Chapter 4 – Friends and Enemies

Grace dreaded going home — Psycho Kitty’s reaction to another cat would be ferocious. They already fostered five rescues for Giving Pets A Chance and Psycho terrorized them — as if they hadn’t suffered enough.

She kept the maximum number of cats the by-law allowed and faced this dilemma whenever she rescued another. Grace was permitted six adults, not including kittens, and the rescue group enforced it. When Hannah came for inspections she did a head count, and if Grace was hiding an extra orphan she’d seize the offending cat.

Grace worried about her landlord, too. He welcomed pets but changed his tune when she began rescuing again. Now he watched them like a fox stalking chickens, waiting for an unguarded moment to crush them with a snap.

They lived in a sprawling Victorian where Grace rented a small flat with a screened-in porch and a fenced yard. On the edge of Rowntree, her neighbourhood was a muddle of restorations and rooming houses. Every morning, as families packed their kids into Volvos, hookers and drug dealers stumbled home. The area had its share of strays and was a few blocks from the derelict homes and factories where she found her rescues.

Grace and Jules came up the sidewalk and hid behind a disorderly azalea before darting across the lawn and through the gate. Unfortunately, her neighbour Carla – the last person she wanted to see – was stretched out on a lounger.

“You’re home early.”

“I got fired.” Grace was still seething at Carla. She’d offered to help with the kittens then backed out at the last minute. “Charlie fired me for bringing them back and had security escort us out.”

Carla barely blinked. She’d dyed her hair platinum per her latest boyfriend’s preferences, but her roots were showing, so Grace knew his days were numbered.

“I told you I couldn’t keep bringing them to work. Thanks for the help, eh? I’ll remember that next time you want me to watch Sheba free.”

“Hey, it doesn’t take much to let Sheba out and feed her when I’m at Tom’s,” she said. “Those kittens are another story. I offered to pay you but you said no. At least I offered.”

“Consider the offer taken.” Grace struggled through the door with the box of kittens as she tried to block the herd of cats making a dash for freedom.

“Now that I’m out of work I’ll be desperate for money.” Then Grace kicked herself for hassling Carla. She’d need every recommendation she could get.

“I’m restarting Dog Gone It! If you know anyone who might need me please give them my card.” She wondered how many women would take her number once Carla finished their nails at the salon. “Or let me know, and I’ll call them.”

Grace closed the porch door then put the box down and removed its top. The cats rushed it, scenting the newcomer and jumping up for a peek. The mother popped up and hissed. She swatted them, her claws extended, raking the nosiest neighbour and drawing blood. Grace noted who needed peroxide but left her to it, knowing a mother defending her litter was a fair match against five cats. Psycho would be another story.

Two of the apartment’s windows opened onto the porch and their screens were torn. With a hiss and a lunge, Psycho jumped onto the inner ledge and spat at the new cat.

“Get down!” Psycho ignored her and clawed the screen. Grace slammed the window shut, so Psycho ran to the bathroom window and assaulted it.

Carla came to the door. “Psycho terrorizing the neighbourhood again?” She had little patience with Grace’s cat. When Carla saw the mother she exclaimed, “You found her, I knew would. Do you still have the other five?”

Grace put her finger to her lips, “Shhhhhh.”

“Better hope Roger doesn’t find out. You just missed him, he was here looking for dog poop.” If the landlord saw a tiny turd from a passing housecat, he blamed it on Grace.

“That’s all I need.” She rearranged the furniture, creating a nursery. She put the box in then tipped it over. The kittens tumbled out and the mother followed, striding around and marking her territory. Grace opened a giant tin of dry food and fed her, disappointing the other cats, who mewed in complaint.

“It’s not dinner time yet, guys,” she said, trying to put the lid back on as a long haired cat stuck his head in, “and you’re not nursing.”

Then it was time to confront Psycho. “Good luck,” Carla said.

The rescues were on guard, arching their backs, ready and hissing to fight. Grace reached up, unlocked her back door and pushed it half open, using the box as a shield. Psycho attacked, clawing at it as Grace forced her way inside.

As Grace unloaded her backpack, Psycho wove around her ankles, purring. “You have a split personality,” she sniped, knowing people said the same thing about her own mood swings.

Psycho Kitty was a rescue, the first Grace saved after she quit school. She was nine months old when her owners hurtled her outside for fouling their bed when she was in heat. They never let her in again.

A friend had seen his neighbours roughing her up. They grabbed her by the tail and dragged her under the fence once, and another time they’d backhanded her off the picnic table. They were heavy drinkers in a violent relationship who made the cat their scapegoat when they got her from the shelter at six weeks old.

