Archive | July 2011

Bad bad drivers

Earlier, I tried parking in a disabled spot. A car accident in 1994 left me with disabling brain and spinal injuries but I lead an active life with writing and volunteer work. A selfish turd shoves a shopping cart in the parking space I’m about to enter, causing me to almost ram the cart. I roll down my window and say, “That’s not very nice, is it?” He shrugs. I motion for him to roll down the window. I say are you seriously going to make a disabled person get out of the car to move your cart? He just sits there opening his new CD. So I grab my cane and get out. Now I’m as hot as the Arizona sun. I move the cart but spit out a few harsh words. I say that one day you may be in my position. I hope you’ll meet a thoughtless prick just like you. Ready to get in my car I see he has kids. I ask him if he’s proud of the example he’s setting. He looks as if he doesn’t give a rat’s ass. I see rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror. I shout keep your religion as he leaves. It’s because of people like you I won’t go to church. Hypocrites I can do without. Education is better than confrontation but this man fired me up. Before a car whacked me, I would never ever have thought of being so inconsiderate to a disabled person or a senior citizen. It amazes me how callous people are. I’ve seen the dregs of society but on the other hand I’ve also seen the best in people. I won’t let this slimeball ruin my day.

 

Nobody’s Pets

Available on Amazon.com

The scrappy mutt named Biscuit whimpered in silence after the employees left the Denver SPCA at closing time, just after 6 p.m. She and the other animals squeaked, whined and purred, but no one was left in the kennels or offices to hear the stray cats and homeless dogs curled up in their cages. Other than the occasional dog owner who stormed out and yelled in the parking lot about the reclaim fee for lost pets, excitement rarely disturbed the tranquil neighborhood of small businesses and retail shops. Sleep came quickly to the animals. The calm lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

Two intruders burst through the kennel door, lugging old wooden crates and a handful of ropes. One man flipped on the overhead lights while the other slammed the door behind them.

Biscuit squinted in the sudden flash. She pawed sleep from her eyes then shook her head, tossing floppy brown ears into place.

The surprise interruption grabbed everyone’s attention. A chorus of barking and meowing shattered the stillness. Biscuit stared at the two strange men with grizzled faces, both dressed in army fatigues and black boots. Dark knit caps covered their heads.

Thor, a full grown Great Dane, tried to squeeze his big head through the bars to catch the action. “Gee, I don’t know these people. They’re not the ones who feed us.” He glanced at a window set high in the stone wall. “It’s dark out. Our people don’t get here until the sun comes up.”

Biscuit stood, shook herself, and pressed her nose out the bars. “This doesn’t smell right.”

“I don’t like it either,” Thor said, eyeing the intruders.

“They don’t smell familiar,” Biscuit shouted over the din of barking. “I wonder who they are.”

Thor hurled his massive frame against the steel bars and growled. “Let me at ‘em.”

“Be quiet, everyone,” Biscuit yelped. Her mouth felt dusty like stale dog kibble. “I can’t hear what the men are saying.”

A few animals quieted down but most fired off their mouths.

One intruder’s red face gleamed with sweat as he studied the list in his hand while he tried to cover an ear with the other. “Hey Joe, all this noise, someone’s gonna call the cops.”

“Won’t matter Al so long as we hurry,” Joe said.

Al yanked open dog cages and removed the unsuspecting occupants. Joe strung ropes around their necks and dragged them out the kennel’s doorway. Meanwhile Al reached in to unlatch the bar to Thor’s cage. The big dog yelped madly and ripped a chunk out of the stranger’s hand. “Leave me alone you bully,” he snarled as he backed deeper into his cage.

“Good boy Thor,” Biscuit said. “Protect yourself.”

The veins in Al’s thick neck bulged as he held up his bleeding hand and waved it wildly at the giant dog. “If I wasn’t in such a hurry, you’d be a goner.”

Joe, shoving a trunk-sized crate, said, “Forget about that dumb dog.”

Panting cats huddled near their litter trays while dogs watched with sagging tongues and drooping tails as Joe held onto the dogs’ ropes. Al stuffed cats inside a wooden crate with chipped slats. Seven abducted dogs and cats later, Al mumbled about a mistake. Joe’s mouth dropped open. “What’re you talking about, numbskull?”

“Cat was in that cage when we was in yesterday. Kennel workers must’ve moved them around.”

Biscuit suddenly recognized the pair’s scent. They had been in the kennel as community service workers. One poked fun at Biscuit’s short stubby legs while the other said she smelled like bad egg salad.

Joe wasted no time by pointing to another cage and said, “Take another animal. And step on it.”

Al ran up to Rosie, a mongrel candidate with a roly-poly figured huddled inside the cage beside Biscuit. “She’ll do.”

He dragged Rosie out, her feet sliding across the tiled floor as she struggled to maintain balance. The dog protested knowing only the other animals could understand her plea. “Hey mister, don’t haul me around like that.”

In a huff, Joe lifted his leg and kicked the Beagle sized dog in her belly. “I’ll chop you in a meat grinder if you don’t cooperate.”

“Watch it,” Biscuit cried. “She’s my friend.”

