Chapter 5 – Angels and Allies

Going to the shelter was painful for Grace. But she knew the animals on death row were more anxious about their fate than she was, so she forced herself. Jules came too, for she had a calming effect on her mother and the inmates.

They never entered the shelter anymore. Grace became too upset seeing pets dumped by their owners and she’d confronted a few. And if a family came to adopt but left empty handed, Grace would plead a particular orphan’s case, begging with them to save their life before it was too late.

Max, the shelter manager, appreciated her volunteer work but had no tolerance for her behaviour. He ordered her to leave the humans alone and concentrate on the dogs instead. It haunted her, seeing the rows of animals on death’s door, so she stayed outside and had them brought out.

When they arrived at the shelter, Grace knocked on the back door. Her childhood friend Kat opened it and gave her a bear hug. “You’re here early, off work today?”

Grace shook her head in shame and told her she’d been fired.

“You were there a long time, well, for you, a long time. What was it, three years?” she asked, scratching Jules’ chest and making her back leg go thump thump thump.

Grace didn’t want to think about her track record. It reminded her of how unstable she was. They could talk about it Friday, when they met for drinks and bitched about life in the city.

“Who needs a walk?” she asked.

Kat brought out two black dogs that were among the Unfortunates. People avoid adopting black dogs and cats, so they are euthanized the most. Maybe it was the unfair reputations of Rottweilers or Dobermans, or the cultural association between black dogs and dark omens. Others believed black cats were evil and did hideous things to them on Halloween. Whatever it was, it was prejudice as far as Grace was concerned.

Brothers, Buddy and Zeke were Border Collie crosses, genetically engineered to work for a living. Adopted as puppies, their owner ignored the basics of dog rearing, and their training window passed without a single lesson. He didn’t socialize them when they were young, so they were hostile to other dogs. He didn’t neuter them either, so they were combative with other males. Chained up all their lives, their pent up energy made them uncontrollable, and they had no idea how to behave indoors. They barked at everything passing by, angering the neighbours, who complained so often they were finally surrendered.

Badly behaved through no fault of their own and stigmatized by cultural perceptions, their chances of adoption were slim to none.

When the boys emerged, their first instinct was to run from The House of Death. The will to survive is universal among all creatures, and having seen their fellow inmates led to The Killing Room, they lived in fear they’d be next.

Kat gripped their leashes as the boys burst through the door and jumped on Jules. They whined and scrambled over her while she let them smell the only friend they’d ever had. Jules was a wonder to the shelter staff. She had no fear of the most aggressive dogs and befriended the hardest cases.

Grace wondered what communication passed between these opposites ends of the canine wheel of fortune — Jules, one of the luckiest dogs in the world, and the inmates, who would number among the millions euthanized each year.

She took their leashes and headed to the dog park. There was only one dog in the enclosure, a slate grey, one-year old, 120 pound Great Dane who was still growing. He bounded over to the gate in a loveable, dopey way but Grace turned away.

“Hey, don’t be afraid of him, he’s big but he’s harmless. This is Mumford.”

“It’s not your dog I’m worried about, it’s these two. They’re pound puppies and I’m their volunteer walker. They’ll attack any dog they meet, so I can’t let them loose with others.”

“What about the other one?”

“She’s my girl. They’re okay with her, but that’s it. No worries, we’ll see if the other area is empty.” Grace tried dragging the boys away but they barked and lunged at poor Mumford, whose droopy eyes looked sadly at these misguided souls.

“We were just leaving,” he said, putting Mumford on his leash and heading to the second gate.

“Thank you, that’s so nice.”

When Mumford was safely on the other side, Grace brought the dogs into the neutral zone, unleashed them, then opened the inner door. Buddy and Zeke tore across the field towards Mumford, snarling and snapping like the hounds of hell.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding.”

“Sad, eh? I could kill their former owner. You’d think he would’ve had the sense to Google how to socialize a dog,” she said, trusting Karma would get him in the end. “Bastard dumped them at the pound. They’re on death row.”

Jules barked at them to chase her. Buddy and Zeke ran after her and they galloped rings around the perimeter. Grace had tears in her eyes as she watched them. She didn’t realize they’d started rolling down her cheeks until Mumford’s dad held out a tissue.

“Sorry,” she said, sniffing and patting her eyes. “It upsets me to see dogs cursed by neglect. Their numbers are up soon.” Grace cried easily, a symptom of her chronic depression.

