ONE GOOD DOG tells the story of Adam March and the dog who helps him regain his humanity. Adam is by any measure a success--high level job, a beautiful wife, expensive cars, exclusive home, spoiled daughter. But Adam has a secret. Far from being of the privileged class that he now moves in, Adam comes from a boyhood spent in foster care; a father who has given him up, and runaway sister. He has scars that he bears to no one.
When a mistake by his administrative assistant threatens to expose his past, in trying to save his present, Adam loses everything.
Divorced, jobless, and doing community service in a homeless shelter, Adam acquires a street dog, a pit bull mix who has a difficult background of his own.
This pair learn about trust--and the true meaning of what it means to be human.
A Book and a Grilled PB&J: Becky Holland's blog review of One Good Dog
Review: Susan Wilson’s One Good Dog April 1, 2012
One Good Dog, By Susan Wilson, St. Martin’s Griffin, ISBN 978-0-312-66295-0: In “One Good Dog,” Susan Wilson does two things – she touches our hearts and teaches us a lesson about life. In using the characters of Chance, a mix of a pit bull and whatever other kind of dog, and Adam March, a businessman with one goal in mind – to make it to the top no matter who he has to sacrifice – including himself – to get there. Our hearts receive a sting when Adam meets Chance by chance and gives him a home – not readily and in return, Chance gives Adam a new look on life – softer than what he had before. Adam March had everything a man would want – nice car, nice suit of clothes, nice office, nice job and a family. He had the status symbol that put him in the right circles, and a wife who assisted in his climb to the top, and a daughter, well, the daughter was his thorn, sort of. She is a teenager and sees her parents as what they are – parents. In a blink of an eye, thanks to a secretary who did her job half-way, it all changed for March. He became unemployed, un-married and by himself. His clothes became ordinary. His living quarters became ordinary. His life became, well, not the life he was used too. Through court-ordered work at a homeless shelter, March is forced to face life as it is and be with people he would avoid before. Chance was raised to fight, and he didn’t like it. The dog didn’t know any better, so he couldn’t know what there was else out there for him, but in the blink of an eye, opportunity rose, and he took it, to see what was outside the door. It is a compelling story that is realistic and one that many can relate to. Be prepared for a mixture of emotions, and have the popcorn ready – it is better than a movie.
****** Some nice words about One Good Dog
"Working and writing with Cesar Millan has taught me that no dog is unredeemable, no matter how horrendous its past. Susan Wilson's evocative and deeply moving novel reminds us that even the most unlikely human can also find redemption, sometimes, with a little help from a canine friend."
-- Melissa Jo Peltier, New York Times bestselling co-author of Cesar’s Way
“ONE GOOD DOG will make you cry, will make you laugh, will make you feel things more than you thought possible--and it will make you believe in second chances.”
“One Good Dog is a wonderful novel of healing and redemption. Chance, the four-legged healer and redeemer, will linger in your mind long after the story is done.”
—Spencer Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of Dog On It
"ONE GOOD DOG EQUALS ONE GREAT BOOK!"—Rita Mae Brown
"Anybody who has ever loved a dog - or been "a pack of two," as Chance so aptly puts it - will love ONE GOOD DOG. This is the moving story of Adam March, a man who loses everything only to find something much greater, and it reminds us that it's animals that make us our most fully human. I hope Susan Wilson sits and stays - forever."
"Nowhere can we see the potential for our own redemption more clearly than in the eyes of our dog. Susan Wilson illustrates this truth poignantly and beautifully in this story of second chances."
"ONE GOOD DOG shows how animals teach us everything about hope, healing, and unconditional love. ONE GOOD DOG is a terrific book that held me from beginning to end!"
“ONE GOOD DOG tells the eloquent truth about a brave-hearted dog and a broken-hearted man, the mystical ways they rescue each other. I was so moved by Susan Wilson's writing: her understanding of the lost, in the language of the wild.”