So Grace adopted Kitty, who earned the name Psycho as her personality emerged. She resumed fouling beds, so Grace kept a shower curtain over hers to protect it from its daily defiling. She sympathized with the cat, suspecting she’d been separated from her mother too soon, just like Grace.

Psycho attacked every visitor, biting and clawing her way through life to avenge her childhood. She could turn in an instant, one moment purring then suddenly lashing out, and Grace hadn’t a clue what to do.

She tried everything – changing her food, her litter, buying toys – but Psycho seemed beyond rehabilitation. Grace read stacks of books about problem cats, but was baffled and had lost hope. Everyone told her to return Psycho to the pound, but Grace knew no one would adopt a cat like that — the vicious ones were killed to make room for the sweeter souls.

Friends thought the dichotomy was hilarious. “You can tame just about any dog, but when it comes to that cat, you’re hopeless – you should put her down.” The thought of euthanizing an animal she’d saved challenged Grace’s principles, but even Psycho tested her tenacity.

Grace locked Psycho in her bedroom when she brought Jules in for dinner. When they returned from their nightly stroll, there was a message on her phone.

“Hi, it’s Carla. I’m going to Tom’s. Can you let Sheba out before bed – you don’t have to walk her – and again in the morning? I’ll leave ten dollars. That should be enough, huh? Ok, see you later.” Carla had hung up and gone out, taking Grace and her paltry payment for granted.

Bringing Jules, they went upstairs for Sheba. Carla never walked her dog and thought a few minutes outside was all Sheba needed. Even on her days off, Carla wouldn’t bring Sheba into the yard with her. Carla proclaimed them “days to herself” because Sheba pestered her, wanting to play. The Sheltie-cross was thrilled to see them, and headed out on her tour of the ‘hood happily yapping at everything she saw.

When they returned, Grace let Psycho out. She hissed at Jules then took over Grace’s lap. As they crawled into bed later, Psycho took over the right side and Jules flopped on the floor on the left. Jules’ paws were flexing in imaginary leaps, and her cheeks puffed as she emitted hup, hup, hups at the rabbits she chased in her sleep.

But then smoke began billowing and Grace tried to scream but her throat was choked with soot and she could hear flames crackling and a howling wind as she kept calling their names and scrambling in the dark…

Mmrrrrmmm,” Jules called, nudging her nose against Grace’s shoulder. She jerked up and awake, trembling, then clasped her arms around her knees and rocked herself. The recurring nightmare returned whenever her world fell apart.

Grace patted the bed and scooched backwards, invading Psycho’s turf. The cat hissed and slashed her, drawing blood. Jules hopped up and lay beside Grace, who buried her nose in her fur. She inhaled Jules’ musky scent in place of the acrid smoke and manure she swore she smelled every time she had the dream.

* * *

In the morning, they went downtown to get Grace’s bike. Big dogs weren’t allowed on the bus without a muzzle and, refusing Jules the indignity of the Hannibal Lecter treatment, they walked instead. She envisioned her bike stripped by the time they got there but, as they approached the racks in the office plaza, a thief became the least of her worries.

A menacing figure was loitering near her bike. When he saw her approaching, he made a quick call then snapped his cell phone shut. He started walking backwards, keeping his dark eyes on them. A minute later Andy Boyles burst through the doors and stormed across the plaza.

Bitch! Did you think you were smart, spewing that shit in front of everyone?” Grace ignored him as she unwound the steel cord securing her bike. “Did you think I’d get fired? Think again, you crazy bitch. My father isn’t going to force me out of the firm he founded just because I had help on the LSATs and a few clerks trying to screw their way into a partnership.”

Sensing danger, Jules stood between them, exposing her canines and sounding a low, cautionary growl.

“Keep that mutt away from me, Dog Face, or she’ll get it.”

Bullied in school, Grace hadn’t taken any abuse ever since, especially not from Andy. She laughed at anyone who tried to intimidate her, especially when she had Jules with her. But now she felt a chill seeping through her soul.

Grace leaned across the bike and stabbed him in the chest with her finger, “If you mess with her there is nothing on this earth that will stop me from getting you. Karma will be the least of your worries, you slimy little shit.”

She swung her leg over the saddle and drew Jules’ leash in, “I’ll be happy to call your wife’s attorney and give her a deposition about Cheryl and Jennifer if you come near us. But if you hurt my girl…” Grace shuddered at the thought of what she would do to Andy if he tried.

“Screw off. Go bully some kid on the bus, someone your own size.” They cycled away to a stream of obscenities.

Mr. Russell had called that morning to ask her to start walking JR daily and give them obedience lessons weekly. When they arrived at The Dog House, she locked her bike to the fence as the Border Collie shooed them towards the lobby.

“Good morning, Mr. Collie. Herded any sheep lately?” She wondered why anyone would keep the prince of herders in an apartment in the city.

