Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
My name was Buddy. Before that it was Ellie, and before that it was Bailey, and before that it was Toby. I was a good dog who had loved my boy, Ethan, and had taken care of his children. I had loved his mate, Hannah. I knew that I would not be reborn, now, and that was okay. I had done everything a dog was supposed to do in this world.
The love was still pouring off of Hannah as I felt the tiny pinch between Doctor Deb’s fingers. Almost instantly, the pain in my leg receded. A sense of peace filled me; a wonderful, warm, delicious wave of it, supporting my weight like the water in the pond. The touch of Hannah’s hands gradually left me, and, as I floated away in the water I felt truly happy.
Images were just starting to resolve themselves in my bleary eyes when I remembered everything. One moment and I was a newborn puppy with no direction or purpose other than finding my mother’s milk, and the next moment I was
still a puppy, but one with a memory of being Buddy, and of all the previous times I’d been a puppy in my lives.
My mother’s fur was curly and short and dark. My limbs were dark as well—at least, what I could see of them through my newly opened eyes—but my soft fur was not at all curly. All of my siblings were equally dark colored, though as we bumped into each other I could feel that only one had fur like mine—the rest were as curly as our mother.
I knew that my vision would soon clear, but I doubted that would do much to help me understand why I was a puppy again. My conviction had always been that I had an important purpose and that’s why I kept being reborn. Then everything I had ever learned to do added up to helping my boy, Ethan, and I had been by his side and had guided him through the final years of his life. And that, I thought, was my purpose.
Now what? Was I to be reborn over and over, forever? Could a dog have more than one purpose? How was that possible?
All the puppies slept together in a big box. As my limbs grew stronger I explored our surroundings and it was pretty much as exciting as a box could be. Sometimes I’d hear footsteps descending stairs and then a fuzzy shape would lean over the box, speaking with either the voice of a man or the voice of a woman. The way our mother wagged her tail let me know these were the people who took care of her and loved her.
Pretty soon I could see they were, indeed, a man and a woman—that’s how I thought of them, as the Man and the Woman.
One day the Man brought a friend to grin down at us. The friend had no hair on his head except for around his mouth.
“They are so cute,” the bald one with the hairy mouth said. “Six pups, that’s a nice-sized litter.”
“You want to pick one up?” the Man responded.
I froze as I felt what seemed like huge hands come down and grab me. I held still, a little intimidated, as the man with mouth hair lifted me up and stared at me.
“This one’s not like the others,” the man holding me said. His breath smelled powerfully of butter and sugar, so I licked the air a little.
“No, she has a brother that’s the same way. We’re not sure what happened—Bella and the sire are both AKC poodles, but that one sure doesn’t look like a poodle. We’re thinking … Well, there was this afternoon when we forgot to close the back door. Bella could have gotten out. Maybe another male got over the fence,” the Man said.
“Wait, is that even possible? Two different fathers?”
I had no idea what they were talking about, but if all he was going to do was hold me and blow tantalizing odors at me I was ready to be put down.
“I guess so. The Vet said it can happen, two separate sires.”
“Yeah, except we’re not going to be able to sell the two mystery dogs. You want that one? Free since you’re a buddy.”
“No, thank you.” The man holding me laughed, letting me back down. My mother sniffed the stranger’s scent on me and, protective and kind, gave me a reassuring lick, while my brothers and sisters staggered over on their unsteady legs because they had probably already forgotten who I was and wanted to challenge me. I ignored them.
“Hey, how’s your son?” the man with the hairy face asked.
“Thanks for asking. Still sick, has this cough. Probably going to have to take him to the doctor.”
“He been down here to see the pups?”
“No, they’re a little young yet. I want them to get stronger before he handles them.”
The two men walked away, dissolving into the blurry gloom beyond my field of vision.
As the days passed I became aware of a young child’s voice upstairs, a male, and became alarmed over the prospect of starting over again with a new boy. That couldn’t be my purpose, could it? It seemed wrong, somehow, as if I would be a bad dog if I had a boy other than Ethan.
