Shelter Me: A Pit Bull Love Story

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Chapter 19

Saturday, August 12

I was having a blast at the dog park this morning when two big scary dogs showed up. They snarled and barked at me through the chain link fence, so I growled and started jabbing and feinting at them. My human yelled “Monkey, let’s go!” This is sort of a command, but it’s also disappointing. It means our pack is traveling away, but no treats. I hesitated a second, my gaze lingering on the two fluffed up dogs who still wanted a fight. But my human’s voice had taken all the hot air out of me, so I just wasn’t in the mood anymore.

I dashed for my human, who was already halfway to the gate, striding quickly for somebody with only two legs. I zoomed circles around her, receiving her praise with an open-mouthed grin. When she reached the gate, I skidded to a halt beside her, and we left before the scary dogs came into the pen from the entrance at the opposite side. I have to trust her judgement about when it’s prudent for our pack to flee, otherwise how can she do her alpha job and protect me?

My human clapped her hands and bounced excitedly when we practiced “limp,” so we must have made some progress. Clapping used to be a problem for me, but then my human rewarded me whenever I heard the noise for a while. So now I associate it with food.

Before obedience class, I did “ready” right past two lunging small dogs who were tethered by the door to the grocery store. I never even twitched an ear in their direction. My human’s voice glowed with pride when she praised me.

My human hasn’t been pressing the buttons to change the blaring noises in the car so much anymore.

I made a connection with a beautiful little girl at obedience class today. She knelt down and scratched behind my ears and I sniffed her face. She smelled like smiles and sunlight and innocence - like an eight-week old puppy for whom the world is bright and open and everyone they meet is automatically a friend. Otherwise that job was boring as usual. My human distracted me with “ready” so that I couldn’t discipline any of the ruder dogs, no matter how badly they needed it.

After class, the little girl renewed acquaintance with me. I gave myself over to the petting, settling myself comfortably in the tall grass, while my human chatted with the kid’s family. My human smelled strong and confident, the way she smells when we walk past lunging, growling dogs and I know that I don’t have to worry because she’s my hero. Its her alpha smell, her “I got this” smell. Its probably the most important scent in the world, because whatever it is I’m scared of, if my human smells like “I got this,” then I don’t have to be afraid. In fact, while she was talking a big, dominant dog from class walked by, blatantly staring at me. He came close enough that I would normally have felt extremely vulnerable, especially since I was in a submissive position, on my belly. But I ignored the dog because my human’s power sheltered me.

“Dogs speak in body language, right?”

“That’s right. That’s part of why we’re telling you not to talk at your dog all day long like she’s a human. Let’s say you speak English and Chinese. But I only speak Chinese. Is it nicer for you to talk to me in English, or in Chinese?”

“Chinese.”

“Right! It’s nicer for you to talk to me in a way I understand. Same with your dog. Your dog can only speak dog language, she can’t learn English. Dogs are social creatures, so she’s constantly trying to communicate with you, but only in her own language. Right now, it’s like you’re talking English all day and she’s talking Chinese all day and no communication is happening at all. But you’re capable of learning to recognize some dog body language signals. And if you keep your commands clear and concise and always enforce them, you can establish a limited mutual vocabulary. If you want to bond with your dog, it’s important for her to feel like you understand her, and to know that you mean what you say a hundred percent of the time. Then she’ll respect you more.”

“I bought this dog for my son, and I want her to bond with my him. He already feeds her and walks her every day. How do we get her to bond with him more?”

“It’s not so much about WHAT you do as it is HOW you do it. Let’s say you walk your dog for an hour, but she’s on a harness and a flexi-leash and she’s pulling the entire way. In her mind, she went on a really awesome walk all by herself and smelled lots of interesting things, and you were just a dead weight she happened to be dragging along the whole time. At most you were a mild annoyance. But if you go for a structured walk with your dog at your side, then you’re a team and the walk is something you accomplish together. That’s where your bonding comes in.”

We briefly dropped by the house with the wood floors. My human and her father hefted boxes full of musty paper. My human’s father smells of shampoo and dried up fruit and sweat and not having an alpha. When we got back in the car my human messed with the radio a lot more. We drove to the library, but I waited in our car with the windows down while my human and her father carried boxes from his car into the building. Her body language said “careful,” and his said “impatience.”