“Pick on someone your own size,” Thor said.

“Biscuit, Thor, please don’t let them hurt me,” Rosie said as she cringed in pain. Al hauled her and the rest of the animals through the rear door. Within minutes, Al and Joe disappeared into the darkness of the Mile High City along with four dogs and four cats.

Gaping at the vacant cages, Biscuit wondered who the intruders were and what would happen to her friends, especially Rosie. She shared a tight bond with her. Once Biscuit cleared a dog-bone sized lump from her throat she caught Thor’s attention. “What was that all about?”

Bewildered, Thor sat as still as a statue, drool seeping from his jaws. “They almost got me.”

Mousy the cat pressed her back against the stainless steel wall at the rear of her cage and stared blankly with light green eyes clouded by cataracts. The finicky gray and white cat, unhappy by confinement to a tiny cage, rarely shared with the others.

Biscuit wagged her tail. “Mousy, you OK?”

Mousy turned to face the dog. “No. How would you feel if you’d been abandoned by your owners?”

“I’m thinking about our friends now. Why do you think those strange men took them?” Biscuit said.

Mousy hissed impatiently. “Weren’t you listening silly dog? They’re selling them for research.”

“What’s research?” Biscuit asked.

“I heard my people say scientists study the effects of smoking on dogs and see how dangerous cigarettes are,” Mousy said.

“Dogs don’t smoke,” Biscuit said.

“Not research for us dummy,” Mousy said. “For people.” The cat licked her shoulder and said, “An old lady like me can only take so much. Leave me alone please.”

Biscuit plopped down and rested on the icy cement floor, picking at her paws as a brief diversion. Life on the streets had been unkind. Constant wandering from place to place caused her paw pads to crack open like broken glass. Her feet were still sore; shellacking them with saliva sometimes made them feel better.

“Want to know why I’m here Mousy?” Biscuit asked.

“No.”

“The cops found me alone on Colfax Avenue and brought me here,” Biscuit said.

Mousy said nothing.

“Those men are bad,” Biscuit said. “Our friends must be in trouble.”

Thor puffed out his massive chest. “Especially without me to protect them.”

“Maybe Rosie or one of the others will help them escape,” Rose said.

Just then, shelter worker Buddy Kimbrough barged through the kennel door yelling, “Oh no. Look at this.” He held a hand over his mouth.

Biscuit figured Buddy arrived for work as usual and discovered the break-in. She watched the skinny worker who had more wrinkles on his nut brown face than a Shar-Pei as he surged up and down the aisles, still clutching his lunch bag.

“I better call the police right away,” Buddy said. As he spun around the brown paper bag slipped from his hands but he never noticed.
Biscuit’s nose wiggled when she detected the whiff of fresh meat. Sliding a paw underneath the cage, she snagged Buddy’s lunch, ripped open the bag and wolfed down the smoked turkey sandwich in three large bites spitting out pieces of lettuce. Biscuit didn’t care for the taste of leafy greens. “Yummy,” she said, licking mayonnaise and breadcrumbs from her whiskers and muzzle. Biscuit had settled into the once daily meal routine, yet hunger pangs lingered from her long days as a stray. Before the police rescued her from the streets, she nearly starved from lack of regular nutrition.

Thor and the other dogs and cats stared at her with envious eyes. Sensing resentment, she averted her glance.

Buddy returned, looking somewhat calmer. Biscuit yipped a welcome to her favorite employee. He stood in front of her cage, checking out the number of stolen animals or perhaps looking for his lunch. A smile warmed his swarthy face as he bent down to pat her head.

“I see breadcrumbs and lettuce in your cage. I guess you enjoyed my lunch.”

Flapping her tail, Biscuit showered his callused hand with doggy kisses. She loved visits from the employees, especially Buddy.

“Two men, Al and Joe, took the others away. Gosh, I wish you could understand me,” Biscuit said, barking for Buddy’s attention.

Thor piped in. “Yeah, we can’t track them down if we’re locked up in here.”

Biscuit heard Dr. Quinn McCoy, the shelter veterinarian and general manager, enter the kennel. “What’s going on?” the round faced woman asked. “The back door is broken. We had a robbery didn’t we?”

“Overnight I guess,” Buddy said. “Someone got in.”

“What’d they take?” the vet asked.

“Dogs and cats.”

“How many?”

“I don’t know yet,” Buddy said.

“Did you call the police?”

“Should be on the way,” he said.

“Wonder if it’s related to the city council’s pound seizure proposal?” Dr. McCoy folded both arms around her thin waist and sighed. “Lots of Denver residents are unhappy about Proposition 202. They think we’re the enemy.”

“The City Council doesn’t want to allocate money for pet overpopulation,” Buddy said. “They say pound seizures will defray the cost of animal control.”

“Let’s hope the citizens vote down Prop. 202 on Election day,” Dr. McCoy said. A tear slowly crawled down the vet’s cheek. “What’ll happen to our stolen animals?”

“I’m upset too,” Buddy said as he lightly touched Dr. McCoy’s arm. “Want a glass of water?”