One afternoon the Man scooped up all of us and put us in a smaller box that he carried up the stairs, our mother panting anxiously at his heels. We were set on the floor and then the Man turned the box gently so that we all tumbled out.
“Puppies!” a little boy sang out from somewhere behind us.
I splayed my legs a little for balance and peered around. It was like the living room at the Farm, with a couch and chairs. We were on a soft blanket and naturally most of my siblings immediately tried to get off it, heading off in all directions for the slick floor beyond the edge of the blanket. Me, I stayed put. In my experience, mother dogs liked soft spots more than hard ones, and it’s always smarter to stick with Mother.
The Man and the Woman, laughing, grabbed the fleeing puppies and placed them back in the center of the blanket, which should have given them all the hint that they were not supposed to go running off, though most of them tried to do it again. A boy circled around, older than Clarity but still pretty young, hopping excitedly. I was reminded of Clarity’s little legs bobbing up and down when she saw that stupid horse in the barn.
Though I was reluctant to love any other boy but Ethan, it was difficult not to be swept up in the joy we all felt at the sight of this little human holding his arms out to us.
The boy reached for my brother, the one who, like me, had longer, flatter fur. I could sense my siblings’ distress when the boy snatched him up.
“Be careful, Son,” the Man said.
“Don’t hurt him; be gentle,” the Woman said.
These were, I decided, the mother and father of the little boy. “He’s kissing me!” The little boy giggled as my brother submissively licked the boy on the mouth.
“It’s okay, Bella. You’re a good dog,” the Man said, petting our mother, who was pacing around the blanket, yawning anxiously.
The little boy was coughing. “Are you okay?” the mom asked him. He nodded, setting down my brother and immediately scooping up one of my sisters. My other two brothers were at the edge of the blanket and had stopped, sniffing, unsure of the surface.
“I hate the sound of that cough; it sounds like it’s gotten worse,” the Man said.
“He wasn’t bad at all this morning,” the Woman replied.
The little boy was breathing loudly, now, coughing and making a harsh noise. His coughing was getting worse. Both of his parents froze, staring at him.
“Johnny?” the Woman said. There was fear in her voice. Our mother went to her, wagging anxiously. The Man set the puppy he’d been holding on the floor and grabbed the boy by the arm.
“Johnny? Can you breathe?”
The boy bent over, his hands on his knees. His breathing was thick and loud and heavy.
“He’s turning blue!” the Woman yelled. My siblings and I flinched at the raw terror in her voice.
“Call 911!” The Man shouted at her. “Johnny! Stay with me, Son! Look at me!”
Whether consciously or not, all of us had found our way to our mother and were at her feet, seeking reassurance. She lowered her nose to us briefly, but she was panting and anxious and went over to the Man and tried to nuzzle him. The Man ignored her. “Johnny!” he shouted, anguished.
Several of the puppies were trying to follow our mother and when she saw this she came back to us, pushing us with her muzzle to keep us on the blanket and out of the way.
The Man laid the boy on the couch. The boy’s eyes were fluttering and his breathing was still harsh and painful sounding. The Woman came in with her hands pressed to her mouth, weeping.
I heard the siren and it got louder and then two men and a woman were in the room. They put something on the boy’s face and took him out of the house on a bed. The Man and the Woman went with them, and then we were alone.
It is the nature of puppies to explore, so my siblings immediately left the blanket to sniff the far corners of the room. Our mother paced and whined and kept rising up on her rear legs to look out the front window, and two of my siblings followed her around.
I sat on the blanket and tried to understand. Though he was not my boy, I felt a strong concern for the child. It did not mean I didn’t love Ethan; I was just feeling a fear.
Because we were puppies we made messes all over the house. I knew when I was older I would have more self-control, but at this point I didn’t know I needed to squat until suddenly the need would be upon me. I hoped the Man and Woman would not be angry with me.
We were all asleep when the Man came home by himself. He put us in the basement and I could hear him moving around upstairs and the air carried the scent of soap. We nursed; our mother was finally calm, now that the Man was home.
The next day we were taken to a different basement in a different house. A woman who smelled like cooking and laundry and dogs greeted us with kisses and cooing sounds. Her house had the scent of many, many dogs, though I only saw one: a slow-moving male who walked low to the ground, nearly dragging his big, floppy ears.