When Mr. Russell opened his door, JR lunged at Jules. Ready, Grace blocked him. “What did I tell you yesterday? Be nice!” The dog had hoped a new day would see him back in power. She pushed him over then gently clapped her fingers over his snout and stared him down until he looked away. Mr. Russell chuckled as he ushered them in.

Alpha Dog is steamed – they think you were trying to steal him and take over their business. I told them that was nonsense.” He swatted away their objections with his huge hand.

“I cancelled their contract but told them I’d still pay for the next two weeks. That’s a small price now that JR’s going to get – I mean, Lana and I are going to get obedience lessons,” he winked.

“I had a thing or two to say to them about losing JR yesterday. We were lucky you were there.”

“It worked out in the end,” Grace said. “You needed a better dog walker and I needed a job.”

“I’d like to give you a little reward for yesterday,” he said, nodding at an envelope on a table in the hall.

“Oh no, that’s not necessary, but thank you. I was just doing what any dog lover would.”

Grace was itching to take the envelope. She hadn’t saved JR for money — rescuing a dog was a reward in itself.

“Why don’t you donate it to an animal rescue group? Most are underfunded and could really use it. I volunteer for Giving Pets A Chance. They’re always desperate for donations. They’ll come by and pick it up and give you a receipt if you call them.”

She wrote their number on the envelope and handed it back to him.

* * *

As they crossed the atrium, a few tenants watched. One elderly man had a cigar butt in his mouth and an aging Bulldog on a chain. The dog sniffed the air as Jules walked by and let out a satisfied grunt that she’d passed muster.

They headed for the park and the scene of JR’s brush with death. Grace’s stomach was in knots fearing Alpha Dog might be there. She’d considered going to another park but refused to be cowed. They’d have to run into them eventually.

Once inside the gates, Grace removed Jules’ leash and let her run. JR tried to follow her but Grace didn’t trust him off-leash. They ambled along the path, JR stopping to sniff the pee-mail points, as Grace kept an eye out for Jules and Alpha Dog. When she heard a woman squawk she rolled her eyes and turned, knowing what was next.

“You shouldn’t have a dog like that running loose,” a woman sitting on a bench shrieked.

“A dog like what?”

“Like that,” she pointed. “One of those vicious breeds I’ve read about in the papers that bite children and mailmen. Get that thing away from me.”

“You have a better chance of being bitten by me than you do this dog, ma’am.”

Grace called and Jules ran towards them, her head bobbing, her tongue hanging out, and her curly tail bouncing on her back. She raced past then circled them in a wide arc as JR barked and lunged.

Jules was having fun at the little tyrant’s expense. She ran up, stopped just out of reach, then knelt down on her front legs. With her butt stuck up in the air she barked twice in the universal canine dare for, betcha can’t catch me. Then Jules darted off, dashing past JR again and again, taunting him with whup whup whups.

“Okay, okay, the party’s over, meanie. C’mon puppy, this way.”

“I’m calling animal control,” the woman hollered, hoisting her cell phone in the air, “there’s leash laws.”

“Yeah, you do that, keep animal control busy busting a dog that isn’t hurting anyone instead of busting people hurting dogs.” Dog haters ruined her day — she didn’t know why she let them.

Across the field, Grace recognized two Golden Retrievers they knew and waved. “Who’s that? Go see.” Jules flew across the park, bounding up to her buddies. The dogs greeted each other like long lost friends and began cavorting. The woman glared then opened her cell phone.

When Grace reached the Retrievers, her friend Steve was surprised to see JR. “Bringing another dog to work these days?”

“Nah, I got fired yesterday. I’m dogwalking again. Meet JR.”

She told him about rescuing JR and restarting Dog Gone It! They began bitching about people who expected dogs to live their lives on chains, as if God had created them in bondage.

Then Grace saw Alpha Dog marching towards them. The man had the maximum, six dogs, so his business hadn’t suffered overnight. Grace hoped he wouldn’t be too mad – at least he’d still be paid for a dog he didn’t walk.

“I knew you took him because you were trying to steal my business,” he said, shaking his finger in her face.

Grace remained passive but Steve was outraged. “Hey, she worked at a law office yesterday pal, settle down. She wasn’t trying to steal anybody’s dog or business.”

The six dogs encircled Mr. Alpha, excited to meet Jules and the Retrievers, hoping to join the fun. Grace laughed as he struggled to untangle their leashes again.

“C’mon puppy,” she said. Giving JR a check on his leash, they reached the gate just as animal control arrived. The truck slowed and honked. Grace waved.

“Busy?” she asked, knowing the answer was always, “Hell, yes.”

The woman stood, waved her cellphone, then pointed at Jules.

