The Story of a Pack of Abandoned Farm Dogs
Published by Elizabeth Westphal at Shakespir
Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Westphal
All rights reserved.
Cover Image Copyright © 2016 Tony Westphal
All rights reserved.
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Bola is based on a real farm dog of the same name. All other characters, and all events in this book, save one, are purely fictional.
To all the homeless dogs
I wish to thank my brother Tony for the photograph of Bola on the cover of this book.
Thanks also to my parents and brothers for helping me to proofread my books.
And, finally, I wish to thank Bola, for being such a wonderful dog.
I remember the day she arrived. It was cold, and had been raining all day. I had been spending most of the day sheltering under a building, trying to wait out the rain. When evening came and the rain still showed no signs of letting up, I got up to scrounge around for some food.
I had been trotting along near the dirt roadway when I heard an unfamiliar whimper. Curious, I stepped out from the tall grass to see who had made the sound.
Sitting by the road was a young black dog, barely more than a pup. She had medium-length, slightly curly fur and spaniel-like ears. She was smaller than me, but still a medium-sized dog.
Hearing my approach, the black dog turned around. Her eyes were distraught, but flickered with hope when she saw me. Walking forward, she asked, “Have you seen my humans? I’m lost. We were just going for a drive together, and we stopped here for a while, and then we got separated, and they left without me.”
I glanced at the neck of the young black dog. As I had expected, I saw a collar mark, from where her collar had worn away the fur on her neck, but no collar.
“No, I haven’t seen anyone unfamiliar around here,” I answered, trying to decide how to tell her what had happened in the gentlest way possible. Stalling for time, I asked, “What’s your name?”
“Bola,” she replied. She looked away and glanced down the road again, as if she expected to see a vehicle approaching at any minute.
“My name is Ciro,” I said. “Bola, are you sure you’re lost?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, confused. “Of course I’m lost. My humans aren’t here, and I don’t know how to find them.”
“You had a collar before, didn’t you?” I asked. “Did your humans remove it before bringing you here?”
“Yes,” Bola said, looking even more confused. “I thought maybe they had gotten me a new one. They’ve done that before.”
“Bola,” I said, “I was left here, too. My humans brought me here and then drove away without me.” Her eyes widened as I spoke, and she shook her head in denial. “I’m afraid you’ve been abandoned.”
“No! My humans would never do that to me,” Bola said, her voice growing desperate. “They love me. And I love them. I would never leave them, and they would never leave me.”
“I’m sorry, pup,” I said, shaking my head sadly. Bola was not the first dog I had seen abandoned here, but the other had realized and accepted what had happened, unlike the young black dog. It broke my heart to see how much loyalty she had for the humans who had thrown her away like a piece of garbage. “But they’re not coming back.”
“No!” Bola protested again, her eyes now filled with sadness. “Maybe they’re just mad at me for something I did. But they’ll forgive me and come back for me; I’m sure of it.” And she turned away again and sat down, facing the road as the rain continued to pour down on us.
I turned and walked away sadly, knowing there was nothing I could do for her. After a little while, I remembered why I was out in the rain in the first place, and resumed my search for food.
Finding the scent of a dead rabbit, I approached to see that Lobo and Blanca were already there.
Lobo was the leader of our pack. He was the biggest of us, and slightly muscular. He was a dark brown with upright ears and thick fur. Like his name suggested, he looked rather wolf-like. I believe he would have looked regal, maybe even a bit imposing, if he had humans giving him enough food to prevent his ribs from showing. Even without adequate food, though, Lobo was wiry and strong, and could likely take on any dog who tried to pick a fight with him.
Blanca was a white dog with short fur, and was built like a pit-bull. She and Lobo had been the only dogs around here when I arrived. Blanca was the thinnest of us, with ribs that were constantly showing through her thin fur. For some reason, the humans seemed to like Blanca the least of all of us. Some of the humans would occasionally give me or the other dogs some food, but they only chased Blanca away. Some even threw rocks at her.
Despite all this, Blanca had a kind heart. She had been the one to comfort me when I was first abandoned here, and had shown me the best places to scrounge for food. Looking up at my approach, she wagged her tail and called out, “Ciro! Come on over; we saved some food for you.”
I approached but did not take any of the rabbit. “Another dog has just been abandoned here,” I told her and Lobo. “A young black dog, barely more than a pup. Her name is Bola.”
“Where is she?” Blanca asked.
“Sitting in the rain by the road, waiting for her humans to come get her,” I said. “I thought I’d take her some of the food; she must be hungry by now.”
“No,” Blanca said, her face a mixture of concern and exasperation. “She was a pampered pet until today. It will be a while before her ribs start showing. We’re starving now. We need this food more than she does.” Blanca was kind, but she was also highly practical. It was how she had managed to survive, even without the hand-outs from humans that the rest of us received.
“I’ll just bring her some of my food, then,” I said.
“You’re going to starve yourself, Ciro,” Blanca said. “If this Bola is hungry, she can go get some food for herself. We can show her where to look. But if she doesn’t even want food right now, why offer her any, when we have so little?”
“Blanca, I know you’re just trying to look out for me,” I began, “but Bola’s been sitting out in the rain for hours. She’s cold, and she’s just been abandoned today. I feel the least I can do is offer her something to eat.”
Blanca’s face softened slightly. “Fine,” she said. “But make sure to find more food for yourself later, then.”
“I will; don’t worry,” I said. I wolfed down a bite of what Blanca and Lobo had saved for me, and carried the rest back to where I had left the black pup.
Bola was sitting in the same spot as before, still gazing off down the road. This time she did not hear me coming, and jumped slightly when I put the food down next to her.
“Hey, pup,” I said. “I brought you some food.”
“Thanks, Ciro,” Bola said. I was kind of surprised she remembered my name; she had seemed too distraught and focused on her humans to have been paying attention. “But I don’t need it. My humans are coming back for me. You’ll see.”
“Well, I’ll just leave it here, then,” I said, trying to be patient with the pup. “You can eat it if you change your mind.” Then I turned and walked back towards the nearest barn.
The last member of our pack was lying outside the barn when I arrived. It was Melosa, Lobo’s mate. She was a medium-furred, gray dog with upright ears and blue eyes. She appeared to be part collie, and had been quite beautiful when she first arrived here. Now she had matted and dirty fur, like the rest of us, and her ribs were visible if you looked closely. She had lost a lot of weight since she was first abandoned; but, because of her longer fur, her ribs were harder to see than Blanca’s were. She was not quite as thin as Blanca anyway, because the humans did feed her occasionally, just as they fed me and Lobo.
I lay down next to Melosa, sheltering as she was under the slight overhang from the building. “Hi, Melosa,” I said. “Another dog got abandoned here today.” As I told her about Bola, Melosa’s expression grew sad.
“So, she’s been sitting out there in the rain all this time?” Melosa asked. I nodded. “Let’s go invite her to come with us,” Melosa said, getting up. “Then she can at least get out of the rain.”
“I don’t think she’d come,” I said. “She seems pretty determined to wait for her humans by the road.”
“Did you even offer?” Melosa asked.
“No, but when I brought her food, she wouldn’t eat it. She thinks her humans will come back and feed her,” I said.
“Well, we can at least ask,” Melosa said. “Besides, I want to meet her.” She began trotting towards the road. Pausing and looking back, she asked, “Are you coming? I don’t know exactly where she is.”
“I’m coming,” I said, “but I don’t think it will do any good. We’ll just get even wetter.”
I led the way towards the road. When we got there, I was half-relieved and half-concerned to see that Bola was no longer there.
“I can smell her,” Melosa said. “Her scent is pretty strong around here. But where did she go?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s follow the trail.” I noticed that the food I had brought Bola was gone. “Hey, the food’s gone,” I told Melosa. “At least she ate. Maybe she’s accepted that she’s been abandoned.”
“Hopefully,” Melosa said. “Poor thing.”
We began to follow Bola’s scent trail. It paralleled the road; Bola had traveled in the direction she had been staring down before.
Darkness was rapidly falling. Bola had not been gone for long; her scent trail was too fresh. I was confident we would be able to catch up to her shortly.
A howl broke out from the darkness ahead of us, making both Melosa and me stop in our tracks to listen. The voice was beautiful; the words, heart-wrenching:
Come back; please come back to me.
I’m here; waiting here to be
Brought home, back to where I belong,
With you, can’t you hear, this, my song?
Call me; and I’ll come, running home
To you. Until then, far I’ll roam.
I’ll search, everywhere, for you;
Wond’ring, are you searching, too?
It was the only time I would ever hear Bola howl.
There was so much pain and loneliness in Bola’s howl, that I felt like howling just from listening to her. I wanted to go and comfort her, but I was at a loss as to what to say or do.
Melosa growled softly. “Humans,” she said, as if it were a curse word.
Melosa was different from Blanca in that way. Blanca always gave every new human she met a chance, though she had not found any yet who would not chase her away, except for a few human pups when their parents were not around. For the most part, Blanca just avoided humans in conversation, just as she avoided any human she knew did not want her around. Melosa, however, liked some humans and loathed others. If a human was nice to her or one of her fellow pack members, she would tolerate that person, and try to get food from them if she could. But when a human from a neighboring farm had thrown rocks at Blanca, Melosa had refused to ever go there again, and had talked Lobo and me out of going there, either. And when it came to abandoning dogs, Melosa was utterly unforgiving towards humans.
Now Melosa walked towards the direction the howl had come from, not seeming to share my hesitation about what to say. I followed her worriedly, hoping she would not say anything that would make Bola feel worse.
We found Bola lying in the middle of the dirt road, staring down it forlornly.
“Hello, Bola,” Melosa said gently as she approached. “I’m Melosa. Ciro told me you were here.” Bola lifted her head and stared blankly at Melosa as she spoke, as if all emotion had left her with her howl. “Why don’t you come with us; we have a place where you can spend the night out of the rain.”
I half-expected Bola to refuse, to insist that her humans would be coming back for her. I was relieved to see her get to her feet instead. “Okay,” she said weakly, and began slowly walking towards Melosa. I turned and led the way back to the barn, with Bola following slowly behind me, and Melosa keeping step with her.
Lobo and Blanca were waiting for us when we arrived. “Hello, Bola,” Lobo said, stepping forward. “I’m Lobo. You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you want to.”
“I’m Blanca,” Blanca said. “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through today.”
“It’s nice to meet all of you,” Bola said, her voice still devoid of emotion. “And I’m grateful for your hospitality. But I won’t be here for long. My humans will come back for me. They’ll probably come back tomorrow, when there’s enough light for them to see me.” She said this not as if it were a mere hope, but as if it were a proven fact; she sounded as certain as if she were stating the color of her fur.
“I’m sorry, Bola,” Melosa said. “But they’re humans. Once they leave, they never come back.”
“It’s true,” Lobo said. “We were all abandoned here, and none of us have ever seen our humans again.”
“I’m sorry,” Bola said. “That’s so sad. But my humans are different. You’ll see. They’ll come back.”
Melosa started to reply, but Blanca interrupted her. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “But for now, let’s get some sleep.” She looked at the rest of us as she said the second sentence, glancing at Melosa in particular.
“Yes, let’s get some sleep,” Lobo agreed. So the five of us curled around on the ground, tucking our paws in and covering our noses with our tails to try to keep warm.
I fell asleep almost as soon as I lay down, but I suspect it was harder for Bola to fall asleep that night. This was her first night sleeping out in the open, and on ground that was cold and wet, rather than on a soft, warm bed like she must have been used to.
I woke up early the next morning to find the sun out, beginning to dry up the rain from the day and night before. I stretched and yawned, glancing around lazily at the other dogs, who were all still asleep.
It was then that I realized that I had not been the first to wake—the new dog, Bola, was gone. Her scent was already starting to fade. She must have left around sunrise.
Slightly worried, I began to follow her scent. Bola was new around here, and had likely never been on a farm before. She would not know what to make of all the animals here, or which humans could be trusted and which should be avoided. There were so many ways a young dog could get into trouble around here.
I did not know whether to be relieved or not when I realized that Bola’s scent was leading me back to the road where I had first found her. I tried to be positive about it. At least she was not trying to hunt the humans’ poultry or wandering into another pack’s territory.
Bola was sitting in the exact spot I had first found her in, once again staring off down the road. When she heard my approach, Bola turned her head to look at me without getting up. “Good morning, Ciro,” she said, sounding almost cheerful. She wagged her tail along the ground a bit as she continued, “It’s certainly a better day today than it was yesterday. The sun is out, it’s warming up already, and it’s only a matter of time before my humans come back for me.”
I stifled a sigh of exasperation and took a breath before answering. “The day is early,” I said, more to myself than to Bola. “We’ll see what it brings.”
As I turned to walk away, I heard Bola getting to her feet. “Wait!” she called. “You could stay with me, if you want. Then when my humans come, you and the other dogs could go with me. You wouldn’t have to be homeless anymore. You wouldn’t have to go hungry. My humans would take good care of you.”
“Bola,” I said slowly, “your humans couldn’t even take care of you. There’s no way they would be able to take care of all five of us.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Bola said, her tail drooping down sadly. I began to think that she might have realized her humans were not coming back, until she continued, “But there’s no harm in trying. Come on; what do you say?”
“I’m sorry, pup,” I said. Bola’s denial was just so frustrating. “But I have to go find something to eat. I can’t be sitting around here all day waiting for humans who will never come.”
I saw a flash of hurt in Bola’s brown eyes before I turned away, and tried not to feel guilty about what I had said. Sooner or later, she was going to have to accept what her humans had done to her and move on. If she did not, she would starve to death waiting for them to return.
This thought haunted me as I scrounged for food from what the humans had thrown out. Bola had such conviction, such loyalty for her humans, that starving to death seemed like a real possibility for her.
For some reason I could not explain, I already felt attached to the young dog. I could not bear the thought of her starving to death by the roadside. With this in mind, I grabbed the largest pieces of food I could find, a slice of bread and a fruit peeling that still held fruit inside, and brought them to Bola.
Once again, Bola initially refused the food, insisting that her humans would be coming to get her, but by the end of the day she had eaten what I brought her.
This went on for several days, much to the disapproval of Blanca. After a week had gone by like this, even Lobo started to get concerned.
“You know, Ciro, you’ve lost some weight since that pup arrived,” he said as we walked across a field together in search of food, away from the other dogs for the moment. “You need all the food you can get; let Bola find her own food if she’s hungry.”
“I’m fine,” I said, though I could definitely feel the effects of a deeper starvation than before. I was now almost as thin as Blanca, and had less energy than before. I was also more irritable than usual, though I tried to hide it. It was not any of the dogs’ fault, after all. “I’m not as skinny as Blanca. And besides, Bola has lost weight, too. I haven’t been giving her all my food.”