As soon as we got home and my human removed my leash, I heard pounding up the staircase. I already knew by the crankiness smell that it was my human’s father, so I laid down flat on the carpet a cautious distance from the back door and tried to look inconspicuous. I pressed my ears to my skull and whale-eyed my human, asking her to please make our home safe and peaceful again, while she and her father trudged in and out, lugging away the dusty objects from the cluttery room.

When we climbed back in the hot car after a too short nap, I wasn’t expecting anything at this point but more drudgery, so I sighed heavily, my big head dropping.

I said before that I always like riding in the car, with two exceptions. The first happened while my human and I were still new to each other. We had just visited the house of the round woman who smelled like fun. All of a sudden, my human’s scent erupted into a blaze of panic. I whale-eyed her apprehensively, but she didn’t calm down. My periphery vision (all dogs’ strong suit) caught a flash of white, streaking by the window impossibly fast, while the rest of my attention riveted on a shiny metal pole quickly growing in the front window. My ears pivoted, picking up a bang from one side and a crash from the other. The car shuddered violently under my belly, leapt into the air, then careened to a screeching halt.

When my human shoved open the car door, I was out of my mind with fear, so all I could think about was escape. If she hadn’t gripped my leash tightly, I would have bolted. I paced in circles at the end of the lead, tail glued between my legs. Finally, I sat down, with my back to her, shaking from nose to tail. I don’t remember much else from that night, except the burning odor, and the flashing blue and red lights, and my human’s dull emptiness smell. I kept reliving the thunder of the crash, as if firecrackers had gone off inside my eardrums, and my horror of anyone touching me at that moment reached the level of phobia. I didn’t wag my tail because I didn’t want anybody scenting me; I wanted to be invisible.

The second car ride that wasn’t fun happened much more recently. I had just finished a long, exhausting day of my college job with my human. I’d had to do my “okay” work of standing up quickly and pulling my human to the exit, and afterwards we both napped in the car for several hours before actually driving. I always wake up refreshed, but my human woke soaked in cold sweat. She smelled sick, and her eyes were cloudy, and she’d been crying. This time, the car jarred forward, bucked, then stopped abruptly. There was a loud pop and hiss, and a round hard thing smacked into me from the front, spewing white smoke. I jumped over the center console, taking cover in the backseat, which was as far as my seatbelt allowed me to flee. My human screamed in a voice that started shrill but ended hoarse, then sobbed uncontrollably for several minutes, until a friendly lady came and spoke to her gently. Then my human climbed over the center console and staggered out of the car through the door by my usual seat, unclipping my seatbelt and coaxing me after her. I laid down next to my human, who knelt in the dirt, trembling all over, and we waited for her father to invite us into his car. I was so drained by this ordeal that I slept soundly the whole way home. For a while we drove in a car that smelled of my human’s father and of her sister, and after that we drove in one that smelled a little bit like shampoo. I was glad we never got back in the car with the smoky round thing that punched me.

2015

When our pack first moved to the house where we live now, I wasn’t a vest dog. My human left me home alone on a regular basis. There was even one time her mother came to the house and they went away together, leaving me closed in the bedroom with the door shut. This was totally unacceptable because I couldn’t get to the front door to watch out the window for my human. I got so worked up that I lost control of my bladder - the only time this has ever happened to me indoors - and squatted on the carpet like a girl dog. When I’d proved to my satisfaction that I couldn’t batter down the door, I had a breakthrough and set about digging under it. My paws scrabbled furiously at the soft pile. Finally, my claw caught hold and managed to tear an edge free. I opened my jaws as flat and wide as possible, sliding them along the floor, scooping up as much material as I could fit in my mouth. It pulled clear with a loud, gratifying rip. Then I sank my paws into the spongy stuff underneath, excavating a shallow trench all along the doorway.

Unfortunately, I reached a very hard layer that neither my paws nor my teeth could affect. But at this point I’d carved out enough space that I was able to jam my snout under the door, and sift the air for my human’s scent in great snuffling gulps.

