Everything hazy. Behind bars. Where’s Daddy?
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
Every raff always tells Webster to shut up. Daddy never said shut up.
Webster hurts, so Webster lies down. The air smells like fur and urine and metal and clean things. Why bars?
Webster covers his eyes and thinks of Daddy. Where did Webster leave him?
Daddy would hold Webster if he were here. He would put Webster in his lap and sing to Webster and tell Webster “nothing to worry about.”
He would say to the raffs. Change? Change? Help, please? Anything appreciated.
The raffs would sometimes look at Webster and shake their heads with the sad. Sometimes yell. Sometimes the good raffs would change, and Daddy would thank them, and they would move on.
Daddy would buy cans and open cans and give Webster the food from the cans and eat some himself. Or sausage in Center City. Webster is hungry and whines. Everything smells wrong here. No grass, just other sniffers and they haven’t been anywhere but the metal-places.
Food… Food… Daddy, give Webster food…
He’s a noisy shit.
He’s been distressed all day.
Yeah. What I said. Noisy shit.
I hope he calms down soon. No one will take him if he acts like that.
The raffs never stop talking.
A raff comes to Webster. She offers her hand to Webster. She is young and clean. She could make babies now. Her skin has a cream and flower and alcohol and dog food smell. She smiles. She is a good-girl-raff. Webster whines and looks at her, but Webster doesn’t move closer.
Hey, puppy. Do you miss your old owner? Such a good dog. Loyal little boy.
She pets Webster’s head. Her fingers are small and too sharp.
Not like Daddy.
Webster whines and backs away from her and into the shadow. Hide. Nowhere to hide. Just more bars, more paper, more smell of fur and urine.
Webster wants Daddy. Daddy. Where did Webster leave him? Did Webster get caught by the bad raffs? Did he?
Daddy was cold. It was very cold outside. He put Webster inside his coat and went to the inside place, but someone saw Webster, and they told Daddy he had to put Webster outside. Those raffs yelled at us. Yes, they did, they yelled at Daddy and Webster.
So, Webster yelled at them, Raffs! Raffs!
Then someone who was not Daddy picked Webster up and put Webster outside where it was cold, and the ground was white.
Webster shouted for Daddy, then Webster heard and smelled Daddy. So Webster ran out to him, and Daddy picked Webster up and brought Webster to another place.
Daddy put Webster inside his coat. Daddy shivered and talked about the raffs, and Webster licked his face.
It was very cold.
Daddy got very cold.
Then Daddy got too cold. Webster went to yell at the inside place and then the sometimes-good raffs with the sticks and the talking-boxes and the flashy-box-on-top cars. Sometimes we ran away from them. Sometimes they would change for Daddy.
The sometimes-good raffs followed Webster, and we ran back to Daddy. They got very quiet and stopped trying to catch Webster. They shook Daddy, but Daddy didn’t wake up.
Webster put his head under Daddy’s hand, but Daddy wouldn’t pet Webster. Daddy smelled wrong.
Then the really bad raffs came and put Webster in a box with bars. Webster shouted for Daddy. But he hasn’t heard Webster yet.
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!
Daddy! Where’s Daddy! Daddy!
Leave him alone, Josh. He’s just hungry.
He wouldn’t eat this morning. Probably diseased. Wasn’t it with a bum?
Daddy! Daddy! Where are you, Daddy!
A homeless veteran who spent the last of his warmth keeping that puppy alive.
Daddy! Daddy, take Webster to the park! To the river! To the food place! Take Webster away, Daddy!
The good-girl-raff puts a plate of food, chunky wet delicious smelling food, outside the bars. She makes pleasing noises at Webster.
She is not Daddy. But she has food and a nice face. Webster whines and slinks away from the bars.
Good dog. Good doggie. You hungry?
Webster is hungry, yes. Very hungry.
She opens the bars and Webster comes. The floor ends, and the next floor is far. Webster is so high up. Webster whimpers and backs away. The fall scares him.
Good boy. Here’s some nice food. Good doggie.
Can’t wait to neuter that bastard.
God, I can’t stand you.
She closes the bars again.
Webster eats. But Webster doesn’t enjoy it.
The raffs call the metal bars ‘crates’. The sniffers are not unhappy here, and Webster’s crate smells like Webster now. Webster has a lot of time to miss Daddy. Webster also misses the park crowded with the smells of sniffers and squirrels, and the don’t-go-near flowers and the sticky scent of the grass blades still bleeding from the last time the roaring metal thing sliced them. And Webster also misses the river where the bridge stones heated Webster’s paws and where the grass never bleeds but blooms into thick clouds of seeds, and none of the flowers are don’t-go-near. Webster misses sunshine and sausages. Hot dog for my hot dog, Daddy says in the summer. Daddy wouldn’t make Webster stay in a crate.
The sniffer in the crate across from Webster looks at Webster and sighs. If we were in the same place, Webster would smell this other sniffer and know him. But we’re not in the same place, and we can’t play, and Webster misses Daddy.
Daddy would tell Webster what to do, to run away, or to bite or to eat, or to be good. He would tell Webster it’s safe. He would tell Webster if these were good raffs.