“You have been giving her a lot,” Lobo said, staring at my ribs. “But I don’t really get it. What’s so special about this pup? You weren’t like this with Melosa when she first arrived.”
“I didn’t need to give Melosa my food,” I said, half-teasing and half-serious. “Because you were giving her all of yours.”
Lobo chuckled once. “Yeah, I pretty much was,” he said. “She was worth it, though. She really is special.” His gaze had become contemplative, gazing off into the distance as he spoke of Melosa. Then he glanced back at me, his eyes questioning. “So, is that how it is with you and Bola?” he asked.
“What,” I asked, momentarily dumbfounded. “You mean, am I in love with her?” Lobo nodded, and I scrambled for words. “No, at least I don’t think so. I don’t know.” I paused for a minute, trying to get my thoughts in order. Lobo waited patiently. “I have feelings for her that I’ve never felt for anyone before. But I don’t think I’m in love with her.” At least not yet, I added in my head.
“I understand,” Lobo said. “Just be careful. Don’t starve yourself for her.”
Two days later, I awoke to find that Bola had stayed with the rest of the pack, instead of heading off to sit by the road again. She was awake and looking down at me. When she saw that I was awake, she wagged her tail slowly and walked away, glancing back at me as she left.
I got to my feet and followed her, wondering why she had not gone to the road today. She stopped when we were out of earshot of the sleeping dogs.
“Ciro,” Bola said. “I want to apologize.” Her eyes were troubled, and I wondered what it was that was worrying her. “Blanca told me that you were giving away your food to me, and becoming skinnier because of it. She said that I should find my own food, and stop making you bring me food. I’m sorry; I didn’t notice that you were losing weight from sharing food with me.” She looked so sorrowful that I tried to interrupt, to comfort her.
“I’m okay, Bola,” I said. “Blanca shouldn’t have said anything. I’m fine, see? I haven’t gotten sick or anything. Everyone is starving around here.”
“No; Blanca’s right,” Bola said. “I’ve been so preoccupied with my humans that I haven’t been paying attention to anything else. It’s selfish of me to sit by the road while you find food for yourself and for me. So I was thinking,” she said, taking a deep breath, “if you wouldn’t mind, could you show me the places where you get food around here? That way, I could get my own food, and you wouldn’t have to worry about me.”
“Sure, I’d be glad to show you where to look for food,” I said, wagging my tail. It relieved me to know that Bola would no longer be sitting by the road all day, that she might be, however slowly, finally starting to accept the fact of her abandonment. “Come with me,” I said, leading the way to the nearest farmhouse.
“Human buildings are some of the best places to get food,” I said as we approached. “At least, if the humans inside are friendly. Humans are always throwing food out, and sometimes they’ll even give us food when they see us.”
Bola sniffed the air. “I can smell food,” she said, “but where is it?”
“Well, they keep it in two places,” I said. “One is in that can.” I gestured to a large metal bucket near the door to the farmhouse. “But the humans don’t like when we take food from there, for some reason. And it makes a lot of noise when you knock it over, so they usually notice. The other place is around the back of the house. Follow me.”
I walked around to the back, where food scraps had been strewn over the exposed soil. “This is where we get most of our food.” Then I noticed that Bola had not followed me. Spinning around, I barked, “Bola?”
I relaxed a bit when I saw her. One of the humans had come outside, and was stroking Bola’s fur, while talking softly to her in human language. Bola was wagging her tail, seeming to enjoy the human attention. Then the human went back inside the house.
When she was gone, I walked back to Bola. “I think she likes you,” I said. “But you have to be careful. Humans are unpredictable.”
“What are you talking about?” Bola asked, sounding confused and surprised. “She wouldn’t have hurt me.”
I was about to answer when the door opened again. The human returned, this time carrying a large piece of meat, which she handed to Bola. Bola took it gently, wagging her tail as she lay down on the grass to eat it.
Seeing me, the human went back inside, returning a minute later with a smaller piece of meat for me. I wolfed it down, surprised but grateful for the offering.
As we walked away, I said to Bola, “I’m surprised. Humans usually don’t give us meat, and I’ve never seen any dog get as much as that human just gave you.”
“Humans are all right,” Bola said, seeming pleased with herself. “You just have to show them that you like them, and that you’d never hurt them, and they’ll do the same for you.”
“I wish it were that simple,” I said.
Bola had similar luck at the next few farmhouses. We had eaten so well, in fact, that I considered not taking her to the last two places where I sometimes looked for food. But things had been going so well, that I decided to take her there and see what would happen.
“We have to be more careful at this next place, Bola,” I said. “Some of the humans here will feed us, but others will chase us away. We have to see who’s there before we get too close.”
“It’ll be fine,” Bola said confidently. “You worry too much, Ciro.” With that, she bounded off ahead.
“Wait!” I said, running after her. “I really meant it. This place is not like the last—”
But the door was already open. I stopped, standing tensely as I waited to see who would step outside. When I saw that it was one of the humans who had chased me away before, I turned and began to run.
After a few seconds, I turned back to see how far behind Bola was. She was shorter than me, and could not run as fast. To my surprise, I did not see Bola behind me at all. Looking all the way back to the farmhouse, I saw Bola sitting by the door, eating something the human had given her. I could not believe my eyes. I walked back warily, keeping an eye on the door. The human had already gone back inside, and the door remained closed as I approached.
“Why did you run?” Bola asked. “He was friendly. He even gave me a piece of bread.”
“You’re unbelievable, pup,” I said, shaking my head. “Simply unbelievable. That human chases the rest of us away whenever he sees us, but he feeds you? Why?”
I had not been expecting an answer, but Bola replied anyway. “It’s like I said. You just have to show them that you’re friendly, and they’ll be friendly back.”
“No, it’s something special about you,” I said. “It’s not like the rest of us were growling when he opened the door or anything.”
“Where to now?” Bola asked, wagging her tail. She seemed to really be enjoying this search for food.
“Well, there’s one place left,” I said hesitantly, “but this place is different.”
“You said that about the last one,” Bola interrupted teasingly.
“It was different,” I said. “But this one is even more so. There aren’t just humans at this farm. There are other dogs, too.”
“Other dogs?” Bola asked. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’ll be fun to meet them.”
“They’re big dogs,” I told her, “and they weren’t abandoned like the rest of us. They live on one farm, and have humans who feed them. They aren’t skinny like the rest of us.”
“Well, then, they shouldn’t mind us looking for food over there, should they? Whatever is there, they don’t need it,” Bola said.
“They’re a bit territorial,” I said. “Blanca says there was a time when they wouldn’t let us go on their farm at all.”
“What made them change their minds?” Bola asked.
“Lobo,” I replied, grinning. “He ‘negotiated’ a sort of truce with them. We don’t ask their humans for food, and they allow us to have whatever scraps are thrown out.”
“So what’s the concern, then?” Bola asked. “It sounds like you don’t have any problems with them right now.”
“That’s true,” I said, “but when the agreement was made, Blanca and Lobo were the only dogs in our pack. They didn’t like it when I showed up as well. And when Melosa came, they attacked her once. This was before they knew that Lobo was in love with her. Lobo got everything straightened out with them, but we aren’t exactly on the best of terms. I’m not sure how they’ll react to another dog showing up.”
“How many of them are there?” was Bola’s next question.
“Only two,” I said. “But they are big, and strong, and well-fed, like I said. The two of us wouldn’t stand a chance against them if they decided to pick a fight.”
“But why?” Bola asked. “Why would they want to fight us, unless they viewed us as a threat to them? And that they might,” she went on thoughtfully. “Your pack keeps growing, but there are still only two of them. It might scare them to know that they are outnumbered.”
“They have no reason to feel threatened by that,” I said. “The more our pack grows, the less food there is to go around. Their food, however, is guaranteed. They don’t have to worry about starvation.”
“Well, let’s go, then,” Bola said, sounding almost excited at the prospect of meeting the big dogs. “If we don’t scare them, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about, should we?” And with that, she bounded off ahead, towards the farmhouse which had just come into view.
I overtook her with a few bounds of my own. “Wait up, Bola,” I said. “Don’t just go charging in alone. They might attack you if they don’t know you’re part of Lobo’s pack.” Bola seemed about to protest, but I went on quickly. “Whatever you do, just don’t show any fear. They won’t hesitate to take advantage of any perceived weakness. But don’t act aggressive, either. We definitely don’t want to be the ones to start a fight with them.”
“Don’t worry,” Bola responded. “I’m sure everything will go fine.”
We had now entered the territory of the other dogs. I slowed down and began to look around anxiously, but I saw no sign of either of the big dogs.
Bola trotted forward confidently, her head and tail held high. She had gotten a bit ahead of me when I heard a deep growl. I hurried to catch up to her, but froze when I saw the dog who had made the growl.
It was Bruno, the older of the two dogs who lived here. Close behind him was Café. Both dogs were purebred German Shepherds. I had always found them intimidating even when they were calm. Now both of them were tense, their fur bristling and their tails held straight and stiff out behind them.
Bola lowered her head and tail slightly. I was still a bit behind her, and could not see her expression. Was she scared? But then, how could anyone not be scared of the two German Shepherds now? I wondered if she would turn and run, and tried to quickly decide what I would do if she did. Of course, the only thing I would be able to do was to run as well. There was no way I could win a fight against two big dogs. But I had longer legs than Bola, and could run faster than her. What would I do if they caught her?
“Hi,” Bola said calmly, interrupting my thoughts. “I’m Bola.” She even wagged her tail slightly as she said this. To my astonishment, she did not seem afraid. Maybe she was, and was simply good at hiding it, but I could not tell.
“I’m Bruno,” the older dog said, still sounding aggressive. “And this is Café. This is our territory. What are you doing here?”
“And are you part of Lobo’s pack?” the other dog, Café, asked.
“No, I’m not part of anyone’s pack,” Bola said, seeming unimpressed by the aggression of the German Shepherds. “My humans left me here about a week ago. I’m waiting for them to come back. You haven’t seen any new humans around here, have you?”
The two German Shepherds exchanged a glance. Relaxing slightly, Bruno answered, “No. We haven’t seen anyone new around here.”
“Well, could you keep an eye out for them, please?” Bola asked. “And tell me if you do see them? There are four of them, and they have a brown car. You might only see one or two of them, though. Not all of them were there when they left me here.”
“Sure, we’ll tell you if we see them,” Café said, to my surprise.
“Where are you staying?” Bruno asked. “So we’ll know where to find you if we do see them.”
“I’m staying with Lobo’s pack for now,” Bola answered. “The farm they live on is near the part of the road where my humans left me. I want to stay around that area, so I can see them when they come back.”
Neither German Shepherd seemed about to attack anymore. Both were calm as they spoke to Bola; in fact, they looked more relaxed than I had ever seen them before. Still, it surprised me when Bruno said, “Well, in the meantime you’re waiting for your humans to come get you, you’re welcome to eat whatever scraps our humans throw out.”
I could only stare in shock. These German Shepherds had only agreed to let Lobo and his pack eat the scraps after Bruno had been beaten in a fight with Lobo, and they had always been hostile towards us. Bola had not even asked for any of the food in their territory, and they were freely offering it to her!
“Thanks,” Bola said, wagging her tail. “But are you sure it would be all right? I could just get food from the people on the other farms, if you’d prefer.”
“No, it’s fine,” Café assured her.
“Yes, we get plenty of food from our humans,” Bruno added.
“Come on,” Café said. “We’ll show you where our humans throw the food.” He and Bruno led the way, Bola following happily. I just stood and stared for a few seconds. Then, trying to mask my surprise, I followed them.
When we were about to leave, Café said, “It was nice meeting you, Bola. You’re a good dog.”
“Yes,” Bruno agreed. “We wish you good luck finding your humans again.” And then he did something that I had never seen either of the German Shepherds do before—he actually wagged his tail.
Over the following weeks, Bola gradually began to spend less time sitting by the road and more time wandering around on the different farms. Everywhere she went, she was welcomed, and she never had to search through the forest for food; the humans she visited always gave her plenty.
Bola seemed to be like a good luck charm, for anyone who went with her would get fed as well. After about a month, Bola even managed to convince Blanca to go with her on one of her food rounds. I went along as well, following from a distance.
I did not want to do anything to reduce Blanca’s chances of being fed, but I was curious to see what would happen. I was no longer worried that Bola would get herself into trouble; everyone seemed to love her. And I had always known that Blanca could take care of herself. Though a part of me doubted that even Bola would be able to help Blanca get food from humans, by now I was starting to believe that this dog could do almost anything.
Bola led the way to the nearest farmhouse. Blanca followed warily a few steps behind, while I kept a greater distance to try to avoid being seen by the humans.
I held my breath as the door to the farmhouse opened. One of the humans stepped out, holding a piece of food for Bola. I was too far away to see what it was. Seeing Blanca, he paused.
Blanca lowered her head and tail submissively, while watching the human to see what he would do. When the human tossed a piece of food to Blanca, I leaped into the air and yipped in excitement.
Bola also jumped, and spun around in a circle. She then went over and licked the human’s hand. The human reached down to pet her.
Blanca lay down and crawled closer to the human, trying to appear as gentle and non-aggressive as possible. The human slowly reached his hand out towards her. Blanca held still, licking her lips nervously. The human pulled his hand back and straightened up. Then he turned and went back into the house.
Once the door had closed, I ran over to join Bola and Blanca. “You did it!” I said excitedly. “You two actually did it!”
Blanca was ecstatic. “Yeah! After all this time, I thought none of the humans would ever like me,” she said.
“I knew it would work,” Bola said, sounding pleased but not surprised. “Come on; let’s go to the next farmhouse. I’m sure the humans there will feed you, too.”
At the next farmhouse, however, no one opened the door. Bola even whined and pawed at the door, but still nothing happened.
“They probably don’t want to come out because they know I’m here,” Blanca said.
“Maybe they’re just not inside right now,” Bola said hopefully. “Come on. I’m sure the humans at the next farmhouse will be there to open the door.”
As Bola had predicted, a human did open the door at the next farmhouse. Unlike at the first farmhouse, though, this human fed only Bola, and ignored Blanca. Bola ate only half of what was given to her, and gave the other half to Blanca. The human did not seem to mind this, to my surprise. I had previously seen this same human chase Blanca away, but now she just ignored her.
This seemed to set the pattern for Bola and Blanca. With the exception of the human at the first farmhouse, the humans would feed Bola and ignore Blanca. Bola could then leave some of the food for Blanca, so they both ended up getting fed anyway. None of the humans acted mean in the presence of Bola. They all seemed to like her too much to risk scaring her away, even by chasing away a different dog.