By the time my human and her mother returned two hours later I was absolutely beside myself. I have to admit our reunion was not exactly the joyous occasion I’d anticipated.

After that my human gave me the full run of the house when she left, and I got into a routine of sleeping on my brand new plushy pillow in the living room until I heard the rumble of her car, then racing to the laundry room mat to wait for her, whimpering and whining and scraping at the door, while she opened it WAY TOO SLOWLY. My human never touched me or talked to me or acknowledged me at all beyond shushing me sternly until my outraged complaining ran out of steam and I lay down. I wanted her to agree with me that her leaving was a terrible horrible mistake and to promise me to never ever ever leave again, but she just ignored me - as if she honestly expected me to believe that her leaving whenever she felt like it was no big deal at all - until I finally resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to win this argument and calmed down.

Sometimes when she was gone for many, many hours, my human’s mother and father came to visit me. They clipped on my leash like we were going for a walk, but instead lead me straight to the tiny backyard, where I crunched across the gravel and sniffed around absently. As soon as I relieved myself, they smelled like relief, and we went back inside. Then my human’s father tossed a toy for me, and laughed delightedly while I held it in my mouth and zoomed from the living room to the bedroom. I knew it was okay, so I jumped up on him a few times.

I didn’t notice until my own anxiety wound down, but if my human drove off in her own car, she always returned pale and shaky and smelling of kibble and other dogs, but also of salt and sour sickness. Since dogs don’t wonder about why, I accepted this at face value. My human would leash me up and we’d go for a walk on the dusty trails through the hills that lay just across the road from us. My nose would be alive with prey trails and coyote scat and other dogs’ markers, but I kept one eye trained on my human at all times, and it registered with me that she plodded along unsteadily, exerting a tremendous effort just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes she’d sink to her knees, clutching her forehead in her hands, and then I’d circle back to lick her face, asking her to please be a proper alpha and buck up.

I got my cast off, and we eased into walking. Our pattern became five miles of structured travel on leash first thing in the morning, with me at my human’s side, then one mile of freedom where I sniffed around off-leash and explored the dry brush of the hills and marked at will. Then in the evening we’d go for another three miles, either following an abbreviated version of the morning course, or walking a big loop along the streets.

My human didn’t always drive away and abandon me. For short trips I’d tag along. We had a new car with cloth seats instead of leather, which smelled blank and clean, at least until we ground our scent into them in the form of my shed undercoat and mounds of beach sand. The front of this car made strange, unsettling noises. It didn’t roll smoothly. All of a sudden it would rattle and buck beneath me, so that I slid off my seat and took cover in the footwell. Also, there were several times when we’d park in an unpleasant, shuddery way, and sit in the car for a very long time. I’d narrow my eyes and pant out the open window at the cars whizzing by us, some of them barking reproachfully. My human would play with her phone with an intensely frustrated smell. Then an unfamiliar man would come along, and we’d ride in the cramped cabin of his car, with me perched uncomfortably on my human’s lap, my tail thumping against the center console.

Initially my human rustled the same old papers while she drove, flushed and sweating, her cold clammy hands stroking my fur when they weren’t busy clenching the wheel. Her pain smell stabbed my nostrils. Then one day when we climbed into the car, it started making word-sounds at us in a tone even more droning and meaningless than normal humans’ voices. My human relaxed appreciably after that.

The windows of this car always stayed shut, unless it was parked. Then I could watch through a crack just wide enough to wedge my muzzle in, while my human went about her business in public buildings. She’d walk away from me briskly, with a steady, purposeful stride, but she returned in a slow, rambling, roundabout way, like she’d got caught in a wind tunnel that stole all the scents away so quickly she couldn’t get her bearings.

There was one time when my human shambled groggily out of a building I’d later identify as a grocery store. Her head drooped, and her eyes squinted against the glare of the sun. She reeked of pain smell.

She got halfway across the parking lot before the car hit her. It swerved left sharply and struck her head-on. Riveted at my post by the window, my saliva dried on my tongue. The car squealed to a stop, tossing my human backwards off of her feet. She crumpled in a stunned heap on the asphalt, sobbing. From the inside of the car I heard a snarled shout (“YOU SHOULD WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!”), then it sped away, leaving my human to raise herself shakily to her feet.

