I Was the Family Dog

Golden fur, soft coat, chestnut eyes, winning yelp – I had it all going for me. A boy, a girl – what more could a dog ask? Plenty of belly rubs, fetch in the yard with the man, a walk every morning with the woman. The kids, they’d ride me like a horse! One would get on my back and hold my collar and the other would throw a stick and I’d take off after it, give the kids one hell of a ride before they fell off, laughing. A super dumb thing to do! Even I know that and I’m the family dog. But still. Good times.

So you know this is gonna be a story of how things fell apart. I can’t tell you why, exactly. I don’t speak their language fluently, but enough. Plus, the cupboards slam, the bathroom door clicks with the lock to hide so many hushed calls. The man, he’s just not around at all anymore. So, you know.

Tears, tears. My whole life, I make the tears go away! I romp, I frolic – in a pinch I chase my own tail. I bring joy and laughter, etc. etc. Suddenly it’s not enough.

I understand more than they realize. When the boy asks, Why can’t we wait and find an apartment that does take dogs? that is my question exactly. When the kids are in bed I lay quietly on the living room floor while the woman talks to her sister on the couch, both drinking wine from coffee mugs. “You have to be practical,” the sister says. “Cut your losses.”

The grass is getting long now that the husband is gone. To me, it’s better. Soft and comfy. Right? Like a nice big green outdoor pillow. The kids come outside with me, and they sit while I lay between them. They pick at long grass blades, smoothing them between their fingers, laying them in rows across their knees. It is like we are in a movie, and this is the part where we wait outside to hear what will happen while the woman is on the phone, talking and talking. Like we don’t want to get up and go in because we don’t want this part of the movie to end. But after a while it is dusk and she opens the back door and says “There you are,” and we all just go in like it’s nothing.

So you guessed it – I’m in a shelter now. It sucks as much as you imagine. Metal bars, cold floor, desperate yelps. At first I jump and fling myself at the gate for everyone who passes, barking “I bring laughter! I bring joy!” Some people pause. Others don’t. I try not to take it personal.

And then it happens, a family comes in – boy, girl – just like mine. They rush my cage, smiling and pointing. “Daddy, daddy, that one!” says the girl. “He probably knows how to fetch!” says the boy. The man looks at the chart on my cage. The woman says “Maybe!”

I don’t mean to do it, but I growl. It starts from a low spot inside my chest and rumbles through my throat. I don’t plan it – but once it’s there, I let it rumble, low and loud. I feel a sick relief as the mother grabs their hands and hushes them quickly away.

I go to the back of my cage, curl up. There’s a towel there but I lay on the floor, in the corner, as far away from people as I can get. The cold of the concrete, the hard surface – it all drains me as I realize I don’t want the people to come too close. I might bite.

by Jen Kircher Carr   |    Artwork by Økuntakinte    + Natacha Palay



Jennifer Kircher Carr

My fiction has been published in numerous literary journals, including The Rumpus, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, American Literary Review, Literary Orphans, and The Nebraska Review, where it also won the Fiction Prize. My non-fiction has been published in Ploughshares online, North American Review online, Martha Stewart’s Body + Soul magazine, and Poets & Writers, among others. I am currently working on a collection of linked stories.