We all ate better with Bola around. The humans were more generous, and there were now many days when we did not have to search for dead animals to supplement what we were fed by the humans. Even Blanca managed to gain a bit of weight. I was beginning to think that Bola’s arrival was truly a blessing, and that things could only continue to get better from here.
One hot day in summer, as I was lying under the shade of a tree, Bola came running to me, panting and looking worried. “Ciro, bad news,” she said between pants. “Another dog has been left here by his humans.”
I perked my ears up at that, curious about the new dog. “Where is he?” I asked. This was the first dog to be abandoned here since Bola’s arrival, more than half a year ago. I wondered if he, too, were sitting by the side of the road, waiting for his humans to come back for him, as Bola still did every day.
“I told him to stay by the road while I went and told the rest of you the news,” Bola said. “Would you do me a favor and tell everyone else, so I can go back with him now?”
“Sure; I’ll tell them,” I said.
“Thanks,” Bola said, turning and running back the way she had come.
Once I had told Lobo, Melosa, and Blanca about the new dog, they all came with me to meet him. We walked along the road, randomly deciding to head left along it, as we did not know exactly where they were.
When we found them, the sight that met us was certainly not what I had been expecting. The new dog was small, smaller even that Bola. He had short, dark brown fur and upright ears. He appeared to be a purebred Chihuahua, though he was larger than the average Chihuahua. If he was a purebred, he was the first purebred dog to have been abandoned here.
“Hello,” Lobo greeted the small dog. “My name is Lobo. This is my pack. Melosa. Blanca. Ciro. And of course, you’ve already met Bola.”
“Hi, guys,” the little dog said, sounding a bit tired but not nearly as stressed out as Bola had been when she was first abandoned. “I’m Poco.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Poco,” Lobo said, sounding a bit weary himself, “though I wish we had met under different circumstances. You’re welcome to stay with us.”
“Yeah,” Melosa agreed. “Are you hungry? We can show you where to get food. Actually, Bola would probably be best for that. She always has good luck when it comes to getting food.”
“Would you mind?” Poco asked, turning to look at Bola. “I am getting hungry.”
“Are you sure?” Bola asked, looking concerned. “Your humans might come back when you’re gone. Don’t you want to wait for them a bit longer? I could go get some food and bring it back to you, if you’d like. Ciro did that for me when I was first left here.”
“You’re very kind, Bola,” Poco said, a sad look on his face, “but I know my humans aren’t coming back for me. I’ve been abandoned. When they first left me here, I thought they might come back. But it’s almost nightfall, and they still haven’t returned. I can’t just be sitting around waiting for them forever.”
“But it hasn’t even been a day yet, Poco,” Bola said. “Don’t give up hope. They might still come back.”
“It’s okay, Bola,” Poco said. “My humans weren’t so great to begin with. They ignored me most of the time anyway. They never really wanted me in the first place. I’m better off here, with you and the other dogs.”
Bola was silent for a while. Then she said, “Well, all right. If you’re sure.” She looked into his eyes, as if trying to determine whether or not he was just trying to be tough when he said that.
“I’m sure,” Poco said, holding her gaze.
“Then come on,” Bola said. “I’ll show you where we get food.” She turned and led the way to the nearest farmhouse, with Poco trotting behind her. The rest of us stayed behind, having already gotten food from that farmhouse earlier in the day.
Blanca finally broke the silence. “Well, he’s definitely not like Bola, is he?” she said.
“No, he’s not,” Melosa agreed. “He’s more realistic. He doesn’t hold on to false hope.”
“Or he might just be a pessimist,” I said, trying to defend Bola.
Melosa looked surprised. “A pessimist?” she repeated. “Ciro, have you ever heard of a human who came back for a dog it abandoned?”
“I don’t mean he’s being a pessimist about this,” I replied, “but he might be like this about everything, for all we know.”
“Ciro, we don’t know him,” Blanca pointed out. “Don’t be so quick to judge. After all, Bola seemed pretty pathetic and naive when she first came here, but she turned out to be all right.”
I held back a growl. I did not like to hear Bola spoken of in that way. Though it had frustrated me, I had always secretly admired Bola’s extreme optimism, her belief that her humans would return for her. Yet I knew that Blanca was right, about Poco anyway. We did not know him. “We’ll see,” I said.
Poco turned out to be a rather likable dog. He was friendly and easy to talk to, though he did not talk too much himself. The humans really liked him, too; some of them even gave him more food than they gave Bola, in spite of the fact that he was smaller than her.
It was clear that Poco was not holding a grudge against all humans because of the ones who had abandoned him. He was friendly with all the humans we got food from, while remaining slightly distant with them—both emotionally and physically. He would allow them to pet him, but only for short periods of time. Then he would pull back and walk away.
Poco was like this with other dogs, too. He was able to easily talk to anyone as long as the subject was light, but if the discussion started to turn deep or serious, he would find a way to duck out of it. Over time, the dog he became closest to was Bola—though never close enough to make me jealous.
The following year was probably the happiest time of my life. The humans were keeping us better-fed than ever before, mostly due to Bola, and Poco a bit as well. And, in the spring, Lobo and Melosa had puppies.
They only had two, but we all rejoiced over them as if there had been eight. One was a boy, and the other a girl. Both looked a lot like their mother when they were first born, with blue eyes and gray fur. Lobo and Melosa named the boy Allegro, and the girl Kahlua.
Bola was the perfect nanny for the two pups, loving and caring for them as if they were her own. Whenever Melosa needed to take a break, Bola would be there to help watch over them.
Melosa did not take breaks from her pups often, however. In fact, she was a great mother; in the first few weeks she would only leave her pups to get food or water, and kept constant guard over them the rest of the time.
As the pups grew older, Melosa began to leave them in Bola’s charge for slightly longer periods of time. She even allowed Bola to take them to meet the humans for the first time, though she kept a careful watch on them from some distance back.
The humans loved the puppies, more even than they loved Bola and Poco. They began feeding Melosa large quantities of food, so much so that she could no longer be considered thin. This enabled her to produce plenty of milk for her puppies, who in turn were as plump and healthy as if their mother had always been well-cared for by humans. And when the puppies were weaned, the humans fed them enough to prevent them from becoming thin like the rest of us.
“Ciro, do you ever think about having pups?” Bola asked me one day, surprising me.
“No, not really,” I admitted. “Why?”
“I do,” Bola said. “Especially since Melosa and Lobo had pups. I always thought it would be nice to have pups of my own.”
“Yeah, I suppose it would be nice,” I said. “Allegro and Kahlua are great.”
“Exactly,” Bola agreed. “They’re perfect. They’re just so cute! And you can tell that all the humans think they’re cute, too, from the way they feed them.” She was silent for a moment, thinking. Then she continued, “Blanca said she wouldn’t want to have pups, though. She said none of us get enough food as it is, and any pups she had would probably end up starving.”
“Well, Allegro and Kahlua are certainly in no danger of starving,” I said, laughing once. “They almost get too much to eat.”
“I know,” Bola said, wagging her tail. “That’s what I said. But Blanca thinks the humans will stop feeding the pups so much once they grow up. Do you think she’s right?”
“I don’t know,” I said. The thought had not occurred to me before. “I hope not. Besides, why would they? It’s not like they don’t have enough food. They even throw stuff out, of how much they have.”
“Yeah, they’ll keep feeding them as much as ever,” Bola said with certainty. “How could they not?”
Allegro and Kahlua came bounding up to us then. “Bola! Ciro! Do you want to go swimming with us?” Allegro asked excitedly, dropping into a play-bow and wagging his tail.
“Sure,” Bola agreed, getting up to follow the pups.
“Race you to the lake!” Kahlua said to the rest of us, before charging off ahead.
“Hey, I wasn’t ready!” Allegro protested, galloping after her.
As the two pups vanished into the tall grass, Bola looked at me, grinning. “I think we’ve given them enough of a head-start,” she said. “Let’s go.” She began to run after the pups, with me following close behind.
With my longer legs, I soon overtook Bola and had nearly reached the pups. They were still some distance from the lake, so I decided to go easy on them until they were closer. Allegro was in front now, but Kahlua was rapidly gaining on him.
“Hey, Ciro, keep up,” Bola said teasingly as she bounded ahead of me, startling me. I had been too busy watching the pups to notice that she had been overtaking me. I ran faster to catch up to her again.
The four of us reached the lake at about the same time. Kahlua and Allegro leaped into the water as soon as they were close enough to do so, while Bola and I ran into it instead. It was nearing autumn, so the water felt slightly cool. Before long, it would be too cold to go swimming at all, but today the weather was still nice enough for it.
Watching the pups swim, I began to think about the first time they had come to the lake. It had been at the beginning of summer, and the water was about as cool as it was now. The pups had been much smaller then, and were still rather uncoordinated. Neither one had wanted to set foot in the water.
The next day, Melosa and Lobo had gone into the water to swim while Bola and I stayed with the pups on the shore. After a few moments, both pups had cautiously waded into the water. Bola and I went with them, and Melosa and Lobo had swum back to meet us. Within a few weeks, both pups had learned to swim, and loved going into the lake every chance they got.
“Kahlua, see that stick floating on the water?” Allegro asked, bringing me out of my reverie. “I bet I can get it before you can.”
“I bet you can’t,” Kahlua said, and both pups raced off through the water to the stick. It was pretty far out, almost to the center of the lake.
“Pups, be careful,” Bola called after them. “Don’t swim out too far.”
“We’ll be fine,” Kahlua called back.
Allegro beat her to the stick, which he proudly dragged out onto the shore. “Bola, you gave me an idea,” he said when he reentered the water. “Let’s swim all the way to the other side of the lake.”
“Of course not,” I said. “We can’t do that; you’d get too tired and drown.”
“We can do it,” Kahlua said, wagging her tail so hard that it splashed water behind her.
“Even adult dogs hardly ever swim that far,” I said.
“Ciro’s right,” Bola said. “Your mom wouldn’t want you to try something like that.”
“I’m sure she’d be fine with it if we asked her,” Kahlua argued.
“Where is your mom?” I asked. “Why didn’t she take you two swimming?”
“She’s around somewhere,” Allegro said dismissively. Changing the subject, he went on, “You said that adult dogs hardly ever swim across the lake. Have you ever done it, Ciro? Do you know what’s on the other side?”
“Yes, I swam across it,” I said, “but only once. There’s not much on the other side. No other dogs as far as I know, and not many humans either.”
“Sounds like the perfect place to play,” Kahlua said excitedly. “Let’s go across.”
“I think we’ll need to get permission from your mom before doing that,” Bola said. “Do you know where she is?”
“She’s probably getting food or something,” Kahlua answered. “By the time we find her, there probably won’t be enough time to swim across and back. Let’s just go now, while the water is still warm.”
“Yeah, Bola; I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you took us across,” Allegro said. “You’re like a second mother to us.”
“That’s exactly why I can’t say yes without her permission,” Bola said. “I need to take care of you, just as if you were my own pups.”
“All right; let’s just go ask her,” Kahlua said. “I’m sure she’ll say yes.” She began swimming back to the shore, Allegro following reluctantly behind.
We found Lobo before we found Melosa. He was coming back from one of the farmhouses when we spotted him. “There’s your dad; let’s ask him,” Bola said.
When we told Lobo what his pups wanted to do, he refused to give his permission. I had known that neither Lobo nor Melosa would allow their pups to swim across the lake at their age, so his answer did not surprise me, but it did disappoint the pups.
“We just want to see what’s on the other side,” Allegro complained. “We could come right back after that.”
“You’re too young to go swimming that far,” Lobo said. “Next year, when you’re older and stronger, we can swim across, if you still want to.”
“Next year?” Kahlua repeated. “But that seems so far away.”
“It’s nearly autumn now,” Lobo said. “Then it will be winter, and then spring again. You remember spring, don’t you?”
“I remember it being a bit colder,” Allegro said. “And the plants were shorter.”
“That’s right,” Lobo said. “It’s usually too cold to go swimming in spring, but after spring comes summer, the season we are on now.”
“What are the other seasons like?” Kahlua asked.
“Well, summer is the warmest season,” Lobo said. “In autumn, it slowly starts to get colder. Winter is the coldest season. Plants stop growing in winter, and some even die.”
“It sounds kind of scary,” Kahlua said.
“Don’t worry; your fur is thick enough to protect you from the cold,” Bola said.
To our relief, the pups gave up on their idea of swimming across the lake, at least for the time being. Time passed, and the pups grew rapidly. As they grew, they began to look less like Melosa and more like Lobo. Their eyes changed color, until they were brown like Lobo’s, and both pups grew larger than their mother. They never got quite as large as their father, but they grew tall enough that it would be impossible to tell who was taller unless they stood next to each other.
Blanca’s prediction did not come true while the pups were still growing. Even when the pups became bigger than Melosa, the humans kept them well-fed. When spring came around again and the pups turned one year old, they were both strong, healthy young dogs.
Unfortunately, the summer after the pups were fully grown, the humans on the farm we lived on moved away. They had been the ones who fed us the most, and they were nice to us, so we were sad to see them go. We were also a bit worried about the humans who moved into the farmhouse after they left.
Bola was the first to go to meet them. She walked confidently up to the door and sat down, waiting for one of them to come out. I watched from a distance, hoping the new humans would be nice to her. I was not too worried, though, as no one had ever chased Bola away or been mean to her before.
After a few minutes, the door opened and a human stepped out. He was carrying a piece of food, which he gave to Bola. I breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like the new humans were friendly, just as the previous ones had been.
Allegro and Kahlua went next, excited to meet the new humans. They stood outside the door for a long time, but no one came out. The stillness of the house began to make me uncomfortable.
Finally the door opened. At first I thought that the humans simply had not known that the pups were outside, and had opened the door once they had noticed them. But when the human stepped out, I could tell immediately that something was wrong. The human walked out too quickly, and looked tense as he walked towards the pups. Then he started to yell at them in the human language, waving his front legs at them as he did so.
Allegro and Kahlua backed off a few steps, their ears and tails down. They had never been treated this way by humans before, and did not know what to do. The human continued to advance on them, and both dogs turned and fled.
I went with them back to the barn, where the other dogs were waiting. Seeing the pups running back, they converged around them. “What’s wrong?” Melosa asked.
“The human chased us away!” Allegro exclaimed, shivering slightly.
“Yeah,” Kahlua added, “we just went to ask for food, and he came out all angry and started running after us.”
Melosa growled and was about to say something, but Bola spoke first. “I’m sure he didn’t mean you any harm,” she said, trying to reassure them. “He fed me when I went there. Why don’t you two come with me, and I can help you show the human that we’re friendly.”
“I’m not sure I want to,” Kahlua said nervously. “That human was scary!”
“I can go back,” Allegro said, trying to look brave. “I’m not scared of anyone.”