He shouted “good luck” to the boys as he walked away but Mumford kept looking back, whimpering because he wasn’t allowed to play now that the fun had begun. Then the man stopped and turned, “Hey, what are their names? What shelter are they in?”

After they ran themselves ragged, Grace dreaded the trip back. They never wanted to return to The House of Death, and would plant their paws and pull in the other direction. She’d cry as she delivered them to their doom, wailing, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” as she dragged them back.

She wanted to run away with them, somewhere, anywhere, but there was nowhere to go. The shelters were overflowing and the private rescue groups were overwhelmed. Advocates monitored the thousands of animals scheduled to walk The Green Mile daily. They sent out desperate texts and tweets, and posted pleas on Facebook’s many pages dedicated to saving animals in crisis. Some days she’d get so depressed reading them she’d cry herself to sleep.

When they reached the shelter, Kat tried to console her. “Hey, you never know, someone might still adopt them. They have a bit of time left. There might be an angel up in heaven right now inspiring someone to adopt them. Stranger things have happened.”

But for Grace there was no consolation. If Buddy and Zeke weren’t killed that night, others would be put down to make room for the next wave of pets surrendered or abandoned on the side of the road.

She blew her nose, wiped her tears, then leaned over and kissed them goodbye. As Kat dragged them inside, Grace saw Mike. The animal control officer put his arms around her.

“You shouldn’t let this get to you so much,” he said.

“Don’t you know by now I’ve got no control over my emotions when it comes to animals?” she sobbed.

For Grace, the hardest thing about suffering from mental illness was how little others understood her anguish. It was the reason she kept to herself and let few people in. She was too ashamed to share the depths of her torment because they’d usually say something just like that.

Friends said she tormented herself by volunteering at the pound. They didn’t understand that in giving the inmates a breath of fresh air and a chance to run, that precious hour outside of their cages and a loving kiss, Grace was giving them the thing she felt they needed most. And no matter what it cost her, it was the greatest gift of all.

“I’m just finishing up — can I buy you a drink?” he asked.

“No, thanks, I got to go” she said, not that she did.

“What’s it going take for you to go out with me? You always say no. Why?”

Grace straightened her shoulders, “I don’t date.”

“Then let’s not call it a date — we’re just drinking buddies. C’mon, we can bring Jules. There’s a patio down the block. We can get a table by the rail and tie her up on the other side.” Then he whispered, “We can feed her wings when no one’s looking.”

She shook her head.

“Do I have to be a homeless animal for you to take me home?” He let his tongue hang out and panted. That made Grace laugh.

“I’m sorry dude, I’ve taken a vow of celibacy. Men never accept that Jules and my rescue work comes first, and I’m sick of fighting about it.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here. One of the reasons my wife left me was because she never knew what death row dog or cat she’d come home to.”

People thought Grace was distant and aloof but she preferred animals to people. They were kinder and more loving, and she related to them.

“Someday Mike, I promise.”

Clenching his jaw, he nodded and went inside, where he was assailed by a cacophony of desperate barks and meows screaming for salvation.

* * *

Returning home, Grace saw the Giving Pets A Chance van pulling up. Hannah was early for inspection and she panicked — she’d be caught with too many cats again.

Grace sneaked in the front door and entered through the hall. She crawled on her hands and knees to her kitchen door, opened it, and grabbed the first cat she saw. She raced upstairs and dumped Tomcat in Carla’s apartment.

When she opened the gate, Hannah was talking to Carla. Crossing her fingers, Grace hoped they hadn’t noticed the door open.

“I found the mother,” she blurted. “I’ve been meaning to call you but I’ve been so busy. I’ve changed jobs, I’m dogwalking again.” She tried to sound happy but knew it sounded forced.

“So how many do you have now, seven?”

“No, no, Tomcat was adopted by a little old lady I met where I’m dog walking.” She spoke breathlessly, signalling her anxiety. “When I found the mother I knew I was over the limit so I asked Mr. Russell’s neighbour whose cat just died if she’d take him until we found him a home but she was so smitten she kept him.”

Hannah eyed her — she’d known Grace long enough to sense when something was up. She was in her 50’s, had wiry red hair and like visible scars, bore the wrinkles of her heartbreaking rescues. She’d been doing it so long she’d toughened up externally, but privately she hurt all the same.