With a hanky, the vet dabbed her eyes. “No thanks Let’s walk around the shelter and do a complete headcount. Were any of my favorites stolen?”

A knot gripped Buddy’s stomach. “Yep, they got  Rosie.”

“Not Rosie. Such an unlucky dog,” Dr. McCoy said. “Her owner has a heart attack after taking Rosie for a walk. The owner’s children only want her money, not her dog. And now she ends up stolen.” The vet turned and pointed at the window. “What about Connie and the farm animals?”

Located on a sliver of land within city limits, the shelter was large enough to accommodate a small barn and a drinking pond. A few goats, horses and pigs ended up as unwanted too.

“Connie, you must be kidding,” Buddy said, laughing. “How would anyone swipe a 700 lb. pig without a forklift? No one came looking for ham or bacon.”

Outside the small smudge stained window Dr. McCoy noticed the revolving beacons. “Cops are here Buddy. I’ll talk to them but don’t get lost. They’ll want you too since you were the first one in today.”

“No problem,” Buddy said as he headed for the kennels.

“Call the repair people and get the staff together for an emergency meeting,” Dr. McCoy said as she walked away.

“You hear that?” Biscuit said to Thor. “You think the cops will find our friends?”

“If they don’t, who will?” Thor said.

 

Tied in the van with the three other dogs, Rosie yipped and yammered, knowing the men couldn’t understand her. “I have to squat and there’s no room to move around.”

Mother Nature forced the dog to relieve herself, dripping urine and feces down her spotted hind legs. The stench made Rosie’s nose twitch and she apologized to her neighbors. None objected, since nature called on them as well.

Ending the feline silence, a large male cat yowled. “Cats are unhappy too.”

Rosie craned her neck to meet the cat’s brown, half-moon eyes. “Who are you?”

“ Guffey.” The orange-striped cat peered between splintered slats from inside the wooden crate holding him and three other cats. “Looks like we got big problems.”

Rosie tipped her moist noise in the air then wiggled it. “Guffey, strange name for a cat.”

“You’re worried about my name when we’re trapped like rats,” Guffey said. “OK, Guffey’s a small town in Colorado. Folks elected a cat as mayor. Now quit bothering me so I can figure out what to do. I doubt we’re on the way to a comfy pet resort.”

In spite of cool temperatures Al perspired like it was July. The van cruised along fog shrouded roads. A rag covered Al’s bloodied hand. “Stupid dog, deserved to be knocked off for biting me like that.”

“Qui the whining,” Joe said. “Hand don’t look that bad.”

“It hurts,” Al said with gnarled face from the animal’s yips and yowls. “All that racket giving me a headache.”

Joe turned to look through the metal screen separating the front seats from the back of the van. With a devilish grin, he waved crumpled bills in the air. “You guys gonna make us money.” He opened a soda can, emptied it in three quick gulps and tossed behind. He laughed as it bounced off the crates.

“We almost there yet?” Al asked. “Didn’t have such a hassle last time.”

Joe belched and glanced at his accomplice. “Fool contact guy in Colorado got arrested selling dogs to a hospital. New guy deals with labs in Nebraska so we gotta do the exchange in Wyoming. Near the westbound entrance to the I-80. Shouldn’t be too long before these animals are dead meat.”

“And we get the heck out of here and spend our money,” Al said.

Rosie’s limp tail hung between her hind legs. “Mister please don’t hurt us,” she whimpered.

“It’s just us now,” Guffey said.

“What’d you think will happen?”

 

Chapter Two

 

Buddy entered the kennel, pushing a flimsy metal cart with a large plastic bucket on top. Biscuit’s twitching nose caught the welcome aroma of dog food. She danced and pranced, her nails clicking on the concrete floor.

In front of Thor’s cage Buddy stopped and sighed. “I’d have thought they’d want a big dog like you. You give them a hard time or what?”

“Sounds like he wanted me to be stolen,” Thor said to Biscuit. His sore feelings soon disappeared when Buddy slid a hefty bowl of food underneath his cage. Thor gulped the kibble down his gut and barked for more, to no avail. “I need another bowl.”

“Thor, meal time is once a day,” Biscuit said. “Stop complaining and be glad we eat.”

Thor, wailing, “get me out of here,” cast his big body against the steel bars, flopping onto the floor.

Buddy laughed as he continued to dish out food. “Only a crazy food would steal that maniac.”

Thor was an impulse purchase by a man with an eye for a bargain but no clue about behavior training, especially for a Great Dane. Thor’s owner confined the pup to the backyard, serving food and fresh water every day but otherwise ignoring the growing puppy. And grow he did. Thor now weighed almost 125 lbs. and stood over six feet tall on his hind legs.

As soon as Buddy served Biscuit’s food she wolfed down the entire serving, licking the bowl in hopes more would appear. Compared to hardships of the streets, her stay at the shelter was like royalty, even though she looked like a battered bag of bones.

Beside Biscuit’s cage sat Mousy and she snubbed the feline cuisine. Biscuit suspected she didn’t care for the food. Maybe she expects fresh fish, Biscuit thought, sniffing her own empty food bowl.