The good-girl-raff rubs my head.
You still playing with the mopey one?
Yeah, he’s so sad. He misses his person.
Don’t anthropomorphize the dogs, Alice. It’s gonna get put down by summer at this rate.
They don’t get put down until they’ve been here a year, Josh. Maybe if I teach him some tricks, someone will take him. Poor puppy. Just wants his person.
Webster licks her hand. She understands Webster. Webster misses Daddy.
This place has a pattern. Raffs come and go throughout the day. There are some raffs that come every day or just about and stay for a long time, like Alice and Josh and Dr. Frank. Other raffs come in for a little while and pick up things and then go away forever. Sometimes they bring sniffers ‘into the back’ where all the stings and metal and clean white tables live. Most of the time the sniffers taken into ‘into the back’ come back. But sometimes they go away forever. Sometimes sniffers get put in crates and sometimes sniffers are taken out of the crates by strange raffs, and then they go outside, and they go away forever.
Yes, sir. This little guy is practically a purebred mini-schnauzer. He was owned by a homeless vet who died this winter. Real tragedy. Webster—that was the name on the tag—lead the police to his body.
She says this to a lot of raffs.
Would you like to see his tricks? He’s very smart.
It makes them sad, and they wiggle their paws near Webster. So, Webster sniffs them and lets them pet his head. They like this. They go away.
When the door opens, nice clean scents come in. There are flowers, somewhere. Webster can smell them.
Yes, sir. Practically a purebred. He was owned by a veteran. We think he’s about three years old. Would you like to see his tricks?
Webster still misses Daddy, but Webster sniffs this new raff. A whiff of powdery laundry mixed with a stinging sterile alcohol stink almost masks the fresh scent of a little boy’s poop. Webster can smell the little boy raff all over him. He must have cuddled with the boy and stroked his head. He must have been a very-good-boy-raff
Too clean to be Daddy’s smell. Webster whines and drops his head.
What’s wrong with him?
Nothing. Webster is very healthy. He just misses his last owner.
Oh. Well, I’m looking for a more playful puppy.
She gives Webster’s head a rub, and she and the other raff move away.
When he leaves, he takes another sniffer with a rope and some toys and a bag of food. Webster smells the outside, the flowers and the grass and Webster wants to go outside and play.
Webster is very bright. His temperament may be a little depressed, but when he’s in the right frame of mind, he won’t stop until he learns a trick. Very stubborn about it.
The crate door opens, and Webster comes to the front as he’s been trained to. Webster gives his tail a few wags, just like all these happy dummy sniffers, and looks up at this new raff.
He’s a tall one with fur on his face and studies Webster. The furry face speaks with a low voice like Daddy did.
How does he get along with other dogs and people?
He’s not very social. He likes puppies. He learns quickly. For example.
Alice picks Webster up to put him on the counter.
Webster puts his paws into the air.
Good boy, Webster.
Funny name for a dog.
It’s actually his previous owner’s name. When he came in here about a years ago, his owner’s military tags were wrapped around his neck for a collar. But he always answers to it. Right, Webster? Speak.
Webster barks because Alice taught Webster to bark when she said speak. Webster prances through his tricks. Webster sits, lies down, speaks, shakes, rolls over.
And here’s the advanced stuff.
Alice holds the hoop and Webster trots up to it and jumps. She makes kissing noises, and Webster follows her fingers.
If he’s so trainable why is he slated to be put down in a week?
Oh, the usual. Not enough room. He’s a black dog, and those are always hardest to adopt. He’s not social or playful. A real challenge. Webster’s a very serious puppy. He’d be good at The Hill. Very professional little guy.
You don’t have to sell so hard, Alice. I’ll take him. Usual price?
Yes, thank you for coming. I just wanted you to know… he’s a good dog. He’s a smart dog.
The furry face picks Webster up. Webster wags his tail. Furry Face smells very different from Daddy. Like soap and burgers with ketchup and cheese, and also sugary sweet drink and someone else’s cigarette smoke in his hair. Maybe this raff will be like Daddy. Maybe Furry Face will take Webster to the park and ask other raffs about change and give Webster sausages.
Webster will do his best to follow this raff and to be a good-doggie. Furry Face carries Webster in the crate to a big white van. Webster smells the grass. And the chicken and salt and sauce from a cart down the street and the foul car stink. Outside is so good.
Inside the van, other sniffers growl and menace each other. Webster doesn’t want to go inside. Webster wants to be outside with the grass and the flowers. Webster wriggles, and Furry Face holds Webster tighter.
The new Daddy puts Webster into a crate stacked on top of another crate and Webster sees a bulldog in the crate next to him. He sniffs. She is older than Webster, smells like flea soap, won’t have puppies today, and she ate some biscuits not long ago. Webster likes her smell, and she wags her tail at Webster, so she likes Webster’s smell too. Webster thinks he loves her, but we cannot smell each other to know for certain.
If the metal bars were not in the way, if Webster could get closer, Webster would play with her. Instead, Webster lays down in the smaller crate and sighs.