Boxer’s Runaway Boxing Day

Boxer and his big stick

Boxer and his big stick

When I heard the news that Boxer had run away on Boxing Day his life flashed before my eyes.

Here’s a dog that has the best of two worlds: two homes, two parents who love him, multiple walks a day, great food and a plethora of friends in the neighbourhood.

But brains? Nope, he’s in short supply of those. He’s lovable, but not the sharpest stick in his collection.

I imagined him hit by a car and laying dead beneath a bush where he’d crawled to breathe his last without the love of his humans by his side…

I imagined him scooped up by a dog fighting ring and torn to shreds as bait…

I imagined him dumped at a shelter far, far away and euthanized before we located him…

Shelter Pic

And I imagined myself pummeling his other human for not getting him microchipped or ordering a tag with Boxer’s name and number on it so he could phone home…

We tend to think the worst when a crisis strikes, but in this case, I tried hard to keep the faith. His other human had taken him to the creek for a run and Boxer had taken off, no doubt in pursuit of an elusive duck, and never found his way back home.

I tried to picture him showing up at some family’s back door as they were serving their Christmas duck á l’orange and him scratching on the glass, wondering if that was his bird they’d had the nerve to catch and cook.

Or maybe some children saw him, and he bounded over in that dopey way he has and followed the scent of their Boxing Day dinner. Kids love him, so they might have lured him home and begged their parents to keep him as a belated Christmas present. Being a holiday, the shelter was closed. Maybe he crashed beside their little beds overnight and then took up position beside the breakfast table the next morning with that hopeful look on his face.

Wherever he was, for over 24 hours, Boxer was on the lam.

I got the call from Animal Services late afternoon on December 27th that I had to come bail him out before they closed for the night. I raced over in a taxi, the driver refusing to wait until I emerged with the jailbird because he didn’t like big dogs (growl!).

After paying the convict’s fines I tried hard not to look around. Being in the pound is a nightmare for its inhabitants — and this author. All those homeless animals on the verge of being killed for want of a family. All those rejected pets, missing their families and wondering what they did wrong. They are surrounded by the cries of other terrified animals, sensing death all around them, confused and alone. This is my — and the heroine of The Patron Saint of Dogs’ — downfall: Death Row isn’t a place we can bear to work, no matter how much we want to help.

Shelter death

When Boxer burst through the jailhouse doors, straining on his leash, he looked happier for a bathroom break than by the sight of a saviour. We ran outside and he did his business in seconds flat. (Maybe he’s fastidious and didn’t want to soil his dog run.)

But then he did something I would never, ever have predicted… Boxer wanted to return to the pound!

He strained on his leash and pulled and pulled, trying to go back inside. It was the damnedest thing. Was it almost dinner time and he didn’t want to miss out? Had he made friends he wanted to save? Or was there a hot blond inside whose number he forgot to get?

Whatever it was, he tried, again and again, to return to the jaws of death while we waited an eternity for a taxi that would transport a large dog.

Yes, the ladies at the pound are sweethearts and scratched his ears good bye. No, the pound wasn’t quite as depressing as I’d imagined. It was actually quite an upbeat place — if you disregard the fact that they euthanize approximately 50% of the animals that pass through their doors.

Shelter worker

It’ll remain a mystery where Boxer was and what he did during his Boxing Day adventure. When we got home, he curled up on his bed and took a nap, no worse for wear. Even when his other human arrived, he didn’t give us so much as a single guilty look.

Maybe Boxer had heard us talking about enjoying some time off over the holidays and he decided that, because it was Boxing Day, it was his day to do whatever he wanted.

Or maybe he was helping me research the novel and wanted me to see the pound, and its staff, differently, illuminated by the spirit of the season so I could bring you this message…

Shelter dogs

Please help them in any way you can.

All the best for 2015,

Colleen, Boxer and (Psycho) Kitty


If you enjoyed this blog post, here are more of Boxer’s adventures:


The Most Phobic Dog in the World:

The Happy Birthday Stick:

The Adventures of a Wet Retriever:

Dog Sharing:


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..


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)


They’re patient and teach children compassion…

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And watch out for our safety…


They protect our soldiers…


And are free of the ugly aspects of humanity…


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…


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


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

Colleen xoxo

Dog Cull Casts Shame on The Games at the Sochi Olympics

Biological trash

I always put my life on hold to watch the Olympics. It is the greatest show on earth, one that has moved me, inspired me, and made me proud to be a Canadian — and a citizen of the world.

The Olympics represent so much of our global hopes: peace, brotherhood, cooperation, tolerance, honour and dedication. I cheer on every athlete, especially the underdogs, and am electrified by seeing their dreams coming true before my eyes.

