“Every dog is brave on his own doorstep.” Irish proverb
Thanks to those who are LIKING our National Dog Week Community Page. During the month of September, LIKERS were asked to grace its wall with photos of their precious pups. Many did, and one lucky dog-owner was randomly selected to win an original pet portrait created especially for them by NDW Artist Donald E. Brown of Oregon. Donald tells me his painting of Pugslee and Princess is in the works. As soon as this painting is complete we will present a post on these dogs, artist, and proud pooch parents, Amanda and David Haddock of Iowa. https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/National-Dog-Week/218596591491974
It has been a pleasure to work with this fellow artist and dog-lover. Donald went above and beyond my initial request, loaning an image of one of his paintings for the “HELP” poster for NDW 2011, having posters printed and then rendering an original creation for a Grand Prize Winner. Proceeds from the sales of the poster are being donated to the Baja Animal Sanctuary. The original “HELP” painting is also for sale and all proceeds will also go this cause. If you want more details, please contact me. http://www.oregonlive.com/pets/index.ssf/2011/09/portland_pet_artists_painting.html
Each day a new dog is featured in the Profile Picture for the NDW Page. This past weekend, a dog named Pookie was in the spot light. Pookie’s photo and story was submitted by Jan Todd, a foster “dog mom” from South Carolina. To read more about Pookie’s story of survival and recovery please visit his own Facebook page; it’s a testament to how good can triumph over evil. I thank Jan and so many others for all the good work they do on behalf of our Companion Animals. https://www.facebook.com/#!/JusticeforPookie
On Saturday, November 5, I was informed that a Peaceful Protest occurred in the city in which I reside, Brick Township, New Jersey. This took place outside a shop called Puppies. It is purely coincidental that this occurred while I have been posting on this topic. I was out-of-town and would not have known about this if not for comment posted on Facebook. If anyone knows who organized this, I would love to speak with them.
When Captain William Lewis Judy launched his National Dog Week Movement in 1928, this publisher, breeder and International dog-show judge posited that his goal was not to necessarily bring more dogs into the world, but to be better humans to the ones that were already here.
Now without further delay, I present the conclusion to my Short Story from the collection Something’s Lost and Must be Found (see ABOUT for details), titled Human Directional. Again, all scenes and characters are fictional. Please See Previous Post for Part I.
Human Directional (Conclusion)
John gazed at the dozens of cages before him. “There are so many dogs here, what happens if you can’t sell them all?”
Now Ron stood right in front of John, looking him directly in the eyes. “You’re not one of those undercover animal activist-types are you, sent here to spy on me?”
John looked puzzled. Did people actually do that? He wondered. The only undercover work he was doing involved wearing a dog suit.
Nearby, an attractive young female employee was cleaning out a crate. She glanced quickly over at John and their boss as if tuned to their conversation. John smiled, thinking she might be checking him out. She did not respond in kind. Instead she quickly looked away as if to hide her face.
“See this guy right here?” Ron asked, now pointing to a Boxer pup. “He’s getting a little too old so he’s harder to sell. I’ll start marking him down and see what I can get for him. When your mark-ups run around 300% there’s a lot of room to negotiate.”
“What happens if he still doesn’t sell?”
Ron sighed, signaling the conversation was about to end. “They have their place in this process. Some go back to the breeder and become breeding stock. Grist for the mill so to speak,” he explained. “Just go out and do your job and then maybe we won’t have to worry about any leftovers.”
Ron was right. It really was none of his business. He was just a hired slob getting paid by the hour. He would keep his mouth shut and keep this job he so badly needed.
But the next day on the corner brought new troubles. A woman on foot came up to him and screamed right into his eye hole. “You’re helping a bad man sell unhealthy pups!” As she walked off she yelled back at him. “We’ll be back and we’ll shut him down just like we shut down Pups-2-Go!”
We? John thought, slightly alarmed. It was an unusually warm late-November day and with this exchange, John was now covered in sweat, wishing he could remove the head of the costume, but not daring to. He thought about the Boxer pup and other potential leftovers and with this he found new energy. If he hustled maybe he could get all of those dogs sold and into good homes. “Every dog has its day.” He found some comfort in the old adage.
John relayed these threatening encounters to his boss at the end of his shift. “Occupational hazard,” Ron replied. “There are a lot of crazies out there.”
“They say that you’re abusing dogs, that they’re going to shut you down just like before. What does that mean?”
Ron stopped him. “Some people think they have the right to interfere with a man’s right to free enterprise. Just ignore them. Remember, out there you’re a dog, you have no voice.”
