Be a good dog.
That’s what makes good things happen and keeps bad things from happening. Stay with your Alpha. Don’t bark out of turn. Show up for bathtime.
Princess was the best dog in the Stowe household, maybe in all of Romero. The bar was so high she couldn’t just follow commands, she had to anticipate them. Before you even got it in your head to say “sit,” she was already sitting down. If you asked for the morning newspaper, she would nudge where it already lay on your lap. She even taught herself to wander off when Ethan wanted a little alone time to court a mate. This ability to anticipate and fulfill the desires and needs of humans was how Princess got the reputation of leading Ethan around instead of the other way around and this was how she had made sure only good things and never bad things had happened to the pair.
Princess sat in her tiny crate on a high shelf, surrounded by the burning smell of cleaning solutions and the stale odor of fermented food. She watched Ethan slumped against a wall in a cell not much bigger. She had never seen him so unhappy. Why did this happen? They had both done everything that was asked of them. He was polite and she was obedient. Was it her hair? He should never have taken her away before the groomer was done with her. She whined.
“Princess, quiet.” Ethan mumbled from the cell. “It’s over.”
Princess went silent. She sniffed, smelled the scents of hundreds of different dogs that had been in her disgusting little box. She could arrange the previous inhabitants by breed, sex, temperament or date of capture if it would have done her or Ethan any good. Outside the crate the ammonia smell made her feel sick and overwhelmed any information she would get. Ethan wanted her to be quiet, she understood that much. She didn’t know what the other words meant, and the tone was completely alien to her, except after he and Julia broke up. He was angry, then he was despondent like this. She hadn’t thought much of it. It was her job to keep him safe.
“Stowe,” said a staticky voice on an intercom. Two men in hazmat suits came to the cell door and unlocked it. Ethan didn’t move or resist when they hefted him to his feet. He just acted like a one hundred seventy pound rag doll. “Stand up.” Ethan put his feet beneath him and slouched against the wall. The device they brought with them looked like a vacuum cleaner with a round body and a long, black hose. Princess had learned at a young age not to bark at the vacuum cleaner, but deep inside she had always known that it was no good. “Open your mouth.”
Ethan looked away, and the hazmat men repeated themselves. “Open your mouth.” Ethan made a face of disgust and looked like he was about to cry, but he opened his mouth. Princess didn’t like it. Be good. The mantra played in her head, but it began to lose its meaning. She was being good and it wasn’t keeping the bad things away. She whined again and pressed her nose against the bars of her little crate. They did not budge.
In went the hose, and it kept going. Ethan began to gag, and Princess rammed her crate’s bars. The hazmat men turned on the machine and let it run for a bit while Ethan made choking noises and Princess continued to slam against the bars. They turned off the machine, and Princess fell from the shelf.
From her little viewport, Princess’s whole world tumbled upside down and she slammed against the ceiling. In a second, she came to and pushed at her door again, which swung out at the slightest suggestion. She climbed out and saw everyone looking at her. Ethan was passed out on the floor, but the intercom voice was still there. “Bad dog. Stop. Lay down.”
No. Bad things don’t happen when you’re good. That’s the deal. If you’re bad. I’m bad. Princess wasn’t afraid of these men. She had fought a bear. What she lacked in sheer size she made up for in ferocity, and when she snarled and snapped at the air like a rabid beast, the men ran for the door. She let them run away for their lives just like she did with the bear. Then she pushed her way through Ethan’s bars and licked his face. She was a good dog, she decided. This was what a good dog did to protect the Alpha.
“Uuugh,” Ethan moaned. “Princess, did you just attack Saftey Officers? You have to get out of here. If they label you a danger, they’ll put you down.”
Princess didn’t understand, so she kept licking until Ethan pushed her away and stood up. He had purpose again. That was good. Princess barked with joy. Ethan had his arms around her, and he lifted her up to the barred window. “You can fit through this, I think.”
Princess put her paws on the sill of the window and pushed away. What was happening? She didn’t know what was on the other side of that window. Most importantly, she wouldn’t be able to protect Ethan if they were separated. She looked back at Ethan and whined.
“It’s ok,” Ethan said, grunting with the effort of holding her up. “Good girl. Go through the window.”
She was a good girl, and a good girl trusted her Alpha. She let Ethan push her through the window, and she landed on her feet in a back alley. The smell of garbage and rats was better than ammonia. She sat and waited for Ethan to join her.
When the sun rose into the sky, Princess began to get hungry. The enormous trash cans surrounding her surely contained plenty of nutritious, interesting food. A good dog did not rifle through the garbage, though, so she waited for her Alpha.
When another man in a hazmat suit opened the door with a bag of garbage, Princess snapped and growled. He dropped the bag and put his hand to his ear. “I found the dog,” he shouted. “She’s just been sitting here, probably scared stiff waiting for her master to pick her up.”
The man’s shoulders dropped. “Well, I don’t think that’s… No, sir. Yes, sir.”
The man swore. Then he pulled out something black and metal and pointed it at Princess. She kept barking and snapping, trying to seem as wild as possible. This was just like the bear. Just scare the bad man away. The man suddenly threw his arm in the air, and a loud crack filled everything. What was that noise!? Princess bolted, and she kept running until her ears stopped ringing.
When Princess stopped, she flopped onto the ground, exhausted. Familiar smells entered her nostrils. Garbage, squirrels, grass, more dogs than you could count. They were the wrong dogs, though. The wrong squirrels, grass, and garbage. She couldn’t smell Ethan at all. Not his parents, not Duke or Duchess. A good dog would go straight home. But where was home? She stood on shaky legs and wobbled forward, down a hill until she smelled food. The smell led her to an enormous green dumpster, radiating meat, salt and fat. She could not compromise her virtues and eat directly from it, but maybe someone would give her a treat. She was such a good dog. Something good had to happen. Princess collapsed in the dumpster’s long shadow and whined.
Bad things don’t happen to good dogs.
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