Giving up hope for a second helping, Biscuit barked for the cat’s attention. When Mousy picked her head up to make eye contact, Biscuit said, “You should eat something.”

Stone-faced, the cat turned away. “Leave me alone.” Then she hissed.

“I was only trying to be nice,” Biscuit said. “I was scared when I first came in too.”

With feline fury, Mousy swatted at her food bowl and kicked at the kibble so hard it flew out of her cage. “I can’t stand this place,” she said. The cat curled her feeble body into a ball and pressed it against the back of her cage.

“I’m here if you want to talk,” Biscuit said.

As he collected dirty food bowls, Buddy stopped in front of Biscuit’s cage, grinned and reached in between the bars to stroke her head. “You know what I’m saying sometimes, don’t you girl.”

“Good dogs tune in when their owners are upset,” Biscuit said of course knowing Buddy didn’t understand. “The ones lucky enough to have owners.”

“He never does that to me,” Thor said, nibbling on his toes. “Nobody does.”

“Act like a good dog and you’ll win friends,” Biscuit said, wishing her advice would really work.

“OK, I’ll try,” Thor said, dropping his face on his paws.

Confined in cages, the animals barked, spun in circles or licked themselves to pass the time. Sometimes they slept. Rarely were there enough volunteers or staff to take them outside. Undignified, perhaps, but a full bladder and bowels forced Biscuit to relieve herself in the corner of her cage. The smell of dog waste sickened her. At least cats had litter boxes.

Thor dragged his claws across the hard floor, trying to dig his way out. He finally gave up when he stubbed his paws on the steel bars. Yelping in pain, he turned his mournful eyes to Biscuit and said, “I miss the nice lady next door. I slept on her porch.”

“You never mentioned a nice lady. Who is she?” Biscuit asked.

“One night, I was asleep in my dog house when my owner dragged me through the yard, kicking me in the side. He stepped on my paws with his boots and that hurt. Then he whacked my winkie.”

“What for?” Biscuit asked.

“I dug holes near my dog house and I guess he was mad because I ruined his flowers. Nobody played with me so I got bored. My owner kept yelling that I was a bad dog. I was so scared that when he went inside I jumped over the fence and crawled onto the lady’s porch. I slept there a lot.” Thor licked his paws. “I wonder if my owner misses me.”

“He didn’t think much about you while he had you,” Biscuit said. “I wonder what happened to our friends. I hope they’re safe.”

“Why should I care? I’m stuck here,” Thor said.

“We can’t forget them,” Biscuit said. “Rosie will save the day, she’s that kind of dog.”

“At her age?”

“She has a big mouth like me. That should help.”

 

Packed like a dill pickle besides the cat’s crate Rosie strained at the rope to rear onto her hind legs. She gazed out the back window at endless plains stretching from the road. Rugged mountain peaks draped in snow glistened in the distance. Inside, the stench of vomit and waste sickened the cats and dogs. Joe and Al needed fresh air too.

Just over the Wyoming border, the pair pulled off at an empty rest station. Joe told Al to hurry because a van full of barking dogs might attract attention.

Al jumped out and dumped loose change into a vending machine. He ran back with a handful of candy bars which the men shoved into their mouths. Using his sleeve, Joe wiped chocolate from his mouth.

“Wait here,” Joe said. “I gotta go.”

“Step on it. We gotta get out of here before someone comes,” Al said.

Joe returned, stuffing his shirt inside his tattered trousers and climbed in. “How much you think we’ll get this time?”

“Not sure but business is good lately.”

Rosie groaned as the van pulled away. “I can’t take this much longer.”

Guffey, in a small crate with three other cats, spit like an attacking mountain lion. With his front paw, he swatted the inside of the crate to attract Rosie’s attention. “Stop feeling sorry for  yourself. We have to make a move.”

“Too bad Thor isn’t here to help,” Biscuit said.

“He’s not and we have to help ourselves,” Guffey said. “It’s up to us. If we don’t try, we’re gone.”

Except for Guffey, the other cats hunkered down in silence but the dogs moaned with such intensity it sounded like a truck load of dog bones crushed them.

“Can’t wait for a big thick piece of juicy steak,” Al said as he patted his stomach with his sore hand. “Baked potato with sour cream. And a slice of bread and butter.”

“You got aspirin?” Joe asked. “Dog yapping gave me a headache.”

“I look like a medicine cabinet?”

“Eh, shaddup.”

Coaxing the engine to kick over three or four times Joe eased onto the highway while Al stared out the window. The van’s sputtering movement silenced the dogs. An eternity later, Joe turned onto another highway.
Teeth chattering with cold and fear, Rosie asked, “Where we going now?”

A railroad crossing loomed ahead. As the van rumbled over the tracks the animals bounced and banged into each other. Guffey was the first to regain his balance. “You heard them say there’s a contract for us. They plan to sell us for money.”

“Why’d they pick us?” Rosie asked.

Guffey blinked slowly and said nothing.

“Poor Pip,” Rosie said, sidling next to a tiny dog with wiry fur the color of eggshells. “He’s barely budged since those men threw us in here.”

Guffey’s tail lashed. “There’s eight of us. Worry about us all.”