Wonder of wonders. I’m on the beach.

I poop first thing, just to clear the nerves out of my system.

I run out of pee very quickly.

I zoom in huge loops. I chase other dogs who chase balls then as soon as they notice me I branch off and pretend not to see them.

A dog on a leash throws out his chest and bellows at me but my human calls me away before I get scrappy.

The water’s frigid but I don’t care. I splash ankle deep, grinning from ear to ear. I drink the freedom with my open mouth so that it hits my palate and absorbs through the back of my tongue.

I can’t find my human anywhere. With my eye sight looking is no use at all. I lift my nose to the wind but there are too many smells. I course back and forth and then finally spot her. She’s waving her arms over her head, a foot away from where I started searching.

I lose sight of my human over and over again, but it’s all worth it because when I find her again I’m so excited. I skid to a stop on my butt in front of her and sometimes my celebration is contagious, so she gives me a hunk of turkey even though she didn’t command me to “come.”

Globules of drool hang in thick, hardening strings from my jowls.

My human tosses a tennis ball into the ocean. I wade in after it tentatively. I’m a strong swimmer. I discovered this about a year ago, when I decided to teach myself to swim. I can swim out further than any dog in the world and retrieve balls the current is stealing away. But today it’s cold and when my paws slip off the sand bar, dunking me all the way under for a second, it’s too much. I high tail it out of the water. I don’t want to disappoint my human, though. Luckily, a moment later I spot an easier ball that’s just fallen from another dog’s jaws. I swoop in and snatch it up. I’m so thrilled by my speed and ingenuity that I zoom laps with my prize. Then I stumble and accidentally drop it in the ocean. I pounce on the ball, which bobs up and down on the tide so that I get a snout full of seawater before I manage to trap the ball between my lips and the shore. But now it tastes salty, so I spit it right back out, shaking my head to clear my sinuses and snorting in disgust.

I am a dog. I am exactly what I’m supposed to be. On the beach my life is a love poem to the universe.

2015

This may come as a shock - you may not believe it - but I lived with a cat for nearly two years.

Not long after we’d moved to our fifth home, I heard a car pull up outside, and my human got a very nervous, excited smell. I tailed her to the front door, where she left me, racing outside breathlessly. I watched for a while, straining my neck to peer out the small, foggy window set high in the door, but my vision is very poor, and I couldn’t smell much of anything with the walls as a barrier around me. So I trotted to my pillow and plopped down with a sigh to wait for her return.

When she entered the house again, my human was even more nervous than before. Her steps jounced crazily. I stood up and sniffed at her, catching sight of a wad of orange fluff in her arms. Maybe it was a new toy for us to play with.

Then my human set the thing on the carpet. It took one look at me, fluffed out all its fur so that it doubled in size in a matter of seconds, and danced up on its toes. It peeled back its lips, hissed, and spat.

My vision submerged behind a sea of red. I went ballistic. If my human’s reflexes had been even the tiniest fraction slower, she wouldn’t have snatched the kitten into the air fast enough. Luckily for him, he was wearing a harness and leash, so when I lunged for him, roaring, he swung wide and sailed away from me, landing on my human’s shoulder, where, for the most part, he stayed for the rest of the day.

My human made a point of holding the baby cat’s butt down for me to sniff several times over the next three days. I buried my nose under his tail and inhaled deeply, trying to convince myself that I could cope with this new development in my life. The kitten hissed, but since his face was turned away I was able to focus on familiarizing myself with his social side rather than the weapons end. For three days the cat, named Weasley, never left my human’s arms except under heavy supervision to dig around and squat in a sand box. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it: the cat belonged to my human; he was “not mine.”

That first night, the second Weasley jumped up onto the bed, I tried to slink away and sleep somewhere else. I didn’t like his unblinking eyes, or his musky smell, or the unnatural way he made everything he touched vibrate. But my human was adamant. Our pack had to curl up together. I ended up on the very edge of the mattress, my chin and front paws hanging down over the edge, in an attempt to obey my alpha’s wishes but still put as much distance between myself and my unwanted new pack-mate as possible.