Do you remember the minute of silence we had at the opening ceremonies in Lillehammer for the citizens of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war? I’ve never forgotten it. Spiritually, it was one of the most electrifying moments of my life. When Juan Antonia Samaranch asked a live, global audience to rise and bow our heads in their honour for one minute I rose – and felt one billion people standing up with me.

The Olympics makes me feel like a citizen of the world – but this year they are making me feel ashamed of the Games.

You see, they’re killing stray dogs in Sochi in preparation for the Olympics.

Amidst the cries of inconvenience by journalists and tourists that their rooms aren’t ready, pest control firms are creeping around at night, poisoning and shooting the thousands of dogs the city of Sochi has neglected to date.

At this time of world peace — when nations come together and lay down their petty squabbles and trade disputes, when countries struggling under brutal rulers and oppressive economic policies send a young, hopeful athlete to represent their country — they’re killing man’s best friend to spruce up for the occasion.

I’m not an animal rights activist or a member of an advocacy group, but I do speak up for those who can’t. And there is something so wrong about this dog cull that it’s searing me inside.

Mankind domesticated dogs to help us – and now we’ve turned our back on many of them. They’ve helped us survive and evolve and hunt and track and protect ourselves for tens of thousands of years. Now their function in society ranges from being a luxury in rich nations to a food source in poor ones. No matter which nation they live in, millions of dogs there are homeless and hungry and abandoned and abused.

When they become a subject of mass extermination to prepare for the greatest show on earth, it’s time for this citizen of the world to stand up and say:

This Is Wrong. Stop killing dogs – you are bring shame to the Games.

Please, stand up and speak out as a citizen of the world and tell Sochi to stop the cull. Tell Sochi this is wrong. Dead wrong.

Man’s best friend deserves at least that much from us. Sign a petition. Tweet. Post your feelings on social media. Don’t just sit there and swallow your sentiments.

I know we can’t save every dog in the world, but there are times when people of good conscience can’t stand idly by and watch a grave injustice done. Won’t you help?

*gets down off soapbox*

I’m writing a novel called The Patron Saint of Dogs — and if I don’t speak up for the dogs of Sochi, I’m not worthy of that noble cause.

Colleen MacDougall
Brampton, Ontario, Canada
#SochiDogs #Sochi2014 #Olympics #Sochi #Dogs

NOTE: petitions are posted on and and there is an email campaign at the link on the photo above

The Adventures of an Author writing about Rescuing Dogs

During my years as a dog walker, I rescued many animals that crossed my path when they were in need of help. Some incidents have made it into the novel. This past Tuesday, I encountered another dog in need.

I was working on The Patron Saint of Dogs when I heard a woman outside calling for help. She was yelling, “Get this dog away from me!”

I looked out the window and saw a stray black dog beside our busy road. He was only trying to say hello to her dog, but she was trying to kick him away. I grabbed my leash, a quick-lock choke chain, and a handful of dog biscuits, then ran down three flights of stairs.

One of the county’s trucks had stopped to assist her but had scared the dog away. He ran farther when he saw me approaching, then was about to cross the street…

I almost panicked but knew I had to calm down so he would calm down. Then I bent over — a half downward-dog — and talked to him sweetly. Once he gave his tail a tentative wag I tossed a cookie near him and kept cooing. He came to me on his own and I put the leash on him – victory!

He gobbled his treat but had no collar or tags.

I brought him up to my apartment, grabbed my phone and coat, then we headed back outside. Was on hold for Animal Services when his owner drove by, looking for the runaway.

They were thrilled to see each other. Once I got Molson into his Dad’s car he covered my face in puppy kisses. It is one of the most rewarding things an animal lover can do — help reunite a lost pet with his owner.

The man told me that Molson, a young Black Lab/Husky cross, had dug his way out of the back yard. I explained that once a dog has successfully escaped, he’ll be eager to do it again because his adventures were a great reward for boredom.

I took the opportunity to give his Dad a lecture about ensuring Molson was wearing a collar and tag at all times. I also explained the importance of getting him microchipped, so he can phone home when lost.

It is vital that when a pet goes astray the Animal Shelter is immediately notified. That way, if he gets sighted, the shelter can provide people calling to report seeing him with his parent’s phone number. Then they’ll get the call to search the last area where he was seen, and hopefully pick up the dog themselves when he’s found. That can save a dog a traumatizing trip to the shelter and its parents the hefty fine.

Molson was a sweet dog who was no harm to the woman screaming for help. Had he been a white fluffy dog, she probably wouldn’t have been as alarmed. But because he was big and black and had no identification, he was treated as a threat.

People are not the only ones who suffer discrimination – dogs do too.

Compassion Fatigue, Yes It’s Real

Heartfelt and moving article about the personal costs of working with doomed shelter animals

Chapter 6 – Nemesis³


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.

* * *


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!”

* * *


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.

* * *


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.

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