“That’s good,” Bola said. “I’m sure there’s nothing to really be scared of. Are you coming with us, Kahlua?”
Kahlua hesitated. “Well…okay,” she said. “But you go first.”
“Of course,” Bola said, wagging her tail encouragingly. “Follow me.” She led the way back to the farmhouse, both pups following somewhat cautiously.
Melosa and I watched from a distance. I was starting to get worried. The humans living here were unpredictable; they had fed Bola but chased away Allegro and Kahlua. What would happen now?
This time the door opened sooner than it had last time. The same human as before stepped out, and he still looked angry. Seeing this, both pups turned and ran. Bola stayed where she was, not even backing up. She slowly wagged her tail as she looked at the human. The human bent down to pick something up from the ground.
“Bola, run!” I barked, but it was too late. The human had already thrown the rock at her, and was now throwing another at the retreating pups. All the while, he was yelling at the three dogs in the human language. Catching sight of Melosa and me, he reached down to pick up another rock. I turned and fled before he could throw it, Melosa close behind.
The four of us raced back to where the other dogs were waiting. To our surprise, the human was still coming after us!
“Run!” I called out. Lobo and Blanca were on their feet in an instant, and began to run with us away from the human. The human did not stop chasing us until we had run to the next farm.
“We made it,” Kahlua said, laughing and panting at the same time.
“Yeah, you can’t catch us, human!” Allegro barked back in the direction of the other farm.
“No human is fast enough to catch us,” Melosa said, looking exhilarated from the run.
“Wait a minute,” Bola said worriedly. “Where’s Poco?”
I had almost forgotten about him in the rush to get away from the human. I remembered having seen him around the time when Bola first went to the house to get food, but not when Allegro or Kahlua had gone.
“He went to the farm we are on now, to get food,” Lobo answered.
“Then we need to find him, quickly,” Blanca said, her brows furrowed. “We need to warn him about the new humans.”
Tired from sprinting away from the last farm, we moved to the next farmhouse at a fast trot, scanning around for the sight or scent of Poco. We did not see him, and found only a fading scent trail leading around back to the farm we had lived on until now.
We stopped at the boundary of the farm, keeping alert for any sign of the human who had chased us away. “I’m going in,” Bola said, bravely but cautiously walking forward.
“No, Bola; it’s too dangerous,” I said, running around to stand in her path.
“Someone has to go,” Bola said. “Poco doesn’t even know that he has to be careful; he only knows that I already got food from the new humans.”
“I’ll go, then,” I said. “I can run faster than you, so I’ll be able to get away more easily if there’s trouble.”
“I’m the smallest of us,” Bola said. “I’ll be able to get closer to the house without being spotted than you or anyone else could, except Poco. And I’m the only one of us who has been fed by the new human. Maybe he’s calmed down by now, and won’t even try to hurt me.”
“Bola’s right; she is the best dog to warn Poco,” Lobo said, to my disappointment. Seeing the look on my face, Lobo went on, “We don’t have time to stand around and argue. Go quickly, Bola, and be careful.”
Bola nodded and trotted around me, breaking into a run a few steps out. “Slow down, Bola!” I called after her. “Don’t let yourself be seen.”
Bola did not respond, but slowed back to a trot. I hoped that when she got closer to the farmhouse, she would slow further. Then she was out of sight, and the rest of us were left to wait.
I began to pace back and forth, already starting to feel guilty for letting Bola go alone. What if something happened to her? What if that human threw a rock and hit her on the head with it? I shook myself off, as I would after stepping out from the lake, trying not to think of such horrible outcomes.
Bola would be fine, I tried to reassure myself. I had already seen that she could take care of herself in most situations. More than once I had underestimated her, and every time she had amazed me with what she was able to do. But this was different. This human was not like the others that Bola had met. They at least had been consistent; once they started to like Bola, they always liked Bola. None of them had ever fed her one time and thrown rocks at her the next.
It was horrible waiting for Bola to return, not knowing what was happening or what had already happened. I began to feel that I would prefer to have rocks thrown at me over having to wait here, knowing nothing and unable to do anything to help Bola.
“I should have gone with her,” I said out loud.
“If you both had gone, you would have been more likely to draw attention,” Blanca pointed out.
“But I could have helped her keep a watch for the human,” I said.
“She’ll be fine, Ciro,” Blanca said. “Don’t worry about her.”
“If anything happens to her—” I began, but Melosa interrupted.
“Nothing will happen to her,” she said. “Now, be quiet, please, so we can hear when they come back.”
I fell silent, not wanting to miss the sound of Bola’s and Poco’s approach. As we waited, I continued to pace back and forth. Blanca looked slightly irritated by this, but I did not care. Blanca was not as close to Bola as I was; she did not understand what I was feeling.
At long last, we heard relaxed, light pawsteps approaching from the distance. I was relieved to hear that they were not being chased, but wished they would walk faster. I was eager to hear what had happened.
As soon as I could see Bola and Poco in the distance, I ran to meet them, walking back with them to the rest of the pack.
“What happened?” I asked Bola when we met up with the rest of the dogs.
Bola laughed quietly, but I could not see what was funny. Poco looked proud of himself. I began to wonder what was up.
“Well, they didn’t chase Poco away,” Bola finally said. “We shouldn’t have been worried about him.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why they chased the rest of you away,” Poco said, looking almost smug.
“Tell them what happened when you came back to the farm, Poco,” Bola suggested.
Poco wagged his tail as he began. “I was just coming back from this farm we are on now, and I decided to go meet the new humans. When I got there, no one opened the door, so I went looking for you guys. You had all disappeared, so I lay down by the barn to wait for you to come back.”
“You must have come just after we were chased away,” Melosa stated.
“Yeah, probably,” Poco said. “Anyway, after a while one of the humans came out of the house. It was a human pup, and she had brought me food. So I ate it, and let her pet me, starting to think these humans were all like the ones who had lived there before.
“Then the human pup’s father came back. He seemed a bit upset, but did not do anything to scare me away. Both humans went back into the house, and then Bola came running up to me, looking really scared. I was worried at first, not having any idea what was going on.” He laughed as he said this, wagging his tail harder.
“Bola told me everything that had happened,” Poco continued. “It kind of surprised me, but I didn’t think we would be in any danger staying there. But Bola said that we needed to go find the rest of you, because you were all worried about me.” As Poco finished, his tone became more serious. He even looked a bit touched for a moment, but then the humor returned to his eyes. “It’s kind of funny to imagine seven dogs as big as you guys all running away from one human.”
“He was throwing rocks at us,” Melosa said. “Don’t pretend you wouldn’t have run if he had started throwing things at you.”
“I’m not afraid of anyone or anything,” Poco said.
“It isn’t about being brave, Poco,” Blanca said. “It would be foolish to let yourself get hurt unnecessarily.”
“Well, why do you think the human chased you all away but did not even try to chase me away?” Poco challenged. “Maybe he could tell that I would not be scared so easily.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Melosa scoffed. Thoughtfully, she added, “It’s something else. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but there’s some sort of pattern with these humans. I first noticed it when Bola joined us, and then you, and then when my pups were born. There’s some sort of connection.”
“A connection between a Chihuahua, a medium-sized mixed breed, and two even larger mixed breeds?” Poco asked. “I don’t see it.”
“I don’t know what it is,” Melosa said, sounding irritated. “But I’ll figure it out eventually.”
“We all got out safely,” Blanca said. “That’s what matters. But what are we going to do now? We can’t go back to that farm anymore.”
“We’ll have to move to another farm,” Lobo said. “We’ll try to stay on this one for now, and move on if the humans don’t like us staying here.”
“You mean we can’t ever go back?” Kahlua asked, staring back to the farm we had come from.
“Not as long as those humans live there,” Lobo said.
“But it’s our home,” Kahlua whined, gazing back longingly.
“Yeah, we can’t leave it forever,” Allegro agreed. “Not just because of one dumb human.”
“I’m sorry, pups, but we don’t have a choice,” Melosa said.
“Is this our fault?” Kahlua asked. “Did we do something wrong when we first went up to the house?”
“No, absolutely not,” Melosa assured her firmly. “Some humans are like that. If they were so good, none of us would be here at all.”
“But if they hadn’t abandoned us, we never would have met each other,” Lobo reminded her. “I would never have fallen in love with you, Melosa. And Kahlua and Allegro would not exist.”
“We made a good thing out of the bad,” Melosa agreed, “but the humans had nothing to do with that.”
The humans on the neighboring farm to our old one did not mind us staying there, so we did not have to move again. The humans on our old farm had fed us more than the humans on any other farm had, so now that we were deprived of that food source, we began visiting all the other farms more often to try to make up for it.
We were even forced to go to Bruno and Café’s farm more often, to their displeasure. Bruno and Café liked Bola but simply tolerated the rest of us, and wanted to avoid us as much as possible.
One day, as Bola, Poco, and Allegro returned from the farm Bruno and Café lived on, I could tell something was wrong. All three dogs looked stressed, and, as they came closer, I saw an open cut on Allegro’s ear.
Melosa ran to meet them. “What happened?” she asked, sniffing Allegro worriedly. “You got into a fight with Café? How?”
Lobo growled, quietly but deeply. Before he could say anything, Bola spoke. “It was just a misunderstanding,” she said quickly. “Café was in a bad mood, and said something to Allegro; then Poco spoke up for him. Café threatened Poco, though I’m sure he wouldn’t really have done anything to him. Then Allegro stepped between them and growled at Café. Café bit him, but I managed to stop it from turning into a serious fight.”
“We need more details than that, Bola,” Melosa said impatiently. “What exactly was said?”
“Café was making fun of Allegro for not being able to get enough food,” Poco answered. “And he called him a mutt.”
“Yeah, so Poco stepped up all bravely and told him there was nothing wrong with being a mutt,” Allegro said excitedly. “He said that everyone in Lobo’s pack was tougher than a pair of pampered pets like Café and Bruno would ever be. Then Café said that Poco didn’t even count as a dog, because he was closer to the size of a large squirrel.”
Melosa seemed to find that last part amusing, but did her best to hide it. “And?” she asked.
“Poco said that Café was all bark and no bite,” Allegro said. “And then he said that even at his size he would be able to beat Café in a fight.”
Everyone was surprised to hear this. I remembered when Poco had said that he was not afraid of anyone, but I had thought this to be an exaggeration at the time. Now I started to wonder if it were true.
“Then Café growled and said that Poco was lucky he was so small, because he would not fight a dog that small,” Bola said, taking over the story. “So I don’t think he really would have hurt him.”
“But you forgot the part when he added, ‘Biting you would not be like fighting another dog; it would be like killing a large rat,’” Allegro said. “So that’s why I growled at him, and told him to pick on someone his own size.” Allegro seemed a bit scared as he retold that part of the story, but also proud of himself.
“You told him that?” Kahlua asked, looking shocked and impressed. “It looks like it worked!”
“Yeah, that’s when he bit Allegro,” Bola said. “I started yelling at them to stop, and Café let go of him.”
Lobo growled again, quieter this time. “I’m going to go talk to them,” he said ominously.
“You’re not planning to get into a fight with them, are you?” Bola asked worriedly.
“I’ll do whatever is necessary,” Lobo said, already starting to walk towards the other farm.
“Don’t do this, Lobo,” Blanca said, following him as she spoke. The rest of us followed also. “We can’t afford to lose another food source right now.”
“You think Lobo would lose?” Melosa asked. “He beat Bruno last time, remember. We wouldn’t be losing a food source if they fought.”
“I have no plans of fighting either of them,” Lobo said. “I will talk to them. But I will not allow them to treat my pups, or any other member of my pack, so aggressively.”
“You know they’re not going to back down or apologize for anything,” Blanca said. “This is a bad idea. Why don’t we just wait until later, when everyone has calmed down a bit?”
“No,” Lobo said angrily. “Waiting would be showing a sign of weakness. I do not wish to fight them, but I am not afraid to do it, either.”
“Lobo, please listen to me,” Blanca said. “Last time you fought Bruno it was years ago. You’re older now, and Bruno is still young, well-fed, and strong. You wouldn’t win if you fought him again.”
“Of course he would,” Melosa said confidently. “Lobo may be older than Bruno, but he’s still just as strong as he always was. Bruno wouldn’t stand any more of a chance against him than he did last time.”
“Don’t do it,” Bola pleaded. “It doesn’t matter who would be more likely to win—fighting is a very bad idea. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Especially because of me.”
“Because of you?” Kahlua asked. “What are you talking about? It was Poco and my brother and Café who caused this.” The way she talked, she seemed almost eager for her father to fight the German Shepherds.
“But I was supposed to be looking out for Allegro,” Bola said. “I didn’t think anything serious would happen, and I didn’t react quickly enough.”
“Bola, you’ve always taken very good care of my pups,” Melosa said gently. “But there was nothing more you could have done. You managed to stop Café from seriously hurting Allegro, which was more than could be expected under the circumstances.”
We were nearly at the farm of the German Shepherds now. Lobo stopped walking, and the rest of us stopped as well. “Bola, none of this is your fault,” he said. “Café’s the one who started it, and he was also the one to lose his temper and bite. But now it is up to me to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
“Lobo, you shouldn’t fight them,” I said, finally joining the conversation. “Blanca is right, you probably wouldn’t win this time. And Bola is right that fighting at all is a bad idea. We don’t need to make the Shepherds into our enemies, on top of our other problems.” I half-expected Melosa or Lobo to jump in to argue back, but they seemed to sense that I had more to say, and remained silent. “But I agree that we should talk to them, and solve this dispute one way or another.”
“It’s not really about winning or losing,” Lobo said to us all. “I am aware that I might lose if I fought Bruno again, and that it could cause us to lose an important source of food. But I would rather lose a fight, and be forced to stay off that farm, than do nothing, not knowing if or when they will try to start a fight again. If there is to be a fight, I’d prefer to get it over with now.”
“I agree,” Melosa said.
“Now that you put it that way, I’m with you, too,” I said.
“Well, I guess I understand,” Blanca said. “Though I still wish you would wait at least a few hours before going to talk to them.”
“They would think we were scared of them,” Poco said. “I agree that we should go now.”
“Yeah, I don’t want them thinking one little bite would scare me away,” Allegro said.
“I would have been scared if one of them had bitten me,” Kahlua said. “But them biting one of my family members just makes me angry.”
“That’s just the problem,” Bola said. “No one who is angry should talk to them. It will only make things worse. And it will be more likely to lead to a real fight. We should wait until tomorrow.”
“We’re going now, Bola,” Lobo said. “You can stay here if you don’t want to come with us.”
“Of course I’m coming with you,” Bola said, looking offended. “I won’t be able to stop anyone from getting into a fight if I stay here. I just think this is a very bad idea.”