“We got a call about a vicious dog on the loose — seen one? Oh, no, don’t tell me…”

Grace chuckled as Jules raced up to the truck, stopped and sat. Mike got out and asked her to shake a paw, and then he rewarded her with a treat and a ruffle of her ears. The woman scowled — Grace could have kissed him.

“Thanks for helping with that call last week, you saved us a trip.”

“I don’t know what’s up with the cops, it was just a baby Pit Bull. He was running around in front of the mall and they had two cruisers blocking the street off. They wouldn’t go and get him or even try to put him in the car.”

“So you offered?”

“Hell, no, I just went up and asked him, ‘Puppy want a cookie?’ He followed me to the cruiser and jumped in the back when I tossed it in.”

“They have to call us when they’re stray.”

Grace guffawed. “He was an escapee, had a collar and a tag. I offered to take him home but the cop said he had to go to the pound so the owner would pay the fine.”

“I hear we got a call for you and Jules yesterday. The officer that responded is new, sorry about that. Had I known, I would have told him to take it easy on you, he didn’t need to treat you like hostiles.”

“Don’t remind me,” Grace said, watching the woman march towards them. “I guess that complaint about off-leash dogs didn’t mention the pretty blond Retrievers, huh?”

He shook his head.

“Figures, everyone picks on black dogs. Do you want to give us a ticket?” She put Jules on her leash for appearances.

Mike pulled a blank sheet from his notebook and handed it to her then shook his finger at Jules, “Don’t take treats from strangers.”

The papers were reporting another string of dog poisonings in the city’s parks. It had been happening on and off for years. The police said someone was lacing meat with strychnine again, but they had no suspects.

* * *

When they returned to Mr. Russell’s, the gentleman with the Bulldog was arguing WWII battle tactics with him. He stood and, with a military air, took off his beret and bowed.

“Well, well, I’ve been hearing a lot about you, Miss. I’m Naval Captain Thomas Durnford, Retired,” he said, “and this is Churchill.” He motioned towards the dog who had taken two steps back when JR arrived.

Grace kept JR on his leash. She walked him up to Churchill, emitting cooing sounds, and greeted the Bulldog like an old friend. When JR snarled she snapped his leash. “Look JR, who’s this? Is this someone come to visit?” JR didn’t look pleased at being tethered on his own turf.

“Say hello.” Grace prodded JR towards the Bulldog, who patiently let JR sniff him. Then it was JR’s turn. He jerked his tail and stood for inspection, completing the greeting ritual.

“Good boys,” Grace said, telling them to sit and rewarding them with treats.

Mr. Durnford turned to Mr. Russell with exaggerated surprise. The men laughed and slapped their knees, “You’re right, she does have a way with dogs. That is the first time they’ve ever been civil,” Mr. Durnford said. “I didn’t believe it when Jack told me, I had to see it for myself.”

Mr. Russell looked pleased and asked her to stay for tea. But she had to go, she had dogs to walk at the shelter.

Captain Durnford stood and proclaimed, “In Her Majesty’s Service I remain, and in your service I shall stay,” and he bowed again as she headed for the door.

A familiar logo caught her eye and she saw the receipt from Giving Pets A Chance on the table. It was made out for five hundred dollars.

Grace cursed herself, you stupid idiot — that’s half your rent you just gave away.

But then she exhaled and rolled her shoulders, shrugging it off, hoping the money would help some stray somewhere. Maybe Karma would pay her back someday.

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.

9 Responses to Chapter 4 – Friends and Enemies

  1. Glenda says:

    Thanks for commenting on my blog Colleen. I’ve still got Chapter 5 to go of your book but am enjoying this read very much. I love the expression “pee-mail”. Never heard a dog’s marking its territory that way before – kudos on the great descriptive 🙂

    • Thanks! I’d love to take credit for the expression but I don’t know where it originated . I was using it 8 years ago when dogwalking so I dunno if I made it up or heard it. It is the perfect anaology tho, it is a dog’s social info bulletin boards

  2. I’m really enjoying this story. The characters are real and believable – I’m so hoping that horrible Andy Boyles is going to get his come-uppance!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a great read! Tension is building, characters are developing.
    Just loving it!

  4. araneus1 says:

    I am really enjoying this series and I have passed on the link to a dog loving friend.

    • Thank you so much! The more attention the opening chapters and the web site gets, the better chance I’ll have of getting it published and raising money for rescue groups once it does.
      I wish I could just publish the whole thing here, just like Charles Dickens used to do with his novels, which were issued by the chapter in his magazine.

      • araneus1 says:

        A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
        The Charles Dickens reference is a good one. I read an article the other day about that. I wonder, do people have the patience these days? Probably.

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