Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Hare of the Dog
This is the final submission for my writing class.
This piece was originally written for the radio show, Life Rattle. It is also a contender to be read at the Totally Unknown Writer's Festival in November.
* * *
Hare of the Dog
We discussed it at great length before deciding to expand our family. Life was moving at a smooth pace with just the three of us—me, Chris and a girl cat named Fred. Yes, Fred. We thought we were getting a boy cat and had already named him Fred, when we were told he was, in fact, a she. We wondered whether the dynamics would change once we added another. How much would this affect our lifestyle? Would we regret making this decision? Would we regret not making it?
After months of weighing the pros and cons, and admitting we weren’t getting any younger, we decided to forge ahead.
And we got a dog. A retired racing greyhound.
We adopted our new family member through Niagara Greyhound Adoption, an organization that rescues retired racers.
Before the dogs are permanently adopted, they live with a foster family where they are introduced to home life. These dogs have only known a life centered around a racetrack. They haven’t seen traffic, they don’t know how to interact with children or other animals, they don’t even know how to climb stairs. The foster family teaches the dogs, well…how to be a dog. All the foster families are volunteers. In return for their love and dedication, they are given the honour of renaming the dogs.
Our dog’s racing name was Bohemian Banshee. The foster family re-christened him Freddy Mercury, after the lead singer of Queen who, of course, sang Bohemian Rhapsody. Everyone called him Freddy.
When the dog came to live with us, it was immediately clear that the name ‘Freddy’ wasn’t going to work. With our cat also named Fred, calling either one of them only caused confusion. Mercury, we found, didn’t easily roll off our tongues. Chris thought the shape of a greyhound looked much like a motorcycle fender. So we changed his name to Freddy Fender and eventually dropped the Freddy.
Fender is not the brightest dog. Chris nicknamed him DASH...an acronym for Dumb as a Sack of Hammers. Fitting, given that he’s both stupid and fast. But what Fender lacks in brains, he more than makes up for in personality. He bestows upon us lavish kisses with a tongue that I am sure is the envy of all anteaters.
Fred the Cat is not impressed. She’s a bitch and doesn’t like Fender.
Fender wants to play, but Fred only hisses at him. She’s not interested in his games. It’s chaos if they’re left to roam the house together, so Fred the Cat lives happily sequestered in the master bedroom. All her toys are with her. Bowls of food and water are set in a corner and her ‘shitter’—as Chris calls it—has a place of honour in the walk-in closet. Before Fender came along, Fred stayed in the bedroom all day, buried beneath the bed covers, so this isn’t really any different from her pre-dog life.
It wasn’t long before Fender established new household routines. It’s like living with a teenager most days: he likes to sleep in, he makes a mess of his bed and he eats like a horse. He gets up with us to be let out for his morning constitutional, but most days he wanders back to his bed and curls up again, dragging himself downstairs around noon to eat his breakfast.
Evenings have their own routine. I’m quite sure Fender knows how to tell time. Around 7:30 every evening, he comes and nudges one or both of us. It’s time for a walk. He will poke his long snout into any crevice he can find—an armpit, a bum crack—he’s not shy. He will do whatever it takes to get our attention.
Later in the evening, after a walk, after two or three more naps, Fender will come and find me for his evening evacuation.
I’m in charge of the night-time routine and let Fender out for his evening pee. Most nights, he bolts out the door and chases the neighbour’s cat up a nearby tree.
This night, however, is different.
Fender runs to the corner of the yard and comes to a halt. He lunges and I hear a high-pitched squeal, followed by a hollow crunch. My heart leaps into my throat. I can’t catch my breath. Fender swings around and comes trotting back to me.
A white, baby rabbit dangles from his mouth. Clenched firmly between the dog’s teeth, the tiny furball quivers.
“Chris!” My voice cracks with panic. Chris comes running, skids to a stop at the door.
“Oh my God”, he mutters. He takes slow, careful steps toward Fender, wary of making him bolt.
“Drop it!” Chris’ voice is firm, but he doesn’t shout. Fender wags his tail, but doesn’t let go. Chris tries unsuccessfully to pry the dog’s mouth open, amid stern commands to drop it.
