incensed by the sight of the scurrying rodents, quickly nabbing, biting, and shaking them to death before tossing them away to wreak havoc on the next unfortunate creature trying to escape.

Finally, there was Bruiser. A big shaggy Newfoundland, he waited patiently for everyone to greet Grace because she saved her best friend for last. She knelt in the dirt and gravel and threw her arms around the friendly giant, burying her face in his thick fur. She sobbed, relieved she wouldn’t have to brave her cruel schoolmates for another day. They’d been teasing her mercilessly since she’d saved Bruiser. At home she was surrounded by her true friends, ones who did not call her names or laugh at her or tell her she had an ugly dog face.

“Hey Bruiser, how’s my boy?” She ran her hand through his waterproof coat, her fingers stopping at a burr entangling his fur, and she carefully picked it out as he covered her with slobbery licks. He was the first dog she had ever rescued, a story that became famous in the county, and was the catalyst that has propelled Grace’s mission in life ever since.

* * *

Grace loved to toboggan with her friends, Kat and Lex, at the hill behind the school. At the edge of the yard a chain-linked fence separated the grounds from a row of houses.

In one of the yards lived a huge black dog with a spray of white across his chest. He paced back and forth on his chain, watching the three girls and woofing at them when their toboggans approached and slid to a stop.

Grace kept dog cookies in her pocket for him. After she’d slide to the bottom of the hill she’d trudge through the thick, crusty snow to the fence and toss one over the top to the lonely, bored dog.

His water bowl was usually frozen and Grace would lay in her bed at night and say prayers to St. Roch, the Patron Saint of Dogs. She asked him to please remind that poor dog’s owners to change his water before they went to bed so he wouldn’t be too thirsty if he got up in the night for a drink.

Grace had been worrying herself sick about the Newfoundland since grade one. She never saw him loose; he was always chained up and always alone. Sometimes she would look out her classroom window and get tears in her eyes because she was sure he was miserable, confined to the tiny patch of ground that his chain limited his life to.

One spring morning when she was eight Grace got the bright idea of bringing him a tennis ball. She was sure it would cure his troubles because he’d have something to play with and wouldn’t be so bored or lonely anymore. After lunch she went to the fence and tossed it over.

She tossed it too hard and it bounced, skipping out of reach. The dog watched it sail over the fence in anticipation of his daily treat, but when he realized it wasn’t, he whimpered as it rolled away.

Grace was devastated. At that age every failure seemed like the end of the world and the fence was too tall to climb. She could hear the teacher calling everyone to form-up lines so she shouted at the house, hoping the owners would come out and give their dog his ball. But her voice was drowned out by the other screaming children.

“Grace Kendell! Get in line,” the supervisor boomed over the din. As she walked away, tears rolling down her freckled cheeks, she kept stopping to look back at the dog watching her and whining in frustration.

From inside her classroom Grace could rise up in her chair to see into his yard. He pulled and strained at his chain, trying to reach the ball. He clawed at the ground, trying to drag the patch of grass closer. All afternoon she wiped away tears and could not concentrate on the blackboard. She thought, almost obsessively, what a big fat stupid idiot she was. Instead of helping the poor dog she had made him miserable.

As the clock inched closer to three she was caught up in a single-minded determination to right her wrong. When the bell rang she ran out of class and through the side door. As she crossed the schoolyard the bus driver saw her racing towards the fence. She stopped about ten feet from it and looked down at the tennis ball. The owner had found it and tossed it back. Grace became furious. The dog watched her pick it up and barked at her to throw it back.

The bus driver saw her running the length of the fence then disappear around the corner. He told the monitor that 10400 Rosedale County Road was AWOL, then slammed the doors and started his route home. After the monitor saw the last of the buses off she went into the principal’s office to call Grace’s parents.

Grace kept running until she was out of breath. She stopped, inhaled deeply then marched on, determined to give that dog his ball. Counting houses, she walked up the driveway and peered along the side of the yard. She couldn’t see the dog but she could see a bit of his doghouse so she knew she was at the right place.

This indomitable little spirit walked up the driveway and rang the doorbell. Holding it a bit too long, it ricocheted through the house. When the inside door jerked open, the owner’s eyes popped at the sight of a girl on his step he’d never seen before.

He opened his screen door hesitantly, “Hello. What’s your name?”

“I’m Grace. What’s your dog’s name?”

“My dog? My dog’s name is Bruiser. Are you selling Girl Guide cookies?”

“You’re mean,” she said, then showed him the ball. “I threw this over the fence so your dog could have something to play with but you threw it back. Why won’t you let your dog have any toys?”