He was a rough looking thing. Big ears, wiry hair. His muzzle just beginning to grizzle. He looked like the sort who’d been living outside of society for a while, maybe never really been a companion. After a long parade of supplicants appearing before me, each wanting me to choose him or her, their noses pressed up to the chain link fence that separated us, there was something in this one’s deep brown eyes, not a pleading, pleading I can overlook, but something else. A quiet dignity, maybe even an aloofness as if he really didn’t need me or my kind being nice to him. Yes. That was it, a haughtiness that declared he needed no one’s pity; he shouldn’t even be here. Don’t look at me, I’m only here by coercion.
Our eyes met and held, but then he turned away. Beta to my alpha. But, in that brief gaze I saw something I recognized. Maybe it was just that I saw my own independent streak, the one that has kept me on top. Or, the eyes of a fighter down on his luck, but with memories of recent glory. Maybe I saw that underneath the rough exterior lay a heart, like mine, not entirely hard. You’ve got to be tough to live in this world, whether your lip is curled in real anger or fear aggression, you have to be willing to carry out the threat. This battle scarred fella understood that and on that basis I made my decision. He was the one for me.
So I wagged my tail.
Excerpt from Chapter 1
“Sophie.” Adam March doesn’t look up from the rectangle of paper in his hand. His tone is, as always, even, and no louder than it should be to reach across his executive-sized office, through the open mahogany door and to the ears of his latest personal assistant. On the pink rectangle of a While You Were Out memo slip, in Sophie’s preferred lilac-colored ink and written in her loopy handwriting, are three simple words that make no sense to Adam March. Your sister called. Not possible. Time and date of call: yesterday afternoon, while he was enduring what he hoped was the last of the meetings he was going to have to hold before today’s main event. A meeting in which he’d given a combination pep talk and take-no-prisoners mandate to his hand-picked team.
Adam flips the pink note back and forth against the knuckles of his left hand. This is a mistake. Sophie has made a mistake. Not her first. Lately he’s been noticing these little slips of judgment, of carelessness, of Sophie’s slightly less than deferential attitude. As if she’s not a subordinate, but a peer. Too many late nights when the jacket comes off, the tie is loosened and the sleeves are rolled up. Too many weary hours leaning over her as she works on her computer, struggling to make every document perfect. She’s made a common mistake, being in the trenches together doesn’t mean that they are friends, that he will overlook sloppiness.
Adam closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. The most important day of his career and it’s already started out badly.
His alarm hadn’t gone off. Which meant he hadn’t had time for his run around the gravel jogging paths of his gated neighborhood, which meant he had lost that thirty minutes of ‘me time’ he needed so desperately before a day filled with meetings, conference calls, at least one confrontation with middle management and, at the end of the day, a dinner party his wife Sterling had planned to befriend the newest neighbors, the Van Arlens, before someone else got them. The Van Arlens, it was believed, had connections to the best people. People who were useful to anyone interested in social advancement and really good schools for their children. Which basically sums up Sterling.
Adam had no objection to a get-to-know-you dinner, he just preferred not to have them on the same day as so much else was going on in his life. But then, if they waited until he had a slow day, they’d still be living in Natick and their daughter wouldn’t be enjoying the connections that would serve her for the rest of her life. It was hard work, laying the groundwork for social/business/education/recreational pathways for a teenage daughter who greeted him with ill-disguised sullenness when he made the effort to show up for one or another of her endless sports in time for the final score.
When Adam thought about having kids, he’d pictured himself the Ward Cleaver of his family, wise, loving, adored. Ariel hadn’t been wryly mischievous like Beaver, or devoted like Wally, Adam hadn’t heard an understandable phrase out of her mouth in years, every mumble directed at the table, or muttered behind her long blonde hair. The only time he saw her face was when he attended her horse shows when her hair was scraped back and under her velvet-covered helmet. But then she blended in with the other girls, all pink cheeks and tight breeches and blue coats. Sometimes he rooted for the wrong girl/horse combination. To say nothing of the fact that all the horses looked alike too. To Adam horse shows were a tortuous and endless replication of the same blue coat, black helmet, brown horse racing around the course and then the girl crying when a rail was knocked or a time fault incurred or because the horse was crazy, lazy, lame, or just plain stupid.
