Title: A Dog of Many Names
Author: Douglas Green
Publisher: Circuit Breaker Books
Genre: Adventure / Fiction
About the Book:
Born a runt, Rascal is destined to be an underdog. Despite what looked like an unbreakable bond with the daughter of the family who bred her, Rascal’s devotion is discarded when she finds herself left roadside, with nothing but a few pieces of kibble to help her survive. Abandoned and alone, Rascal must learn to fend for herself and embark on a harsh and dangerous journey through the mountain wilderness of Southern California. Along the way, she encounters strangers who teach her about the good and bad of humans. But will she ever find a home that lasts? A Dog of Many Names is a courageous story of survival, seen through the eyes of an unforgettable dog, struggling between her greatest needs — to find her own strength, and to love and be loved.
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And then, one by one, the eyes opened…
Everything you hear about Southern California is true—stars, beaches, awful traffic—but about sixty miles east of Los Angeles lies another world. Called the Inland Empire (to convince farmers to move there long ago), it’s a dusty land of factories, warehouses, and homes. A land of struggle.
For example, take Fred and Myrna Corbett. Fred’s grand- parents stopped here on their way from Oklahoma during the Depression. Years later, Myrna’s father moved nearby for a military job after serving in Korea and met her mother one night as she sang for a touring band.
Fred and Myrna met in high school. But they were in their thirties before both suddenly realized they’d always liked each other. Next thing they knew, they were married, then pregnant, and then mourning the loss of a son who almost made it to breathing. But this only made the birth a year later of a baby girl, Angela, especially joyous. By this time, the local couch factory had closed, and Fred had started his own furniture repair business, while Myrna kept her job at the chain drugstore counter three days a week. And now that Angela had defined them as a family, they bought a dog.
Greta was, everyone said, as perfect a German shepherd as ever had been seen. Larger than normal, with defined musculature, noble chin, and a splendid mask (the coloring on her nose and mouth), she was a natural watchdog and companion, and easily the most valuable possession—if you’d use that word—in the Corbett home.
But the Corbetts had another role for her too. Given her looks and her pedigree, they found that breeding her with José Hastings’ similarly beautiful Siegfried gave them litters of pups which, after splitting the profit, brought in a welcome few thousand dollars a year. Myrna joked that, while they lived in an area called an empire, the only real imperial power around was Greta and Siegfried’s progeny taking over the whole county.
Fred refused to keep Greta in a crate, except when she was nursing pups. But he did keep their eight-foot fence in good repair, to ensure no one but Siegfried would ever date their beloved debutante. Which eventually led to quite a mystery.
When Angela was almost nine, Greta was found to be pregnant again, but when she gave birth it was clear the puppies…weren’t Siegfried’s. All but one bore a clear resemblance to Walter, a chow-Doberman-and-more mix owned by Homer Scott down the street. But how could Walter, who was too stocky to jump over a shoebox, have managed to climb into their yard?
Fred searched the yard and found no possible way. But as he finished, he noticed muddy footprints on top of Greta’s doghouse, which was just tall enough for her to have climbed onto it and pulled herself over the fence. Pulled herself?
Despite regular visits with Siegfried, she risked her life to escape to Walter? Fred went into the house, where Myrna was showing the newborns to Angela, and revealed his discovery. “We won’t let anyone know about them till they’re eight weeks old,” Myrna explained. “Then they’ll be so unbearably cute, no one will be able to resist them.”
Angela smiled, remembering when “unbearably cute” was the term her mother would use to describe her, just before covering her tummy in loud kisses. She counted the babies out—five, six, seven, with the seventh just half the size of the others. She asked why, and Fred explained that, even inside the womb, puppies compete for food, and the smallest often comes out malnourished. “And the runts usually end up fearful, because they’ve been beaten up for longer than they can remember.”
“Ohh!” Angela whined, and reached out to hold the tiny morsel, but Myrna reminded her not to touch them yet. Seeming to grasp the idea, though, Greta leaned over and started licking the tiny one.
And then, one by one, the eyes opened. And their personalities as well.
