Excerpt from Ruff-Housed

Ruff-Housed

Chapter 1: How It All Began

© 2017 Susan J. Kroupa, all rights reserved

Here’s the story of what happened when I took the Canine Good Citizen test. Actually, it is the story of a bunch of other things, too, but they all mostly started with the test, which Molly says turned out to be way more complicated, not to mention dangerous, than she planned.

The idea to take the test came from Molly’s friend, Grady, who goes to her school, but is in a different class. She met Grady when his mother did this big video blog about the bed-bug business that the boss (Molly’s dad) and I run—he gets the jobs, I sniff out the bugs.

The blog had tons of what the boss calls “unintended consequences.” Not sure what he means, except he went from texting and calling Grady’s mother all day, to being really angry with her for a while. In fact, things got pretty exciting all around. That’s when, as Molly puts it, “Grady saved our bacon,” which can only be a good thing, right? Although, to be honest, I don’t actually remember any bacon being involved, which is strange because bacon is something I don’t usually forget.

What I do remember is that Grady ended up adopting Snippet, a golden retriever/red setter dog, and that changed everything. Grady quit talking about moving back to Alabama to live with his dad. He started taking Snippet on walks and playing ball with her. And he started to get interested in dog training.

Anyway, Grady heard about the Canine Good Citizen certification test, which, let me tell you, turns out to be way easier to pass than the scent-detection test I have to take for my job with the boss. And he suggested that Molly and I could train with him and Snippet to take the test, since Molly knows a bunch more about dog training than he does.

So Molly goes to the boss. “Please?” she asks the boss, her brown eyes wide with pleading. “It’ll be good for the business. You could tell our customers Doodle is a Canine Good Citizen.”

The boss gives her a slightly exasperated look. “No one has asked so far. And, anyway, are you sure he doesn’t already have it? With all his training…”

“He doesn’t. I called Annie, and she said that she and Miguel don’t do those certifications, and when they adopted him and checked his microchip and researched him, there was no record that he ever got the CGC.”

Annie is a great friend to Molly and me and especially to the boss, who is always texting her (except for that short time when he was texting Grady’s mom.) Annie trains dogs and works for Miguel, the man who trained me to be a bed-bug dog.

The boss frowns and rubs his beard. “Who runs this? The American Kennel Club?”

Molly nods.

“Will they take labradoodles? Mixed breeds?”

Another nod. “Any dog can take the CGC,” she says. “Even mutts like Doodle.” She says this with affection, stroking me under my chin. She likes to tell me that we’re both mutts, me because I’m a Labrador retriever/poodle mix, and her because, in her words, “Mom is Mexican-American and Dad is Irish-American, so I’m kind of a human labradoodle.”

She continues, still in a pleading tone, “And I can help Grady train Snippet since I’ve had classes with Annie.” When the boss doesn’t respond, she adds, “And if we went on and Doodle could pass the advanced test—the Canine Good Citizen Community—then he’d be eligible to go into rest homes as a therapy dog.”

“Doodle?” The boss snorts. “What kind of therapy? Shock therapy?” He laughs, pleased with himself. “Shock therapy. That’s a good one. Right, Doodle?”

I wag my tail, not sure what he’s talking about.

But Molly doesn’t so much as crack a smile. “Doodle’s good with people. All the kids in my class love him.”

“Little do they know,” the boss says, but he’s still smiling. He’s been in a good mood lately because we’ve had lots of work. One of his favorite sayings is “work means money” because money means he can pay the rent, which the boss claims is “sky high” here in Arlington where we live. Don’t quite get the sky connection, but he means it costs a lot to live here. The boss worries about money all the time. The only thing he worries about more is traffic, something that’s always on his mind. Well, and Molly, of course.

“I guess it’ll be okay. Of course, when I have work, I’ll need Doodle with me.”

I’ll say. The only way he’d find bed bugs without my nose would be if they all decided to rush out from their hiding places to greet him. Don’t think that’s going to happen.

Chapter 2: Dog Fight

“Hey, what’s that guy doing on our lawn?” Grady peers out his living room window and runs a hand through his short, straight-up hair.

A man wearing a baseball hat and an overweight, blocky-faced dog, some kind of boxer/pit bull mix, are in the front yard. The dog is squatting in a way that leaves no question as to what it’s doing. The dog wears a giant prong collar round its neck, attached to a thick leather leash. The man holding the leash is dressed in plaid shorts that come down almost to his knee, and a windbreaker, open to show a bright knit shirt that rounds over his belly.

“Maybe he doesn’t know you’re living here,” Molly suggests. “Since it’s only been a few days.”