Bruno and Café were waiting for us near the edge of their territory. “Lobo,” Bruno said. “I’ve been expecting you.” He looked upset but not aggressive. Café, however, sneered at us as we approached.
“I heard what happened,” Lobo said. “You agreed that we could eat the food your humans throw out. Has this changed?”
“No,” Bruno said. “You and your pack may still come here to eat.”
“Good,” Lobo said seriously. “So do I have your word that neither you nor Café will attack any member of my pack again, as long as our agreement stands?”
“He deserved it,” Café snapped. To Bruno, he said, “Why do you let them come into our territory at all? You shouldn’t let them push us around and take food from our territory just because of a long-ago fight.”
Melosa and Poco growled in response to this. Before anyone from our pack could say anything, Bruno growled, “Enough, Café. You’ve caused enough trouble already.”
Café glared at Bruno for a second and then looked away.
Turning to Lobo, Bruno said, “It won’t happen again. We don’t want any trouble. But you should keep a close eye on your pups, Lobo. From what I hear, trouble seems to have a way of finding them.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Melosa asked, stepping forward stiffly.
“Oh, nothing,” Bruno said. “Just that I heard that the new humans chased them away, and that you had to leave your farm because of it.”
“That’s why you’ve been coming here so much,” Café added. “You lost a food source because of your pups, and you’ve had to get more food from other places to make up for it.”
“What? Who told you that?” Blanca asked, looking surprised.
Bola shifted nervously and said, “We did have to leave the farm we had been staying on, but it wasn’t Allegro’s or Kahlua’s fault.”
“Oh?” Café said. “They were the ones who first got chased away, after you had already been fed by the new humans. They must have done something to get chased away.”
“They did not,” Melosa said angrily. “Humans are unpredictable, and can be nasty without reason. But you two wouldn’t know anything about that. You’re just a pair of pampered pets.”
Café growled. “Tough talk, coming from you, Melosa,” he said. “You wouldn’t stand a chance without Lobo.”
Melosa growled and crouched down, appearing to be about to spring at Café. Before she did, Bola ran between them.
“Stop!” Bola pleaded. “Don’t fight each other. You’re both my friends, and I’d hate to see either of you get hurt.”
Melosa straightened up, but was still nearly bristling with anger. “Don’t worry, Bola. If a fight starts, I won’t be the one to make the first bite. Though I don’t know how you could consider dogs like them to be your friends.” She took a few steps back, keeping her eyes locked on the German Shepherds the whole time.
“Come. We’re leaving,” Lobo told his pack. Then to Bruno, he added, “But if I hear of any other attack by you or Café, we won’t just be talking next time.”
Our two packs separated, the younger dogs walking backwards a few steps before turning their backs on the members of the other pack. The older dogs, myself included, were more confident and turned to leave as soon as Lobo had finished speaking. We all felt a mixture of anxiety and anger as we left, with the possible exception of Bola.
Bola stared at the German Shepherds for a few seconds before leaving, her expression torn. Then she turned and followed the rest of us. I could tell that she was disappointed and stressed about the way things had gone, but I could not guess what she was thinking.
When Bola had first met Bruno and Café, she had still been under the belief that her humans would return for her, and that her stay here would only be temporary. She had even told the German Shepherds that she was not joining Lobo’s pack. The German Shepherds had liked her and welcomed her, and the three of them had become friends. To her, a fight between the German Shepherds and members of Lobo’s pack must feel the way a fight between Melosa and Blanca would feel to me—both were my friends, just as Bola was friends with the dogs of both packs.
Twice today Bola had helped prevent a serious fight from starting. For now, she had kept the peace between our packs, if only tentatively. For now, she would be able to keep her friendships with the German Shepherds. But I could not help but feel that this would change soon.
Tension hung heavy in the air between us and the German Shepherds after that. One day, as Lobo, Kahlua, and I were at their farm, Bruno approached us. “Lobo. I’m glad you’re here,” he said. I knew this could only be bad news. “Our humans don’t want you around,” he went on.
This was true. The first few times we had gone to this farm, the humans had chased us away. They had never thrown rocks at us, but we always had to be careful to eat quickly, when they were not around.
“We know,” Lobo said curtly. “We’re used to it.”
“And Café and I have decided that we don’t want you coming here anymore, either,” Bruno said. Café had come up behind him as he was talking, and now stood next to him, his expression alert and almost eager.
“We only take the food that your humans throw out, and that you don’t want anyway,” Lobo pointed out. “So why do you suddenly not want us around anymore?”
“We don’t need to give you a reason,” Bruno said. “This is our territory, and you are not welcome here.”
At first, I had been too surprised to say anything. I had even been wondering if this was some poor attempt at a joke, but I could tell by now that Bruno was serious. “But what about Bola?” I asked. “I thought she was your friend. Will you prevent her from coming here, too?”
“Bola’s a nice dog,” Bruno said dismissively, “but she’s not worth having Lobo’s entire pack over for. If she wants to come on her own, she may. But no one else. Not anymore.”
“My pack needs this food source,” Lobo said. “You know I can’t just walk away.”
“I know,” Bruno said, looking almost pleased. Café slowly wagged his tail in excitement.
“We’re going to fight them?” Kahlua asked, her eyes wide with fear.
“No, not you,” Lobo said. “The fight must be between alphas, me against Bruno.”
“And what, Ciro and I are just supposed to stand around and watch?” Kahlua asked, looking even more distressed at that.
“The whole pack can’t get involved,” I told her. “It would not be a fair fight.”
“But Bruno is bigger than my dad!” Kahlua protested. “That’s not fair, either.” Café laughed at her when she said that.
“The fight will be one against one, as it should be,” Lobo said. “Remember this, Kahlua. It is not the size of the dog that determines the outcome of a fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
“Stalling for time, Lobo?” Bruno taunted. “Are you planning to stand around talking until Bola comes here to save you from a fight? Because that won’t work this time.”
“If Bola were here, it would be you she would have to save,” Lobo said. “I’m ready. Your move.” He crouched down, waiting for Bruno’s attack. It was hard to tell if he would side-step or counter-attack, but he looked quite ferocious in that pose, almost like a real wolf. I was glad he was on our side. Kahlua still looked worried, and let out a faint whine.
“We have more at stake in this fight than they do,” I whispered to Kahlua, trying to calm her worries. “And Lobo is a good fighter. He beat Bruno last time, and I’m sure he’ll beat him again this time.”
“That’s not what you said last time,” Kahlua replied. “You agreed with Blanca that my dad might lose if he fought Bruno again.”
Before I could respond, Bruno attacked. He jumped on top of Lobo, knocking him to the ground. Kahlua yelped as if she had been the one knocked down, but Lobo simply growled and struggled free.
Lobo backed up and then darted around to jump at Bruno from the side. He was still surprisingly swift, and Bruno was not able to get away in time. He fell down, Lobo on top of him, biting into his back.
“Get him, Bruno!” Café called, appearing to be barely restraining himself from jumping into the fight.
With apparent ease, Bruno pushed Lobo away from him and got back to his feet, aiming a bite to Lobo’s front left leg.
Lobo gave a short yelp, which then turned into a growl. He stepped back, trying to pull his leg free from Bruno’s grip, but Bruno held on, causing Lobo to trip and fall on his side.
With unbelievable speed, Bruno pounced on top of Lobo, biting into his neck.
“Lobo, get up!” I cried. Lobo was struggling to free himself, unsuccessfully so far. Then something happened which would change the course of the battle entirely.
“Dad, no!” Kahlua shouted as she darted past me, faster than I had known she could move. With surprising ferocity, she slammed into Bruno’s side, knocking him several feet away from Lobo. She bit into his ear and held on.
All of this had happened so quickly that I had not had time to react. “Kahlua, no!” Lobo growled, getting up from where he lay. “Get out of here.”
But it was too late. Café now jumped into the fight as well, grabbing Kahlua by the neck and thrusting her into the ground. Kahlua yelped and struggled wildly, but the larger and stronger German Shepherd held her down easily.
I took a step forward, and then stepped back, not knowing what to do. If I joined the fight now, Lobo and Bruno would have to fight again later; Bruno would not be satisfied with the outcome of an unfair fight. At the same time, I did not want to just stand by and let Café hurt Kahlua.
“I surrender,” Lobo said before I could make a decision. “Let her go.”
Café held on for a second longer, and then released Kahlua, grinning wickedly. Kahlua ran back to join Lobo and me, her tail tucked between her legs.
“Let’s go,” Lobo said, and began to limp away. Kahlua and I walked one on each side of Lobo as we left, me on his left and Kalua on his right.
Once we had left the farm of the German Shepherds, Lobo asked, “Are you all right, Kahlua?” I looked over at the wound on her neck. It was still bleeding, but did not look very deep.
“I’m fine,” Kahlua said shakily. “I’m sorry, Dad. I caused us to lose the fight. If I had only been able to escape Café’s grip, or if I had not been caught by him in the first place, we could have kept fighting. We might have even won.”
“You shouldn’t have interfered in the first place,” Lobo said. Kahlua hung her head. “But if you hadn’t, we still would have lost. I was about to give up when you knocked Bruno off me.”
“But Bruno and Café will never know that,” I said, feeling a sense of satisfaction. “All they know is that Lobo beat Bruno once, and the second time he only surrendered to save his pup. For all they know, Lobo could have beaten Bruno again this time.”
“But maybe he would have, if I hadn’t done anything,” Kahlua said, not looking cheered up at all. “Maybe he would have been able to get free, and continue fighting.”
“We were not fighting to the death, only fighting over a territorial dispute,” Lobo said. “I would have given up, and Bruno would have let me go. If it had been a fight to the death, however, you would have saved my life, Kahlua. This time it was unnecessary, but it was still very brave.”
“I didn’t feel brave,” Kahlua said. “I felt terrified. Bruno was biting your neck, and I thought he was going to kill you. I was terrified that I was going to lose you.”
“If you thought that, that makes what you did even braver,” Lobo said. “I’m sorry I didn’t explain these battles about territory to you better before, so that you would know that it wasn’t that serious of a fight. But diving in anyway, when you knew you wouldn’t stand a chance against the German Shepherds, and believing that they were willing to kill us—that was very brave.”
“I guess,” Kahlua said. Perking up slightly, she added, “Well, at least now I’ll have an interesting story to tell Allegro. He’ll be jealous—he thought he was really brave to defend Poco before, but he’s never been in a fight like the one I was just in.”
Allegro was jealous of Kahlua, though not for the reason she had predicted. Over the next few days, the humans on most of the farms we went to fed Kahlua more than they fed the rest of us.
Mysteriously, once Kahlua’s wound had started to heal, some of those same humans stopped feeding us altogether, and others fed us significantly less than they used to.
“I think I figured it out,” Melosa said when we were all gathered together.
“Figured what out, Melosa?” Lobo asked. None of us had any idea what she was talking about.
“Why the humans liked Bola, Poco, and our pups more than the rest of us, and why they fed them more than us,” Melosa said.
“Why?” I asked.
“It has to do with one of the ways humans are different from dogs,” Melosa said, which only confused me more. “When a dog is good, that dog is always good. You can not take the good out of the dog without completely changing the dog’s personality.”
“But everyone is like that,” Bola said, sounding as confused as I felt. “Humans, too.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Melosa said. “Some humans are clearly bad, like the ones who chased us away from our old home. But others have some good in them, like the ones who feed us. Still, they only have a small amount of good in them, and then they use it up.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Bola said.
“Actually, it does,” Melosa said. “It’s the only explanation for why humans could raise a pup, and be good to it, but then abandon it here later, like what happened to us. They had some goodness in them to start with, but then they used it up, and they could not continue to be good.”
“But what about the humans here, the ones who feed us?” Blanca asked. “For some of them, it was the reverse. They used to not feed me at all, until Bola came, remember? Then, when I went with her, they fed me as well. That shows that they became better, which would not be possible if they only had a limited amount of goodness in them.”
“That’s true,” Melosa admitted, “but now almost none of the humans are feeding us, which supports my theory.”
“What do Bola and your pups and I have to do with this?” Poco asked. “You said you had figured out the connection.”
“Yes, exactly,” Melosa said confidently. “I was just getting to that. When Bola arrived, she was the smallest dog here. And then Poco arrived, and he was even smaller. Back then, it mystified me why the humans would feed a smaller dog more than a larger one, but it makes sense now.
“Since most humans only have a small amount of good in them, they decided to give most of the food to the smaller dogs. They would know that smaller dogs need less food to survive, so they gave them the priority. They did not have enough good in them to make sure we all got enough food, so they focused on the dogs that they could most easily help.”
“Interesting,” Lobo said thoughtfully. “But what about our pups? They are not small, though they were when the humans first met them.”
“Exactly,” Melosa said again. “They might not have known that the pups would get any bigger. And even if they did, they first started feeding them when they were small. They did not require as much food back then as they do now.”
“I wish I was still small,” Allegro said. “The humans aren’t feeding us very much right now.”
“More proof for my theory,” Melosa said. “They also fed Kahlua more when they saw that she was injured, but then stopped feeding her so much once she started recovering.”
“Wait a minute,” Poco interjected. “Lobo was hurt, too. Why didn’t they feed him more?”
“I’ve noticed that humans aren’t very observant,” Melosa said. “The injury on Kahlua’s neck is pretty obvious, but Lobo’s injuries are less noticeable. Anyway, now the humans are not feeding us very much at all. Some of them have even stopped feeding us completely. It’s because they used up their goodness, like I was saying.”
“You could be right,” Lobo said. “It does kind of add up.”
“Yeah, I suppose it does make sense, in a way,” I agreed, though I did not really want Melosa to be right about this.
“It sounds pretty pessimistic to me,” Bola said. “I’m sure there’s some reason—some other reason, I mean—why the humans have been feeding us less. They’ll feed us more again soon. You’ll see. Things will get better.”
“Things did get better, Bola,” Blanca said. “Ever since you first arrived. Everything seemed to be going good for a while then. But now things are going badly again. Maybe Melosa is partly right; but I don’t believe that humans have a limited amount of good, and then it is gone forever. Maybe it comes and goes, like the seasons. I didn’t have much hope of that before you came, but after seeing the way the humans around here treated you, and how they would even allow me to be around when you were there, I changed my mind. Maybe the humans will continue to ignore us and feed us little. But if anyone can change that, and get them to like us again, I believe you can, Bola.”
The humans continued to feed us little, and we all grew thinner. For the first time in their lives, Allegro and Kahlua were so thin that their ribs were visible. We all had less energy than usual, but it was most noticeable in the pups. They had been the life of the pack before; lately they had become so lethargic that it was impossible to tell that they were the youngest members of the pack.
“Dad, can we swim across the lake today?” Allegro asked one day.