For a full month whenever my human left us alone, I had the run of the house and Weasley was shut in one of the smaller, unused rooms. Weasley, of course, was the reason she’d first tried closing me into the bedroom while my human drove away with her mother. After my unsuccessful attempt to dig an escape tunnel in the carpet, I was the one awarded freedom. But ultimately, we got so used to one another that Weasley and I kept each other company while my human was gone. If I regarded our arrangement as an uneasy truce, Weasley firmly believed that we were in love.

It wasn’t long before Weasley decided I was his mother. There’s no accounting for the logic of cats. He’d snuggle up next to me while I slept, nestling into the hollow between my thigh and loin. When his eyelids drooped with sleep, he liked to knead my belly or my jowls with his front paws, toes flexing rhythmically, as though he thought I’d start producing milk for him to suckle. I tolerated all of this because Weasley was not someone with whom I ever wanted to fight over status.

First thing when she rolled out of bed, my human would dig around in the sand box where Weasley relieved himself, removing what smelled to me like delicious candy bars. I would have been happy to take over the duty of disposing of them, only the sand box was hidden inside of a larger wooden box with only a small access hole cut into the side. The entryway faced the wall, leaving only a narrow alleyway for Weasley to squeeze in and out. I tried once or twice, but couldn’t wedge my snout in far enough to gain access.

Every morning, after our walk, my human would first brush me while I lay down on the driveway (back then she used a rubber smelling comb that felt more like a massage than being scalped, like the brush we have now feels). Then we’d come inside, and I’d lap water from my bowl. Then she brushed Weasley.

When it was his idea, Weasley groomed himself meticulously, sticking one hind leg up in the air at a jaunty angle, and rasping his tongue over his fur until it lay slick against his skin. When it was not his idea, grooming Weasley was a whole different story.

This was always an incredibly nerve rending ordeal for me. I laid myself close to my human, who held Weasley, belly-up, proving her dominance to him. At first, he hissed and spat and fought her, unleashing his habitual blood curdling wails, but after a while he learned that my human absolutely would not tolerate being bitten. I angled my body away from the center of action, shielding myself with my butt. I yawned and licked my lips and whale-eyed the pair of them, asking them to please calm down and make peace. Nothing worked. My ears flicked back as the noise only grew progressively louder and more feral.

Then it was over, and my human released her captive. He sprang away from her, settling himself at my shoulder, where I had a perfect view of the demonic metamorphosis he underwent. Weasley’s eyes narrowed to slits. His ears flattened, flaring backward from the sides of his skull like a pair of curved horns, and he extended one paw stiffly before him. It wavered in the air, quivering slightly with the tension of a tightly coiled spring. He was poised to strike.

I cringed, back-peddling a few steps in wary anticipation, but as usual I was too slow. His leap closed the distance between us instantly. His forelegs wrapped around my leg, his claws digging into my skin. Needle sharp teeth stamped their imprint indelibly into my skin then withdrew hastily, as Weasley danced away. I yelped in pain and indignation, more hurt by the sheer injustice than the bite itself. Even if I’d wanted to risk turning around and nipping at him in recrimination, Weasley had slipped beyond my reach. From a safe distance away, he sat watching me sullenly, the golden orbs of his eyes sinisterly hooded. The crooked tip of his tail lashed from side to side.

It happened exactly the same, every morning. Because he couldn’t be like Chloe and snap his warning “don’t ever do that again!” at my human, Weasley took out his anger on me.

We had good times, too, of course. Whenever one of us had been outside the house, Weasley and I touched noses, greeting each other on the laundry-room mat, our nostrils flaring with interest at all the scents the other had picked up on his adventures. Weasley was often in a frisky mood after his breakfast, and he made a great wrestling partner. I was always careful of him, even though he didn’t seem to learn like puppies do to stop once their playmate cries out in pain. He’d leap into the air, twirling and twisting, and bat me in the face with his paw. Or he’d pounce on me while I lay down and sink his teeth into my scruff. I could fit his whole head in my jaws, but still I never hurt him. I’d play-bow, imitating his paw raising move, and swat at his head while he narrowed his eyes, pretending not to look at me just before he sprang. His hind paws were his nastiest weapon; he’d clamp onto some part of me - usually a leg or my tail, but sometimes my muzzle - with his front paws, then, legs kicking, he’d rake at me ruthlessly with his wicked back claws. He also liked to grab a bite of my jowls and shake his head back and forth, stretching the loose, elastic skin as far as it would go.