Except for Ariel’s drive to become some kind of horse jumping champion, a goal at which Adam had thrown great handfuls of money, she was an enigma to him. Yet, this is why he works so hard. This and Sterling’s four carat dinner ring and her personal fitness gurus, one at each of the three homes they owned–Sylvan Fields, Wellington, Florida, and Martha’s Vineyard–the support of an increasingly large staff and their illegal cousins; and the cadre of financial managers to make sure he didn’t pay more taxes than he should. They, unlike most of the rest of the people he employed, were very very good.
At age forty-six, Adam March had found himself, on this overcast morning, pressing his forehead against the bathroom mirror and wishing he didn’t have to go to work. Not only had his alarm failed him, but the housekeeper had failed–again–to have the made-to-order granola he needed. Nowhere in the giant pantry could he put his hands on the imported cereal he preferred. All he could find was the crap Ariel ate. With a childhood fed on corn flakes, now he can afford the best in breakfast food, so was it too much to ask that he find his granola when he wanted it? The sheer cost of importing it from Norway had to be justified by his eating it every day. But, beyond that, without it, his bowels wouldn’t function and if that system also failed him, Adam knew that he was in danger of really losing his temper and it might be that this housekeeper would be the biggest loser once he was done with her. Which, of course, he couldn’t even consider until after this dinner party. To fire the stupid bitch today would mean that Sterling’s ire would overshadow his until his temper and his bowels would shrink to a pipsqueak size.
Sterling, blonde, whippet thin, and sleeping the peaceful sleep of the person in charge of everything, was a force to be reckoned with and Adam wasn’t about to unleash that power on a day so patently important to her. Not for her own sake, she so often said, but for his sake. His advancement, their only child’s advancement. It was social warfare out there and Sterling provided the leadership of a general over her troops. “We have to be seen, we have to support the right charities.” Their name even appeared as supporters on a PBS documentary series. “We need to attend the right concerts. If you intend to succeed, that’s the price you have to pay.” That was but one of Sterling’s cheerleading themes. Some might say that Adam March had already succeeded. What more could he want? Some men might want strings of letters following their names, others the glory that came from leadership in the arts, the sciences, the political arena. Adam lusted after three letters: C E O. Chief Executive Officer. Such an achievement was no longer dependent on moving up in the ranks of promotions and cultivating years in the same company. It was more of a hopscotch of leaps across and over, one foot down, now two, from corporation to corporation; allowing himself to be seduced away from one major executive role to another. Manager, Vice President of Acquisitions or Division. A rise which came with a move to a bigger house in a better–read, more exclusive--neighborhood, another vacation home where he’d spend most of his time on his phone, too afraid to be out of touch for more than the time it took to use the bathroom, more BlackBerries. More expense. Some days Adam felt like he didn’t have two coins to rub together. All of his salary and bonuses seemed to be absorbed into this machine of ambition. Still, the ripe red cherry of the top post was just out of reach. But not for long. After today, Adam’s elevation to the ultimate spot on the ladder at Dynamic Industries would be secure. President and CEO.
But this morning all Adam had wanted for himself was a bowl of Norwegian granola and a fucking run through the contrived landscape of his most recent gated neighborhood. He wanted his ‘me time,’ thirty minutes to call his own, leaving the Bluetooth behind, keeping his head down and his eyes only on the path so that he didn’t have to wave at neighbors or their help. His best ideas often came to him during that thirty minutes.