 

 

Where is She

Chapter Three

Orange rays from the rising sun streaked through the living room window, snatching Homer from sleep. After stretching his lazy body, he looked up and found Harriet on the sofa, sound asleep. Mother Nature reminded Homer of his needs and he eliminated in the kitchen again.

To escape the smell he scrambled back to the living room. Seeing his friend still sleeping, Homer parked his body on the braided area rug and waited. When nothing happened he stared at the cat but that didn’t work either. The slumbering feline remained zonked out. Sitting up, Homer tipped his head back and howled.

Harriet jumped as if someone had mashed her tail. “What was that all about?”

“I wanted you to be with me.”

“Couldn’t you have poked me gently instead and said softly, Harriet, please wake up? But no, you nearly scared me to death with that loud mouth of yours.”

Homer zigzagged around the coffee table, bouncing into the couch a few times. “She didn’t come home last night and I’m really scared. She might leave you but not me.”

Yawning, Harriet stretched her thin body. She raised herself to the four paws position. “Gee thanks.” She walked around for a minutes then came back. “We could wait for Candace to pick me up. That’d be my first choice, of course, but I don’t remember how long she said she’d be away. Probably not long because she never stays away from a cool cat like me. Now that we’re in this mess together, that leaves option two.”

“Which is?” Homer asked.

“Something probably happened to Penny and we’re on our own.” Harriet leaped off the couch. “How’s our water supply?”

“Not good.” Homer started to whine. “What’ll happen to me?”

“There’s no time to worry about that now. You drink from the water bowl,” Harriet said. “I’ll lick water from the leaky faucet in the sink and the tub. That’ll conserve what little we have left.”

“I’m hungry. Let’s try the pantry closet again.”

“You mean I’ll try the closet and you’ll watch me work.”

Homer bounced his head up and down in the affirmative.

The animals swept through the sparsely furnished dining room, crossed a few creaky floorboards in the hallway and reached the pantry.

Head cocked, Harriet studied the folding door. “Here we go again. Wish the great Harriet luck prying the door open this time.” She lay on her side with her head pressed against the door. Slowly, she rolled over while ramming her paw underneath the door. When she felt in a good position, she started tugging.

“Be glad I’m here. This isn’t typical cat work. Certainly you’re not cut out for a task so demanding.”

The door creaked a tad and Homer yapped. “I knew you’d do it. I smell food already.”

“Not so fast, weenie head,” Harriet said. “The door is far from open.”

“Try harder.”

“Don’t nag me. The great Harriet doesn’t like nags.” Harriet dug deep down for more strength. She yanked on the door as hard as her fifteen-pound body could. Again, there was the slightest movement so she acted optimistic, even though the grueling work slowly wore her down. After three more tries, though, the door barely budged.

“That’s it.” Harriet twirled her body around and sat up.  “I’ve absolutely had it with this door and I’ve almost had it with you too.”

“You’re not done and we don’t have anything to eat,” Homer said, trying to reason with the unrelenting feline while at the same time soothe his own sore feelings. “We still don’t know if or when Penny is coming home or when Candace is returning.”

Harriet bared her fangs to spit. “If you’re a smart dog, you’ll leave me alone.” The cat skittered through the hallway leading to the living room.

Homer stayed put in the kitchen. “Be that way. Who needs a puffball pussycat anyway?” he said as the gray bundle of fur disappeared from sight. “I wasn’t crazy about you coming to visit. Penny was right, cats are moody. And you are the moodiest of them all.” He mocked Harriet’s voice. “Did I tell you I don’t like cats?”

He missed Penny so very much and was heartbroken without her. Oh Penny, wherever you are, he thought, please be safe and come home soon. “Get me away from this persnickety cat.”

Homer dwelled on the rumblings in his empty stomach. He hadn’t craved food like this since his life as a stray on the streets ofNew York City. Abandoning his comfortable corner in the kitchen and calling on his scavenging skills, Homer set his sights on the garbage can inside the kitchen. He threw himself at the wastebasket and the white plastic lid sailed across the floor before crashing into the old, clunky refrigerator. Homer was surprised the ruckus didn’t startle Harriet. When Homer poked his head inside the garbage, he found nothing but a banana peel. Homer regretted his owner’s neatness. He assumed Mrs. Greene’s constant fuming about a messy house had molded Penny’s tidy manners.

Whenever Mrs. Greene woke up in a snit, which was often, she barked out orders to dust, scrub, mop and vacuum. On those days Homer ducked for cover underneath Penny’s bed, waiting for Mrs. Greene to either cool down, which she eventually did, or leave for her job as a court clerk. Mrs. Greene spent time volunteering at the local church and that left quiet time for him and Penny. He cherished those days.

Homer resisted the urge to wolf down the decaying banana peal. If he didn’t share it with Harriet, the cat would be in a mood worse than she already was. So he dragged his fruity find to the living room and stared at the cat’s fluffy gray body bunched up like a ball. Harriet’s eyes remained shut.

“You up yet?” Homer held the banana peel in his mouth. “Look what I found?”