Weasley always ate before I did. He whined ceaselessly in a demanding, plaintive wail until his food dish was full. I was so impressed with his power that the few times he managed to slip past my human and rush me while I was eating, I immediately backed off and lay down. He was so undeniably dominant that there was no question: if he wanted the food right out of my mouth, he could have it. Sometimes I’d be napping peacefully on my pillow, and Weasley would decide he needed to sleep there. So I’d have to move, and I’d curl up unprotestingly on his tiny little kitty bed in the bedroom, even though inevitably either my rear or my head spilled over onto the floor. Meanwhile he’d settle himself in a pint-sized mound right smack in my middle of my pillow, eyes wide and tail curved smugly over his paws, claiming the whole space but using only the barest fraction.

Luckily my human was a good alpha and stood guard over me during my meals, batting aside all Weasley’s advances, otherwise I probably would have starved.

When he wasn’t harassing me, the cat spent hour after hour on top of the glass box where the mice lived. His huge eyes followed them hypnotically. He’d climb onto the windowsill, tense his whole body, then hurl himself onto the box, landing hard with a jarring thud. My human yelled at him, and he’d cringe and scatter, but as soon as her back was turned he’d be back on the sill, quivering with anticipation, haunches bunched for another spring.

I was allowed in the bedroom with my human when she opened the mouse cage, but Weasley was banned during these times. He’d yowl right outside the door, thrusting one paw at a time underneath and swiping uselessly at the air. I lay down and tried to ignore the bangs and thuds as he slammed into the wood repeatedly, determined to force his way inside. A few times my ears would twitch with a resounding pop, and then Weasley would burst into the room, his paws eating up the carpet as he made a beeline for the mice. But invariably my human grabbed him by the scruff and tossed him bodily back into the living-room, shutting the door on his indignant wail.

The mice who lived in the glass box now were named Mr. Podsnap, House-Mouse, Catnip, and Kazimir. They didn’t scream or bite like Kitten used to when my human held them gently in her palms and fed them dry, earthy smelling tidbits. She apparently found it highly amusing to place the mice on my head, and let them crawl along my back. It tickled a little, but I put up with it valiantly. I sniffed House-Mouse’s plushy grey fur a few times, and touched noses with Kazimir, but I never tried to bite any of them. They lasted about a year before they started smelling of heat and sickness. My human seemed sad when she cleaned out the glass box for the final time, but I think Weasley missed the mice the most.

I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit it, but Weasley did dog school before me. It’s not that I didn’t want to learn: when my human commanded Weasley “sit” I’d plop down on my rear, too, gazing intently at the dry, crunchy treat in her hand. I just couldn’t figure out how to make it migrate from her fingers to my mouth. But back then I didn’t know what commands like “roll over” meant. Some dogs are great observational learners, but that’s never been one of my strong suits. I didn’t connect her crisp, clear words with Weasley’s strange acrobatics. I tried to insert myself into this activity, begging for attention by pawing puppyishly at her leg, but my human only smelled faintly irritated at all my attempts.

Sometimes while my human practiced her commands with the cat, I was banished to the bedroom. I’d stretch out parallel to the carpet and cram my nostrils into the crack under the door, drinking deeply and snorting. Weasley’s dog school never lasted more than five minutes at a time because he only learned a handful of commands. He yelled at my human continuously while he worked, demanding his next reward NOW NOW NOW.

