Chapter 6 – Nemesis³

1995-1997

By junior high, Grace withdrew into the sanctuary and developed a tough exterior that made her harder to hurt.

Her friends urged her to stand up for herself but Grace felt little confidence. “Why do you put up with it?” Lex asked. “Andy only bullies you because his brothers bully him. He hasn’t grown much so they call him pipsqueak now. When I passed their place the other day he was crying because they were calling him a sissy.”

One day when a dogfight broke out, Grace learned how to turn the tables.

Mutt & Jeff were getting old. One of their new rescues was a Jack Russell named Spike, who was good at killing rats. Mutt was the alpha dog in the sanctuary, but Spike was faster and tougher. Mutt kept him in his place — until the day Spike attacked first. He was fierce and relentless and fought Mutt without mercy, refusing to back down. When the other dogs saw that he was the dominant dog, they ganged up on Mutt, too. So he dropped his tail between his legs and rolled over, accepting a lower place in the pack.

On the first day of grade seven, Grace waited by the road. Her anxiety rose with the billowing dust cloud chasing the school bus towards her. She asked her dogs to wish her luck and strode onto the bus, determined as hell.

She homed in on Andy, who was yelling, “Here comes Dog Face!” as she marched down the aisle.

“Gee, Andy, how come you didn’t grow this summer? Shouldn’t you still be on the other bus with kids your own size?”

Everyone hooted and goaded Andy on. When he stood up he was shorter than Grace now and they snickered at the difference. Andy’s face turned red.

Some of the meeker kids were thrilled to see the king of bullies challenged. They cheered her on, laughing at Andy and shouting, “Good one, Grace!”

“Yeah, well, at least I don’t have an ugly dog face,” Andy said.

Before he could say more Grace taunted, “I’d rather have a dog face than be stuck on the kiddie rides at the fair.” The teens howled and urged them on.

“I hear your Mommy still shops for you in the boys’ section.”

“You’re so ugly your only friends are dogs.”

“You’re so short your only friends are midgets.”

Andy clenched his fists. He took a swing at Grace but the bus lurched and he missed. He lost his balance and hung into the aisle, gripping the bar with one hand as he tried to twist himself up. Grace shoved him and he fell to the floor. She put her shoe on his back then said, “You’re so short you make a good footstool.”

The driver looked at her in the mirror then turned back to the road.

She sat in the empty seat behind Andy and shot insults at the back of his head the rest of the way to school, just as he used to do to her. If he retorted, she’d add another barb to her wire fence, biting into him if he tried getting under her skin. The gossip she’d collected about him became her arsenal, and her quick wit was her weapon. Her guilty conscience screamed but she shushed it – she’d had enough.

When they got to school, Andy ran off the bus. After giving her high fives, the others followed him, heckling. When he stood on his toes to read the classroom lists he became the butt of jokes in the milling crowd.

Grace sneered as she passed him and he shot her a vengeful look. She’d made an enemy for life.

Kat and Lex were waiting by the doors and they patted her back. The three girls were starting their new school as nervous as anyone. Although she trusted them, the more she shied away from people, the farther she withdrew from her friends. As they began to revolve around boys and clothes, Grace obsessed about the sanctuary.

As the refugees increased, Mr. Kendell’s tolerance decreased along with his budget for vet bills. One night at dinner, he slammed his huge hand on the table and said enough was enough. “I’m putting a sign on the road saying we’re not taking any more cast-offs.”

“But what if people take them to the shelter and they’re put to sleep?” Tears sprung to Grace’s eyes. “London would have died if he’d gone there. They put everyone down!”

“Not everyone, Grace, you know that,” her mother soothed, patting her hand.

“We can’t afford to feed every unwanted animal in the county. I’ve got a farm to run, not an ark, and my name’s not Noah.”

“Then I’ll pay for them,” Grace cried. “I’ve got the money Nanny gave me, I’ll use that.” She slapped her fork down. “You owe me an allowance. Kat and Lex get them for doing chores but I don’t. You’re no fair.”

“Your allowance is already spent paying for those goddamned mutts,” her father said. “I’ve a mind to take them all to the pound and be done with it.”

“No you wouldn’t, don’t say that Daddy, please don’t take my friends away.” She started to keen, a high-pitched wail that brought London, the only dog allowed in the house, running to her and licking her face.

“Get that dog away from this table,” he thundered. He grabbed his collar, dragged him to the door and hurled London outside. Grace ran after him as her mother sat at the table, looking forlorn.

They ran to the sanctuary and escaped inside. The dogs gathered around her, whining as she cried. Poor old Bruiser limped up. She buried herself in his coat and bawled. He suffered from arthritis and bladder stones and had been to the vet twice that year. Her father resented the bills for a dog who didn’t earn his keep.