The cheerful brat who would bite his siblings to get more access to Greta’s milk; the nurturer who spent all his awake time licking his brothers and sisters, even when they were sleeping or nursing; the explorer who had to be watched so that she wouldn’t find a way out of the fenced-in kitchen (“Like mother, like daughter,” Fred shook his head); the lazy sleepy boy who didn’t seem to mind any treatment as long as he could remain exactly where he was; the nervous watcher, always checking around as if some- thing bad were coming at him; the big bulky girl, shoving others all day, but with no ill will—just moving whatever was in her way. And the sad-eyed runt, pushed away by the others at every feeding time, but pulled in by Greta when she’d cry, or at the bottom of the pile at playtime, or sleeping on the outside of the tiny pack—pressing herself against whomever was available for warmth. Ironically, she was the only one who looked like a tiny version of noble Greta, while all the others looked like Walter or a mixture of the two.
And at eight weeks, Myrna’s theory proved right. All it took was posting on a website, and the phone started ringing immediately. The puppies, unable to sleep with the noise, watched to see what the furless giants were doing. When the sixth call came in, Myrna smiled at Angela and answered, “Daisy Hill Puppy Farm!” Angela giggled, even though she didn’t know what her mom was referring to. But then Myrna’s eyes widened suddenly. “Oh, I’m sorry, Rich. Nothing. What…?”
She looked concerned. “Today? But I’m…I’d…I’d have to bring Angela in, is that…? Okay, sure, I’ll be there.”
She hung up, looked at Angela, and almost said some- thing, but thought better of it.
“We have to go in to work.”
“Oh, Mom, I don’t want to! It’s boring there, and I want to stay with the…”
“I’m sorry, honey,” Myrna cut her off. “It won’t be for long. Something’s…something’s up.”
They left out the back door, as sixteen eyes watched.
All the eyes were startled open two hours later, by the sound of the door unlocking and Angela asking, “What does ‘got her trained like a little monkey’ mean anyway?” in annoyance. The puppies began whining, as Greta pulled them in and began cleaning them.
“What? Who said that?” Myrna asked absently, looking at her phone.
“Mr. Daniels. When we first went in. He gave me that big, loud, ‘Hey, Angela! How’s it going?’ and I said ‘I’m fine, Mr. Daniels. How are you?’ and he told you that you had me trained like a little monkey.”
“Oh, honey, he’s just… He’s not very good with people. He was actually complimenting your manners.”
“Well, if he’s not good with people,” Angela asked while opening a bag of electric-colored candy, “why is he your boss?”
Myrna paused to think that one out. “I think because he’s good at dealing with his bosses. That’s a good lesson to remember, dear.”
The runt, getting shoved aside by the pushy pup, watched Angela give that idea some consideration for about one second, before giving up on it. “And why does he ask questions and then talk over me when I answer?”
Myrna turned to Angela. “That was awful, honey. He was wrong to do that. He asked you about your school, and then when you started to tell him about it, he turned and talked to me, completely ignoring you. I hated it.”
“So why didn’t you stop him?”
“Because…” Myrna winced. “Because what he was saying upset me more. I’m sorry.”
Angela nodded blankly but turned to the crate. “And how are you, little squirrels? Did you have a good afternoon?”
“Better than ours,” Myrna muttered under her breath as she opened the refrigerator.
Greta looked up from her pups and gestured a friendly lick to Angela. Two of the puppies stayed feeding, while the others came up to the bars to lick and chew her fingers. “Why do you think they smell so good, Mommy? Even their peepee smells nice.”
“Oh, that’s probably so we don’t get mad and kick them out when they bite us with those sharp teeth.”
“But they’re too sweet to…Ow!” She pulled back her finger from the brat as he wagged his tail and headed back to his mother.
“Oh, Myrne, no…” Fred moaned as he walked in, the watching pups able to hear his worry. “What happened?”
“I’ve known it was coming. Ever since they started in- stalling those self-checkouts in the front, I’ve told you.”
“But you’ve been so loyal. Who was it? Rich?” “Of course.”
Angela, holding the sleepy little one in her lap, while Greta and the other pups focused on the scent emanating from the oven, chimed in, “I don’t like him, Daddy. He asked me how I liked school and I told him it was fine except that Julia Gonzales called me stupid, and Robin Walker pulls my hair, and—”
“Honey, let Mommy tell me.”
Angela sat back with her mouth still open, and then looked down as the pup in her lap nuzzled her hand.
“Oh, you know, it’ll be two weeks’ pay—what’s in the contract—and he’ll write a letter of recommendation and talk me up. Usual company policy. All ‘Hey, Myrn, you know I don’t make policy, right?’” Myrna said, in a good enough imitation of Rich to make Angela giggle.
Myrna and Fred smiled at her, but then nobody could think of anything to say, so the room went silent, except for the whimpering of the exploring puppy, trying as usual to open the crate’s gate.