The man seemed startled by this brazen child and her accusatory tone. “I threw the ball back because I thought you might have lost it,” he said. “Where are your parents? Do you live around here? Do your parents know where you are?”

“Can I give this ball to your dog, please? Your fence is too big or I would’ve climbed over it.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, then started to close the door.

Grace grabbed the handle, “Why don’t you play with your dog ever? He’s nice, he looks lonely. Why do you keep him on a chain when he could have your whole back yard to run in?” Her tone wasn’t just inquisitive — she sounded like she was running the Spanish Inquisition. He was becoming annoyed by her gall.

“What I do with my dog is none of your business.” He jerked the screen door out of her hand and slammed it shut.

“Well then why do you have him if you don’t play with him or let him in your house?” she shouted. “If he lived at my house, we have lots of big fields, and he could run around all day and he would have me as a friend.”

She became excited by this new and exciting thought, “If he lived with me he would never be lonely anymore.”

The man’s eyebrows raised, “You want Bruiser? What would your parents say if you brought a dog home without permission? I don’t think so,” and he started to close the inside door.

Grace began to scream, “You’re a meanie! You’re not nice to your dog!”

A woman pushing a baby buggy stopped on the sidewalk and watched them. He looked up and met his neighbour’s eyes but her expression was stern and unsupportive.

“I am going to tell my mother to call the police and tell them you’re mean to your dog!”

From the back of the house Bruiser began to bark, a deep, thundering accusation that sounded like yes, I am neglected, I want to meet the girl with the cookies and the ball.

His neighbour looked more than just concerned now.

The man became furious. He flung open the screen door so quickly Grace jumped back. He stormed out of the house and Grace raced after him. Hurling open the side gate, he strode into the yard, yelling at Bruiser to be quiet with a murderous look on his face. Grace’s little eyes widened in fear for Bruiser as he shrank back against the fence. She began screaming, “Leave him alone!”

“What is going on back there?” the neighbour yelled. She dashed after them, bouncing her baby and waking him up so that he wailed in protest too. “What are you doing to that dog?”

Mind your own business!” the man said, turning suddenly before he could smack Bruiser.

People were coming to their doors and peering at the commotion behind the house. An old beat-up pickup truck was cruising up the street and Grace’s mother rolled down her window and asked someone if they’d seen a little girl.

They pointed at the house. Mrs. Kendell floored it, speeding to the driveway. She jumped out of the truck and ran into the backyard where she could hear Grace screaming and a dog barking.

Grace walked over to Bruiser without an ounce of fear and said hello to the lunging, barking giant. He began licking her face and she hugged him and handed him his ball. He dropped it then sniffed her pocket, poking his nose inside. He flicked his tongue around to try to retrieve her last cookie — this tickled and Grace giggled.

“Mom, can we take Bruiser home with us?” Grace pleaded. “See, he likes me, he’s my friend. I bring him milk bones every day because he’s lonely.”

Mrs. Kendell blinked in surprise. She looked from the owner to the neighbour in confusion.

The young mother nodded, “I haven’t seen poor Bruiser walked since he was a puppy. Isn’t it sad when people ignore their dogs when they start to grow up and out of that cute phase?” She looked at her neighbour with disapproval.

“Take the goddamn mutt!” he retorted, “get him and this goddamned brat out of my yard. Get out of here, all of ya, I don’t want to see you near this house again.” He stormed to his back door then slammed it shut behind him.

Grace started to jump up and down, “Bruiser, you’re coming home with me! Yay!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him, rocking from side to side.

Mrs. Kendell’s eyes widened, her fell mouth open, and she looked at Grace and the neighbour, her head shaking back and forth, “Oh no, Grace, no, you can’t take this dog home.”

Grace stomped her foot. “He said I could have him. The man said it was okay!”

The neighbour weighed in, “Bruiser is a very nice dog, ma’am. He doesn’t have much of a life, tied up back here day in and day out. He’d be better off somewhere else.” She smiled at Grace encouragingly.

Mrs. Kendell shot her a look that said don’t say another word.

But that was all Grace needed to hear. She unclicked the chain from Bruiser’s collar and he jumped up, freed from bondage and boredom. Grace fell to the grass as he stood over her, his drool soaking her dress. She giggled and wiped it away and rubbed it off on his massive chest as he licked her face again.

“Your father is not going to let you keep that dog, Grace. He already told you, ‘NO MORE PETS’ and he means it! What are we going to tell him?” She was too young to know that the farm was barely scraping by or that a one hundred and forty pound dog would cost as much to feed as one of their cows.

“Grace, honey, you can’t keep him. He’s too big sweetie, please, listen to your mother.”

But Grace would not listen. Oblivious to the anxiety in her mother’s voice, she scampered around the yard, Bruiser in pursuit. The man banged on his kitchen window and scowled, motioning for them to leave with an angry thrust of his hand.

