News: Guest Posts
A short story from across the pond
“Dear Sir, Your dog is driving me mad. I can’t concentrate. I should be obliged if you would bring your hound under control. Yours faithfully, E Brown.”Paul tore up the note and threw the bits towards the waste bin. Rambo raced after them, growling ferociously. “She says you are driving her mad,” he said. Rambo wagged enthusiastically. Paul looked in dismay at a torn cushion, chewed slippers and broken houseplant. “She can’t concentrate. She says I’ve got to control you.” Rambo threw himself at his lead and dragged it to Paul’s feet, prancing with anticipation at the thought of rabbits and cats to chase. It had been a long day and now it was his turn for some attention. He launched at the door, nearly knocking his head sideways in his excitement. “I suppose I’d better take you out despite the fact that you’ve been a bad, bad dog.” Paul looked at his new neighbour’s prim garden and raised flowerbeds. He guessed she was a prim person. Her handwriting was as neat as her curtains. If E Brown had trouble concentrating, then that was her problem. “Come on, Rambo, let’s go hit the park.” Paul commuted daily to his job. He was often late home because of train cancellations. It was frustrating, especially when he knew that Rambo had probably been watching for him since about four o’clock. Rambo was his brother’s dog and he had promised to look after him till he returned from abroad. That had been a year ago. “Rambo... what am I going to do about you?” Paul groaned, as the dog brought over a wet and sticky stick for him to throw for the twentieth time. He threw it into a tangled bush. Rambo bounced after it, fresh as a frisky foal. The dog was full of unleashed energy. He’d been saving his adrenalin all day. The next evening, Paul opened the front door and gasped at the scene of total chaos that met his eyes. Torn newspapers, chewed chair legs, his pyjamas heaped on the floor and clearly slept on. Teeth marks in packets of biscuits, a curtain hanging off its hooks, dirty paw marks all over the sofa. Rambo was hiding under the desk, ears back, making himself as small as possible and hoping he couldn’t be seen. “You bad dog,” Paul shouted. He had all this clearing up to do just when he wanted to put his feet up with a glass of cold beer. He heard an envelope drop through the letterbox. Rambo shot from his hiding place. Paul came second by one-fifth of a second and wrenched it from Rambo’s teeth. “Dear Sir, Your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. He is bored and lonely. Kindly buy him some new toys or I shall never finish my work. Yours faithfully, E Brown.” “What am I to do with you, Rambo?” Paul raged, getting out a dustpan and brush. “I can’t move, not with this mortgage, change my job, far too difficult, give you away. What would my brother say? There’s such a thing as family responsibility.” Rambo agreed, sheepishly. He sat, waiting patiently for Paul to finish the clearing up, not letting the man out of his sight. He was fiercely dependent on his new owner. Panic set in every time Paul went out of the door. Paul always took Rambo for a quick stroll before breakfast. He tried a good talking to before he left for work. “Now please try and be good. No hunting and attacking prey all over the house, no helping with the housework, no making your own supper. We’ll go for a longer walk this evening.” Rambo leaped up onto the windowsill as soon as Paul left for work. He barked loudly at the postman, at the milkman, at every passing car, at any bird that dared alight on their tree and hysterically at the snooty cat from next door. The cat sat on the dividing wall, turning an elegant back on the noisy dog. “Dear neighbour,” began the now familiar writing. “It’s not that I dislike dogs. I like all animals, even ones with behaviour problems. Please do something before I explode with frustration. The first fifteen minutes are the worst. Yours truly, Elinor Brown.” Paul was just about to toss the note into the bin when his attention was caught by the last sentence. What did she mean? The first fifteen minutes were the worst. He put an advertisement in the local paper: “DOG-SITTER REQUIRED FOR MAD DOG. INSURANCE NEGOTIABLE. BOX NO 138.” He was inundated with replies. The envelopes fell through his letterbox like snow. Rambo had a terrific time especially with the second post. He shredded the lot, buried them under the carpet, surrounded himself proudly with the fruit of his labour. Paul tried to fit the pieces together while Rambo licked his ear. “It’s no good trying to get round me,” Paul groaned. “This is hopeless. Dozens of helpful people and I can’t put together a single address.” The only address he could put together was the one next door. Elinor Brown had written again, no doubt issuing