In fact, that’s why Molly and I are here. Grady and his mother, Madison, just moved into this house and Grady wanted Molly to see it, so Madison picked us up after Molly got home from school, and the boss said he’d come get us before dinner.

“If he doesn’t know we’re here, we need to tell him,” Grady says, still staring out the window. “How rude to use someone else’s yard.”

He grabs a leash on a table near the door while Molly goes to her backpack, which she dropped in front of the door when we first came in. She bends down and unzips it, but bumps the door just as she’s pulling out my leash. The door must not have been closed all the way, because it swings open. Snippet sticks her head out, sees the dog, and squeezes through the opening before Molly can close it.

“Snippet, no!” Molly chases after her, hand outstretched to grab her collar.

Snippet hesitates for a second, taking in the man and the dog, her nose working, her ears forward with curiosity. A second before Molly reaches her she bolts forward, towards the man and the dog.

Uh-oh.

Here’s the thing. Snippet is optimistic in the way that golden retrievers and setters tend to be, assuming that because they love everyone, everyone loves them back. Labs can be that way, too, all happy-go-lucky, oblivious to body language. But, I might have mentioned before that even though I’m a labradoodle, my looks and personality strongly favor the poodle side of the mix. Poodles are friendly, to be sure. We’re not perpetually grumpy like, say, chows, or yappy like a lot of small dogs, or suspicious like many of the breeds of watch dogs. But we’re smart enough to read body language. And this boxer/pit’s body language shouts CAUTION!

Snippet isn’t cautious. She barrels full speed towards the dog, who gives her an apprehensive look and then flattens his ears and lowers his head.

There’s going to be trouble. I lunge forward, to the sound of Molly shouting, “Doodle, no!”

Snippet skids up to dog, tail wagging, her mouth soft with happiness, clueless about the dog’s body language. He attacks, snarling and biting. I rush in to break things up. Can’t let Snippet get hurt. And this intruder needs a lesson. What kind of dog attacks another on that dog’s own property? I mean, seriously? He needs to respect Snippet’s territory.

These kinds of scuffles are usually all noise and snapping in a way that no one gets hurt, but this boxer/pit is biting harder than normal. I hear Molly yell my name, and then Grady, races towards us, shouting, “SNIPPET!” Snippet hesitates, glancing at him. The boxer/pit snaps at her neck as she turns toward Grady. I don’t think so! I push between him and Snippet, and he snaps wildly several times, just as the man tries to seize his collar.

“Ow!” The boxer/pit’s owner yells, flinging back his hand. He tries to land a kick on Snippet, but she’s already on her way to Grady, which means my job is done. I jump back and head for Molly. She grabs my collar. Whoa. She’s really angry and I can feel her hands trembling as she snaps on the leash. Grady’s doing the same thing with Snippet.

“They bit me,” he screams. “Your—” here, he uses what the boss calls “language”—“dogs bit me.”

What? Snippet’s head was turned away, and I’m certain my teeth didn’t touch human flesh. A bit of pit bull skin, yes, but nothing else.

Both Grady and Molly are stammering apologies. “I’m so sorry.” Molly looks near tears.

Snippet has never bitten anyone,” Grady says, white-faced. “She’s super friendly.”

“Friendly?” The guy says in a belligerent voice. He’s wearing thick soled white athletic shoes, although with his belly and skinny (though hairy) legs he doesn’t look much like an athlete. “These are vicious dogs. They ought to be put down. I’m going to call Animal Control and get them taken away.”

What?” Molly stares at the man in disbelief, her eyes wide with shock. “No one was hurt.”

“No one hurt?” he yells. “Your—” more language—“dog bit me, you stupid—“ he uses a word that isn’t language when talking about female dogs, but, for reasons unknown to me, is considered insulting to humans.

He jabs a finger at her, a vicious motion that makes me growl.

Doodle!” Molly whispers in anguish.

“See what I mean?” The man repeats the gesture. “That dog’s a menace. Both of them are. They ran out and attacked us.”

“Don’t talk to her that way,” Grady steps forward, coming between Molly and the man.

“Watch it, or I’ll have you arrested for assault.” The man, his forehead shining with sweat, glowers at Grady.

Grady’s face darkens, but he straightens his shoulders and doesn’t budge.

I hear footsteps and Madison comes rushing up to us. She takes in the scene—Molly silently crying, Grady looking ready to punch the man, who looks ready to punch him back—and asks in a cool voice, “What’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you what the—” more language “—is going on.” The man’s face twists into a snarl, “these—” another stream of language words “—dogs attacked me and my dog. And one of them bit me. And probably bit Bubba here, too. I haven’t had time to check him over. But I’ll tell you what—” He gives Madison a triumphant look “—by the time my attorney is done, I’ll own your house.”

