Your Cold, Cold Heart

No one deserves to freeze to death

An untold number of dogs and cats have frozen to death during this brutal winter. Not just strays or ferals, but pets, those four-legged friends many of us consider family. When we hear these stories in the news we shake our heads and ask: what kind of person does that?

There is a concerted effort on the part of animal welfare advocates to raise awareness about the plight of dogs tied to chains for life. They’re the new slave of the modern world — poor, helpless, voiceless creatures at their master’s mercy. Chained behind the house in sub-zero weather with inadequate shelter, frozen water bowls, no companionship or hope, they look so lonely they break our hearts.

How would you like to sleep like this?

These dogs are also at the mercy of lax animal welfare laws, ones that state that if a dog is fed and watered daily and has some kind of shelter, no matter how bad it looks — it’s all right. Some laws are being re-reviewed to prevent the kind of wanton neglect pictured above, but animal advocates are struggling to get them changed.

Unlike Malamutes and Newfoundlands, dogs bred for working and living in winter conditions, the majority of dogs and cats aren’t so lucky — they don’t have triple thick, waterproof coats. Like us, they are prone to frostbite and hypothermia. Ferals and strays are especially prone to dehydration during long cold snaps, which leave them without even drips of melting snow to quench their thirst.

Cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothernmia

I’ve heard so many stories this winter of animals dying of neglect I’ve become increasingly angry and depressed. Sometimes I hate mankind. Researching animal abusers is probably the hardest part about writing The Patron Saint of Dogs. At times I couldn’t bear to even write a scene about them and I just couldn’t understand it – how does someone let their pet freeze to death? Or leave them behind when they move? Why don’t they care? How do they sleep at night?

The answer is sad but true. There are people on this earth with little to no conscience for the welfare of others. Whether they are sociopaths, alcoholics, drug addicts or have personality disorders, many people on this earth have zero empathy or concern for anything but themselves.

Some see their pets as objects and care no more for them than for the bush behind the house buckling under the weight of the snow. Others see their pets as extensions of themselves, and if they are self-destructive people, they don’t care about that poor creature locked outside in a blizzard, either.

Sociopaths, and those with certain personality disorders like narcissists, exist without the kind of consciences that keep good people up at night. They don’t care how their actions affect others, heck, they don’t even have the brain chemistry to plague them with such thoughts.

In a support group for abused women, I’ve heard too many stories about pets that had to be left behind when the victims fled. The animals, who were also abused during the relationship, took their place. I know of two sets of house pets that were abandoned outdoors this winter — one of whom froze to death — and of another, caged up in a garage in sub-zero weather, who succumbed to hypothermia.

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Another woman, newly separated, posted pictures on Facebook of her first night out on the town with her friends since she left her abusive husband, who was stalking her. The next morning her horse was found dead, his head beaten in.

I got sick when I heard another story about a woman who jumped out of bed one Sunday morning upon hearing the screams of her young daughters and the howls of her dog. She ran downstairs to discover her husband with the control to their dog’s shock collar in his hand. He was pressing it, over and over again, as the dog cried and the girls watched in horror.

What kind of person does that? One who is all about power and control. There are people among us with charm and personality who you’d never in a million years think badly of. They seem so kind, so generous, so loving in public. But behind closed doors? Their masks fall off, and it is only their families and pets who know the evil that lurks within them.

We can’t change these people, heck, we can’t even convict most of them. But there are things that people of good conscience can do:

Every stray cat is a homeless cat

We can reach out to victims of domestic violence and help ensure their pets are not left behind to bear the brunt of the abuse.

We can be vigilant by caring enough to stop for an animal in need, and report suspected cases of neglect and abuse to our local animal welfare authorities.

We can speak up about lax animal welfare laws, too. Animal advocates need all the support they can get from the public.

We can step in when we see an animal being abused or neglected.

We can educate those around us who seem oblivious to the basics of properly caring for their pets.

We can support local rescue groups, those who take in animals in crisis or help tend feral cat colonies.

Cold weather safety

Or we can do something utterly unconventional I advocate in my tweets all the time:

If you see an animal in distress, please knock on their human’s door and ask them to grow a heart.

“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” –Arthur Schopenhauer

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Why People Love Dogs So Much

Recently a friend expressed exasperation on their Facebook page:

“I can’t believe how much attention and time and money people give to their dogs. They are DOGS for crying out loud.”

I think my friend is referring to people like this…

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There are those of us afraid to trust humans anymore because we’ve been betrayed..

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Some of us have been hurt by someone we love and are afraid to love again…

Dog loves you more

And we know that dogs think we are the most important people in their world..

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Dogs bring caring and compassion to lonely, elderly people…

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And comfort to the sick and injured…

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They’re always happy to see us come home…

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And they rely on us completely…

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No matter how bad our lives get…

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Or how empty they may seem to others…

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They bring joy and fun and happiness to everything we do together…

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They always love our cooking…

Cooking bacon

Are grateful for everything we give them…

(which most people can’t say about their children)

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They’re patient and teach children compassion…

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And watch out for our safety…

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They protect our soldiers…

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And are free of the ugly aspects of humanity…

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So we can’t help hoping…

Youll meet me in the light

In our technological world, where we spend more time online talking to strangers than with our friends and family…

as we are bombarded by bad news, crime, poverty, cruelty and heartbreak…

I believe people turn to their dogs because they are pure, simple, and love us unconditionally…

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If our purpose in life is to love and be loved…

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…count me in as one of the people who find their purpose in loving dogs

Colleen xoxo

Depression and Animal Rescue

Depression is common among animal rescuers, foster parents, shelter workers and volunteers. Grace, the heroine of The Patron Saint of Dogs, may be fictional, but the suffering she feels is real. Bless all of the unsung animal rescue heroes doing these heartbreaking jobs♥

Emerald City Pet Rescue

For today’s Emerald City Pet Rescue blog I thought I would discuss something I know all of you animal rescuers and even animal adopters can relate to, and that is depression and animal rescue. It could even be depression when we find out one of our fur kids are sick or ill, pets lost, or pet death etc.

No one ever said animal rescue would be easy. Sometimes it can just be one thing that gets you into ‘stinking thinking’ – wanting to quit, wanting to give up, wanting your normal life back.

Contemplate that for a second in the ‘big picture’. You signed up for this. Yes, we all are free to make our own decisions and possibly ‘walk away’. Sometimes the photos and stories of the animal abuse and neglect and the ones we couldn’t save can just be too much on certain days.

If you were to…

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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