a writ. Paul decided to go round on bended knee. He washed his best shirt, finished off the drying with the hair dryer. He knocked nervously on the door expecting a sour-faced dragon. “Come in,” said Elinor, a young woman with a sweet smile. “I’ve been expecting you.” “Rambo and I have come to apologise.” Rambo leaped in, high on hopes of demolishing the cat. Elinor began to laugh. “This is Rambo? A small King Charles Spaniel?” Rambo hung his soft and floppy spaniel ears, his big brown eyes eloquent with desperation to be liked. She rubbed his curly coat. “My brother’s dog,” said Paul. “That explains it. Rehomed dogs surround themselves with the smell of their new owner, worried that he’s not coming back. They can find your scent on almost anything. So they chew it, tear it up, curl up on it when the panic is over. But if they think that their owner’s return means anger and shouts, so they also get guilty and even more anxious.” “I’m trying to find a dog-sitter, but Rambo tore up all the replies.” “Why not me?” said Elinor. “You could leave him here. I work from home.” She nodded towards a big computer. “I analyse consumer products. Companies send me sales figures and I make charts, project swings. My cat has a cat-flap. She’ll soon get used to Rambo.” She already regretted her last letter. She hoped it had been torn up. In her anxiety she dropped her pen. Rambo hurtled after it, thrashed it lifeless, then returned it to her, tail wagging enthusiastically. “We could celebrate by going for a walk,” Paul said. “Would you like to come with us?” Elinor spun her wheelchair forty-five degrees so that she could see the expression on his face. “Cool,” she said.
Maggie Mae is buried – there just beyond my kitchen window
Maggie Mae is buried – there just beyond my kitchen window under the summer canopy of ancient apple trees Appropriate don’t you think? Her round head, round eyes framed in apples, her greeting a dizzying round go round. Today the wind picked up and a dozen apples fell one split in two revealing A chambered heart--necessary dark seeds. At dusk deer will tiptoe hushed into the palpable shadows and I will hear her bark bark at their trespass, will see her run run again, run wily and whole first into the tall grasses before the sweet turning back toward the light of home.
News: Guest Posts
True dog folk wielded pens for Bark’s 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest
They all have at least one dog, and three out of four, have at least two. It’s not really a surprise that the winner and three finalists in The Bark’s 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest would share their lives with dogs. I mean, why else would they read Bark, if not out of some direct connection to our central subject matter? But what I find interesting is that these writers don’t just scoop poop and kibble, they all go an extra mile for canines—beginning by rescuing dogs to volunteering at shelters, reporting about dogs, and, of course, weaving them into the cloth of their fiction.
Since we announced our contest winners last week, I’ve been able to read the winning stories and e-chat with the authors. (Bark readers will also have the opportunity to read all four stories in the magazine and brief interviews online over the course of this year.) Each story sheds light on the power and/or plight of our companions. In her winning tale, “Village Dogs,” Bim Angst provides a poignant look at how two people read each other through their feelings for a dog—in this case, a brindle Pit Bull who bears a very strong resemblance to one of Angst’s own dogs, Graciella. (Look for this story in the April/May issue.) A biologist in Maine, finalist Don Katnik created a fictional dog haven in “The Stepping-Off Place.” He drew his inspiration from a real-life island that might soon be off-limits to free-roaming dogs. Unable to buy and preserve that favorite place, he created one with words.
Experienced writers and newbies submitted to our contest. For finalist Shawn Kobb, who is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in the Bahamas, “Street Dog,” about a homeless man and a stray, is his first story to be published. Congratulations Shawn! At the other end of the spectrum is Katerina Lorenzatos Makris (a.k.a. Kathryn Makris), who after publishing 17 novels, decided to take a stab at short fiction—and wrote her story, “Small Change,” in the last two days of 2009, submitting it minutes before the midnight deadline. “Small Change” follows a flinty old woman when she visits an animal shelter to adopt. Many of us know life often changes at a shelter—don’t worry, no spoilers here.
Thanks again to everyone who submitted a story to our contest. I hope you enjoy reading our selections and feel inspired to throw your manuscript into the ring next time.