There was only one thing stopping Adam from just taking his run and going into work a bit late. He held himself and his staff to a rigorous standard of punctuality. Adam March entered his office at precisely seven-thirty every day. Not one minute before or after. It was a source of incredible satisfaction to him that people could set their watches by him. Adam believed that timeliness was an art and a science. Despite the ten mile commute and all the variables of traffic, Adam arrived on time. And woe betide the staffer in his group who wasn’t there to greet him. Adam required simple things of people, the sine qua non of his expectation: be on time. The groups that wandered into the building here and there, untaxed by punctuality smacked of a basic sloppiness he would not allow in his.
Adam stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, looking at an attractively craggy face, his morning’s shadow of dark beard firming up a jaw that has only just begun to soften. He stared into his own cold brown eyes, eyes that have earned him the nickname, Dead Eye. A nickname he doesn’t find offensive, but grudgingly affectionate. A face with gravitas. A face suited to the take-no-prisoners deal maker he has become.
If there was a shadow of an angry grizzled man in the mirror, Adam swept it away with a brushful of French milled shaving soap.
Adam runs a hand down his silk tie, tucks the strange note into his jacket pocket. Sophie is still AWOL. He stares at her empty chair and for the first time in many years, wonders about his sister.
Sophie’s armless secretary’s chair is cocked at an angle, as if its occupant weighs more on one side. Her computer screen with the Microsoft logo drifting around either speaks of her having been on the computer opening up the emails that she will forward to him or to his underlings, or delete as unworthy. It isn’t enough that she’s in the building. Sophie needs to be at her desk when he arrives.
Adam lays the offending piece of memo paper down and opens up his old-fashioned top-loading briefcase. He can’t remember what he’s looking for. There she is, slinking back to her desk with a giant paper coffee cup in one hand, a pastry in the other. Even from deep in his office Adam can see that she has a flake of icing on her chin. Now Sophie really is testing him. Instead of dropping everything and grabbing her notebook, she leans over her computer keyboard and taps the mouse. She is checking her email. On his time. Outrageous. Sophie knows this is an important day. What can be more important to her than getting her marching orders from him? He’s really getting tired of her insubordination.
Your sister called.
Excerpt from Chapter 3
I should explain a little about myself to you. A little bio. A thumbnail, or in my case a dewclaw, description. I’m a little over three years old, still young enough to have to vie for position, old enough to go against only the best. I have good teeth, set in a strong jaw. One of my ears is sheered off at the bottom, the other hangs in a three quarter break and I keep it tight against my skull whenever I greet. My tail is as straight as a stick and I almost never let it rise above my back like some happy-go-luck retriever. It’s a divining rod of my intentions, a whip, a warning. Depending on my circumstances, I’m forty-five or fifty pounds. When I’m on the street, I might shrink to a mere thirty unless I suss out the best dumpsters and get there ahead of my vermin brethren. I don’t know what color I am, it’s an unimportant characteristic among my kind. What is important is that my anal glands describe my authority, my education and my living arrangements to any who encounter me. Where I’ve been and where I’m going.
My urine marks a wide territory. I have no testicles. The first time I was nabbed, off they went. I’ll come to that part of my history directly, but I will say that by that time I was fully masculine and I have not given up my boyish ways except for the fulfillment of my genetic destiny. I can do it, but I’m shooting blanks.
From birth, my manifest destiny, as arranged by the young men who kept my parents in a cellar in cages, was to fight. My size and sex determined that I received the received the best of care from those who had no affection for the animals holed up in the inner city cellar. I got fed. I got to wear heavy chains around my shoulders to bulk up into a mass of rock solid muscle. I got strong enough two of these callow young men, boys, pups of their species, had to hold me back. I rarely saw daylight. I was a creature of the night, shuttled from one cellar to another in the darkness, an ill-fitting muzzle all that was between me and their hands. I don’t recall ever being touched by them in a non-business way. All jerks and pulls and pushes; the end of a stick, the flat of a board. Had either of those two young men ever dared unmuzzle me and pat my head, I would have licked his hand. They were afraid of me, of what they had created.
