We probably deserved it. For years we grabbed them by the scruffs of their necks, snapped at them for scraping chicken bones off the asphalt with their tongues. We hated bathing them, hated their wet-rug stench, hated chasing tumbleweeds of fur from corner to corner of our houses.
Of course, there were certain things we liked. The ever-present warmth at our feet, the tick-tick-tick of little nails on hardwood. We admired the surgical efficiency with which they removed the stuffing from a chew toy or made a rawhide blossom on the kitchen floor. We reveled in the pleasure of being needed, puffed ourselves up on the luxury of being loved.
And oh, the sounds. What sounds they made! Great tectonic symphonies of bays and howls and whimpers, balloons deflating, whales dying, humans making love. So much like hungry infants that we devised a game to amuse ourselves: Dog or human child?
Imagine our surprise when we awoke to silence. A cacophony of quiet. The floors were gleaming but our feet were cold.
We found them tucked into all their favorite places, resting on soft heaps of earth, sprawled across forbidden sofas, curled into bathtubs and kidney-bean beds. Their bodies were still warm but they did not rise to greet us. They did not lick our fingers or nibble at our heels.
There were too many to bury, too many even to count. Millions upon millions, some small enough for a jacket pocket, others so large they had to be carried out by packs of brawny men. Their limp bodies were quilts of suffering: they had our cancers and tumors, our cataracts and rickets, our fatness and disease.
Our children cried and screamed and tugged us, wanting to know why.
Did we deserve it? we asked. Maybe, we answered. Maybe we did.
We stacked them in the fields wrapped in cloth and tarps and plastic. We didn’t know what else to do. We emptied our cabinets of all the femur bones and biscuits, tucked the last treats between their paws. We tried to sell our leads and chains and cages, but no one seemed to need them anymore.
Perhaps we were inhuman. There were times we barked orders and kicked them in their toothpick ribs. At our worst, we riddled them with BBs, drove smoldering cigarettes deep into their fur. We mistook them for antidotes to loneliness, receptacles for rage. We left them alone in airless rooms, in boxy prisons, shoved them aside, let their water bowls run dry. Even at our gentlest we always put our own needs first. We asked for comfort but then had none to give.
The wild dogs still roam the hills at night. They yip and bellow at the yellow moon. They have no names but they do not need them. These wolves remain uncollared, lonely, free.
Bree Barton has published fiction in [PANK] and Necessary Fiction, and essays in USA Today, LA Times, Huffington Post, and McSweeney’s. One of her weirder short stories was a finalist for the 2014 Calvino Prize. Last year Bree took a taxidermy class and almost everything she’s written since has been about skins and stabbing. Not to freak you out, but she is staring at her dead bird right now.
Lead image: “Dog at Rest” (via Flickr user Alan Levine)