News: Guest Posts
In The Bark's 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest
The editors of The Bark are very proud to announce that Bim Angst is the winner in our 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest. Selected from hundreds of entrants, her work, Village Dogs, was the unanimous choice for both its literary merit and its insightful depiction of the human-dog bond. Village Dogs will be published in the April/May issue.
Bim Angst teaches writing at Penn State, Schuylkill, and lives in Saint Clair, Pa., with her three dogs, all of whom she adopted from the local shelter. Their spirits imbue her story, which is rich and dense in its understanding of the complex emotional dance that happens between a man, a woman and a dog.
Editor in chief Claudia Kawczynska was thrilled with the response to Bark's first writing competition, and sends her thanks to all the writers who submitted their work.
UPDATE: Three additional fiction entries by contest runners-up will be published in future issues of The Bark. These include an untitled story by Shawn Kobb of Dulles, Va.; Small Change by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris of Encinitas, Calif.; and Stepping-Off Place by Don Katnik of Hampden, Me. Congratulations!
We'll follow-up on the blog with more about the writers and their winning stories.
News: Karen B. London
It’s a great gift.
Every year about this time I start to hyperventilate at the thought of the holiday shopping that still remains. No matter how early I start (even the previous December!), I never seem to have it done as soon as I’d like.
This year, I’ve got a little help. Nancy Kay, the author of Speaking For Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, has a great idea. She will personally autograph a copy of her book and send it directly to the dog lover on your list. She even offers the option of dog motif gift wrap, and will enclose any gift cards you include with your orders when she mails the gifts to the recipients.
That is my idea of easy shopping! If only Dr. Kay also had insightful books on every topic I need to finish my shopping: golfing, geocaching, fishing, quilting. . . Then I’d probably be done by now.
(FYI: Nancy Kay and her book have been discussed before on Bark’s blog, including in an entry that discusses her interview on NPR with Terry Gross.)
Culture: Stories & Lit
Severn House Publishers, 224pp., 2011; $28.95
It’s been way too long since the last Holly Winter mystery hit the shelves — 2007, to be precise, when All Shots was released. But finally, oh finally, our patience is rewarded with the 19th in the series: Brute Strength.
Fights, frights and mysteries break out at every turn in this new book. Amazingly, none of them are of the canine variety. Rather, Holly’s family and friends are the ones doing the scrapping. Turning down adoption applicants for her local Alaskan Malamute rescue group doesn’t win Holly any points, either. The big story, however, is the way catastrophe seems to surround a new neighbor, a woman with a gorgeous and slightly overweight Malamute female, the latter of whom has her almond-shaped eyes on Sammy, Holly’s young Mal.
Add references to Jane Austen, clueless (and careless) breeders, and observations on real-life training techniques and the scientific investigation of dog cognition and you have a literary meal dense and rich enough for the hungriest Malamute. Speaking of which … Over the years, I’ve learned as much about the behavior of northern breeds by reading this series as I have from much more serious works. At least once, and usually more often, I find myself smiling in recognition as Conant describes a typical behavior — in this case, the mealtime feeding frenzy, which Holly chooses not to train her dogs out of: “I have seen sick and dying dogs become indifferent to food and refuse it altogether. These raucous displays of appetite are confirmations of health, and I revel in every leap and every shriek.” To which I say amen.
As she frequently does, Conant keeps multiple story lines going, wrapping them up tidily at the end, albeit with a major scare as part of the conclusion. Now, when’s the 20th Holly Winter mystery coming out?
Culture: Stories & Lit
The brief lives of dogs leave deep tracks.
I woke up in my warm bed, my hand automatically stretching to feel Vesper’s warm, silvery fur. I knew of course that she was not there. On an ordinary morning, I might actually have snuck out of bed, cautiously hoping that neither she nor my husband would wake and that I could brew coffee or even read an article or two in the paper without attending to their needs. Today my cozy kitchen was chillingly empty.
Most often during the past dozen years, Vesper had gotten up before me, her long body stretched against the wainscoting of the hall, waiting for her belly rub, her food, her walk. We shared the early hours of the day. I would pull on some clothes, and we would head out and make our way to the Brooklyn Promenade. We’d look at the harbor, Manhattan’s skyscrapers, the small boats, the Staten Island Ferry, Lady Liberty and the new park growing at our feet. Vesper would bare her teeth and growl at dogs who came over to “say hello,” and I would wearily explain to their owners that she was “scared” and “private,” not unfriendly. Even though she was 13, she was so slim and beautiful that people regularly mistook her for a puppy.