The next few days went on with the usual mild heckling, but by the weekend the dog food really hit the fan. As John stood on his corner at High Noon, someone chucked an open can of wet dog food at him as they passed at a good clip. It hit his shoulder, or haunches, covering the dog suit with brown mush.
“Ah, crap,” he muttered, cleaning himself up. When he looked up, the top of his dog head met with the clunk of a raw hide bone ejected from a passing car with the force of a rocket launch. That’s when he noticed a small crowd of people moving toward him like a pack of wolves. Each clutched a wad of yellow flyers. The pack leader, with a microphone at his side, spoke to John.
“Look, I don’t know you, but I just thought I’d give you a heads up that we’re here to stage a protest against the owner of that pet store you’re promoting. We shut his business down last year, we can do it again.”
John stood his ground. “What do you have against him? He’s just trying to get by like all of us. What’s wrong with selling dogs?”
“Do you know where those pups come from, really?” the megaphoned man asked.
“Breeders, they come from professional breeders,” John answered, his voice strangely muffled by his costume, and growing guilt.
“They come from Commercial breeders, puppy mills,” the man answered. “The parents of those dogs live in horrible conditions, treated like garbage.”
John countered. “Well, then isn’t it a good that their pups will get good homes?”
“Many of those pups are sick and the people buying them don’t even know it yet.” The man answered. “Every time someone forks over cold cash to that guy, he goes out and buys more pups from those awful places and you’re just helping him.”
Grist for the mill… the words uttered by Ron the other day now took on a new meaning.
As much as he hated to admit it, John suspected the man was right. For the past few days, he had been doing a little research of his own about puppy mills, and about the business practices of his boss. The selling of dogs was a dirty business. At the start of the New Year, he would resign, no longer be a part of the problem.
But right now, he needed the money. Free enterprise, crazies, don’t talk to them…Ron’s words came back to him. John kept silent. Turning his hairy back on the crowd he resumed his work, hopping around in circles for a SUV filled with giggling kids.
But it wasn’t so easy. The pack leader placed his hand on John’s shoulder to stop him. John turned around to confront the man. “Keep your paws of me, man.”
“Who wants a belly rub?” the man taunted just before placing a well-placed punch to John’s abdomen area. But the dog suit had confused him. Misjudging his aim, the punch was delivered to John’s groin area.
John slumped down on the ground. “Shi…itzu,” he cried, noticing a SUV filled with kids staring at him and crying in horror. They screamed out the back window of the car, “Mommy, someone’s beating up a dog.” In his pain, John picked up his sign and waved it in the air hoping to calm the distraught kids. But the vehicle headed away with the speed of a get-away car after a bank heist.
“That’s just a little taste of what the parent’s of those pups go through in their miserable lifetime,” the man sneered as the pack pulled away from its prey and headed toward PETS-4-You!
John, still not fully recovered, followed slowly. The incident had shaken him and he need time to think. But as he neared the store, the puncher who was just outside the shop’s front window, turned abruptly to confront him.
“Look, I don’t want any more trouble,” John said. But the guy grabbed John’s arrow-shaped sign and started poking him with it. John tackled the man to the ground where they wrestled like two energetic pups. Now he was really earning his hourly wage as a Human Directional as people from all directions flocked toward the store.
Ron was in back of the shop waiting for a shipment of Chihuahuas from the Midwest when a customer finally alerted him to the show that was unfolding outside his front door. He ran outside trying to pull John off the protestor by the tail of his costume. When this failed, he grabbed his employee by the scruff of his costumed neck and hauled inside the shop.
Without missing a beat the protestor snatched up the microphone and led the crowd in chants of “Dog killer” and “Shut this place down now!” The crowd grew larger as more protestors arrived. Carrying their own signs, they had become Human Directionals of another sort.
“Are you insane? Ron said when he’d gotten John back inside the store. From their crates, a litter of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel pups started to whimper as if they smelled danger.
“Those people are really pissed. And maybe they have a right to be,” John shot back still in costume, minus the head. His hair was wet and wild from his encounter, sticking up in all directions. It gave him the appearance of a mad man.
“The only right I care about is my right to be in business. You’re fired. I’ll pay you for today, but that’s it. I should have known you were a sucker by all your stupid questions. This was a big mistake.”
Ron walked to the back of the store where the dark-haired young woman John had seen the previous day stood watching her boss’s every move.
“Keep your money,” said John, surprising even himself. “From what I can tell, it’s blood money. It stinks of the smell of a million dead and dying dogs.”