“Yeah, last year you said we could this year, when it became summer, and it’s been summer for a while,” Kahlua joined in.
It had always been hard for any of us to refuse the pups anything, but especially now that they had so little energy and rarely asked to do anything. We welcomed anything that reminded us of the fun, almost carefree times we had had the previous year.
“Sure,” Lobo said. “I think you might be disappointed, though. It’ll take a lot of effort to swim over there, and there isn’t much to see or do once you’re there.”
“It’ll be fun anyway,” Kahlua said.
“Yeah; we’ve never been there before,” Allegro said, wagging his tail excitedly. “Let’s go!” He gave a little bounce into the air and ran off towards the lake.
“Hey, wait for me!” Kahlua called, running after him.
The rest of us followed at a trot, not wanting to use up too much of our energy before the swim. When we got to the lake, I felt a bit apprehensive, but also invigorated. I had not had much energy this morning, but the renewed vitality of Allegro and Kahlua was rubbing off on me. I felt confident that I had enough energy to swim across the lake, and, later, to swim back.
Allegro and Kahlua were already in the water when we arrived. They had not begun swimming yet, and both wagged their tails as we approached. “Come on, hurry up!” Allegro shouted excitedly, turning and beginning to swim. Kahlua began to swim as well, and the rest of us followed them.
When we were about half-way across, I began to feel tired. The extra energy that I had felt before starting had dissipated. “Bola, are you getting tired?” I asked, knowing that it would take more effort for her to swim this far, as she had shorter legs than I did.
“A little,” she panted, “but I’m fine.” She was still swimming as fast as she had been when we first started. If she had not been breathing harder, I would not have been able to tell that she was tired.
“What about you, Poco?” I asked.
“Who, me?” Poco asked as he caught up with us. “I could swim twice as far.” I was certain he was just trying to sound tough, but he was not panting after swimming so far.
When we were about three-fourths of the way across the lake, and Allegro and Kahlua were almost at the shore, Lobo called out, “Allegro, Kahlua, wait up.” They slowed down and waited for us to catch up to them.
“Stay close to your mother and me,” Lobo said. “None of us have been here in a long time; we don’t know if this area has been claimed by any other dogs.”
Another few strokes, and I felt the ground beneath my paws. Only Bola and Poco were still swimming now, as their legs were too short to touch the ground. A few seconds later, only Poco was swimming.
Allegro bounded ahead, seeming to forget Lobo’s words of caution as soon as he had cleared the lake. He sniffed the air eagerly, then reported, “I don’t smell any other dogs.”
“Allegro, come back,” Melosa called. “We’re still too close to the water to know for sure.”
“Oops, sorry,” Allegro said, bounding back to join the rest of us.
We were all out of the water now, and began to sniff around the area for the scent of other dogs. It was as I had remembered it—no dogs lived around here.
“It seems there are still no other dogs in this area,” Lobo said. “You can go explore. But there are a couple of farms here, so be careful around the humans.”
Kahlua and Allegro had already started walking forward when Lobo mentioned humans. Then they stopped, and Kahlua asked, “Are the humans around here friendly?”
“I don’t know,” Lobo said. “I haven’t been here for a long time. As far as I know, they won’t throw rocks at us, but they probably won’t feed us, either.”
“Oh, okay,” Kahlua said dismissively. “Not much different from the humans on the other side of the lake, then.”
“Come on, Kahlua; let’s explore,” Allegro said excitedly, leading the way into the trees. Kahlua and Poco ran after him, with Lobo and Melosa following close behind. Bola and I followed more slowly, with Blanca bringing up the rear.
“I remember you said you swam across the lake once,” Bola said thoughtfully. “You were abandoned on this side of the lake, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. “There weren’t any other dogs here back then, just as there aren’t any now. And the humans did not feed me. I would have starved to death if Lobo hadn’t found me.”
“So, Lobo used to come here more often?” Bola asked. “Or was it just a fortunate coincidence that he came here soon after your humans left you?”
“Lobo used to wander a lot, before he met Melosa,” I said. “I think, unconsciously, he might have been looking for her. At any rate, I’m glad he did. I might not still be here if he hadn’t.”
“I’m glad he did, too,” Bola said. “You’re my best friend.”
“You’re my best friend, too, Bola,” I said, wagging my tail.
Bola wagged her tail in response. After a minute, she asked, “How did Lobo meet Melosa?”
“Melosa was abandoned closer to the farm we used to live in,” I told her. “Lobo found her first. He was out searching for food or something when he saw her walking down the dirt road. It was love at first sight for those two.”
“Look at this!” Allegro called from up ahead. Bola, Blanca, and I hurried to see what it was.
Allegro was holding a long bone in his mouth when we caught up. Setting it down proudly, he said, “I wonder what this came from.”
“Probably a sheep or a cow,” Melosa said, sniffing the bone. “I can’t tell for sure.”
“Hey, look!” Kahlua said. “I found another one.” She pulled a smaller bone out of the grass, setting it next to the one Allegro had found.
“Maybe there are more besides these two,” Allegro said excitedly, starting to rummage through the grass. Kahlua quickly joined him, and the rest of us helped as well. Blanca eventually found another bone, about the same size as the one Kahlua had found, but no one managed to find anything else.
Allegro and Kahlua lay down on the grass and began gnawing on their bones. “I wonder where the rest of the bones from that animal went,” Kahlua said.
“They are pretty old,” Melosa said. “Maybe the rest of them have gotten buried or already decayed.”
“Or maybe other dogs came and got them before we got here,” Blanca said.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “There aren’t any other dogs around here.”
“That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?” Allegro asked. “This is a really nice place.”
“Yeah, but there isn’t enough food to support a pack of dogs here,” Blanca said. I had been about to say that when she spoke.
“That’s too bad,” Kahlua said. “There’s plenty of space here, and not very many humans. It would be a nice place to live.”
“Yeah,” Allegro agreed. “You can even find bones lying around to chew on. If the bones still had meat on them, this place would be perfect.”
Most of the humans continued to not feed us. I did not notice at first, but Blanca was the one most affected by it. The few humans who had started to tolerate her after Bola’s arrival went back to chasing her away when they saw her. She had to wait until they were back in their houses before she could come out to eat, or find something else to eat on her own.
Naively, I thought that it would be all right. Blanca had had to take care of herself before, and get her own food without help from humans; she could do it again. Besides, the rest of us would share our food with her whenever we were given something big enough to carry away. I thought she would be fine.
On an early cold day in autumn, Blanca went missing. At first I thought she was just out looking for food, maybe searching through the forest for a dead animal to eat. But as night began to fall and she still had not returned, the rest of the pack and I began to get worried.
“I’m going to go look for her,” I announced.
“I’ll go with you,” Bola offered.
“All right,” Lobo said. “The rest of us will stay here; she might come back while you’re gone. If you aren’t able to find her soon, I’ll join you.”
Bola and I began to follow the most recent scent trail we could find of Blanca. The trail was several hours old. We trotted quickly along it to try to catch up to her.
“Where do you think she went?” Bola asked. “It’s not like her to be gone this long.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just hope nothing’s happened to her.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Bola said. “Blanca’s the toughest dog of all of us. She probably just had to go farther than usual to find food.”
“Yeah, I think that must be what happened,” I said, not wanting to consider any alternatives. “None of us have been getting much food recently. Maybe she found something big this time, and stayed to eat as much of it as possible before coming back. She’d certainly need it, now that it’s getting cold again.”
“Yeah, Blanca has shorter fur than the rest of us, even shorter than Poco’s,” Bola said sympathetically. “She must feel colder in winter than we can even imagine.”
As expected, Blanca’s trail headed into the forest. Suddenly, it grew much stronger. Blanca was close.
“We’re catching up to her,” Bola said happily. “She must be coming back now. Hey, Blanca!”
There was no reply. I started to get worried again. “Blanca, can you hear us?” I called. When there was still no reply, I began to sniff around, trying to pinpoint exactly where Blanca’s scent was coming from.
We found Blanca lying on the ground under an old tree. She was lying on her side, her paws splayed out in a rather strange position. Her eyes were closed, and she was very still.
“Blanca!” I barked, running towards her.
“Ciro,” Blanca said weakly, slowly raising her head and opening her eyes. I breathed a sigh of relief. Blanca was not dead.
I sniffed her worriedly, wondering what was wrong. She did not appear to be hurt, but she had a strange smell. It reminded me of the smell of something decomposing, a very alarming scent to detect in a living animal. “What’s wrong, Blanca?” I asked.
“Are you all right?” Bola asked.
“I think it was something I ate,” Blanca replied, putting her head back down. “I haven’t been feeling well…for a while now. I thought…I would just find someplace to rest…for a while, where I could be alone. But I haven’t been feeling any better.” She spoke slowly, as if each word were a great effort.
“What did you eat?” Bola asked, her eyes wide with alarm.
Blanca made a sound like a mixture between a cough and a laugh. “A better question would be, ‘What didn’t I eat?’” she replied. “I’ve been eating…whatever smells even remotely edible; I’d have starved by now if I hadn’t.”
“Can we do anything to help you?” Bola asked.
“No…there’s nothing you can do now,” Blanca said, closing her eyes.
“Don’t talk like that,” Bola said, beginning to pant and shiver slightly. “I’ll go get Lobo and the others. It’s so cold; we can at least be with you, to keep you warm.”
“Thank you,” Blanca said quietly, “but it doesn’t matter now.” Bola ran back to the farm, faster than I had ever seen her run before. In a few seconds, she was out of sight.
I lay down next to Blanca, pressing my fur against her side. I had forgotten the cold until Bola had mentioned it; the sight of Blanca lying here had driven it from my mind. Blanca felt cold, almost lifelessly so.
“Ciro,” Blanca said, opening her eyes. “I’m proud of you. You’re smart, and kind, and…you know how to take care of yourself. When I’m gone—”
“Don’t talk like that, Blanca,” I interrupted. “You’re going to be fine. Bola will be back soon, and the pack will keep you warm. You’ll get better.”
“No,” Blanca said, her voice urgent. “I have to say this. There isn’t…much time. You have to…take care of the others…and yourself. This isn’t…a good life for any dog. Try to make something better…for yourself, and for the rest of the pack.”
“I will, Blanca, I will,” I said. “But not just for us. For you, too. You’ll get better. And we’ll leave this place, together. We’ll go someplace warmer, farther away from the mountains. You would never be cold again. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Blanca said, closing her eyes again. “That would be wonderful.” She looked almost peaceful.
“And there will be plenty of food,” I went on. “We’ll live next to the most wasteful humans imaginable. There’ll be so much food we won’t be able to eat it all. And all the humans there will be friendly, and love dogs. We’ll never be chased away again. They might even let us into their houses.”
“It sounds like heaven,” Blanca said, “but too good to exist in real life.”
“No; we’ll find it,” a voice said, surprising me. It was Bola. “It’s real.” She and the rest of the pack had arrived.
Everyone crowded around Blanca, trying to keep her warm. Poco even gently climbed on top of her, spreading himself over her like a blanket.
“Not all humans are cruel,” Bola continued. “Think of the ones who live with Bruno and Café. They keep them well-fed. And there are others that are even nicer. There are humans that like all dogs. We’d just have to look for them. I’m sure they’re out there, somewhere.”
Blanca did not respond. She had stopped breathing.
Blanca’s death affected all the remaining members of the pack heavily, but I believe I was the most affected of everyone. I had known Blanca for longer than I had known any other dog, and Blanca had known me longer than she had known any other dog except Lobo.
Lobo and Blanca had gotten along well, but they had never been especially close. After Melosa had arrived, Lobo had spent most of his time with her.
I had respected Blanca ever since I first met her, and we had soon become close friends. Lobo and Melosa were my friends as well, but Blanca had been like a sister to me. In the weeks after her death, I spent most of my time lying down by the barn we lived by, barely even eating.
“We really should leave,” Bola said, interrupting my thoughts about Blanca. It was late in the day, and all the pack was gathered together. “Like we told Blanca we would.”
“I agree,” Melosa said. “This isn’t a good place to live anymore.”
“It would be an adventure,” Allegro said, but he did not sound excited.
“But where would we go?” Kahlua asked. “This is our home. We already had to leave our old home, and things only got worse since then. What if we move, and there’s no food at all wherever we move to?”
“It’s worth the risk,” Poco said. “We’re all starving here.”
“Poco’s right,” I said. “We told Blanca we would go. If we stay here, it’s only a matter of time before someone else dies.”
“I agree that there’s not much for us here,” Lobo said, “but this would be a bad time to move. Winter is just beginning, and we should be conserving our energy, not traveling long distances. If the humans have not started to feed us more by spring, we can leave then.”
“We do have some food here,” Melosa said thoughtfully, “and no guarantee that we could find any food at all if we left. Perhaps it would be better to wait for a while.”
“We aren’t getting enough,” I argued. “If Blanca were here, she’d agree with me. What happened to Blanca is proof that we shouldn’t stay here. We should have left the day—the day she—” I broke off, unable to bring myself to say “the day she died.”
“Ciro,” Lobo said, “I am grieving for Blanca as much as you are. But I have to make the decision that will be best for the pack. It’s too much of a risk to leave now.”
“It’s a risk to stay here,” I said.
“To travel into new territory would be a greater risk at this time,” Lobo said. “We don’t know what we would find. There could be other dogs, aggressive humans, or simply a place like the forest on the other side of the lake, where the only food we could get would be what we could hunt or scavenge.”
“Or there could be kinder humans, who would feed us at least as much as the humans here used to feed us,” Bola said.
“Until they used up all their goodness,” Melosa said.
“That’s just a theory, Melosa,” Bola said, sounding slightly irritated. I think this was the only time I ever heard her get irritated about something, and even now it was hard to detect. “Besides, it would still be more food than we’re getting now, for a while at least.”
“Lobo’s not saying that we should stay here forever, Bola and Ciro,” Melosa said. “I wouldn’t want to do that, either. But it seems reasonable to me to stay here until spring, as long as the humans don’t stop feeding us altogether.”
“You two are just afraid,” Poco said. “If we leave now, it’s true that we might find something bad. We might not find any food. But we might find a much better place to live than we have here. And I think it’s worth the risk. At least we’d actually be doing something, instead of just sitting around here, slowly starving to death.”
“Exactly,” I agreed.
“I’d want to go,” Allegro said, with more conviction than the last time he had spoken. “I don’t want to stay around here anymore. It’s too sad.”
“I agree, it is sad,” Kahlua said. “But I’d be scared to leave right now. I’m okay with waiting until spring.”
“Well, I’m not,” Poco said. He seemed to be about to say something else, but Lobo spoke first.
“If anyone wants to leave now, I won’t try to stop you,” he said. “This is very serious. There is a lot of risk, both in staying and in leaving, and you must all make your own decisions about what to do. But I will be staying here until spring.”