There was no response. Homer figured if he nudged the cat with his nose or yelped Harriet would swat him across the snout. He headed back to the kitchen and decided to open the pantry door to make Harriet proud. At least they could both have something to eat until Penny or Candace came for them. He wolfed down half the banana peel and left the rest for Harriet. For a hungry dog, that wasn’t easy to do. He had to show Harriet that he had manners.

Homer parked himself in front of the barely ajar pantry door. Following Harriet’s earlier efforts, Homer propped his elongated body on the side and squeezed his meaty paw under the folding door. Over and over he tried to jimmy the door open, but nothing happened. Homer assumed the door moved for Harriet because she had slender paws and long lean legs. Like Harriet, the dog had no luck opening the door. Homer grunted as he gave it one more shot. Still, nothing happened. While freeing himself, Homer’s paw unexpectedly became trapped. Mild groans escalated into loud yaps.

The yelping awakened the slumbering cat who flew off the couch. Harriet found the dog writhing in pain. “What mess did you get into now?”

“I thought I could help.”

“Look at you,” Harriet said. “You’re stuck.”

“Hurry up and help me.”

“Not unless you speak to me nicely,” Harriet said. When Homer opened his mouth, she said, “Calm down. All that fussing is making the door close. I slaved for hours to open it that little bit and now you’re about to sabotage my efforts.”

“My paw hurts.”

“Stay still, you big baby,” Harriet said. “I’ll figure out a way to free your foot.”

Homer couldn’t be still. Pain sliced through his paw. As if digging his way free from the door, his three free paws clicked against the faded Linoleum floor.

“What’re you doing?” Harriet said. “If the door shuts, we’ll never get it open again. I’ll bite and scratch your ears and then you’ll have something to really complain about.”

In the midst of the chaos, the telephone rang. The sudden noise cast a pall over the room and the two animals stared at one another with wide-open eyes.

The ringing persisted. “Too bad we can’t answer the phone.”

The answering machine finally picked up. “Penny, are you there?  Pick up the phone.” Mrs. Greene bellowed like a drill sergeant.

Homer shivered as he listened to Penny’s mother, a chilling sound he hadn’t heard in a while.

“My own flesh and blood ignores my letters, my phone calls. What did I do to deserve this? If I don’t hear from you soon, Missy, I’ll fly out there and bring you home. I never should’ve let you leave here anyway with that no good dog. Home is where you belong, not out there in the middle of nowhere all by yourself. You need me to take care of you. That’s what mothers do, take care of their children.”

Then she slammed down the phone.

“What if she comes here?” Homer asked. “If Penny isn’t home, Mrs. Greene will take me away to the animal shelter. They’ll give me to someone else. I want to stay with Penny.”

“The great Harriet will protect you. We wait until morning. If Penny or Candace aren’t here, we’ll get out somehow. I’ll find a way.”

By the time Mrs. Greene ended the call, Homer’s foot slid free from the door. He nursed his sore paw but was relieved to be free.

“Harriet, I’m free,” he said.

“Good thing, we got bigger worries now.”

 

Tires slowly squishing over gravel and the sudden glare of headlights beaming through the living room window pricked Harriet’s ears. She yelled at Homer, asleep in the foyer.

“Get up lazy bones,” Harriet said. “I hear someone outside.  Must be one of our owners.”

For an older dog, Homer threw himself into the all fours position with the speed of a pup. By the front door he circled in anticipation of Penny’s arrival.

“The car sputters just like hers,” Homer said. “Oh goodie.  I can’t wait to see my best friend and eat dinner. Maybe she’ll fry me a hamburger like she does sometimes. Do cats like hamburgers?”

“Act like a gentleman when she comes in, just in case it’s Candace,” Harriet said. “She doesn’t like out of control dogs.”

“OK, I’ll be good.”

Instead of keys jangling at the door, there was a loud whack. The two animals looked at one another. They wondered who it was.

“Wait here,” Harriet said. “I’ll peak out the window.”

“I’m scared,” Homer said.

“Oh stop whining, it’s not the Boogie Man. Besides, the great Harriet is here to protect you.”

In a flash, the cat scooted across the room, jumped onto the windowsill for a look outside. She watched a smartly dressed young man, holding a thick, leather-bound book in one hand as he politely rapped on the door again.

“Anybody home? I’d like to talk about the Lord and his many wonderful ways. Are you busy? Won’t take but a few minutes of your time.” He waited for a reply.

“Who is it?” Homer said. “And what does he want?”

“He’s from a church,” Harriet said.

“How do you know?”

“He’s been to Candace’s house before,” Harriet said. “I recognize his voice.”

“Should I bark so he’ll help us?”

“I doubt it’ll do any good.”

“We need help,” Homer said.

“I know that,” Harriet said. “He’s here to save Penny’s soul, not yours.”

“I can see you are a non-believer,” the young man said, clicking his boot heals together. “I’ll come back another day.” He stuck his calling card underneath the front door. He got into his car and drove away.

Homer howled anyway, desperate for food and to relieve himself outdoors. When Harriet ducked underneath the couch, the dog flopped on the cold, hard floor. He didn’t know what their next step would be.