Vesper and I usually had more quiet time before my household, now consisting only of my husband, woke up. He was as crazy about her as I was.
Since our daughter was a toddler, some 50 years earlier, I never witnessed him being as openly affectionate to anyone as he was toward the dog. I confess that I was jealous. Sometimes Vesper responded to his entreaties; most often, she only accepted—demanded, really —caresses when she was in a mood. She always had a mind of her own.
Both my husband and I had grown up with dogs. Thereafter, our lives were too full and complicated to include canines. It was David, our grown son, who, for one of my birthdays, gave me Sasha, a wirehaired Dachshund puppy. It was an ideal gift for a writer living in an empty nest. Sasha and the books I created made me feel that I was still a fertile young woman. The dog was perfect company. In the apartment, he followed me from room to room, just as my children had done when they were small. In the morning after I straightened the house, we repaired to my study. Sasha curled up under my desk where my bare feet could touch his fur whenever I needed reassurance. I thought that he slept deeply, but once, when I cried while writing an emotion-laden passage, he rose in distress, ambled over and vigorously licked my bare legs.
Life is hard. David had been infected with the HIV virus at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. He was fortunate in that the deadly virus went about its work without undermining his ability to enjoy life. I will be forever grateful that David let me be his care-partner and allowed me to try to pack the love of a lifetime into whatever time he had left. My husband and my daughter surrounded me with love, but their heartache was as great as mine. It was comforting that upon my return from spending time with David in San Francisco, Sasha let me know in no uncertain terms how much he had missed me and how relieved he was that I was back. David died in 1993, and taking the dog out three times a day, feeding, bathing and caressing him helped me regain my composure.
Four years later, when Sasha died, it was as if I had to relive all of the agony of my son’s death.
We thought that we were all done with dogs, but the next April we heard of an 18-month-old female wirehaired Dachshund who needed a home because she refused to learn to hunt. I liked that dog’s attitude and we went to see her.
“Try her for a week,” the breeder said.
“You can return her, no questions asked.”
Well, that was that. Vesper had never been on a leash or peed on asphalt, but she weathered the transition to city life. She was very different from Sasha— more even-tempered, less aggressive, less slavishly devoted to me. At first I considered her a poor substitute for Sasha, but gradually I fell in love with her determination, her quiet nature and the affection she showered on me and mine.
Soon after we got Vesper, we moved to our summer residence in Maine. The bark-less city dog fiercely defended our one wooded acre from neighboring pets, chipmunks and even the occasional ducklings approaching us by the lake. Vesper never trespassed on neighboring property, patrolling our land so precisely that I was asked whether we had an electric fence.
One day my husband and I took her up Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park. We huffed and puffed for a good hour, but she scrambled ahead. When we reached the peak, our threesome met three fierce-looking dogs. Vesper barked; the other dogs called her bluff. An instant later, my dog had vanished. We all searched for her, but she was nowhere. Thirty minutes later, I abandoned the peak, believing that I had lost her for good. I met an upward-bound party. “Nice day,” they said. “Yes, but I lost my pup,” I answered tearfully. “Well, we saw a dog hot-footing it down the hill.” When we got down, there she was, f lat as a pancake, hiding under our car! She was always so good at managing her problems.
Vesper stayed with us for 11 years. Then she started vomiting. The vet gave her antibiotics. She got better, then she got worse and the animal who had eaten voraciously all her life was not even tempted by a spoonful of peanut butter. She got weaker and weaker, but maintained her clean habits, peeing and pooping on the street, trying as the vet said “to please.” She wagged her tail when my children or grandchildren came. Five days after she got really sick, we decided, together with our vet, to end it.