As I say, I was born in an inner city cellar. My parents, unusually, were both on-site so that I got to know them both. So many of my kind are not so lucky. My mom was a full blood pit bull, whatever that may mean in the lexicon of swaggering young men, descended from a long line of dogs whose survival depended on their prowess in the fight arena. None of them particularly angry, but all able to be incited to destruction; all highly competitive when pitted, no pun intended, against an adversary. Like the gladiators of old, our adversaries aren’t of our own choosing, but chosen for us by the men who employ us. Fighting is our livelihood. Our pre-determined career. A job. The hours aren’t bad and if you’re good at your job you get to live another day and do it again.
Mom, whom they called the Bitch-dog, was scarred along her lips, even to where there was a half-moon of missing flesh exposing her upper side teeth. Long retired from the pit, she’d become a breeding machine. Her dugs hung limp and wobbly; even after the authorities removed her from the cellar, her teats would never retract to their earlier tightness. They called her the Bitch-dog, and she was scarred along her lips, even to where there was a half-moon of missing flesh exposing her upper side teeth. Long retired from the pit, she’d become a breeding machine. Her dugs hung limp and wobbly; even after the authorities removed her from the cellar, her teats would never retract to their earlier tightness.
Now, we don’t identify one another by the breedist notions of those who cause our creation, but everybody knows that our different shapes and sizes, smells, and tail carry help us to identify ourselves to each other. So, for convenience sake, I will say Dad was a blend of several types of ‘breeds’ that have power and stamina; Dad was a mix of pit bull and rottweiler or boxer, maybe a little old fashioned bull dog. Dad’s rottie parts gave him his height and bulk. His pit bull parts thinned out his back end, but gave him a Bluto disproportion in his front end. He was a tough one in the ring, knew his game well and he never gave ground. They called him Fitty after some rapper they admired. It seemed to me, even as a youngster, that calling a gladiator like Dad ‘Fitty’ was a bit silly. Although Dad and I were neighborhood champs, our boys were not contenders on the real dog fight circuit, thus were able to pass mixed breeds like Fitty and me off on their equally amateurish friends.
Naming conventions have ever puzzled us. When we don’t come to a call, it’s likely that the appellation assigned to us is unacceptable. In my life I’ve been called many things, some of them not polite. We know each other by the names shouted at us, but more intimately by our scents. I think of my mother not by Bitch-dog, but by the warm scent of her particular skin, her particular odor nursing my less fortunate littermates. I was the big one. I was the one on the top teat. My lesser sibs perished in the boys’ brutal effort at selective breeding. Tossed like so many field mice into the training cage.
On the street my friends, and I’ve had many, are untethered by spoken names. I can visit them, even if they are out of sight, by their markers. Ah, there’s the tough little one. I see that the bitch who mates with big dogs has been hanging around the alley. Maybe I’ll wait for her. A further snuffle and I realize that she is now pregnant yet again. I see her in my mind’s eye, her teats swelling and her self-satisfied tongue lolling as she seeks out a safe haven for her nest. We think in pictures.
I picture the cellar in which I was born, comforted by the rich warm scent of my mother’s skin and hair; curious at my first scent of blood, the sweetish scent of it coming to me beyond the partition that separated us from the makeshift ring; not knowing what it was, but equating the smell of it with the sounds that came to me, the sounds of combat. My senses preparing me for my own experience so that when I first saw blood, first engaged in a fight, it was as familiar to me as if I had studied the textbook.
When it was time to put aside childish things, I left my mother’s kennel and moved into isolation. I believe I may have howled on that first solitary night; but was quickly quieted with a smack. Ever since I have ducked my head at the sight of a fast-moving hand. My assailant tossed in a hard rubber ring which I proceeded to gnaw, ingesting the slurry and vomiting in the night before I finally slept.