Ron shouted back. “Why don’t you go join your new friends, then?”
The front door of the shop opened and a huge shadow fell over John.
“You the owner?” a man of about six foot four asked. He wore a large grey hooded jacket that looked to be concealing something.
John nodded a no. Not taking his eyes off the man, he pointed to the back of the shop.
“Yo. I want to talk to you man,” he yelled. “Come on out here.”
Ron stuck his head from out of the office. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
“My wife came back here twice with vet bills for a sick puppy she bought a month ago,” the man answered.
Ron came out of the office, cautiously making his way toward the front. “And?” he asked the man.
“That dog was sick and you knew it. You promised her you would pay all the vet bills, three thousand dollars worth,” he confronted Ron.
Ron paused midway between the back exit and this man who was clearly becoming more angry by the moment. “But you didn’t. You ignored her, didn’t even return her calls,” he continued. “That pup was a gift to my kid for her tenth birthday. I just got back from serving in the Mid-East. I don’t need to deal with this crap, a crying wife and kid and….”
“I always offer to replace a sick dog with another. That’s my policy.”
“Policy?” The man sneered. “You can’t replace a kid’s pet like some stupid toy.”
“Do you have the vet bills?” Ron asked, his voice now lacking its usual arrogance.
The man reached into his coat, “It’s too late,” he said.
With that Ron’s face froze in horror while his feet turned toward the back. “Gun! He’s got a gun, run!” he shouted, fleeing out of the shop using the exit leading to the receiving area. The sound of the door slamming shut was obscured by the screeching of tires and a sickening thud followed by a series of shouts.
John turned to face the man, whose sad eyes met his. From under his coat he pulled the small body of a Chihuahua. At first John thought it was sleeping. “He knew it was sick,” said the man. I told my wife not to buy a pup at a pet store but my kid wanted one on her birthday. She didn’t want to wait.”
John stared at the small lifeless body of the puppy. He removed his dog suit and joined the girl in the back. She was looking out the window of the door at a large van in the shipment area.
“There’s nothing we can do. In dog-speak we would say Ron has gone to the Rainbow Bridge,” she said. “But even if he was allowed to cross, he would be in for a big surprise.”
“What’s the Rainbow Bridge?” John asked.
She explained that it was a place where dogs and their loving owners were reunited in heaven. Then she told John that she’d been doing undercover work for an animal advocacy group that had been working to shut down Ron’s store. John recalled her secretive behavior from the other day.
“We have time to get some of these pups out of here,” she spoke. From the office, she disabled the video surveillance system, removed the tape and quickly began opening crates.
John walked to the front of the store where the grieving man stood, still staring at the dead puppy on the counter. Going over to the crate of the aging Boxer pup, John removed it and handed it to the man. “Take this dog. Go out the back door. There’s an angry mob out front.”
The man looked at John questioningly. “He’s getting too old to sell and I don’t know what will happen to him. Maybe he’s in better health than that poor Chihuahua.”
The sounds of an ambulance approached as John escorted the man out of the store. Just steps away a distracted crowd hovered over the unmoving body of the store owner; no one noticed them.
“I didn’t see him,” the apparent driver of a delivery truck kept repeating. “He just shot out in front of me. I didn’t have a chance to stop.”
John looked at a large vehicle that idled nearby. From inside the distressed yips of nervous young pups cried out. It was the delivery Ron had been waiting for, the delivery that would be his last.
“Well are you going to help me or not?” the dark haired girl called back to John. “This is your chance to make up for all the bad you’ve done this week.”
She was right. He couldn’t just walk away. Maybe he couldn’t change the circumstances in his own life right now, but he could help change the fates of some unfortunate dogs. In that realization his life took on a new direction, one fueled by a sense of purpose that had been lacking in him for so long. Maybe every dog couldn’t have its day, but he could see to it that some could. He began emancipating pups, scooping up several at a time, bringing them out through the front entrance.
John walked over to the group of protestors who were not yet aware of his boss’s demise. He spoke to the man who had attacked him previously, “Looks like this shop has shut itself down for a while.” The crowd grew quiet. “There are a lot of pups in there,” John continued to address them. “We’ll take what we can now and then we’ll try and rescue the rest later.”
“We’ll all get thrown in jail for theft,” someone said.
John shrugged. “But we’ll be letting some innocent prisoners out,” he answered as he headed back into the store.
Maybe stealing these pups was breaking the law of man, but certainly in this case, not the law of a higher power he reasoned. He had no choice; it felt good to be a hero for a change.
He had become a Human Directional in the very best sense of the word.