My mother, like me, was born right here. In the barn of Nasty Man. My sister and me were only pups when he came to take us away from her. His scent was everywhere, and it’s all we’d ever known.
A door opened on the other side of the barn and our mother stepped in front of us. She wanted to protect us from Nasty Man, but what could she do? She was a little poodle. Nasty Man is a giant.
“Get out of my way, poodle.” He brushed her aside with his foot and came straight for us. We cried as we were carried away. He didn’t even let us say goodbye.
Then we were out of the barn and into a much brighter space. There were crates with open tops. Just like in the barn where we lived with our mother, only much cleaner. Soft blankets covered the ground instead of smelly, scratchy straw. We were placed in one of these. The crates next to ours all held pups too. Instead of curls they had long straight hair or short bristly hair, but we recognised each other just the same. We were all lost babies.
That was the day I realised something: the world was bigger than Nasty Man’s barn.
This new place had another door. A bell rang every time it opened. People would come through and walk around, looking at all the babies in all the crates. They would often pick one of us up and cuddle us. At first we were afraid. Nasty Man had picked us up too, and he took our mothers away from us. But these people were nice to us. They would often pick out one of the babies in the crates, walk up to Nasty Man and say, “We’ll take this one.” The babies that got picked were treated with kindness as they were carried out through the door with the ringing bell.
That’s what happened to my sister. A woman came up to our cage and picked us both up. My sister was not as shy as I was and she kissed the woman. “Oh, you are adorable,” she said as she kissed her back.
She put me down and carried my sister over to Nasty Man. “I’ll take this one.” That was the last time we saw each other.
Two days later, Nasty Man came up to my crate and picked me up. After all the sweet smelling, kind people, his stale scent was even worse. I was so scared, I couldn’t stop shaking. “Good thing I haven’t sold you yet. Now that that poodle is dead, I’m lucky I still have you.” He carried me back to the barn. Surely he wasn’t talking about my mother. Was my mother dead? I cried out, hoping to hear her voice. There was no answer.
I don’t know how much time I spent in the barn. I was in there for so long, I almost forgot how it felt to be clean. Soft hands no longer petted me before moving on to the next crate. Smiling humans with sweet scents no longer looked down at me. The only one who touched me now was Nasty Man, those times he cut the worst of the clumps from my hair. My nose no longer wrinkled at his scent or at the smell of stale urine that was everywhere.
I knew that I wasn’t a baby anymore at some point, because Nasty Man started making me have babies. And he took them away. All of them. Each and every time.
Like my mother before me, I didn’t stand a chance of protecting them from him. It didn’t stop me from trying though. No amount of kicks would keep me from standing in front of my babies, baring my teeth and growling. It never worked.
I lost count of the babies I’d had. But I was getting more and more tired. There was never enough to eat. Even my little ones went hungry. I never had enough milk to feed them all. I couldn’t save them. No matter how hard I tried.
I’m about to give birth but it hurts. It hurts too much. Something is wrong but the other dogs in the barn can’t help me. They can’t even help themselves.
How long have I lain here, trying to push them out? I can’t. I’m too tired. There are footsteps outside the door. Someone opens it. Not Nasty Man. The scent is all wrong. It smells clean, not like sweat, cigarettes and greed. I remember that clean smell from the bright room. It’s the scent of smiling people. Friendly voices pass through and try to reassure the dogs in the cages.
The footsteps finally make it to my crate. “Take this one out first. Get her to the vet. Hurry!” The face that goes with the voice looks friendly.
For the second time in my life, someone carries me out of the barn but I’m not afraid this time.
It’s so bright outside that at first it hurts my eyes after spending so much time in the barn—in the darkness. “I bet you’ve never seen sunshine.” Is that what the light is called? Sunshine? It’s beautiful.
“Hey! What are you doing? Get back here. That’s my dog. You can’t just take her.” Nasty Man’s voice grates on me and I whimper. He’ll take me back to the barn. I can’t go back! I bury my face in the coat of the man holding me. If I hide, perhaps he won’t see me.
The arm surrounding me stiffens and the man holding me smells angry. He turns towards Nasty Man. “Watch me.” Looking down at me, he pets my head and keeps talking to me as he hands me to a woman with pale hair.
She, too, smiles at me. “Hello, darling. Let’s have a look at you.”
“She’s in labour but she looks exhausted. I think she needs a C-section,” the man says.
The woman looks at me and prods my belly. “You’re right. We need to move. She doesn’t have much time left.” The woman looks worried. Should I be scared? I can’t, though. It hurts too much. Something stings my leg and I close my eyes.
When I wake up, I’m in a cage, but there is a blanket. Food and water. And three sleeping babies. The smell in the air tickles my nose and I sneeze. There’s a sharp scent here that I don’t recognize.
The woman walks over to my cage. “Oh, it’s nice to see you awake, darling. We need to see about getting you a name, though. I can’t keep calling you Darling. We’ve decided not to rehome you. You’ve probably lost enough puppies in your life. You and these babies will be staying with me.”
I have a human, now. Finally. She lives in a nice house. My pups and I get to go outside and look at the sun whenever we want. The ground outside is soft and green. My human calls it grass. I’ve learned the smells of grass, sunshine and rain. Heaven must smell like this too. My human named me Dorothy. After the girl who clicked her heels and finally found her way home. She told me the story, but I didn’t get it all. Doesn’t matter. I’m hers, and she’s mine.
This was the first story in my Rainbow Series. They’ve slowly grown, over time. The first version of this piece was published on my Steemit blog in September ’17. It was the second short story I ever wrote, and looking back, I saw plenty of things I’d do differently now, so I took it through a few rounds of editing, as well as submitting it for peer review over at The Writers’ Block.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t proud of that story, but as a writer and editor, I’ve learned a lot in the relatively short time I’ve been writing.
These stories have always served a dual purpose. I write them, not because I like doing so. Far from it. The sadness tied up in them is exhausting and heartbreaking. But through them, I try to give a voice to neglected, abandoned or abused dogs. I try to raise awareness about issues involving animal welfare.
The second purpose is of a more acute nature. The SBD payouts earned on the Steemit platform through these stories and their audio versions have all gone to Tazewell Animal Rescue Coalition.
As always, dear reader, thank you for sharing this with me.