I picture the heavy chains that were looped over my head and onto my shoulders as I was paraded in the mean streets by the boys. They gave me a strong dog look, and I confess I might have swaggered a bit. I wasn’t fettered by the chains, I was proud of them. Around my neck a perfect uniform of tackle suited to controlling an uncontrollable animal. A collar that when jerked pressed prongs of metal into my thick neck. A leather collar fitted out with pointed studs was my dress uniform. The one I got to wear on formal occasions, like when the boys took me out to show off to their crew.
By the time I had reached my full size, the boys had begun my training in earnest.
Though I most resemble my mother, longish body, muzzle like a shoebox, whip-like tail, I am big like Dad. The Rottie parts are pretty thinned out, so I’ll never weigh in at ninety pounds like those bruisers, but I’m in the heavy-weight category for my sport. Fifty pounds, all muscle and bone and spit.
How do we know what to do the minute we’re dropped into a pit? We don’t. The first time all we know is that our men expect something from us. Their sweat tells us that they are challenging each other, their voices are sharp, encouraging, cajoling, berating, fierce. In a few moments we know what to do. We know what they want. We pick up on their agitation, we get into the trash talking. We engage. And, like those old-time gladiators, we know that defeat is not an option. This is what our men want. This is our job.
From the first time my boys put me in the ring, I understood what was expected of me. I fought out of fear. I’m not ashamed to say that. If you didn’t fear getting your nose bitten off,
you were as crazy as those boys. Be the aggressor and you might not get hurt. Or hurt as much. I’ll say something else; I didn’t always hate it. When you’re a little hungry, isolated, when you never get to meet your fellows in any sort of comradely way; our noses never touching the communicating part, only recognizing each other through the scents left on the fence posts, well, you get a little testy. It was my only outlet. I was pretty good at it.
I am and always will be a beast. A man-designed bag of sinew, bone, muscle and teeth. My ancestors thought it was a good alliance, between our kind and man, never dreaming that their physical shapes and proclivities would be so determined by another creature. I am made bestial by the job I was trained to do. Many of my species have lost that bestiality, replacing a heritage of scavenging around the firepit with an attachment to some human who will dote on them.
I never knew about that until the day my boys brought in a mutt from off the street, a clean, toenails well clipped, uncollared, but clearly attached canis domesticus. This happened every now and then. When they’d run out of runts the boys would bring in involuntary recruits for us to spar with. These draftees were not meant to be real challengers; they were generally short on muscle and low in stamina, often soft with good living. These naďve fellows arrive shamelessly tail-wagging, thinking they’ve found a new friend and the next minute some tough-skinned pale eyed contender bites into their cheerfully upraised necks.
This one told me his story during the hours we had caged in the cellar of the house, his cage placed close enough to mine that we could talk so quietly that our voices didn’t provoke either of the boys to shout down “Shaddup.” His scent, even without being able to sniff around his communicating area, was replete with good food and human touching. He told me that he had a person who took care of his every need. Gently. Even to offering him treats for every silly thing he did. His job, not to roll around in a pit, but to walk without pulling on the leash. No, he didn’t wear a collar like mine. His, which the boys removed, was of soft leather, two metal discs declaring who he was and to whom he belonged tinkling merrily from it. He missed the sound, he wasn’t sure he could sleep well, not having the gentle ding of his tags touching as he circled for sleep. They and the collar were the badge of his service. And of them, he was quite proud. I was appalled. The idea of such submission sent an involuntary shiver along my back and I shook hard to rid myself of it. But I was curious. Maybe even a little jealous.