“I will stay as well,” Melosa said.
“I’ll stay too, of course,” Kahlua said.
“Well, I’m leaving,” Poco said. “I don’t even want to spend another day here, much less the whole winter. Bola, Ciro, what about you? Will you come with me?”
Bola whined and said, “We shouldn’t separate. We should all go together when we leave. Stay with us; don’t go off by yourself.”
“So you won’t come with me, then?” Poco asked. “You were the one who brought this up in the first place, you know.” He looked hurt for a few seconds, before his face became unreadable. “What about you, Ciro?”
“I’ll stay with my pack,” I said. “You should, too. We’ve been together for too long to separate like this.”
“We’ve already lost one member of this pack,” Poco said gravely. “This pack won’t survive much longer if we stay here. I would love for you all to come with me, but I’ll go even if you don’t. I’m not afraid to go alone.”
“I’ll go with you, Poco,” Allegro said, surprising everyone. He sounded confident and serious. “I don’t want to stay here and continue starving.”
“What? No,” Kahlua said, starting to whine anxiously. “Don’t go, Allegro. Wait for us until spring.”
“It will be a better life, Kahlua,” Allegro said. “You should come with us. Don’t be scared; it might even be fun.”
“Please don’t go, Allegro,” Melosa said. “Think about this. If we separate now, we might not ever see each other again.”
“So come with us, then!” Allegro pleaded.
“It’s too dangerous, Allegro,” Lobo said. “Stay with us. Please.”
Allegro looked torn. Poco said, “Not as dangerous as staying here. Besides, if we leave, that means there will be more food for the rest of you. A smaller pack is more likely to survive than the one we have now.”
“We can get enough food without you leaving, Poco,” Bola said. “I promise. When I first came here, the humans were not feeding the dogs here very much. I got them to give us more. I can do it again. Trust me.”
Poco looked at each member of the pack before answering. Lobo, Melosa, Bola, and I were looking at him hopefully, while Kahlua kept her gaze on her brother, not even looking back at Poco. Allegro appeared indecisive. “All right,” Poco finally said. “I’ll stay here for another week. But if the humans haven’t started feeding us more by the end of that week, I’m leaving.”
Bola did somehow manage to get more food the week following that discussion. She spent most of each day traveling from farm to farm, occasionally bringing back some food that she had gotten from one of them. She always went alone, so no one saw how she was managing to get so much more food than before. After a few days, I decided to ask her.
“I can’t tell you exactly,” Bola replied, seeming uncomfortable with the topic. “I’ve been going to all the farms more often, so I have more chances of seeing the humans when they are outside.”
“That’s kind of strange,” I remarked. “From the way they’ve been treating us lately, I would have thought they would not want to see us around. It’s strange that they’ve been giving you more food just because you’ve been going to their farms more often.”
“Yeah, it would seem kind of strange,” Bola said. “Well, anyway, I should be going to the next farm now. The pack still needs more food.”
“I’ll go with you,” I offered. “They might give us more if they see that it’s more than one dog that needs food.”
“Thank you, Ciro,” Bola said, “but I think I would be able to get more on my own. It’s what has been working so far.” She was already beginning to walk away.
“Well, okay,” I said, feeling a bit rejected. Bola and I used to go together often to get food; now it was as if Bola did not want to be with anyone. “I’ll go to one of the other farms, then.”
“Sure,” Bola called back cheerfully. “Good luck!” And she trotted off across the field.
I did not have much luck at the farmhouse I went to. I sat outside for several minutes, but no one even opened the door. Eventually I turned and headed back to the farm we lived on. Maybe the humans there would feed me something.
Bola was already back when I arrived. Kahlua and Allegro each had a cooked bone, with pieces of meat still on them. Allegro and Kahlua were pulling them off and swallowing them, and gnawing on the bones.
“Where did you get those?” I asked, surprised. The humans had not given us anything like that for a long time, and they only rarely threw out that kind of food.
“Bola got them for us,” Allegro said, wagging his tail as he responded.
“Yeah, she just brought them back a few minutes ago,” Kahlua added, “from that farm she went to.”
“The humans gave you two bones?” I asked Bola, still shocked.
“Well, I didn’t go inside their house and steal them from them, if that’s what you think,” Bola said jokingly, but there seemed to be something else in her voice as well—nervousness, perhaps, though her words suggested annoyance.
“Do you think they’d give you any more, if you went back there?” I asked.
“No, I’m pretty certain those were the last two they had,” Bola said. “Maybe on a different day.”
“Well, I have to admit, Bola,” Poco said, “you at least have been having better luck getting food from the humans. I wish I knew how you did it, though.”
“I wish I could tell you,” Bola replied. After a pause, she added, “I guess it’s because I’ve been going around to the different farms more often.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Poco said. “The humans do seem to feed me more when I stand around longer waiting for them. They’ve never given me bones, though.”
A few days later, I decided to follow Bola when she went to the neighboring farm to get food. I stayed back far enough to avoid being seen by the humans, as I did not want to do anything to cause them to feed her less. I was curious as to how she was suddenly being able to get so much more food than before, and wondered if it really was just because she was going up to the houses more often. I decided not to tell her that I would be following her.
I watched Bola go up to the house and sit by the door. As I myself had gotten used to, the door remained closed. I wondered how long Bola would sit there before giving up. Sooner than I had expected, Bola got up and circled around the house, carefully sniffing the air and glancing at the windows as she passed them.
When Bola got to the pile of food that the humans had thrown out, she only pawed through it casually and then moved on. I could tell even from this distance that most of it was fruit peelings anyway. Then Bola headed for the metal can which the humans sometimes put food in, but which I had warned her not to knock over, way back when I was first showing her around the different farms.
I held my breath as Bola stood up on her hind legs and placed her front feet against the can, sending it crashing loudly to the ground. Bola looked up towards the house, waiting. The door still did not open. Bola began rummaging through the contents of the metal can. I saw her eat something, but was too far away to be able to tell what it was. Then she pulled out a larger piece of food and began carrying it back towards where I was hiding and watching.
Just then, the door opened, and one of the humans stepped out. Bola heard and began to run. She ran straight past me, not seeming to notice my presence in her rush. The human yelled after her but did not chase her. He stood up the metal can and began putting the things Bola knocked out back inside. While he was distracted, I turned and followed Bola back to the farm we lived on.
By the time I got there, Bola was already gone. Allegro, Kahlua, and Poco were not around, either. Only Melosa and Lobo remained.
“Have you seen Bola?” I asked as I approached.
“Yeah,” Melosa said, wagging her tail. “She just brought us a piece of meat. Then she went off to another farm to get more food.”
“Do you know which one?” I asked.
“No, but she went that way,” Melosa said, pointing with her nose. “You could always follow her scent if you wanted to find her. Why are you asking, anyway?”
“I need to talk to her,” I said, starting to walk away.
“Ciro, is something wrong?” Melosa asked.
Without stopping or turning around, I said, “I don’t know. I need to talk to her first before telling you anything. It might be nothing.” I did not want to worry them, or give away Bola’s secret without even confronting her about it, but I knew that it was not nothing.
I hurried after Bola, hoping to catch up to her before she reached the next farm. I was too late. Bola was sitting outside the door of the farmhouse when I arrived.
“Bola,” I said, coming up beside her.
“Ciro,” she said, looking surprised to see me. “What are you doing here? The humans might not feed us very much if they see both of us.”
“Or they might not feed either of us at all,” I said. “Even if I did leave.”
“What do you mean by that?” Bola asked, looking alarmed.
Before I could answer, the door to the farmhouse opened. Bola flinched and took a step backwards. But the human was holding a few pieces of bread, which she threw to us before stepping back inside and closing the door. The bread was too small to carry back to the rest of the pack. Bola and I ate it silently.
“I saw when you got that piece of meat that you gave Melosa and Lobo,” I said.
“You were following me?” Bola looked betrayed. “Why would you do that?”
“I wanted to know how you were getting so much food lately,” I said, “so that maybe the rest of us could do the same thing, and get more food also.”
“I’m sorry, Ciro,” Bola said, “but I couldn’t tell anyone how I was doing it. If Poco found out that I was not really getting more food directly from the humans, he’d want to leave again. I can’t let the pack be split up. Please don’t tell Poco.”
“Maybe Poco’s right,” I said. “Maybe we shouldn’t wait until spring to leave. But I don’t want the pack to split up, either. I won’t tell him.”
“Thank you, Ciro,” Bola said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I should have known I could trust you. You’ve always been a good friend to me.”
“What you are doing will not help in the long run,” I cautioned her. “You might be getting more food now, but you’re making the humans even less likely to feed us. You need to stop taking food from those metal cans.”
“If you have any other ideas, I’d be glad to hear them,” Bola said. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“I don’t either,” I admitted. “Just be careful. Let me go with you when you go, so that we can help each other watch out for the humans while we get the food.”
“All right,” Bola said. “Do you think we should look in the metal can on this farm?”
“No,” I said quickly. “Not anywhere that we are still being fed. We can do it on the farms where the humans have stopped feeding us; we don’t risk losing anything that way.”
“Okay,” Bola said.
When we got to one of the farms where we were no longer being fed, I stood watch by the door while Bola knocked the metal can over. She did not find anything this time.
On the next farm, Bola watched the door while I knocked the can down. As I dug through the trash, I had to admit to myself that this was pretty exciting, and a nice way to get back at the humans who had stopped feeding us. I even found a large hunk of cheese to bring back to the other dogs. I let Bola carry it back, so it would look less suspicious.
Bola gave the cheese to Poco, who had not had much luck getting food from the humans that day. He accepted it gratefully, wolfing it down in a few bites.
That set the pattern for the next few weeks. I would go with Bola whenever she went to one of the farms where the humans had stopped feeding us, and we would go separately to the other farms. Bola and I would take turns going through the garbage, and then Bola would bring back whatever we found. I would wait and let her get back first, so that we were not always seen arriving together.
Sometimes, Bola and I would eat what we found right there, without bringing anything back, but that was rare. No one in the pack got much food, but we were all generous with what we did get. It was the way we had survived as a pack.
“I’m not feeling very well,” Allegro said drowsily. It was almost the middle of winter now, and, despite the extra food that Bola and I had been managing to get for the pack, we were all less active than usual. Allegro and Kahlua usually each had the same amount of energy, but recently Allegro had become more lethargic.
“You didn’t eat anything that didn’t smell all right, did you?” Melosa asked worriedly. Allegro’s statement had naturally alarmed all of us; time seemed to freeze as we waited for his answer.
“No,” Allegro replied, sounding uncertain. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Then what’s wrong?” Kahlua asked. Her voice was calm, but her eyes were wide with worry.
“I just feel like I have almost no energy,” Allegro said. “I started feeling like this yesterday, but I thought I was just tired. But even after sleeping the whole night and part of today, I still feel tired.”
“Rest as much as you feel like,” Lobo said. “The rest of us will bring you food.”
“Okay,” Allegro said sleepily, laying his head down. He had already been lying down before even beginning the conversation.
Melosa stayed with Allegro while the rest of us went to try to find some food for him. I went with Bola, while Poco, Kahlua, and Lobo each went to different farms.
“We can’t let what happened to Blanca happen to Allegro,” Bola said once we were out of earshot of the other dogs. She had remained calm while in the presence of Allegro, but I could tell now that she was scared. “We have to get more food, and good food, so that he can get stronger.”
“Don’t worry, Bola,” I said, trying to reassure her without letting on that I was also worried. “Blanca ate something rotten, out of starvation. Allegro is not as thin as she was, and he didn’t eat anything bad.”
“I know,” Bola said. “I just can’t help thinking things like that. But it won’t happen. He’ll get better. I know.”
Neither of us spoke as we approached the farmhouse. Bola walked up to the metal can and knocked it over, while I watched and listened intently for any signs of the humans. Bola dug carefully through the trash, but after a few minutes came back empty-mouthed.
She shook her head as she walked back to me. We rarely talked while doing this, to lower our chances of being heard by the humans. I knew what her head shake meant—there was no food in the garbage this time. I nodded, and we moved on to the next farm.
This time we were luckier. I managed to find a few bones with some meat still on them; Bola and I brought them back to Allegro. The other dogs had managed to bring some food back as well. Today, at least, Allegro got enough food.
To everyone’s relief, Allegro was feeling better the next morning. He went with Melosa to get food from the nearest farmhouse, and seemed less tired than he had the day before.
“I wish this winter was over already,” he said when they got back.
“Don’t we all,” Poco agreed. “The sooner we leave here, the better.”
“It’s probably better that we decided to wait until spring,” Bola said. “It won’t be too much longer, though. Winter is almost halfway over.”
“Yes,” I said, exchanging a glance with her. “We managed to make it this long. Before too long, it will all be over and we’ll be able to leave.”
“I still don’t see why we can’t go now,” Poco said. Seeing the look of alarm on Bola’s face, he went on, “But don’t worry. I won’t leave without the rest of you. I said I would stay if we managed to get more food, and we have been getting more food, thanks to you, Bola. Though I still don’t know how you do it.”
Bola looked uncomfortable as she answered. “I guess it was just meant to be this way,” she said.
“Yeah, I guess,” Poco said. I could not tell if he believed that or not.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter how you do it, Bola,” I said, trying to cover up for her. “I’m just glad we’ve been getting more food than before.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Allegro said.
“I don’t really think it’s strange that Bola has been getting more food recently,” Kahlua said. “What I think is strange is that the rest of us haven’t been able to do so as well.”
“Yes, I wonder why that is,” Melosa agreed, gazing at Bola analytically.
“Doesn’t fit well with your limited-goodness theory, does it?” I joked, diverting the attention away from Bola.
Melosa looked annoyed. “No, it doesn’t,” she said, not seeming to find the humor in the situation. “But I have a feeling it’s something else. I just need to figure out what.”
“Good luck with that,” I said, trying to sound sincere.
Near the end of winter, Bola and I began having more difficulty getting food. The humans had started putting rocks on top of the metal cans that we took food from, making them harder to knock over. We were also finding food less often when we did manage to knock them down.
Bola did not seem to be too concerned about this. Ever the optimist, each day she insisted that we would be able to find more food than the day before. When we were not, she would point out that at least we were now one day closer to spring, one day closer to leaving this place.
Then tragedy struck. Bola and I were walking back from the farm we used to live on, after having dug through the humans’ trash there. I had been standing guard while Bola got the food. Bola had found a few bones, and we were both carrying them back to the other dogs. We had just crossed over onto the farm we now lived on when Bola dropped her bones and lay down.
“Whoa,” she said. “I don’t feel so well.”
Dropping my bones as well, I rushed back to her. “What is it, Bola?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Bola said, sounding confused. “I just suddenly started feeling dizzy.”