I am by now familiar with grief, but I was surprised by the intensity with which I responded to her loss. It was all so familiar. I held her while she received her fatal life-robbing injection. I had the vet put her in a box. I searched for a canine crematory, then was shocked by the unctuous prose and the prices. Unlike my son, whose apartment I had to empty in San Francisco, Vesper did not have many possessions, but there were leashes, food, drugs, feeding bowls and the many toys we had bought her over the years. I packed the latter in three bags to give to the fellow dogs in the house. The owners will probably throw them out—I would—but the idle gesture helped me.
I know that I will feel better— we humans have an amazing ability to recover from loss—but how I wish that I did not have to go through so much pain.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Living on the east side of Milwaukee, a narrow strip of land between the green corridor of the Milwaukee River on the west and the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan on the east, I’d heard many stories of coyotes prowling the neighborhood. Two children reported seeing a “wolf” in the park; a Schnauzer, cornered in his own backyard, was rescued by his owner heroically banging on a pot. The only coyote I’d ever seen, though, was a frightened, mange-ravaged creature skulking through a neighbor’s yard and away down the alley, not a symbol of the healthy persistence of wilderness in the city.
In truth, the wilderness that persists in this area is hardly a picture of health by any measure. When my dogs and I take our morning walks, I try to enjoy each moment the way they do, which is to say thoughtlessly: I breathe deep, in awe of the reds and golds of a sunrise made more vivid by particulate pollution; I shiver at the chilly shake of dew from competing monocultures of alien plants around my feet; I try to read my home turf through enthusiastic eyes (or maybe, noses) that relish the presence of every tiny life, whether or not it has any legitimate claim on being here.
My younger dog, Boo, is an appropriate observer of this environment precisely because she is such a misfit herself. She is certainly not the dog most people would choose for an urban family pet. When, five years ago, a friend found her wandering along a dirt track in the Smoky Mountains, she was malnourished, missing her left eye, pregnant with 11 pups, prematurely graying, and so used to fending for herself beyond the human world that she had to be taught to climb stairs. (Later, when she was X-rayed for a shoulder injury, we learned that she also has a chest full of birdshot.) We’ve always called her a Lab mix, but over time her uniquely expressive voice and amazing acuity as a squirrel hunter have convinced me that her pedigree, such as it is, probably runs more to Mountain Cur. When people ask her breed, my husband answers, “She’s a loud black dog.”
Despite her feral roots, Boo had so little difficulty bonding with our family that a leash has seldom been a feature of her life. But last spring, she suddenly began running off every morning on our walks along the lakefront. A half-mile down the beach from where we started, she’d abruptly turn, go crashing up the bluff face and vanish in brush. I’d call and call, terrified that this time she might not pause, with a glance over her shoulder as if to say, Just a minute, OK? I’ll be with you as soon as I’m done over here … What if this time, she mounted the top of the bluff, crossed the upscale lawns, raced out into the stream of traffic winding downtown for another day at the office? Every morning for a week, I found myself abandoned, wandering along the beach calling her name until tears came; eventually I’d hear her bark and she’d burst back downhill to me, frowzy and unapologetic.
Finally, it occurred to me to track Boo on her wild ascents. The first few tries were futile: struggling uphill, I did my best to follow, but always she’d dissolve before my eyes into brambles and silence. After five or 10 minutes of clawing through the underbrush, I’d skid back down to the beach with burrs in my hair and sleeves, only to find Boo rolling in the sand.
One morning, approaching the spot where Boo kept running off, I clipped a leash to her collar. When she pulled toward the bluff, I tagged after, clambering over the snags and deadfalls she scrambled through, the leash impeding her progress as I unclipped and reattached it several times. She moved with purpose, tolerating the hindrance of my presence. Halfway up the bluff, she turned and half-slid into a steep gully hidden from both above and below. A jutting pile of broken concrete slabs thrown down there years earlier formed something like a cave mouth on the opposite side, and Boo was pulling me directly toward it.
I started to scold her in frustration, but my breath caught in my throat. There, across the gully, four fat coyote pups peered out at us from their den, pricked ears and black button noses alert to our presence. And there, at my feet, sat Boo, her tongue flicking in and out, tail wagging, whimpering under her breath as if comforting babies she’d mothered long ago.
Culture: Stories & Lit
“How are the kids?”