When they took him to the vet again her father argued over the bill. Grace approached Mrs. Hoffmeier, the vet’s wife and office manager. They were Kat’s parents and she often slept at their house. They’d grown fond of their daughter’s odd little friend, who spent more time playing with their cat than with Kat.

“Mrs. Hoffmeier, my Dad says we can’t afford Bruiser’s medicine. Can I pay you with my birthday and Christmas money? My grandmother sends me twenty dollars twice a year.”

“That won’t be enough, dear.”

Grace looked embarrassed as she watched her father arguing. She whispered, “I’m afraid my Dad is going to take Bruiser to the pound.” Tears rolled down her face and Mrs. Hoffmeier put her arms around her and said to stop worrying so much.

The next time Grace slept over, she offered to help at the clinic to pay Bruiser’s bills. Dr. Hoffmeier looked skeptical, so she began tossing around ideas as they popped into her head. They sent the girls to watch Xena: Warrior Princess so they could talk. By the time her mother picked her up in the morning, Grace had her first job.

A gulf opened between Kat and Grace that year. With her friend was working for her parents scooping poop and cleaning cages, Kat felt jealous. Her brother was going to take over the practice when he graduated, and Kat felt left out. Sensing the change in their friendship, the Hoffmeiers stayed out of it. By the end of grade seven, the girls stopped seeing each other outside of school. Kat and Lex grew closer as Grace drifted away.

One night, after the vet’s closed and she was waiting for her mother, Grace saw a sign at the shelter. By the time her mother arrived, Grace had disappeared. When she got in the car twenty minutes later, Mrs. Kendell was frantic with worry.

“I’m going to start walking dogs at the pound!” Grace envisioned herself as a saviour to the homeless dogs and cats. She planned to brush them and train them and teach them tricks to help them get adopted.

And so it became a nightly ritual, her mother driving her into town then picking her up two hours later. When her father grumbled about the waste of gas, her mother spent the evening volunteering at the church or visiting seniors at the old age home.

Grace spent Saturdays working while Kat and Lex went to the movies or the diner. “She’s crazy,” Lex said one day when they cycled by Grace, walking a rambunctious dog. They waved at her but didn’t stop, too embarrassed by their friend covered in dog hair and holding a stinky bag of poop.

They used to love playing at Grace’s when a new batch of puppies or kittens arrived. Now they defined cute as The Backstreet Boys instead. Grace had no interest in the boy bands that plastered their walls. Her bedroom was covered with posters of Xena and she envisioned herself Grace: Animal Avenger, who saved pets from the pound and turned their mean owners in to the police.

Andy Boyles kept his distance from Grace throughout grade seven. It wasn’t until the spring of grade eight when he had a growth spurt that he cornered her at school. Grace was alone when he went up behind her and pushed her down. Kat saw him and, at five foot nine, she towered over him. Kat shoved Andy so he head-butted her. Grace jumped him and they grappled until a supervisor broke it up. All three got detentions but Andy fared the worst. Having lost to two girls in a schoolyard brawl, he was ridiculed. After that, he stopped confronting Grace. He had better ideas.

To get her back, Andy brought a jar of grasshoppers to school. He began picking their legs off and laughing as they stumbled around. Grace dived on him, enraged. She began pulling his hair and slapping him and screaming he was an animal abuser. Two teachers had to drag her off.

She sulked in the principal’s office while her parents discussed a suspension. No one cared that Andy was cruel to animals. He had gotten off with just a warning. Grace seethed, feeling unfairly treated and misunderstood.

When she was permitted to return, Andy began regaling his friends with hideous stories of animal cruelty within earshot. Having found Grace’s weak spot, he tested it daily. The yard supervisors watched them warily, ready to step in as crowds formed around their shouting matches, goading someone to strike. Like sadistic spectators at a dogfight, they didn’t care who got hurt, they wanted a show.

By the end of grade eight, Kat and Lex were so embarrassed by their combative friend they began distancing themselves. Grace hid in her sanctuary, disgusted by humans.

That summer, with Bruiser struggling to walk, her father wanted him put down. Grace refused to accept the inevitable. Balking at the cost of euthanasia, her father carelessly said that a bullet would be cheaper. Grace overheard him and screamed in rage. He slapped her and she ran to her room crying, “I hate you! I hate you!”

When she came home from town a few days later, Bruiser wasn’t waiting. She panicked, running around the farm, calling his name. When she found him he was struggling to breath, and became convinced her father had finally done it. When Dr. Hoffmeier arrived and said his heart was failing, she refused to believe it wasn’t her father’s fault.