“And Mommy took me and her out for candy. And I got a—”
“‘Herself and me,’ honey. Or ‘us,’” Fred counseled Angela, not taking his eyes off Myrna’s clenched face.
“I thought the darkest chocolate I could find might help,” Myrna smiled.
Angela’s face soured. “I tried it. It tasted like the tar on the playground.”
Fred turned to her. “You really ate the—?” “Actually, honey, dinner’s almost ready,” Myrna interrupted. “Can you put him back and go wash up? Face and hands—your mouth looks like a rainbow from all those gummies.”
Angela gave a silly, wide smile, with a “Yummm!” as she carefully put the squirming handful back into the crate and walked out. He sniffed at his curious siblings, curled up in a corner, and shut his eyes.
“There’s something else…” Myrna said low, once the child was out of earshot. “I got a call.”
“It’s Greta,” she whispered, but the sleeping mother across the room heard her name, her ears raising just slightly. “A breeder called. He saw our ad and said she’s probably got only one good whelping in her left, and he’d be happy to take her where he can watch her more closely than we did, to make sure they’re purebred.”
“Oh, I can build our fence higher—that’s no problem. Why would we—?”
“Three thousand dollars,” Myrna interrupted.
Fred started to talk, but stopped, thinking. “Up front?” he finally got out.
“Cash. He says he’s got buyers looking for shepherd pups, as well as wanting some for himself, and Greta’s so known…”
“But I can’t just give her away. That’d be like selling off you or Angie.”
She took his hand in hers. “He said we’d be able to visit her all we wanted. And we’re going to need the three thousand by the end of the month.”
Fred sat back, his body deflating. With his mouth twisted, he thought out loud, “Well, let’s check him out, anyway. To make sure he’s legit.”
Angela walked in. “Are you all cleaned up?” Myrna asked, opening the oven and releasing enough aroma to send all the puppies yapping.
“Clean enough for pizza!” Angela smiled.
Over the next week, countless interested buyers came by the house to check out the puppies, till all seven were booked to be picked up on their twelve-week birthday. As it might be too difficult for Angela to watch, she was sent to her grandparents the night before the pickups, and Fred and Myrna set to glumly doling out the youths they were more attached to than they liked to admit.
First, though, they took Greta to the breeder’s home, figuring it would be too cruel to make her watch her chil- dren being given away. He did seem kind and welcoming, repeating that they should come often for visits.
Then, with no time to feel emotions, Fred and Myrna rushed back to face the puppy-adopters. The feisty brat went to a farmer with a large field; the nurturer to a fam- ily with a child in leg braces who needed a protective companion; the explorer to a young couple who loved hiking; the sleeper to an aged couple who’d just had to put their fourteen-year-old Labrador down; the observer to a storekeeper as a watchdog; and the bulky shover to a local high school football coach, who respected the mutt’s attitude toward life.
The last family finally showed up, excited to take home the funny brash nipper. “But you picked the runt. The shepherd-looking one,” Fred explained.
“No, we picked the fun one. We were holding the little one, but we said we wanted the other.”
“Oh, sorry, but he’s gone. This one’s all that’s left. Would you like her?”
“Well…” the father whined, irritated. “Really, no. We wanted a fun playmate for our boys. This one’s scared of her own shadow. Thanks for nothing.” And they left in a huff.
Fred was still doing his best to explain to Angela, as they walked into the kitchen later, that, as expected, Greta and the other puppies had gone to other homes, and they’d put another ad out for the remaining pup. Angela didn’t re- spond, but looked inside the crates as her father left. There was the little one, gnawing on the bars. “Are you going to be mine?” Angela whispered. “Are you my friend?”
The puppy licked her through the opening with her grey-dappled tongue and then rushed back to gnawing. Angela giggled.
Myrna yelled from the next room that it was time for bed. Angela put her finger into the cage to let the puppy chew on it, said “Goodnight, little rascal,” and headed off to brush her teeth—while the puppy went back to dealing with her own, in her puppy way.
About the Author:
DOUGLAS GREEN is the author of the widely-acclaimed 2015 book The Teachings of Shirelle: Life Lessons from a Divine Knucklehead, and runs the advice website AskShirelle.com, based on the wisdom in the book, which he was taught by his ridiculous dog. Released from decades in the entertainment business for good behavior, he directed the film The Hiding Place, and now works as a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, specializing in children and teenagers.
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