I made short work of him in the practice pit, but he stuck in my mind as someone whose story was not singular, but indicative of a whole world beyond my cellar. The idea began to take hold. I spoke to others, as we waited our turn, and yes, they knew of these fellows who lived in houses. Who didn’t bite for a living. Fellows who owed everything they had to packs of humans. Fellows who were expected to submit at all times like puppies to a grown male, even up into their mature years. They’d seen them. And not just in the arena. They’d seen them as my competitors were walked down the streets of the city on their own chains coming to me, they’d seen these others attached to light, meaningless leashes, happily gazing up at the faces of those who held the ends. They were usually dragged away to one side as the gladiators lumbered by; the fear in their people telegraphing caution to those at the end of the leash. The occasional lifted lip, not in challenge, but in submission. They were a hoot. Can you imagine?
I could, and, increasingly, I did. I was good in the pit, but I knew that there would always be the day when I’d be beaten. Either by another fellow, or by my boys. Beaten as punishment for being beaten. It’s what happened to Dad at least twice in my life.
But there was another sort of fellow that I met on a more regular basis. The one that lived an entirely independent life. The street-dog. Usually more intelligent than the occasional leash-dog, these street-dogs were savvy. They understood the freedom of a life lived naturally. If they were often cold, hungry, and in danger of being run over, they lived their lives as they pleased. Unfortunately for them, they were also an easy target; put a plate of food out and wham
bam, they were snagged. Not just by my boys and their ilk, but by the Authorities. The men or women who made such dogs disappear in exactly the same way as my boys. One minute licking your hindquarters on the sidewalk, the next in a cage. But their stories were the best. High adventure, travel, frequent mating. Oh boy. It was rumored that the street-dogs who were captured by the Authorities only made it out if they were charming. Those who weren’t charming didn’t. But it’s hard to know charming when your whole life has been directed toward being irascible. No one knew where they went, but it didn’t take a Standard Poodle to figure it out. The odor of charring meat and bones that threaded through the miasma of scents that filled the city air was enough of a clue. Through the diesel and effluvia, doughnuts and wieners, the sweaty population and its overlay of artificial scent, working its way like a winding river of finality, the smoke of oblivion.
I was resting in my cage after a particularly challenging bout. My opponent nearly prevailed, until by sheer bull force, I pushed him over the line that demarcates winning. They
thrust the breaking stick between my jaws and the game was over. I was sliced up pretty good, and one of the boys had made a squeamish attempt to stitch up the gash on my chest. The stitches pulled the skin together something like a badly made baseball. I licked at them, tasting the rough edges of my blood-crusted trussed skin, but I couldn’t reach the worst of it.
My opponent lay on a pile of newspapers, his head flung back like he was baying at the moon. There was still a light in his eye, so I knew he hadn’t yet bled to death. I snortled an apology through the bars of my cage and he lifted his head. He snortled back, a kind of absolution for just doing my job. We’re a brutish lot, but we don’t hate each other. If we had
hands we could break out of here. He agreed, then lay his head down and I watched as his spirit lifted away.
A pounding above our heads. Mom sat up, dispersing her latest litter onto the bottom of her cage. “The men. The men are here.” We’d heard about them, the-men-who-come-and our-kind-disappear. We’d heard they removed us to bigger cages, smaller cages; to fight us with other species, to simply cut our throats. Rumors of the men circulated most often after one of us died. A dime is dropped and things happen.
Upstairs we heard the percussion of big boys’ feet dashing toward the back of the apartment, clambering down the back stairs. I knew that there was a door to the outside, to the square of dirt where we were allowed to defecate twice a day. None of the boys ever stepped foot out there in the field of shit. We who used the yard, trotting around the perimeter sniffing out each other over and over again, raising our legs against each other’s mark, we knew how to skirt the worst of the mess. If we lived on the outside, we’d be careful to place our business away from where we lived.
I heard the back door open, I stood and pressed my very sore nose against the wire of my cage and pricked my ears. I sniffed the air, an amalgam of our boys’ pungent sweat and the scent of the men. The men and one female. Her female scent lightly mingled with her heat. My mother shoveled her brood against the back of the cage with her nose, a worried gargle in her throat. I shook myself. Ready for anything.