Grace sat with Bruiser as the vet gave him the injection. His massive head lay on her lap and she stroked him and sang to him as he died. She keened over his body, telling him she would see him again in dog heaven someday. If her father came near them, she would shriek at him to go away.

In the morning, she wanted to dig his grave but a farm hand had to help. Grace chose a spot in the shade by the sanctuary where he used to watch and wait for her bus. She carved, ‘Bruiser, A Good Boy’ on a piece of board and stuck it in the ground.

Grace buried him with his tennis ball and a handful of treats. She said prayers for him then blessed him and lay wildflowers atop his grave. Only her mother, the farm hand and the sanctuary’s dogs and cats attended.

She would not look at her father or share the same room. Her mother crept around the house, the sole occupant of a neutral zone cushioning the two pitched camps. All that summer Grace was depressed and kept losing her temper. About a week after Bruiser died, she went back to work. About two weeks later her troubles began.

One day when she went to the pound to walk dogs she asked for Bandit, her favourite, to be brought out first.

“He’s gone, Grace,” the woman at the counter said.

Lighting up, she cheered that he’d finally been adopted. Then a strangling sound came out of her throat as the attendant shook her head.

“What happened to him?” Grace demanded, her voice rising.

The attendant hesitated.

“What did they do to him?” she shouted.

“They put him down last night dear. Didn’t they tell you? That was his last walk yesterday.”

Grace reacted violently, throwing magazines and adoption forms around the waiting room. She shrieked and cursed and threatened the attendant, then charged at the animal control officers when they raced in to see what was going on. Grace threw anything she could get her hands on at them until the police arrived and restrained her. With her parents’ car following the ambulance, she was taken to the hospital and sedated.

* * *

2013

As they left Dorothy’s, Grace asked Mr. Russell about Fred. He didn’t know what to say about The Dog House’s nemesis without sounding petty, so he stumbled for words.

“Fred is – Fred’s a cat person, and he hates dogs. He heads the tenant’s group over in The Cat House and says dogs are the worst thing that ever happened here,” he said, then grunted.

“Back when Gertie had the Shepherds, he’d get mad if she brought them into the yard if he was there with his cats. They squared off a few times and had words.” He began to get riled up, recounting the start of the feud that divided the two buildings.

“He says our dogs tried to eat his cats. Now Gertie, oh she had a way with dogs, just like you. She didn’t suffer fools, my Gertie, and she called him an old fool once in front of a few people. He hasn’t spoken a civil word to me since,” he said.

“Fred wouldn’t even come to her funeral — how stubborn is that? Some people haven’t had much use for him since. He resents me for that, but it was his own doing.”

When they reached his apartment, Grace soothed Nina. Ready for JR, she stood in front of the Greyhound protectively. Scenting her from beyond the door, JR lunged as soon as Mr. Russell opened it. Grace blocked him then rolled him over.

“What did I tell you about fighting?” JR looked away, dropping his ears and tucking his tail between his legs. She hooked JR to his leash then handed it to Mr. Russell.

Grace led Nina towards the neutral zone and repositioned her so that JR would approach her from the side. Then she told Mr. Russell to relax and walk towards them.

“How do I relax if I’m worrying they’re going to go at each other?”

“If you’re tense they’ll be tense and that’s what causes fights. Just whistle a happy tune.”

Mr. Russell hummed his wedding waltz. Nina relaxed because JR wasn’t coming at her head-on. They sniffed each other cautiously, completing the ritual, and Grace rewarded them with treats. She nodded at Mr. Russell — they were good to go.

“Fred now – you’ll recognize him from his thick glasses. He can’t see anything without them. He’s kind of short and dumpy and walks looking down as if he’s afraid he’s going to step in something. And he always has a pen and a little notebook in his shirt pocket. When you see him, you’ve seen Fred.”

“Now Nina and Fred have had their differences over the years, you see. She’ll growl at him if he stares at her. She’s never actually bit him, just nipped him I think, but as far as Fred is concerned, he’s been mauled. Don’t let them anywhere near each other or we’ll never hear the end of it.”

Grace was watching for the infamous Fred as they exited the atrium then headed down the path. Nina tensed up halfway to the street. Out of the corner of her eye, Grace saw a man standing in a tomato patch. He turned and glared at them through heavy glasses. Nina let out a little woof and looked at Grace as if to say that’s him.

Then he plucked his notebook out of his pocket. He checked his watch for the time then wrote something down. Grace waved and said hello, hoping to avoid making enemies her first week on the job.

He glowered and shouted, “You keep that vicious dog away from me and my cats and my tomatoes, you hear!”

She hurried the dogs away as he hollered, “I’ll be watching you!”

