A Dog’s Life

by Judy Voss

          Today was my pick-up day at McGuire’s Pet Supplies. I was hunting for a new puppy from McGuire’s and I’d already made two trips out to my car with doggie supplies and a few extra things. I now faced the new owner and manager, Jeena Larson and her sidekick Karen Green, checkbook in hand.

          “We offered to help you,” said Jeena lamely. “We didn’t expect you to lug all your new stuff out to your car by yourself.”

          There was no love lost between us. I did not want them anywhere near my car. Ever since Jeena had inherited the store from her uncle, she’d been stuck with running it. Family pressure kept her there. It was no longer a fun place.

          “No problem,” I said. “I managed.”

          “Teamwork,” piped up Karen. “Makes everything easier – better. That’s our motto.”

          Really. I wondered. Neither of them had lifted a finger to help me pick out my new puppy. The most help I got in the whole process was from the old basset hound, resting by the kennel door. A remarkable dog.

          “I managed!” Jeena repeated my words with a sneer. “You know they say there’s no “I” in team.”

          But there are two I’s in idiots I thought. I dared myself to say it out loud. But I was ready to pick up my puppy and never go back.

          Karen left us to go get my dog and bring him to the front counter. She shooed away the basset hound with her foot as she opened the kennel door. Jeena finished up the paperwork and waited for my check.

          “Here’s your little doggy,” Karen said, returning and handing him over. She looked down at the paperwork. “I see you named him Barker. Any special reason?”

          “I like the sound of Barker,” I said.

          Jeena shuffled all the papers together with a sense of finality. “And of course, you know, if you have any problems with little Barker here, he’s not returnable. He’s been cleared by our vet.”

          The vet was Jeena’s brother.

          “Got his shots – all that. If it turns out that he doesn’t like you,” here she paused and pointed to the “No Returns” sign, a sign that showed under the two words, a hand holding a puppy by the scruff of its neck, circled in red with the familiar X across the middle, “give him to your boyfriend. Barker is man’s best friend.” She said this with an odd, empty smile on her face.

          The basset hound had lifted his head as we talked. “And what are you looking at, Loser-dog?” Jeena said to him.

          “Is he still on death row?” I asked. A while back, under Sean McGuire’s ownership, the basset hound had been the store mascot.

          “Yep. He’s a gazillion years old and costing us a fortune to keep. I’m going to miss old Loser-dog. Not!”

          “But he does have that odd knack of helping folks pick out their dog.” Karen said with a tiny bit of emotion. “Loser-dog greets people at the kennel door, gets them to follow him and leads them to a crate. Most of the time, the dog in the crate is our customer’s final pick. But, like Jeena says, he’s costing us more than he’s worth these days. He sleeps most of the time. He doesn’t seem to like us anymore. Just ignores us.”

          I smiled at Loser-dog. He still had that “pick-me, pick-me” look about him that he’d greeted me with each time I attempted to make my selection. It had taken him many tries to lead me to the crate where my puppy, now struggling in my arms, was imprisoned.

          I’d had many quiet talks with Loser-dog while looking for my new pet. Mostly I whispered that he was a fine, wizened dog. I went to him now and stooped down. I put the puppy on the floor and fastened a leash on him. The puppy yelped. Loser-dog sniffed the puppy and looked up at me. I whispered my last message to him at McGuire’s.

          “What time is the execution?” I asked standing back up.

          “Oh,” said Jeena, “after we close today.” She looked at her watch. “In about fifteen minutes, I guess.”

          I finished writing my check. I wrote “Barker” on the memo line, tore the check out and handed it over the counter to Jeena. Jeena took my check and headed to her office. As usual, Karen followed her in, abruptly leaving me. Customer service, I thought, not!

          “Come on, Barker,” I said loud enough for Jeena to hear me. But Karen had slammed the office door shut. I saw them through the door’s large window chatting with each other. The puppy strained on the leash, pulling me out of McGuire’s. He yelped again. I stopped and looked back at Loser-dog.

          “Barker!” I called. I tightened my hold on the leash while I jerked my head towards the door.

          The basset hound looked up at me. A searching look. He slowly stood up and started to wag his tail.

          “Yes, you,” I said impatiently. “The sooner the better.” I winked at him.

          The basset hound started towards me and finally reached me. I checked Jeena and Karen. They were behind the closed door now and couldn’t hear me. They couldn’t see the basset hound on my side of the counter. Karen gave me a dismissive wave through the window.

          I didn’t wave back. I looked down. “How many times have I told you that your new name is Barker?” I asked him. “That you’re coming home with me to help me take care of this puppy. I’m relying on you.”

          Barker picked up his pace. We reached the door. I opened it and marched us out to my car. I’d made room for Barker in the back seat, next to the puppy’s car crate. He had trouble raising himself into the car. I put the puppy in his crate and helped Barker get inside. I didn’t look back. Instead, I slammed the car door.

          “Sorry for the slamming,” I told both of them getting into the driver’s seat and starting the car. “Let’s get out of here. Let’s go home and figure out a name for the puppy.”

© 2018 Judith Voss  All rights reserved.

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