Fender finally drops the bunny. It flops once, twice…then dies.
I bring the dog into the house as Chris walks over to the shed to retrieve two shovels. We bury the bunny at the opposite corner of the backyard. We say nothing. The only sound that breaks the stillness of the night is the sharp slice of metal into dirt and the swish of earth as it is temporarily relocated.
We stand in silence over the tiny grave. I don’t know what thoughts pass through Chris’ mind, but I say a prayer.
Later that evening, we’re sitting in the living room, the lights are dim.
“I saw the bunnies in the backyard yesterday,” Chris says. He stares at the wall, his voice is empty. “I even took a picture of one of them.” I realize I’m not alone in my grief.
* * *
The next evening, Chris is working a double shift. I am home alone.
I let Fender out for his evening pee. He runs around the back yard, scouting the perfect location. He stops and sniffs. Then he lunges and I hear that horrible squeal again—the one from last night, the one I keep hearing over and over again. Then a hollow crunch.
I feel light-headed.
Fender runs toward me; a tiny, white bunny clamped in his mouth. He drops it at my feet. It flops helplessly.
I lose it. I was upset last night, however, I remained calm. But two nights in a row?
I manage to get Fender inside the house. The fur around his mouth glistens with blood. His tongue flicks over the wetness several times.
My heart hammers beneath my rib cage. I can’t think straight. I don’t know what to do. I call Chris at work. I need some advice. The answering machine kicks in. I leave a message.
“Call! Me!” I’m crying and hiccoughing.
I walk to the patio door with slow, hesitant steps. The bunny is still thrashing.
I know what I have to do. A small voice in my head tells me it’s the only merciful thing to do, but I’m sick about it. I open the sliding doors, and step onto the patio, careful to avoid the dying bunny. I walk to the shed and select a spade. I drag my feet back to the bunny, who continues to thrash.
I know I only have it in me to do this once, so my strike must be true. I hover the spade over his tiny, squirming head and the little white furball stills.
He’s alive—his tummy continues to inflate and deflate at an alarming pace—but he is still. It’s as though he knows what I am about to do and wants to make it easier for me.
I raise the shovel, clamp my lips between my teeth and bring it down.
The bunny’s tiny head is firmer than I imagined, but it gives beneath the blow. He makes no sound. He doesn’t move.
I hunch down and wrap my arms around my knees and bawl.
“I. Am. So. Sorry!” Over and over again, I chant, rocking back and forth, begging the gods to forgive and not smite me for taking an innocent life.
The phone rings. I send a thankful prayer that Chris had the foresight to install a telephone in the garage. I answer on the third ring. I’m still hiccoughing.
“He. Did. It. A—Gain.”
I hear it in his voice: Chris is sick about this. He feels bad for the bunny, but even worse, he feels terrible that I had to go through this alone. He speaks in soothing tones and calms me down. I can almost feel his arms around me, stroking my back, smoothing my hair.
“It’s a clear night,” he finally says, when my voice is no longer hitching and I have stopped crying. “Leave the bunny where it is. I’ll bury it beside the other one when I get home.”
In the darkness of the garage, I bob my head. I realize he can’t see me, but I’m positive Chris knows I’m nodding.
* * *
Not too long ago, Chris told me that Fender caught yet another bunny. He dropped it and it managed to scamper away. We’re not sure, but we like to think it was the bunny who got away unscathed. Perhaps he’ll warn all his friends to stay away from our yard.
I know that Fender was only behaving as Mother Nature intended. And I know that I did the right thing by ending the little bunny’s suffering. But I can’t help but feel that Fender is now a Serial Bunny Killer and I am his accomplice. Despite the ache I feel for those defenceless creatures, I am also proud of Fender. It was obvious he was excited! His ears pointed up, his tail swung madly behind him. It was clear what he was thinking.
“I have been chasing these things around an oval track for years and I finally caught one! And I’m giving it to you because I love you so much!”
Thanks Fender. I love you too. Next time, just get me a card.