* * *

1997

They kept Grace in the psychiatric ward for two weeks. She was diagnosed as bi-polar and put on a combination of psychotropic medication, which she hated. The drugs made her drowsy and more depressed but they told her it would level out her mood swings.

Anxious and overexcited one day, depressed and hopeless the next, Grace yearned to be like other girls and stop crying over everything. She spent her days looking out the barred windows and shrinking away from anyone who tried to talk to her.

When they locked her in her room at night she understood how the shelter animals felt. Grace knew she’d let her friends down. They’d be missing her and wondering why she never came to see them anymore. She’d been banished. She cried herself to sleep, imagining them lying in their cages too, wondering what would happen to them next.

When she was released, she left silently. Her mother patted her arm as they led her to the car. Her father held his head and back ram-rod straight, ashamed of his troubled daughter.

The dogs were happy to see her back, and Grace cried with joy as they licked her face. But when she looked around for Bruiser, her chest ached. Looking up, she saw his grave and ran to it, bawling. Then she holed herself up inside the sanctuary, where she spent the rest of the summer.

“I’m worried about her, Fitz, aren’t you? She doesn’t seem the same. Does she seem the same to you?” Her mother wrung her hands in her dress.

Grace’s father cursed his wife for letting their daughter get so tied up in her animals. He’d cursed them every day she’d been away. Fitz didn’t understand Grace. He’d heard that teenage girls were like roller coasters, their emotions riding up and down, but even he had to admit she wasn’t normal. She never had been. He winced at the thought that he’d had a hand in her undoing and his pride was hurt. She was the talk of the county again and he hated going to the co-op and hearing the whispers.

By the time Grace began high school they changed her medication. The last combination made her too dopey and unable to concentrate, and her psychiatrist thought she’d need her wits about her in grade nine. The new stuff made her anxious and irritable but they said she’d adapt.

Grace had to see a child psychologist and the weekly sessions were uncomfortable. She was assigned a Children’s Services caseworker to monitor her progress. The exhausted woman visited the farm to review her home life and discuss Grace’s triggers.

Once she started back to school, she’d need to see the guidance counsellor regularly. He had warned her not to get into fights but Grace had already learned that lesson. Violent behaviour had its repercussions.

When she got on the bus the first morning, she felt like a freak. Some of her old classmates were staring at her and a different driver looked her up and down. The bus to the high school was different. It was filled with older students who had no patience for the antics of the minor niners, who they told to sit down and shut up.

Andy Boyles sat in the middle of the bus. As Grace passed him he coughed, “Mental patient,” into his hand. She strode past with her head held high, gripping her purse so tightly her knuckles were white. She was the last person to get off the bus and he was waiting for her as she came down the steps.

“They should have kept you in the nut house, Dog Face.”

Grace elbowed him in the stomach then ran for the doors.

* * *

2013

When they returned from their walk, Grace confirmed her appointments for the week. JR and company would begin their obedience lessons Friday, which she was nervous about starting but didn’t know why. Grace had taken to Dorothy. She made her miss her mother but they were nothing alike, so she didn’t understand it. She thought she’d talk to her psychiatrist about Friday.

She left The Dog House on foot, alone. Grace felt like her right arm was missing when she went anywhere without Jules. She felt insecure without her but still detoured through Rowntree anyway.

As she came up the alley, she saw some moving boxes stacked beside a white van. On the other side of the fence, a young Rottweiler was tied to a stake. His water bowl was empty and there were already three piles of poop ringing his miserly space. He lay as far away from them as he could. The dog was so big and his chain was so short he would have to smell his own excrement baking in the Indian Summer sun.

When he saw Grace near his turf he barked viciously. She stood and watched him with a heavy heart. Pieces of his ears were missing and he had scars on his muzzle and neck. He favoured his left leg because his right wrist had a wound where his dewclaw should be. It looked like it had been torn off but never stitched. He wasn’t neutered.

So she began talking to him in her dog voice, stringing her words together in a jumble, a rich, comical, garbled sound punctuated at the end by little peaks of excitement. Grace sounded just like Jules when she called her Mmrrrmmm.

The Rottweiler cocked his head sideways as she asked him, “AreYouAreAGoodPuppy? You’reAHandsomeBoy. IBetYou’dLikeToMeetMyPuppy. I’llBringHerToSeeYouTomorrow. WantATreat?

Grace threw a cookie over the fence and it landed at his feet. He gobbled it then wagged his stumpy tail. She threw another one over but he had to reach for it. As he leaned forward, the chain turned his collar. She caught a glimpse of his nameplate between its metal spikes and shivered.

His name was Nemesis.

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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.

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