Chapter Two (Emmy’s Angel)

(Kindle book)

   Standing next to the great Harriet, Angel threw her head back and snorted over and over. Her big belly was empty and she ached for a bucket of crunchy grain, a sweet apple, maybe a bag of carrots, or better yet a flake of hay.

“Must you make so much noise at this hour?” Harriet yipped as her eyes popped open. Slowly, she rolled over and arched her back. Stretching her lean body, she said, “I’m not deaf.”

“I want my breakfast and I don’t know what to do,” Angel said, oblivious to Harriet’s snippy mood. “My people served me a good breakfast every morning. And plenty of it, too.”

Harriet mocked Angel. “My people served me a good breakfast.”

“They did, every day. Filled my drinking pail with fresh water. Cleaned out my stall. Brushed my coat so I looked beautiful. Got me new shoes when I needed them. Called the vet if I was sick.”

“Are you quite finished yammering? If you hadn’t run away, smarty-pants, what’s her name would probably be serving your breakfast as we speak. Instead, you’re stuck out here with me.”

Angel’s eyes shifted downward. “Poor Emmy, I wonder how her mom is? And I didn’t run away. I got lost.”

A chip cracked Harriet’s attitude. “It’s been so long since anyone rubbed my tummy or held me close. There’s nothing to purr about anymore. What I wouldn’t do for a can of cat food or my own litter box.”

“What happened?”

“What happened you ask? I’ll tell you what dreadful things happened. Pay attention,” Harriet said, baring her fangs. “My owner’s brother, Mr. Yucknut, stranded me here in the freezing cold.”

“That wasn’t very nice.”

“Of course it wasn’t nice,” Harriet said. “My owner Candace was the best, like your Emmy. She treated me like top cat, an honor, of course, that I deserved. One night she didn’t come home. Highly unusual for her. I was worried, but I’m a house cat, what could I do?”

“What did you do?”

“What did I do? I nearly starved. My litter box overflowed. The sink water tasted like swill and our house was as cold as an icebox. I worried myself sick. Days passed when finally the front door opens. Yippee, I meow, she’s back. No, it’s her brother with the salami breath. Ralph dirtied our furniture with his grubby hands looking for Candace’s phone book. He flipped through the pages then called someone. My Candace was seriously injured in a car accident and was in a coma. I was stunned. My poor Candace. Fish face grabbed me so I hissed at him.”

“Didn’t he get mad?”

“I figured he would but he took me to his house. Immediately, I grew suspicious. He told Candace cats were only good for target practice. On top of that, he lived in filthy surroundings, completely unfit for a fine cat like me.”

Angel and Harriet ambled towards the woods, nestled at the foot of an enormous range of snow-capped mountains. Along the way they chatted like old friends.

“Every Friday Candace broiled fresh salmon for us. I skipped the baguette, tossed green salad and rice pilaf. Ralph bought me no-name cat food. Some days I ate, some days I didn’t. Instead of cat litter, he used shredded newspaper scattered in an oil-soaked cardboard box. Sometimes he flicked cigarette ashes in my water bowl. If he came home in a foul mood or in a drunken stupor, he whacked me.”

“Couldn’t you run away?

“I kept hoping Candace’s best friend, Lucy, would come for me,” Harriet said. “If Candace had to leave me, which hardly happened, I stayed with Lucy. Every time the phone rang, I wondered if it was Lucy calling about me. Mostly Ralph argued with people about money he owed or what time to meet at the bar.”
“Why did you come out here of all places?”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Harriet said with a yowl that raised her hackles. “One night, Ralph staggered through the front door. As soon as I smelled his beer breath, I sensed trouble. He lunged towards me and swatted my head. So I sank my teeth into his hand. I was only protecting myself from one of his beatings. After chasing me through his apartment, he snatched me by the scruff of my neck and shoved me into a box that smelled like his dirty feet. He drove for a while then flung the box out the door.”

“Oh my, I’m sorry.

“You should be sorry,” Harriet said. “Soon as I clawed my way out, I sat on a mound of snow, shivering. I shouldn’t tell you this because we hardly know each other, but the great Harriet was scared. That was a first. Realizing I was on my own, I trembled even harder. I wished he had shot me.” For a few seconds Harriet stared at Angel. “I’ve made do ever since.”

“Why didn’t you find help?”

“There’s not much out here. Even if I found my way home, I wouldn’t’ live with Ralph again.”

Angel snorted with joy. “Come with us. Emmy will like you, I’m sure of it. We live on a big ranch with plenty of room. There’s a cute dog named Minnie. She likes everyone.”

“Cool it, big girl. What makes you think Emmy wants a cat? Besides, I can’t live with just anyone. I have my standards. I’m sure you understand. As promised, I’ll help you get home, but that’s all,” Harriet said. “It’s hard for me to trust people, even your Emmy.”

“If you saw Emmy’s sweet face, you’d love her as I do,” Angel said, as a patch of grass distracted her. “Mind if we stop? I’m hungry.”

“Good idea. While you nibble on grass, I’ll hunt for rodents or birds. Cats aren’t vegetarians.”