The neighbour gave Mrs. Kendell a supportive smile, “She has her heart set on him. I was wondering what she was doing, knocking on his door like that. She’s a real little spitfire,” she said.

Mrs. Kendell moaned, “You don’t know the half of it.”

A grimace of worry crossed the woman’s face as she reached into her baby buggy and popped her son’s soother back into his mouth. “I don’t think you should leave Bruiser here after this. I would be afraid that asshole would hurt him now.” Her eyes implored Mrs. Kendell to take pity on the dog who would suffer the consequences of her daughter’s impudence.

Mrs. Kendell sighed then groaned, “C’mon Grace, grab him by the collar, let’s put him in the back of the truck. We’ll have to see what your father says.”

Grace grabbed the ball and skipped out of the yard, the dog trotting behind her. As he jumped up into the back of the truck Grace climbed up with him.

“You’re not riding back there,” her mother scolded. Grace scrambled up into the passenger’s seat and told Bruiser to hold on tight and not jump out because he’d be home soon. Mrs. Kendell started the truck, shaking her head, dreading what her husband would say when he saw what she’d helped Grace bring home.

Bruiser’s story made the rounds and everyone remarked on the insolence of that little girl who had the nerve to interfere in a man’s right to treat his animals as he saw fit. In the two years since she had rescued him, the Kendell’s farm became known for its collection of salvaged pets. As its reputation spread, people began taking it for granted.

* * *

Fetch returned to Grace with the tennis ball as the terriers yapped their way up the drive and London pawed her lunchbox for leftovers. But Bruiser did not budge. He let out a gentle woof and Grace turned.

Woof. Bruiser looked at the ditch that ran alongside the dirt road. Woof.

“What is it?”

Woof. Bruiser trotted to the ditch then sat. Woof.

Grace ran to it and saw a burlap bag quivering on one side. Thrown from a car speeding by the farm earlier that day, Bruiser had pulled it from the water, rescuing its captives from drowning. He’d left it in the mud until his saviour came home and would know what to do.

She started to haul it out of the mud. Bruiser helped, putting his large soft mouth on the knot and gently backing up until the sodden bag lay beside the road. London and Fetch barked and circled Grace and Bruiser as a weak whimpering escaped the soaking bag.

Puppies!” Grace squealed. “Someone brought us puppies!”

The bag was too wet to untie its knot. She tried lifting it but it leaked filthy water on her white shoes, splattering her lacy socks with sludge. Grace struggled to lift the bag then told Bruiser to lay down. She hauled it up onto his massive back.

“Okay boy, you’ll have to help me carry them up to the barn.”

She walked beside Bruiser, holding it steady. As they came up the drive, Grace’s father saw them. His daughter appeared to be escorting something, and when he recognized the label on the burlap bag he cursed.

Carrie!” he bellowed, “Come see what your daughter has dragged home now!”

Carrie came out of the house drying her hands on a tea towel and hurried towards Fitz. When she saw Grace and company she groaned, “Oh Jesus, no, not more.”

“Mom, look, puppies!”

Carrie turned to her husband as he snarled, “The barn is bursting, goddamn it. When is she going to learn she can’t save all the animals in the world?”

Grace was so joyous, so determined, her mother shook her head at father and daughter and clasped her tea towel over her face.

Grace lifted the lever on the barn door. She had used a sharp knife to scratch The Sanctuary into the massive double gate. From inside arose a cacophony of barks and mews, moos and baas. Grace was welcomed into her own world, one where everyone loved her and no one ever made her cry.

“I’ve had enough, Carrie. Enough! We can’t afford this,” he hollered at his wife, who was mopping her forehead with the tea towel and looking up into the heavens for guidance.

“She’s becoming the bloody Patron Saint of Dogs,” he cursed ominously.

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.

6 Responses to Chapter 3 – The Sanctuary

  1. araneus1 says:

    Loved that, well done.

  2. maggie0019 says:

    What a magnificent read! I cannot wait for the next chapter…Woof! (jumps up and licks face, tail wagging)

  3. Jackie says:

    Love it Colleen! Thanks for including my beautiful dog Bruiser in your story. Grace sure was a spit fire of a little girl. In some ways she reminds me of myself when I was a little girl I too was always bringing home cats & dogs. So looking forward to chapter 4.

    • Thank you Jackie, and thank you sharing your inspiring story of how you adopted Bruiser, and the artistic license I took with it to turn you into me, I mean, Grace! If I ever get to heaven, and can press “rewind” on history, I would give anything to see little you, going up to that man’s house and telling him your parents would give him $20 for his dog! *cyber hug*

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