She welcomed a new batch of tenderhearted animal lovers into the organization every year, and then had to explain the realities of the pet crisis when their idealism hit the wall. For every cat or dog they saved, Giving Pets A Chance turned away a hundred more for lack of funding and space. Grace was her most difficult, but talented, volunteer.

“You know you can’t outboard without the agency doing a home inspection, and we need background checks before completing adoptions.”

“Oh, she was just this sweet old lady Mr. Russell said was so lonely she’d love Tomcat to pieces,” she lied, spotting him sitting on the ledge in Carla’s apartment. Carla had spotted him too and she gave Grace the evil eye.

“C’mon inside and see the mother. You should have seen how happy she was to find her kittens. They’ve been doing well, their eyes started opening this morning…” She gave up when she saw Hannah’s face, so she unlocked the screen door.

Hannah made regular inspections to ensure every animal was healthy and well-tended. She surveyed the porch with a clinical eye, counting its denizens, and then looked under the furniture for cached cats. She hunted for fleas, checked their bowls were clean, food was properly stored, and the litter boxes were scooped. She examined every feline, then spent twice as long inspecting the kittens before nodding in satisfaction. “Who else’s inside?”

“No one’s in my apartment, no ma’am, just Psycho. You know she won’t tolerate other cats.”

Hannah said she’d be back soon but wouldn’t tell Grace when. When she asked for Tomcat’s new number Grace said she’d forgotten to ask for it, so she had a brief reprieve.

She sighed in relief when the van left but Carla freaked. “Why did you bring that cat up to my apartment? That’s not why I gave you that key.”

“Sorry,” Grace said. “It’s such a beautiful day. Why can’t you bring Sheba out to enjoy it instead of keeping her locked up?”

“Stop changing the subject and get that cat out of my place. And clean up any mess it’s made. I hate how you’re always telling me what to with my dog.”

Grace might have known a lot about animals, but when it came to humans she was obtuse. The more Grace told Carla what not to do the more she did it. She wouldn’t bring Sheba outside now just to spite her.

When Grace went up to bring Tomcat down, she brought Sheba out too.

“I didn’t say you could bring her out here.” Grace put Tomcat in the porch as the little dog danced across the lawn, thrilled to be in the yard with her friends.

Sheba and Jules explored the yard, sniffing the droppings the birds, squirrels and raccoons had left. When Sheba found a particularly putrid bit of excrement Grace yelled, “NO STINK,” but the dog rolled in it joyfully, her paws stretching into the air.

Carla squawked and rushed at Sheba but Grace jumped in between them. “I’ll clean her up, it’s my fault, don’t take it out on her when you’re mad at me.” Carla glared.

“I’ve got a bottle of wine in the house,” Grace said. “Why don’t I bring it out and we can enjoy this beautiful Indian Summer weather while it lasts?”

By the end of the first glass, Carla began whining about her boyfriend again. Grace spent hours listening to her man-troubles, suffering the tedious stories repeatedly, told with increasing indignation and self-pity.

When the bottle was done, Carla headed upstairs. Grace went through her routine with the cats, had something to eat, then walked Jules. She returned dog tired and was about to collapse into bed when she saw the pile of poop.

“Don’t tell me, let me guess, you’re mad because I didn’t pay any attention to you tonight?” She picked up the offending turd and flushed it.

When she took the plastic sheeting off she jostled Psycho, who clawed her. Grace screamed — one of Psycho’s nails was hooked between her thumb and forefinger. When she tried to detach it the cat attacked, biting and kicking and clawing her arms. The harder Psycho fought the louder Grace screamed. Jules paced as they battled hand to paw.

When Grace finally extracted her claw, the cat jumped off the bed and hid beneath it. Although Grace had never raised a hand to her, Psycho still didn’t trust her.

Grace bandaged her wounds then crawled into bed. She started to cry for Tomcat, who was being evicted, then cried harder because he had nowhere to go. Then she cried for Buddy and Zeke. She pleaded with St. Roch, begging him to spare their lives another night. She pictured the boys curled up in their cage, shaking throughout those terrifying hours when animals were led away and never returned.

That night, she dreamed that it was Jules in their cage. She screamed silently at animal control to take his hands off her girl there must be some mistake Jules had a home but she was led into The Killing Room while Grace pawed the door with her bandaged hand.

She woke at four o’clock, then tossed and turned until dawn.

* * *

Grace called Mr. Russell’s early the next morning. Lana answered and said he was not an early riser. Sensing Grace’s distress, she coaxed the story out of her. When he called her back he told her to bring Tomcat over, he knew a woman who’d like to meet him. Whooping with joy, she put the cat in a carrier and called a cab.