Angel watched Harriet slither around tree trunks and clusters of bushes, ready to stalk prey. She trusted Harriet would find something to her liking and come back soon. Harriet’s appetite for mice made Angel sick, but she related to the cat’s gnawing hunger pains. Angel might have to break down and eat mice too.

Emmy unlatched the kitchen door to let Minnie into the fenced yard. While the dog took care of business, Emmy scooped kibble into Minnie’s dish, a ritual she followed every morning and evening. Next, she emptied out the dog’s water bowl, rinsed it and refilled it with cool, fresh water.

Scratching at the door caught Emmy’s attention. “OK, Minnie, here I come. Your timing is perfect.”

The minute Emmy opened the door, Minnie blew past her, sniffing for the food dish. Emmy watched her down gulp down the food in less than a minute. The dog licked her lips over and over, as if to plead for seconds.

Minnie, swishing her tail, followed Emmy around the kitchen. Emmy tapped the dog’s nose and said, “As long as you live with us, you won’t ever be hungry again. No more food until dinner. You’ll look like a sausage.”

In the chilly pre-dawn hour, their neighbors drifted into the kitchen to plan the day’s search for Angel.

“Morning everyone,” Bill said his nose wiggled from the aroma of fresh coffee. “My daughter and I appreciate your help finding Angel.”

“That’s what neighbors are for,” Gwen said as she opened a bag of fresh corn muffins and laid them on the kitchen counter. “Bill, hand me a platter, please.”

Bill shrugged. “I haven’t seen one. Want me to ask Tammy where they are?”

“No, don’t wake her for that. Mind if I look around?  Tammy has several platters I know of,” Gwen said as she rummaged through the cabinet. “I’ll find one in just a minute.”

“You’re so good to us, Gwen,” Bill said.

Gwen smiled as she yanked a platter off the top shelf and returned to handle food she left on the counter. “Careful everyone, they’re just out of the oven.”

Bill removed a quart of orange juice out of the fridge and poured it into glasses. While the neighbors noshed on breakfast, he consulted a Park county map for strategy.

“Emmy and I will go on horseback to check out areas you can’t see from the car. We’ll ride along the creeks and back trails. I have a feeling she’s down there.”

“The rest of you fan out and drive up and down the roads.” Bill stopped for a quick headcount. “OK, there’s enough for three cars. Someone should be able to find her.”

“Please, do your best,” sad faced Emmy said as she clutched her father’s hand. “She’s probably scared.”

“We’ll find her,” Gwen said.

Bill slid the map aside and stood. “OK, everyone, let’s move. Meet back here at noon.” He chuckled slightly. “Gwen will cook lunch. Isn’t that right Gwen?”

Grinning, Gwen nodded that she would.

“Before we leave,” Bill said. “I want to check on my wife one more time.”

Muted sunlight had trouble peaking through the slate gray afternoon skies. A slight wind stirred the pine trees. Angel roamed in a circle, fearing Harriet may have ditched her. Concerned another storm might be brewing, Angel surveyed the area, longing for safety. Suddenly a loud screech caught Angel’s attention. She figured the yowling came from Harriet. A small rock snagged the horse’s hoof and she stumbled.

“Ouch,” she said, limping along. On horseback rides with Emmy, whenever debris ever lodged inside Angel’s foot, her father or the local farrier took care of the problem. Now, what would she do? There was no sign of Harriet.

Desperate to remove the pebble, Angel scraped her hoof against the ground. Nothing happened so she tried again. Frustrated, she whinnied, dragging her hoof across the dirt.  The tiny stone wouldn’t budge. Oh Harriet, where are you? Angel thought. Maybe the cat could claw the stone out of her hoof?

Pain ripped through Angel’s foot. She panicked, reared back, thrust her legs forward and landed on the sore hoof, further wedging the stone.

“For crying out loud, stop that,” Harriet said, scooting towards Angel. “I’m gone a few minutes and look what happens, you fall apart. What’s the matter now?”

“Something’s in my hoof and I can’t get it out,” Angel said. “It hurts too.”

“Stop fussing,” Harriet said. “You’re such a baby. Be glad the great Harriet is here.”

Harriet edged closer for a better look. She ordered Angel to lift her foot off the ground. Sliding in between Angel’s hoof and the dirt, Harriet said, “Whatever you do, don’t stomp on my head. Looks like I can snag the rock with my paw.”

“Hurry up, it hurts.”

“Quiet, a cat with my prodigious skills works best in silence.”

In an instant, a stone the size of a nickel fell from Angel’s hoof. The horse immediately perked up. “Thanks Harriet, you’re a true friend. I’m lucky to have you.”  Angel bent down to rub her head against Harriet’s side.

Harriet ducked. “Control yourself. We’re not that chummy.” Peaking over her shoulder, the cat’s stomach fluttered as she stared into the trees. “We have bigger problems. Let’s get out of here. Now.”

“I’m not finished eating,” Angel said.

“Who cares? A black bear chased me but the great Harriet escaped. I smell him on our tail. Follow me, I’ll lead us to safety.”

“Oh my,” Angel said, fearing the worst. “Won’t he catch up and hurt us?”

“The great Harriet will protect you.”