“Thanks for this. I’m really grateful, Jennifer,” the Man said to her.
“Fostering dogs is what I do,” she said. “I just adopted out a boxer yesterday, so I knew I’d be getting more. That’s how it always works. Your wife said your son has asthma?”
“Yes. He’s apparently deathly allergic to dogs, but we never knew it because Bella is a poodle and apparently Johnny’s not allergic to poodles. We had no idea. I feel so stupid. His allergic reaction triggered his asthma attack and we didn’t even know he had asthma! I thought we were going to lose him.”
Bella, hearing her name, wagged a little. Our mother was distressed, though, when the Man left. We were in a nice-sized box in the basement, but as soon as the Man walked away Bella left it and then sat at the door to the stairs and cried. This distressed the puppies, who sat subdued, not playing. I’m sure I looked the same way—our mother’s upset was clear and urgent.
That day, we did not nurse. The woman named Jennifer didn’t notice it, but we did, and pretty soon we were all whimpering. Our mother was just too disturbed and saddened to lie down for us, even when her teats became heavy and began to leak a tantalizing odor that made us all dizzy.
I knew why she was so sad. A dog belongs with her people.
Our mother paced all night, crying softly. We all slept, but in the morning we were aching with hunger.
Jennifer came to see why we were crying and told Bella it was okay, but I could hear the alarm in her voice. She left the room and we cried for our mother, but Bella just paced and whined and ignored us. Then, after what seemed like a long time, Bella was at the door, her snout at the crack beneath it, sniffing in with great gusts. Her tail started to wag and then the Man opened the door. Bella was sobbing and jumping up on the Man and the Man was pushing her away.
“You have to stay down, Bella. I need you to stay down.”
“She hasn’t been nursing the pups. She’s too upset,” Jennifer said.
“Okay, Bella, come over here. Come on.” The Man ushered Bella over to the box and made her lie down. He kept his hand on her head and she stayed and we went at her in a mad rush, pushing and sucking and fighting each other.
“I’m just worried that the puppies’ dander is on her and it will get on me and then Johnny will have an attack. He’s got an inhaler and everything.”
“But if Bella doesn’t nurse, her puppies will die,” Jennifer said.
“I have to do what’s best for Johnny. We’re having the entire house steam-cleaned,” the Man said.
My belly was getting warm and heavy. It was a glorious thing to feed.
“Well, what if you took Bella and the poodle puppies home with you? You could bathe them, get rid of any trace of the other two puppies. You’d at least save four of them, and it would be best for Bella, too.”
The Man and Jennifer were quiet for a long time. Completely full, I staggered away, so sleepy I just wanted to climb on one of the other puppies and nap.
“You’d euthanize the other two, then? I wouldn’t want them to starve to death,” the Man said.
“They would not suffer,” Jennifer said.
A few minutes later I was surprised when the Man and Jennifer reached in and picked up a pair of puppies each. Bella hopped out of the box and followed. My brother, the one who had fur like mine, whimpered a little, but we were both really sleepy. We curled up against each other for warmth, my head on his back.
I didn’t know where our mother and our siblings had gone, but I figured they would be back soon.
I awoke cold and hungry. My brother and I were pressed up against each other for warmth and when I stirred he opened his eyes. We groggily made our way around the box, relieving ourselves and touching each other several times, communicating to each other what was pretty obvious. Our mother and our siblings were gone.
My brother started crying.
Soon the woman called Jennifer came over to see us. We looked up at her, so tall above us.
“You poor little puppies, you miss your mommy, don’t you?”
The sound of her voice seemed to soothe my brother. He stood on his rear legs, his front legs against the side of the box, and strained to raise his small muzzle to her. She bent down, smiling. “It’s okay, little one. Everything will be all right, I promise you.”
When she left, my brother went back to his whining. I tried to interest him in a wrestling match, but he was really unhappy. I knew everything was fine because we had a woman to watch us and she would bring our mother back soon so we could feed, but my brother was frightened and hungry and apparently couldn’t think beyond that.