Tomcat caterwauled his way downtown as Grace’s anxiety soared in unison. When they entered Mr. Russell’s apartment JR rushed the carrier. He sniffed around it then poked his nose through a hole in the crate, startling the cat, which poked him back.

“Lana, put JR in my room, will ya? I want to take a look at him before we bring him over to Dorothy’s, make sure he’s not a sabre-toothed tiger.”

Tomcat was surrendered to a shelter when his elderly owner died and none of his family would adopt him. They’d dropped him at a high-kill shelter, one that euthanized more animals than they rehomed. Hannah rescued him the day he was to be put down.

“He is a handsome boy.” Mr. Russell reached out and Tomcat rubbed against his big hand, purring like a Harley.

“How’s he with dogs?” Grace assured him Tomcat was wonderful with Jules. He was photogenic, with broad tabby stripes and large green eyes. His profile had been posted online for months, but he had languished at Grace’s without a single inquiry.

Grace wished she could have kept Tomcat, but Psycho wouldn’t tolerate him, so she gave him up like so many she’d become attached to before.

Satisfied, they headed down the hall. Tomcat mewed as they knocked on the door. When Dorothy opened it Mr. Russell cracked, “Want a cat?”

She was a beautiful woman with grey hair and eyes who had grown frail. Dorothy laughed pleasantly and invited them in. A tall, thin Greyhound-mix named Nina approached the carrier and stood over it as Tomcat jumped out. He wove around Dorothy’s ankles then brushed up against the dog.

When they sat down to tea, Grace apologized for suddenly springing a cat upon them. She confessed she’d lied to Hannah as she told them Tomcat’s history.

“You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. Whatever it takes to save a dog or cat, I’m all for it, and if we have to lie, so be it. A lie is only bad if it hurts someone. When it saves a poor soul like Tomcat, you will be forgiven,” she said, as if she had influence in heaven.

Tomcat jumped up on her lap and his eyes closed as she stroked him. Mr. Russell began regaling Dorothy with Grace’s taming of JR. He said he was looking forward to starting their obedience lessons. “There are quite a few people in this building that should sign up for that class,” she said.

Grace asked her about Nina, “I’ve never seen a Greyhound-cross before. The racing associations are so strict about getting them fixed if they’re lucky enough to be adopted instead of euthanized when their career ends.”

“After my daughter died I rented a house in Spain for a month,” she began. “There were so many stray dogs there, and she used to come to my door. I fed her, although everyone told me not to. They said the dogs were a nuisance and treated them terribly.”

“Nina wouldn’t let me touch her, but we became friends. When my stay was over I tried to find her a home, but there were no shelters or rescue groups. So, when it was time to leave, Lufthansa boarded her for me while I took a bus tour, then we flew home.” She’d said it simply, as if it was completely natural to bring a street dog home halfway across the world. Grace had heard a few amazing adoption stories, but nothing like this.

“I called her Nina, which is the Spanish word for young girl. I lost one daughter but adopted another that year,” she said.

Nina’s transition from street dog to house pet wasn’t easy. She’d had to stay in quarantine upon arrival and wasn’t used to living indoors. Nina was hostile to other dogs if food was involved, and growled at her or Smitty if they went near her bowl. Used to fighting for every scrap of food, it took her a while to relax and understand that she’d never be hungry or homeless again.

“What happened to your cat Smitty?”

“He passed away last month, old age,” she sighed. “Poor Nina here’s been so lonely without him.”

When it was time to leave, Grace offered to take Nina out with JR for a walk on the house. Dorothy hesitated. JR didn’t like Nina but Mr. Russell assured her Grace could handle them both. With her arthritis getting worse, Dorothy rarely walked Nina anymore, and before Grace knew it, she had another customer.

Dorothy waved goodbye then called after them, “Watch out for Fred. Don’t let Nina anywhere near him.”

Grace turned to Mr. Russell. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I forgot to warn you about him,” and he rolled his eyes at the very mention of The Dog House’s nemesis.

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.

4 Responses to Chapter 5 – Angels and Allies

  1. says:

    I am really enjoying reading your book and look forward to Chapter 6!

  2. maggie0019 says:

    Wonderful! Two paws up! Woof!! Love, Maggie

  3. Pingback: Animal Rescue Stories : Milo’s Story | Family Survival Protocol - Microcosm News

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