There were also games that Weasley and my human played that I couldn’t be a part of. Toys like tiny scraps of cardboard on wire would flit and soar all over the house, flying in a blur so quick that my vision couldn’t perceive them. I tracked them by the meaty scent of Weasley’s saliva soaked into paper or feathers or cloth. Weasley capered and spun nimbly, his lethal claws flashing. When I stood up from my pillow and nudged him with my nose he turned his attention on me, driving me backwards by hopping on his hind legs, forepaws reaching for me, ready to capture me in a deadly embrace. Weasley and my human would play until he was so exhausted that his tiny rib cage heaved, then he’d collapse on his side on top of the couch, where he slept whenever he wanted to but I was only allowed to go with express permission (“up”).

My human used to sit for hours listening to droning sounds from a bright box in the living room and smearing the thick globs of oily stuff around on canvas with her sticks. Her scent was always hazy and gone away inside for the duration, then afterwards she’d stand up shakily and her eyes stayed unfocused. She hardly ever wastes time like this now, since about a year ago when I started smelling her medicine. Weasley shared my disapproval of this boring activity, so he used to pop up behind the canvas and suddenly whack it with his paw (my human always yelped, and I cowered but Weasley was unfazed) or he’d zero in on the bobbing stick in her hand, then pounce and latch onto it with his mouth and chew till the wood splintered.

Smelling his breath, I often found that the cat had been eating very strange things. He frequently gave off a fresh, dark green leafy smell. I understood that odor, because my human frequently added plant material and starchy vegetables to my meals, too. Also, one time we found long grass growing out of a bowl under the window in the bedroom. Weasley generously let me help him eat it. But the more peculiar odors tasted of plastic, rubber, paper, cloth, and even metal. Weasley would sit next to a chew toy bigger than he was and gnaw at it until his frothy spit saturated the fabric. His shark-like back teeth scissored back and forth determinedly, sheering off lumps of cloth and fuzz that he then swallowed greedily. His yellow eyes went glossy and unfocused with pleasure.

Several times a week, my human would load the cat into his crate and drive him away in the car while I waited at home. At first he’d smell of other dogs and kibble after these trips, like my human used to. Later, the aromas changed. They’d be gone for about an hour at a time, then when they returned I examined Weasley curiously and lifted traces of a syrupy smell I’d later come to associate with old people from his fur. Weasley always streaked directly for his sand box as soon as he was released, then slept deeply for a long time. He also wore a blue vest over his harness (I watched this being put on him with rapt attention, because the cat always had to be lured down from one of the high places like the top of the refrigerator where he felt safest, and then bribed to hold still with fragrant fishy snacks). What could it all mean?

For one trip, our whole pack rode together in the car to a place I recognized as a park from its wide open grassy fields. To my amazement, we headed (right where I wanted to go!) to a table that smelled of lots of other people, and dogs, and food. All of the people wanted to pet me - I hadn’t been around so many humans who smelled like they liked me and accepted my dogness since we stopped visiting the rooms with the metal chairs. Weasley pressed himself flat to the ground behind me, using my body as a shield.

It could have been the greatest day ever, but it wasn’t because nobody offered to share any of the delicious food with me. But I got to pee a lot and to greet about a dozen new dogs while Weasley hoarded his kitty butt unsociably atop my human’s shoulder. He finally elected to leap down, crying piteously, when my human began feeding me strawberries.

Weasley and I were both drunk on strawberries, lying peacefully on the ground at the end of our leashes, when my ears pricked to the sound of whining. My forehead wrinkled. Only a few feet away from us, a medium sized dog had frozen, refusing to budge despite all his human’s coaxing. His hackles were raised on his smooth coat, and his ears pointed straight up, faced forward.

He stared at Weasley, his eyes nearly popping out of his skull.

My reaction was instinctive. I didn’t stop to think. The fear of Weasley had become so ingrained in me that I did the only sensible thing: I threw myself between him and the dog and roared as loud as I could in the dog’s face. I wasn’t by any means consciously trying to defend my pack-mate. All I knew was that Weasley was a formidable power, not to be trifled with. If he and this dog fought, unquestionably Weasley was going to come out on top, so I’d better throw my bid in with the winning side early.