1. Ask about the name.
2. Yes, he’s adopted.
3. Race is an acceptable topic.
4. Flatter him, flatter me.
5. Ask about his poo.
6. Eyes in the back of our heads.
7. Discuss major minor rights.
8. Forget about birthday parties.
9. Compare routines.
10. Are we having kids?
Culture: Stories & Lit
I think I’m the only writer in Los Angeles without a script to show around at dinner parties and AA meetings. But success in “the industry” has finally come to me. After living here for over a decade, I finally made my way into Hollywood’s inner circle. All thanks to my Beagle, who was just killed.
After being discovered on the street and cast as a female dog named Ruthy, my dog Jerry demonstrated his remarkable acting chops on the set of an upcoming film. No, he didn’t pull anyone from a well, or save someone from a burning house. But he did stand up—right on cue—while wearing yellow doggie pajamas. And, I might add, the director was most pleased with my coaching.
Which brings us to our second day of shooting. It was a night that would culminate with Ruthy’s (Jerry’s) death scene, and he was ready for action. On the drive out to the miniature golf facility, where the scene was to be shot, Jerry rehearsed playing dead in the back seat, though he sometimes broke character with a loud snore.
We arrive at midnight and he perks right up when the scent of toaster waffles from the set’s buffet table wafts into the car. We both head through the medieval castle arcade to find the crew. At first, we’re told that the director is ready for us, but then there is one of many delays on the set. So we head off to the putting greens, where Jerry burns off some of his nervousness by chasing a squirrel through the windmill and down past the candy house before ultimately losing the pursuit after it scampers into the clown’s head.
To kill some more time, Jerry and I rehearse. I had read the script beforehand, so I knew that Ruthy was to be hit by a car. We spend some time going over what I had taught him already. Jerry was to roll onto his side and simply put his head down for this trick. Even though he refused to stop breathing, he would lie still for a few seconds, looking like a miniature beached whale, before popping up to see if there were still some Rice Krispies treats left at the buffet.
Then we were called to the set. The night air was thick with movie magic. There was to be an establishing shot, in which one of the actors would hide in a wooden barrel with Ruthy. At some point, Jerry is supposed to pop his head out of the barrel and look cute. We hadn’t known about this scene beforehand, and I admit I was a bit worried. Sure, Jerry has proven that he’s got great range—what with the standing up on cue and all—but coming into a scene like this so unprepared would unsettle any performer.
The actor, who was wearing a pith helmet, climbed into the barrel and then I carefully lowered Jerry inside. Confused, he looked up at me, his floppy ears pinned anxiously against his head. In his six long years of life, clearly this was his first time squatting inside a barrel with a total stranger wearing a funny hat.
But when the director yelled “action,” Jerry’s inner thespian took over. The actor spoke a few lines of dialogue, which was my cue. Standing off-stage, I then called to Jerry, who popped his head up out of the barrel and stared right into the camera with a bleary-eyed expression normally found on pet-store puppies.
It was golden. The audience was going to eat it up, I thought. It was so perfect that they only asked for six more takes before, I supposed, we would be moving on to the death scene.
But then something curious and a bit sad happened. I was told that Ruthy’s demise would not take place as planned. It had been decided that there would be a shot of a car crashing into the barrel, followed by a close-up of Ruthy’s red leash lying amongst the wreckage. Her death was to be implied rather than shown for a greater emotional payoff.
No on-camera death? This was to be Jerry’s career-making scene—the very onset of his 15 minutes of fame (which, in dog years, equals an hour and 45 minutes, by the way). I wanted to call Jerry’s manager or his agent, but he had neither. I wanted to scream, “But this is when you’re supposed to kill Jerry!”
But it was futile. So we just grabbed some cookies and left. As we reached our car, I heard a screech of tires and a sudden crash. “Well, I guess you’re dead,” I whispered. Jerry just smiled—he does that.
During the drive back home through the blossoming Los Angeles morning, Jerry continued to dazzle me with his “death” pose in the back seat. It was brilliant, until he broke wind. But even without that fatal scene, my dog now has a résumé and I think he might be eligible for his SAG card.
The movie is due to be released in 2005. It’s called Think Tank. If Jerry’s scenes don’t end up on the cutting-room floor, then I highly recommend this movie. So please go and see it. And if Steven Spielberg is reading this, have your people call Jerry’s people (that’s me).
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