Most of us left the cities after the first few bombs were dropped. Most people don’t consider how wars impact wildlife. By wildlife, I mean us. All of us: the animals. Maybe this is because, in war, even humans become animals. Regardless, we left the cities. At least, that’s not where we live anymore. We venture in every once in a while, but we always go back to the woods.
A lot of us dogs died the first few times venturing back. Some of the soldiers saw us as a nuisance. They shot a lot of us. The rest of us waited for the soldiers to leave before going back, even for food. They took some of the best of us when they left. The German Shepherds, the Dobermans, etc. The ones they could use. The younger ones, of course. The soldiers put the older ones they found out of their misery.
Animals never know what humans are fighting about. Sometimes, in smaller wars, we know. When a man and woman are fighting over us, for example. Or when we choose to urinate on the carpet. Then, we know. But larger wars, we never know. We only know to run.
Some of us are better at surviving than others. It doesn’t take much. We can find water, usually. Food is something a little more difficult. Carcasses aren’t hard to find in the woods. Not for animals anyway. They are everywhere when your nose is useful enough. There weren’t many carcasses in the woods until after we ran out of food in the cities. This didn’t take long.
Most of the food left over in the cities was other dead animals. Cats cleaned up pretty fast. Cats went after the rodents. We went after the cats. We killed a lot of cats. Then the rodents took over almost everything. A lot of rodents and birds in the cities after that. Some humans were still there, hiding. They didn’t much like being seen by us. Getting seen by us meant that we’d hang around too long looking for whatever scraps they might leave. If we hung around too long, someone else could catch on to what we were waiting for, giving someone else a hint that there was another human nearby. Another human they forgot to kill or something. Again, we’re not really sure how wars work, other than certain humans will kill other humans onsite for reasons we’ll never understand.
We stopped howling at the ambulances after awhile. Mostly because the ambulances stopped coming. Not that they weren’t still needed. They just weren’t there anymore. We stopped howling at each other, too, after that. You never know who you want to know you’re around. No more howling. Almost everything was done in silence. War is either deafeningly loud or painfully silence. Never an in between. Either way, we animals don’t hear much of anything useful in war.
When we found the boy, a human boy, there was a lot of talk about what to do about him. Most of us wanted nothing to do with him.
“He’ll be dead within a week,” they said. “We can either ignore him or watch him die.”
Animals have no reason to be optimistic about war.
Some of the more domesticated of us still wanted to be near him. We watched him sneak out of the caved in building every morning. We could smell him from nearly a mile away. We’d definitely smell him if he died. Fresh bodies smell different than old bodies. We all knew the boy was still alive, even when we couldn’t see him.
The boy was smart. We’d smell him cooking in the late afternoon, but we never saw the flames. He’d dispose of the cans at night. We’d carry them off in the morning before he woke up. The sounds of the cans rattling probably scared him. There’s a quality to canned food that can only go so far. They always leave you hungry, no matter how big the can. The boy seemed to eat a lot of them, but he continued to lose weight. We could tell. His droppings varied in consistency.
I found one can half eaten a few days after we learned about the boy. The can was on its side. Spaghetti, but the noodles were gone. The meatballs lined up in a row just outside the opening of the can. Arranged. He knew about us. He was feeding us. This generated much discussion between the animals in the nearby woods.
“We have to go farther away,” they said. “He’s baiting us. He’s desperate. Wasting food is a sure sign of that.”
“He doesn’t have a gun,” I said. “We’ve heard nothing from him for almost a week. Surely he’d have tried to shoot one of us by now.”
“Could be conserving ammo,” they said. “We have no way of knowing or not knowing what he has. We can’t be too careful. Most of us have already left to the far ends of the wood.”
We continued to keep a close eye on the boy.
He left a can of dog food out for us one morning. I imagined him eating the other half. Dog food can taste an awful lot like human food sometimes. These are the things we know. We know humans, most humans, do not like living alone. We know most humans in times of war are sad. We know most humans in times of peace are sad. We know that most humans are sad because they are alone. That is why they need us. That is why they seek us out. That is why they feed us. The boy was sad.