The dog practically melted into the pavement, and to be honest I was a little cowed myself. I stood there, panting, while Weasley leapt up onto a bench, settling himself on the high ground. He flattened his ears uncertainly, kicked out a hind leg stiffly, and soothed his ruffled fur with a nice thorough groom. And for some odd reason, even though no human had ever appreciated my roar before, I sensed approval from all of the gathered people who had witnessed our confrontation.

My human’s sickness flared up around Weasley. No sooner would we step into the laundry-room when she’d begin to smell irritated and painful. I’d feel her struggling to control her temper, fighting the impulse to lash out and snap warning bites at both of us. Increasingly she spent her time at home napping, worn out from the strain.

When she started taking us in the shower with her, the sickness lost ground.

I won’t pretend that I enjoy baths, but I accept them as an unpleasant but temporary condition. When my human opens the glass door (“in”), I settle myself on the cold porcelain obediently, and sit or stand as she directs. Weasley abhorred the shower with a loathing that soon took over as the driving passion of his existence. He started caterwauling even before the water began pelting him, and only let up long enough to sputter and hiss when the wet attacked his face. Meanwhile I’d curl up on the bathmat, tucking my paws beneath me protectively. Weasley’s disturbing yowls haunted me from over my shoulder. No animal should make noises like that. I think if his baths had lasted a little longer, Weasley’s alien cries might have evolved into human words. I couldn’t doze off, so I kept lifting my head and licking my lips, careful to make a show of not looking at the conflict raging behind the glass door.

At last I’d feel the corner of the door tap my butt meaningfully, and I’d surge to my paws. I hastily fled to the bedroom, where I flopped down on the carpet despondently and watched from relative safety. My human rubbed Weasley down with a towel, but instead of enjoying the attention he fought, twisting and rolling like a crocodile. The ordeal ended, predictably, with Weasley springing free and treating me to a nasty bite with his sharp fangs. I yelped my outrage, limping away on three paws with the cat still dangling from my raised elbow, clinging by his teeth.

Dogs do not hold grudges. Cats do. Even when my human cleans my ears with stinging, tangy smelling stuff that drops down my ear canal coldly, which is something I absolutely hate, as soon as we’re done I celebrate with her that the awful ear cleaning is over, and then I forget about it and go on with my day. But even after his pelt had completely dried, Weasley couldn’t let his baths go. He’d skulk around the house, imperiously, picking up his little paws and shaking them at my human in an exaggerated gesture of supreme displeasure. He glared daggers at her from on top of the refrigerator, and flinched at her touch.

We both swiftly caught on to the routine, so that when my human called for him on bath day, even though she rattled the bag of treats enticingly, Weasley made himself scarce and I cowered nervously. Eventually she’d snag him, lifting him by the scruff, and since he didn’t have anal glands to express in terror, the first thing he’d do once the shower door closed was release a jet of pungent urine down the drain.

On the day of his last shower, he didn’t even make it that far. No sooner had my human grabbed him and lifted him into her arms then he emptied his bladder in a warm flood that soaked my human’s clothing, gushed down her legs, and pooled on the carpet. My human shut him in the shower then started playing with her phone. “…I can’t do this anymore. He just peed ALL OVER me. If it was just the bathes that were horrible, but he’d forgive me afterward that would be one thing. But he’s not happy here anymore. It’s just gotten to be too bad for both of us.” Her voice sounded heavy but calm, as though she’d spent ages trembling with agitation on the laundry-room mat, but now she was finally out the door and her sure feet knew what route to walk.

After his disappearance, I saw Weasley again twice. The first time, at a house I’d never visited before that smelled of three other cats besides him, Weasley advanced on me slowly. He made his way painstakingly down from the top of a staircase, pausing at every landing to avert his eyes and sniff the ground with loud, exaggerated snuffling sounds. By the time he actually reached me, my whimpering had died down and I lay still and allowed him to pounce on my scruff just like old times. The second time we met, two months later, I honestly wasn’t quite sure about him. I thought I recognized the orange cat at the top of the stairs vaguely, from somewhere, but he made no attempt to communicate with me and was off like a shot, ducking around the corner, his round eyes wide with fear, the instant he saw me. And anyway, I was much more interested in the angry female cat spitting at me from atop the sofa. My human hauled me out of the house before I could put that insufferable creature in her place.

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