Madison sucks in her breath, and her posture stiffens, but otherwise she doesn’t react.

The man pulls out his phone and holds it up. “Gimme your name,” he commands Molly.

Molly, her face wet with tears, stammers, “Mo—” but Madison interrupts.

“Sweetheart,” she says, bending down to Molly. “I don’t think this stranger needs your name, do you? I wonder if you happen to have your camera handy? We need to make sure that we have all the facts, and a few photos will help.” Molly frowns, and then she nods in understanding, her hand already digging into her pocket.

Madison glances at Grady, giving him a nod. He instantly turns and hurries toward the house, Snippet at his side.

The man’s eyes narrow in suspicion, but before he can say anything, Madison bats her eyes at him and asks in an innocent voice, “Could I ask, just for the record, what y’all are doing here in our yard?” She gives a meaningful look at the pile of poop a little distance away, then glances at Molly, who points her camera at him.

“It’s not fenced,” the man says belligerently. “And your dogs were loose. Dogs are not allowed off leash in unfenced yards, especially vicious dogs.” He leans towards Molly. “Did you get that?”

Madison, still smiling, though her eyes are cold, says, “I’m sure she did. Could I have your name, please? Since you appear to be trespassing on our property?”

“And if it’s unfenced,” Madison continues in a calm voice, “does that mean you think you have the right to use it for your dog’s elimination? If you could give us your address, perhaps we could return the favor. We could trade yards, so to speak, you use ours for your dog and we’ll use yours for ours. That way, neither of us has extra poop to scoop.” She gives him a bright smile, tilting her head a bit in the way she often does when talking to men.

Grady comes back without Snippet, holding Madison’s video camera, and lifts the camera up to his face, as the man keeps talking.

“Mel Blevins,” he says. “But you don’t need to write it down because my attorneys will be contacting you. In fact—” he taps the screen of his phone and says, “Okay, Google,” a mysterious statement that people are using a lot these days. He pauses for a second then says, “Animal Control, Arlington, Virginia.”

Molly gasps again, and Grady, with a little choking sound moves toward the man.

“Grady, honey,” Madison says, in a low but steely voice, “stay focused.” She glances in his direction. “Literally.”

Grady raises the camera back to his face.

A faint voice comes from the man’s phone. “Here is the number for Arlington Animal Control.” He holds a finger above the screen, poised dramatically. “Got it.”

“Hang on a second,” Madison says, hurriedly.

The man’s eyes are gloating. “Yeah?”

In a sweet tone, Madison says, “May we please see this alleged bite? For the record?” Her voice turns hard. “Because if you won’t show it to us here, right now, I don’t think you’ll have a snowball’s chance in—” she glances at Molly and Grady “—in a very hot place of winning a lawsuit against us.”

He starts to speak, but she interrupts.

“And, Mr. Blevins, you ought to know that I happen to have a lawyer or two of my own. Since you’ve been so kind as to give me your name, let me give you mine. Madison Greene. Maybe you’ve heard of me? I blog for the Low Down News? I know lots of lawyers, good ones, who might even take this case pro bono for all the publicity I’m going to give it.”

The man stares at her, open-mouthed, the smugness melting away. “You’re that blog lady?”

“Yep. So, may we see this alleged bite?” Madison repeats. “Because I’m sure all my faithful watchers will want to see just how very badly you’ve been injured.”

The man rubs a spot on the back of his hairy hand, but then rallies, squaring his shoulders. “You can’t scare me, you—” and here he lets out a whole stream of “language” words. With a vicious yank on his poor dog’s prong collar, he strides away.

No one speaks until the man turns into a yard near the far end of the block.

Then, Madison sighs. “Well, nothing like a cozy down-home welcome to our neighborhood. What a hateful creature. And I’m not talking about the dog.”

But Molly, bending over me, isn’t listening. “Doodle’s ear’s bleeding! That dog bit him.” She holds out her hand, showing a couple of smears of blood on her fingers.

“How badly?” Madison asks. She and Molly lean over me, pulling on my ear.

“It’s not deep,” Madison says. “He just nicked the edge of his ear. But we could put some peroxide on it, just to be safe.”

Molly nods. “That’d be great.” Her voice is still shaky, as if she might cry. Not sure why. I don’t feel the cut at all.

We go inside, and Molly and Madison take me into a small bathroom, which is a little crowded with the three of us. Grady, looking in, says, “I’m going out to the backyard with Snippet.”