“When was the last time you ate?” I asked, thinking that she might be weak from hunger.
“Just right now,” she said. “When I was digging through the trash. There was more food besides the bones, but nothing big enough to bring back. There was still more than usual, though.”
“What kind of food was it?” I asked, starting to panic but trying not to show it.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Nothing I ever smelled before. It smelled like some kind of meat, though.” She shakily got to her feet and said, “But don’t worry; I’m sure I’ll be fine. Let’s bring these bones back to the pack.” Picking up the bones she had dropped, Bola began walking slowly on. I picked up my bones and walked beside her, still concerned.
This time I stayed with Bola as she brought the bones to the pack, instead of letting her bring them all back herself like I usually did. When we returned, everyone else was there except Lobo and Kahlua. They were all happy to see us, and did not seem to notice that anything was wrong with Bola.
“Looks like you both got lucky this time,” Melosa said as she eyed the bones. She sounded impressed.
“Yeah, I guess,” Bola said weakly, lying down in the grass.
“Wow,” Allegro said as he grabbed a bone. “Which humans gave you all these? I want to go ask them for food next time.”
“Well, they didn’t exactly give them to us,” I admitted. “They had thrown out these bones, and we just found them. They weren’t intending to give them to us.”
“But who would throw out all this?” Allegro pressed. “It would be worth going there more often. They might throw out more bones, or something else.”
But I was not paying attention to him; I was looking at Bola. She had laid her head on the ground and half-closed her eyes. Despite the cold, she was panting.
“Bola, are you all right?” I asked, making no attempt to hide my panic this time. She reminded me so much of the way Blanca had looked when we found her in the woods.
“Don’t worry about me, Ciro,” Bola replied. “I just need to rest for a little while.”
“Do you still feel dizzy?” I asked.
“Like the world is spinning,” she said. “And it’s hard to concentrate. Hard to talk. Hard even to think.” She closed her eyes but continued panting; she did not look at all peaceful.
I pressed my nose into Bola’s fur, breathing in her scent. With alarm, I noticed that not only was she panting; she was actually hot. Even with Bola’s relatively thick fur, it was too cold to be hot.
“Is she cold?” Poco asked quietly from beside me. I had not noticed his approach, and would have been startled if I had not been so preoccupied worrying about Bola.
“No,” I said. “She feels hot, actually.”
“Then it’s not like Blanca,” he said hopefully. “She’ll get better.”
“Of course she’ll get better,” I snapped, refusing to consider the alternative.
“Is there anything we can do?” Allegro asked worriedly. “Bola and the rest of you got food for me when I was sick; should we bring food for her now?”
“No, I don’t think that would be a good idea now,” I said. “I think she ate something that made her sick.”
Allegro’s eyes widened with alarm. “But that’s what—”
“There is something you can do, Allegro,” Melosa interrupted. “Go find your father and sister, and tell them that Bola is not feeling well. We’ll watch over her while you’re gone.”
“Okay,” Allegro said, bounding off.
“Ciro,” Bola said quietly, almost in a whisper. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Not right now, Bola,” I said softly. “You need to rest. You can tell me when you’re feeling better.”
“That’s just it,” Bola said. “I’m feeling worse. I can barely stay awake. I need to say it now.”
“It’s okay if you fall asleep,” I said. “You need to rest to get better.”
“Just listen to me, please,” Bola said.
“Okay,” I said. “What is it, Bola?”
“Blanca was right. Poco was right,” Bola said. “We should have left this place a long time ago. I shouldn’t have taken food from those metal cans to get us to stay here longer.”
“We both did that, Bola, and there was nothing wrong with it,” I replied. “We had to, to keep our pack together. It was the right thing to do. Besides, you were one of the ones who said we should leave. You didn’t argue against it until you saw that it would split up our pack.”
“But I could have brought it up earlier,” Bola said. “Right after Blanca died, before it got cold.”
“No one else brought it up, either,” I said. “We were all still mourning for her.”
“But I thought of it,” Bola argued. “Every day. The only reason I didn’t say it was because I still believed my humans would come back for me. What would happen if they came back and I wasn’t here? But that was a foolish thing to think. They’re not coming back.” Bola stopped, and her eyes were filled with a pain that had nothing to do with her physical condition.
“You were always an optimist, Bola,” I said, not quite knowing what to say. “That isn’t a bad thing.”
“Why do you think we were abandoned here, Ciro?” Bola asked. “Why did they never come back for us? I loved my humans; I would have died for them. I thought they loved me, too, at least enough to want to keep me around. I can’t stop wondering what I did wrong. Why wasn’t I good enough for them?”
I felt Bola’s pain as if it were my own. I had long since gotten over my own abandonment, but Bola’s words brought it fresh to my mind. I had wondered the same things back then, about myself and about all the other dogs I had seen abandoned. But I felt an anger about it, too, which Bola did not seem to feel.
“None of us did anything wrong, Bola,” I said. “And especially not you. There was nothing more you could have done. You’re perfect. Your humans didn’t deserve to be around you.”
“Oh, Ciro,” Bola said, smiling faintly, “you’ve always been kind to me. Ever since that first day, when you gave me your food. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.”
I was about to reply when I heard rapidly approaching footsteps. Allegro had returned with Lobo and Kahlua.
“It’s good to see you two,” Bola said to them. “Now all my friends are here.”
“You should try to get some sleep, Bola,” Lobo said.
“Not yet,” Bola said. “Lobo, you have to leave. You, and the rest of the pack. Promise me. Promise me that no matter what happens, you’ll leave tomorrow. Even if you have to leave without me.”
“We’d never leave you behind, Bola,” I said before Lobo could reply. “We’ll stay with you until you get better.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Bola said. “I mean, if I don’t get better. Don’t stay around here like we did after Blanca’s death. Find a better place. Promise me.”
“We’ll take care of you, Bola,” Lobo said. “As soon as you’re better, we’ll all leave together.”
“Good,” Bola said. “But promise me that if I don’t get better, you won’t stay here. You’ll find a better place, with better humans, where you won’t have to starve anymore.”
“You’ll get better,” Lobo said, but I could not tell if he really believed that or if he was just trying to reassure her. “But if it makes you feel any better, I promise.”
“Thank you,” Bola said, sighing in relief. She seemed to have relaxed slightly. “Ciro,” she continued, almost in a whisper. I stepped closer to hear. “I needed to convince you to leave, but that is not the thing I was talking about when I said I needed to tell you something.”
“Then what is it, Bola?” I asked, almost whispering myself.
“What I need to tell you,” Bola went on, now talking too quietly for any of the other dogs to hear, “is that I love you.”
“I love you, too, Bola,” I whispered back. “From the moment I first saw you.”
“Really?” Bola asked, her tail thumping on the ground once in happiness. “I wish you had told me that earlier.”
“I wish I had, too,” I said. “But I was afraid. I thought you only considered me a friend, and I didn’t want to do anything to damage our friendship.”
“Well, at least I know now,” Bola said. “Better late than never, right?” Talking slightly louder so that the other dogs could hear, Bola said, “Now that you are all here, I am happy. I value your friendship more than anything I ever had when I lived with humans.” She paused, then added, “Now I can rest.” And she closed her eyes again, looking almost peaceful. She seemed to fall asleep within seconds, leaving the rest of us to watch over her in silence.
I awoke the next morning to find Bola’s body cold and still. She was not breathing. I pressed my nose into her fur and closed my eyes, in too much shock and pain to even wake the rest of the pack.
Within a few minutes, though, they were all awake. “No,” Kahlua sobbed when she found out, and Poco let out a short, high-pitched whine. Then Allegro began to howl.
Please don’t go
Kahlua joined in, rephrasing the howl of her brother:
Don’t go away,
Please, Bola, stay
They could not accept that she was dead. They literally did not even believe it. We had all seen when Blanca died, but Bola had died while we slept. We had all hoped that she would get better, and had believed that we would at least have some more time with her. Finding her dead now, it was as if she had been stolen from us. Then Melosa began to howl as well.
We need you here.
Lobo joined in, completing the phrase Melosa had begun and starting another:
We need you near.
Bola, know, always you were a friend.
Melosa finished the phrase:
You became family in the end.
To me, Bola was more than a friend, more than family. It was as if she were a part of my very soul. I could more easily part with one of my limbs than with her.
Kahlua continued to howl.
To me you were a second mom.
Allegro howled in agreement:
We need you like we need our mom.
I thought about the time Bola had told me that she wanted to have pups of her own, and how that would never happen now. Then Poco began to howl as well.
You cared for me when I was all alone,
I didn’t have a thing, not e’en a bone;
I never feared when you were near,
But now I’m filled with strange new fear,
What will I do without you here?
I never feared when you were near.
I had thought Poco was afraid of nothing. I never would have guessed that he was afraid of being alone. Hearing Poco’s howl, I suddenly felt sick with fear myself. His words rang true for me as well; what would I do without Bola? Pain had prevented me from being able to howl before, but suddenly my emotions came flooding out all at once, and I began to howl, too.
Bola, hear, I need you here
All is dark, but one thing’s clear
That I need you here with me
Rise, together we shall flee
There was a pause in the howling. Then I continued:
How could this be the end?
To all you were a friend
Human or dog, you cared for all
Bola, my love, how could you fall?
If such a dog as you could not survive,
Then how is any one of us alive?
Without you here, I feel as if I also died,
For ever since we met, my life to yours was tied.
My howling had become faster and more frantic as I went on, changing the sound of the tune from mourning to desperation. Lobo finished the howl, returning it to its original tone with his final lines:
Bola, dearest friend to all, is gone.
Now, alone, we must continue on.
When we finished howling, I noticed that we were not alone. One of the humans who lived in the closest farmhouse was standing a short distance away. Seeing Bola’s body, she walked over and crouched down beside her, gently stroking Bola’s fur. There were tears in her eyes.
I wanted to growl at her. It was because of her and all the other humans who had stopped feeding us, or almost stopped feeding us, that Bola had died. And now she was here crying as if she actually cared about us. I tried to growl, but the only thing that came out was a whine.
The next day, I was surprised to see Café in our pack’s territory. He approached us warily, his head and tail held low. He did not appear aggressive.
Lobo, Melosa, and Allegro were off somewhere else, probably getting food, leaving me with Poco and Kahlua. Café did not seem to have come to fight, but I growled at him anyway as he approached. “Café,” I said. “What do you want?”
“Bruno and I heard about Bola,” Café began, almost hesitantly. “We’re sorry about what happened to her.”
“You, sorry?” I repeated in disbelief, continuing to growl. “Do you really think I would believe such a lie? You didn’t care about Bola. Stay away from us, Café, or you will be sorry.”
“You’re wrong, Ciro,” Café said. “I did care about Bola. That’s why I came here now. I—”
“If you cared about her, you wouldn’t have stopped her and the rest of us from eating the food that you didn’t want anyway,” I interrupted, taking a step toward him.
Café flinched but did not step back. “I know,” he said, surprising me. That had not been the answer I was expecting. I stopped growling and listened. “I know it was because of me that Bruno and Lobo fought. I know our farm was a good food source for Bola and the rest of her pack. I hold myself partly responsible for her death.
“I don’t know if she told you this,” Café went on, “but, after Lobo lost the fight with Bruno, she came to try to convince Bruno to change his mind, about not allowing Lobo’s pack on our territory. We said harsh things to her, and I regret that now.”
“She was your friend and you betrayed her,” I said. “You can’t take it back. You can’t make up for what you did. Just go.” My voice was flat and emotionless. I did not care if the German Shepherd regretted making Bola’s life harder while she was still here, or if he wished he could undo what he had done. There was nothing he could say that would change what had happened.
“I know we can’t make it up to her,” Café said, “but Bruno and I truly do feel ashamed about the way we acted, so we decided to allow you to take food from our farm again. You can come at any time you’d like, and we’ll never try to hinder you again.”
“I wouldn’t even want food from your farm,” Poco said, speaking up for the first time. “And if what you say is true, why did you come to tell us instead of Bruno?”
“I wanted to be the one to tell you,” Café said. “We would understand if you didn’t want to come to our farm anymore; but, Ciro, would you at least pass the message on to Lobo?”
“I will,” I said. “He can decide what to do.” I did not know if I would be willing to go back to Bruno and Café’s farm, and I did not want to think about it right now. The rest of the pack could discuss it and decide what to do, and I would go along with them.
“Thank you,” Café said, and he turned and left.
Like Poco, Melosa was angry at the German Shepherds and did not want to go back to their farm. Lobo, however, took a more practical view of the situation, and said that we should accept, as it would mean more food for the pack. He soon convinced Melosa and their pups to agree with him, and eventually he convinced Poco as well.
The German Shepherds kept their distance from us the next time we went to their farm, seeming to be sincere about not wanting to start another conflict.
The same day that Café came to our farm, something almost miraculous happened. The humans began feeding us more, more even than they had in the first few months after Bola’s arrival. I do not know why they did, and even Melosa could think of no explanation for it. But suddenly, it was as if they had remembered us, or as if they were seeing us for the first time, and liked what they saw. They were kinder towards us, and were willing to feed us almost every time we asked for food, even if we asked several times a day. Within a few weeks, we had all gained so much weight that our ribs were no longer showing.
Things were going well, at least for now. With all the food we were now getting, there was no longer any need for us to leave. We had fulfilled our promise to Bola, of finding a better place, with better humans—all without having to leave our home.
In time, the rest of the pack got over Bola’s death, just as they had gotten over Blanca’s. Allegro and Kahlua played happily again, as they had when they were pups. Poco, Lobo, and Melosa were all content, and wagged their tails often. I wagged my tail, too, and tried to pretend everything was fine.
But the truth is, I never got over Bola’s death. I still miss her every day. Every place we spent time together is just another painful reminder of what I have lost. Even looking at Allegro and Kahlua reminds me of her. When I lost Blanca, it was like losing a close sister. But when I lost Bola, I lost my soulmate. And that is something I will never get over.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Westphal lives in Minnesota. This is her third book, which she wrote at the age of 19. Her other books are the two books of the Dragon Land: Two Dragon Brothers series. For updates on upcoming books, visit her website: http://elizabethwestphal.blogspot.com
A pack of abandoned dogs live together on a farm. In an unfriendly environment with no humans to look after them, these dogs have learned to survive on their own. Food is scarce, and the dogs constantly face starvation. With four dogs in the pack, there is barely enough food to keep the pack alive. Then another dog is abandoned, a dog which will change their lives forever. Everyone seems to love her, even the humans, who start feeding all the dogs in the pack. The pack continues to grow, but then the humans mysteriously stop feeding the dogs. The pack of eight dogs must now fight harder than ever to survive in the land where they were first abandoned and then forgotten.