A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

For Want of a Dog
by Alessandra Palank (Aug 2010)

         “Don’t touch the walls, they’ll have to be repainted. Don’t hang any pictures, the holes will have to be plugged. I may want to sell the house and escape this god-forsaken place someday.” These were the words of my father.  But when the puppy chewed a hole in the family room wall, my dad only said, “Oh, the little dogger,” and my mother said, “It’s behind the couch, no one will ever see.”  Kracker was the dog who was forgiven for anything.

         We visited a show kennel that bred Shetland Sheepdogs in search of our new family member. My mother, in concern over housebreaking a puppy, asked the kennel lady how much the beautiful full-grown dog in the large pen would be. The woman, who wore a tie, men’s shoes and her hair in a bun, stated that he was a grand champion and she had been offered five thousand dollars for him and wouldn’t take it. My mother lost her breath and couldn’t reply. We chose the runt of the litter born to a family pet at another location. His sire was the champion from the kennel.

         Kracker had the beauty of his father, but none of his affability. He was nasty. He flew at the door in a rage whenever anyone knocked, sunk his teeth into delivery men’s clipboards, peed on the living room carpet so often that the smell trickled down to the floorboards and snarled when approached uninvited. Fortunately he only bit family members.

         “They say pets take on the personality of their families. Maybe we’re like that!” my mother lamented.

         Shelties are highly intelligent dogs so when Kracker came of age my parents decided that obedience school might remedy the situation and I was elected to take him. I was twelve years old and believed I could do anything.

         It was not fun. I worried about Kracker attacking other dogs or paralyzing my hand with a quick series of chomps if asked to do something he was not in the mood for. I also feared that the class might provide him with the opportunity to widen his circle of human victims. The class instructor must have felt the same as he skipped over our dog during the stroke down the back required for the “stand for examination” portion of the class. No one wanted to pet Kracker. But we finished the course. I worked with Kracker at home and came up with creative ways to teach him all his lessons and minimize my own puncture wounds.  Eventually he could do everything well, at least in our yard with no other dogs around. We were set to graduate.

         Graduation included a dog show complete with a real judge, an audience and prizes for the winners. My parents were concerned about Kracker’s behavior at the show, so they consulted our veterinarian who agreed that it would be best for all concerned if Kracker was given a tranquilizer prior to competition.

         On the evening of the show I walked into the ring with our doped-up dog and shortened the leash in my hand for the “heeling” exercise. Kracker completed the walking and running at my side and sat obediently with no command when we stopped. He came when called during the “recall” exercise. He sat still during the “long sit” exercise.

         Then came the “long down” portion of the competition.  The dogs were lined up with three feet between them, told to lie down by their trainers, then told to stay while the trainers walked away. They were required to lie there without moving for three minutes.

         Kracker made it to about two.

         He lunged at the dog next to him snarling and biting. The other dog yelped and jumped from its spot. I jerked Kracker’s leash as the judge’s eyes bore into me.

         “You are removed from the ring,” he said.

         Exclamations and whisperings rippled through the audience. I didn’t want to look at anyone, but I knew they were watching a red-faced girl with downcast eyes dragging a snarling dog out of competition.    

         “Dr Valcrest gave him a shot. Why didn’t it work?” my mother said as we drove away.

         “He must not have liked that other dog,” reasoned my dad.

         When we arrived at home I retreated to my bedroom, Dad went to his chair in the kitchen surrounded by piles of magazines and Mom fed the dog.

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