Madison drips some stuff on my ear that fizzes and burns a little. I’m relieved when she straightens up and says, “That ought to do it.”

“Thanks.” Molly twists a strand of hair, regarding Madison with anxious eyes. “Do we…I mean…do you…”

Madison says impatiently, “Spit it out, girl. What?”

“Do we have to tell my dad about what happened? I mean with the dogs? He might not let me bring Doodle again if he knew he got in a fight. Virginia has that one-bite law, and, even though he was protecting me, Doodle already has one bite.”

“One bite law?” Madison asks, interested.

“Yeah. If a dog isn’t like breaking the law by running loose or anything, and he bites someone, then the animal control people can’t take him away. Because any dog could bite someone in the right situation. But if a dog bites more than once, then he might be declared a vicious dog and could get…” her voice cracks…“put down.”

“Mr. Doodle here bit someone?” Madison asks in amazement. “Who’d he bite?”

I’m trying to remember myself, memory never being one of my strengths. Live for the now is my motto, which I might have mentioned before.

“This guy at a cert trial who was trying to hurt me. He’s in jail now for fraud.”

Now it’s coming back to me. That was quite a day. Much more exciting than cert trials usually are, that’s for sure.

“And then there was that burglar, but he was pointing a gun on me, so that doesn’t count.” Molly, twisting her hair furiously, continues, “And since the other guy is in jail and Doodle had a good reason, it might not count either. But what if it does?”

Madison rests a hand on Molly’s shoulder. “Honey, I don’t think you have to worry. First, that foul-mouthed neighbor of ours has absolutely no proof that either Doodle or Snippet bit him, you understand? He wouldn’t show us the bite, remember? And, second, any judge would say that a bite to save a child doesn’t mean a dog is vicious.”

“Dad says it doesn’t matter what a judge would say because we couldn’t afford the court costs if we had to prove Doodle innocent.” Molly’s eyes well with tears.

Madison says, “Honey, you’re really worrying about this, aren’t you?” Molly nods without speaking.

Madison gives her a quick hug. “Well, stop worrying because that man will never know your name, so whatever he does will not affect you.”

More nodding. Molly yanks a couple of tissues from a box on the toilet and wipes her eyes. “But do we have to tell Dad?”

“Tell him what?” Madison gives Molly a conspiratorial smile. “That a crazy neighbor made up a silly story because he was caught using our lawn as his dog’s favorite potty spot? I wouldn’t want to burden the man with such nonsense.”

Molly sighs with relief, and grins back at her.

“But that one-bite law—now I’m going to put that knowledge to some good use. I’ll bet Mr. Blevins doesn’t know about that. Bet he’s a transplant from another state.”

Molly gives her another grin, then says, “Thanks.”

Much happier, Molly takes me out to join Grady and Snippet in the backyard, where we practice for the Canine Good Citizen test. This means Snippet and I have to do a few easy things like stand still when someone pets us, and not bark when we meet strange people or dogs, and stay quietly on a leash while our handler walks some distance away. Couldn’t be simpler, especially, as I’ve said before, compared to the scent-detection tests that I have to take for my bed-bug job.

When the boss shows up to take us home, Madison insists on giving him a tour of the house first.

“Sure,” the boss says, rubbing his beard, which means he’s not sure at all. Since the video-blog incident, the boss always acts uncomfortable around Madison and often tries to avoid her, even though he’s no longer angry at her.

Madison never looks like she wants to avoid the boss. She’s always tilting her head, pushing back her long curls, and giving him wide-eyed smiles. She does this now, as she leads the boss through the house.

And then it’s time for us to go home. Molly loads me into my wire crate, which is bolted to the floor of the van behind the front seats, and, with a wave to Grady, climbs into the front seat.

“Great house,” the boss says, backing the van out of the driveway. “Double garage.” His voice is filled with envy. “Bet she paid a pretty penny.”

“I don’t know how much,” Molly says, “but Grady told me she kept threatening to look at homes in other cities because Arlington is so pricy. She said they could have had a newer, bigger home somewhere else.”

“I believe it. So why didn’t she do that?” the boss asks.

“Grady doesn’t want to change schools, and she didn’t want a long drive.”

“That makes sense. But it’d sure be tempting.” The boss starts to tap his fingers on the steering wheel.

Molly turns her head to look at him and I can hear the alarm in her voice. “But we wouldn’t move, would we?”

“Not in my plans,” the boss says cheerfully. “Not unless something happened and we had to.” He taps some more, then says, “So, how’d it go? Did you and Grady get a good practice in?”

Molly only hesitates a fraction of a second before she answers. “Yeah. Great. Everything went really great.”