The Dog Gets It by Beverley Byrne

You want to know the first words I heard? ‘Cute’ and ‘Sweet’ but ‘Adorable’ was my favourite. Unlike monosyllabic adjectives, A Dor A Ble sounded musical to my ears. It wasn’t long before realising those two central syllables were my name. So my tale begins.

I never met my birth father. We were born in our second father’s shed, a carpenter by trade. Even today, the scent of freshly sawn timber, reminds me of tumbling through spirals of wood shavings, pale and delicate as a child’s curls. I can’t tell you how many brothers and sisters I had because counting was beyond me back then. All I know is some were yellow. Others black. Even before my eyes unglued, I felt them nestling beside me like warm sausages and felt safe.

The two legged carpenter father made useful things from fallen trees. Sliced raw wood turned into sturdy tables and organic chairs. At first, the circular saw’s metallic whine split our ears and made us tremble. As we grew, his tapping and chipping, smoothing and polishing soothed us and we discovered discarded twigs and branches made marvellous playthings. His workshop was our toy box. Mostly he’d laugh while we fought and somersaulted round his ankles but sometimes, he’d make a thunderclap with rough palms. We’d stop playing. Sit and stare. ‘Out,’ he’d bellow and we’d cower before scampering back to our mother.

In looks and temperament, I take after her. Blonde, placid and, unlike some of my siblings, eager to please. After our mother yipped and whined while our needle sharp teeth chaffed her teats, mother-two-legs delivered meals in a shallow bowl. Fanning round it like spokes on a wheel, we’d jostle for tasty pellets. One brother, greedy bruiser that he was, pushed us aside to get the lion’s share. There was growling. The occasional bundle. I didn’t appreciate his bullying and vowed then to always maintain a sweet temper. My sunny disposition led mother-two-legs to cuddle me on her lap. She smelled sweet like flowers in the garden and when I nuzzled her neck, she whispered ‘Good girl Dora.’ I know she loved me best because when they took me away, she wept.

My first time in a car. A strange box with all manner of dials and switches smelling of plastic. The next mother-two-legs cradled me like a baby. I wriggled and squirmed until, sitting neat on her knees, I discovered a world of strange things. The man beside her gripping a wheel wore hair on his face and gloves that smelled of sheep. The whirlwind of colours, a blur of shapes, an orchestra of sounds captivated my senses. She held me firm about my stomach while I took it all in. In this way, nervous yet exhilarated, I was transported to my next home where I stayed for a year.

What a time I had. This mother-two-legs turned out to be a fair substitute for siblings. Most days she took me to a sort of nursery where I sniffed others like me. It was like a giant playpen where mother and other-two-legs indulged me in repetitious entertainment. I thought it a hoot when she ran away from me, whistling a tune. Always the same three notes. Monotonous but beguiling when it ended in a tasty treat. Did I follow her? Of course. I’ve always had a hearty appetite and the way to wagging is definitely through my tum. When it came to the sitting malarky, she used a different note, short and sharp. Parking my bottom smartly on the grass made her delirious with praise and I received another treat.

Perhaps she was a simpleton. Sit Dora. Stay Dora. Come Dora. Her range was pretty limited, but I didn’t care because she was kind and encouraging and, like I say, I’m programmed to please. I admit, the one area I wasn’t so hot on was the ‘going outside’ stuff. I just couldn’t last the night and was forced to leave what she called ‘little parcels’ on the floor at night. I don’t know how I twigged that it should be performed in the garden. I suppose I just grew up and figured it out.

In time, I was fitted with a corset affair to which she clipped a long rope. All I wanted to do was bite and pull but it was made apparent this was not desired behaviour. To distract me, food was placed on the ground and I hoovered it up until I forgot I was wearing the thing.

With the corset came more freedom. Galloping through fields, plodding along pavements, visiting shops, hanging round pubs being fed crisps. I can’t tell you how hilarious it all was. Certain lessons, like not chasing birds (more whistling, more ‘good girl Dora’) were easy once I got the hang of it. One thing was sure, I wasn’t going to starve doing what they wanted.

When mother-two-legs walked me in the park, I couldn’t help notice how badly people behaved. Over excitable two-legs seemed to actively encourage anti social behaviour. Persistent yapping, wild chasing, not coming back and attempting intercourse without consent. All strictly not on in my book. Call me a goody four paws but I prefer a quiet encouraging environment suited to my personality. That’s why I loved Big School.

They worked me hard over those twelve weeks but talk about rewarding! Not just the grub and whispered praise but the tasks became increasingly challenging. I was kitted out in a sturdy harness with a handle. Not everyone gets one of those, I can tell you. I knew several chums who didn’t make the grade and I think they went to new homes. But me? Turns out, I’m pretty hot stuff. Loud traffic and negotiating busy pavements are all part of the job. Using all my senses and what I’ve learned so far, I survey the landscape for potential dangers. Synchronising my movements with those handling me, I take pleasure in my work. I can tell by expressions and kind words I’m good at this obedience lark. Am I being tested for some special assignment?

I’ve been introduced to a new friend. She smells like your favourite toy smeared with peanut butter. Unlike all other two-legs in my life, she does not make eye contact. Her eyes are open but the gaze unfocussed. Yet her voice, a whisper on a breeze, waves caressing shingle remind me of happy days training on the beach. I like her hands. Gently she touches my face and riffles through my fur with fingertips firm but inquiring. We begin working together. She echoes commands imprinted on my heart. I sense she’s being instructed as I was. It makes me feel grown up and important.

Walk on Dora. Stay. We wait at a zebra crossing. Our ears are pricked, alert to every sound. Thundering lorries leave my ears flapping but I’m calm. Behind us children shout in a playground. Other two-legs join us on the kerbside. I feel her tense. Her unease clings to me like molten mud. I must do my best work to honour the trust invested in me. Judging all is safe, I guide her across the road. The grip on my harness relaxes. She pats my head. ‘Good Girl Dora.’ I sense her relief. I’ve done well.

Each day, our routine varies. We trot down roads, eat in restaurants, even visit a park where she unclips my harness and I run, sniff grass and clown around while she sits waiting for me. I return to her side because I know she needs me and I’ve learned to love her. I live for her liberty. My life makes sense. The dog gets it.

Selected: March Short Story Contest

Published in Issue #28

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