Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
“I don’t really know anything about training dogs, but I’m willing to learn,” CJ said.
Andi laughed. “Well, okay, but what you’re really going to do is free me up so I can do the training. The dogs need to be watered and fed and their kennels cleaned, and they need to be walked outside.”
CJ came to a halt. “So, wait, what is this place?”
“Technically we’re a dog rescue, that’s our main function, but my grant is letting me use the facility to research cancer detection. Dogs have a sense of smell that’s as much as a hundred thousand times more intense than ours, and some studies show that they can detect cancer on people’s breath before any other diagnosis has been made. Since early detection is the fastest way to a cure, this could be really important. So I’m taking the methodologies from the studies and trying to put them into practice.”
“You’re training dogs to smell cancer.”
“Exactly. I’m not the only one doing this, of course, but most trainers are working with dogs to detect specimens in the lab. They let the dog sniff a test tube. I’m thinking, what if it could work in the field, like at a health fair, or a community center?”
“So you’re training the dogs to go from person to person and see if they detect cancer.”
“Right! But my part-time employee got a full-time job and my full-timer is out on maternity. I’ve got some volunteers, of course, but they’re mainly interested in walking the dogs and not so much cleaning the kennels. That’s where you come in.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re trying to tell me my job is going to be picking up dog poo,” CJ said.
Andi laughed. “I’m trying
to tell you that, but there it is. My aunt is a clerk for the judge, which is how I got approved for community service. At first I posted a very detailed description of the position and nobody picked me, small wonder. Then I changed it to be just working with dogs. I figure, though, you have to do community service and it’s sort of a punishment for your crimes, right? In the end, it’s not supposed to be all fun. So, what did you do?”
CJ let a few moments go by with no sound but dogs barking. “I let a guy talk me into doing something stupid.”
“You mean you can get arrested for that? Wow, I’m in big trouble, then,” Andi said. They both laughed and I wagged my tail. “Okay, you ready to get started?”
It was a strange day. CJ would put me in the outdoor pen with a dog to play with and be gone for several minutes. Then she’d come out and walk the other dog and me on leashes around the block. Her shoes got wetter and wetter throughout the day, as did her pants, and both were fragrant with dog urine. It was so much fun!
At the end of the day, CJ was rubbing her back and sighing. We stood and watched Andi play with a big brown male dog. There were several metal buckets and Andi would lead the dog to each one and the dog would sniff the inside of the bucket. At one of them, Andi would say, “Smell that? Now drop!” and the dog would lie down and Andi would give him a treat. Andi came over to us when she saw us watching, the dog by her side.
I edged up to the dog and we sniffed each other’s rear ends. “This is Luke. Luke, you like Molly?”
We both looked up at our names. Luke was a serious dog, I could tell. He was focused on the game he had been playing with Andi. He wasn’t like Rocky, who was interested only in fun and in loving Trent.
“That’s six hours total with the lunch break, right?” Andi said.
“Yeah. Six blissful hours. One hundred ninety-four to go.”
Andi laughed. “I’ll sign the form at the end of the week. Thanks, you did a good job.”
“Maybe I have a future in dog poop,” CJ said.
We took a car ride with me in the front seat! We went to Emily’s house. When we pulled in the driveway, Gloria was standing there talking to Emily’s mother. CJ stiffened when she saw her mother. Gloria fluttered a hand to her own throat.
“Oh great,” CJ muttered. “Just great.”
“I’ll let you two talk,” Emily’s mother said when we approached. She went inside the house. I stayed by CJ’s side, and CJ didn’t move at all, just stood there. Gloria’s powerful arsenal of scents wafted over me, obliterating everything else.
“Well,” Gloria said, “don’t you have anything to say to me?” Gloria was, as usual, very unhappy.
“I see you got a new Cadillac,” CJ said. “Nice car.”
“Not that. I’ve been worried sick about you. You never once called to tell me where you were. I could barely sleep.”
“What do you want, Gloria?”
There was a motion at the big front window. It was Del, who had pulled aside the drapes and was looking out. As I watched, his mother’s hand appeared, grabbing him and pulling him away.
“I have just one thing to say to you, and then that’s it, no discussion,” Gloria said.
“Sounds like a fair debate,” CJ said.
“I have, at great expense, consulted an attorney who practices family law. She says that I can file a motion of judgment with the court and force you to move home. She also says that I do not have to be held prisoner in my own house to a dog. So I am going to file for that, too. You have no choice and the judge could even give you a curfew. So that’s it. It will cost a lot of money to go to court and you’d lose, so I came to tell you that. There’s no sense spending the expenses for court when we could take a nice trip or something for the same money.”
It looked like nothing interesting was going to happen for a while, so I lay down with a yawn.
“Well?” Gloria said.
“I thought I wasn’t allowed to talk.”
“You can speak about what I just told you; I’m just not going to stand here and argue with you. You’re a minor and the law is on my side.”
“Okay,” CJ said.
Gloria sniffed. “Okay what?”
“Okay, let’s do what you said.”
“All right. That’s better. You’ve been very disrespectful and I have no idea what these people think that you’ve been living here with them. I am your mother and I have rights under the Constitution.”
“No, I meant let’s do what you said and go to court.”
“I think you’re right,” CJ said. “Let’s let a judge decide. I’ll hire a lawyer. You said there were provisions for withdrawing money from Dad’s trust for my welfare. So I’ll get a lawyer, and we’ll go to court. You’ll fight for custody and I’ll fight to have you declared unfit to be a mother.”
“Oh, I see. Now I’m the horrible mother. You went to jail, and you got suspended, and you lie and you disobey, and I have devoted my life to you, but I’m the bad one.”
They were both angry, but Gloria was shouting. I sat up and anxiously put a paw up on CJ’s leg because I wanted to leave. She petted me but didn’t look at me.
“I hope someday you have a child as awful as you,” Gloria said.
“Trent said you didn’t feed Molly at all.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“That’s true; we were talking about what a bad child I was. So what do you think? Should I call a lawyer? Or do you recognize that Molly is my dog and that I’m keeping her? I mean, I can keep living here.” CJ gestured toward the house and, as she did so, a shadow backed away from the front window. It looked too tall to be Del.
“I don’t want you living with other people. It looks terrible,” Gloria said.
“So what do you want to do?”
That evening we moved back into our room at CJ’s house. Trent came over with Rocky and I was overjoyed to see my brother, who sniffed me up and down, suspicious of all the new smells. When we went outside, snow was falling and Rocky ran around in it, kicking up his heels and rolling in it until he was all wet. Trent came out and rubbed Rocky all over with a towel and Rocky groaned with pleasure. I wished I had rolled in the snow, too.
After that, things were back to normal, except that CJ didn’t leave to do school—instead, I got to take a car ride with her most mornings to play with Andi and her dogs!
The first morning we returned to Andi’s place, she greeted me by throwing her arms wide and kissing me and hugging me. I loved her affections and her wonderful dog smells. Then she stood.
“I thought maybe you’d given up,” Andi said to CJ.
“No, I just had … There were family issues I needed to deal with. You didn’t call the court or anything, did you?” CJ replied.
“No, but I wished you’d called
“Yeah, I’m … I should have. For some reason I never think to call people.”
“Well, okay, let’s get to work.”
The dogs at Andi’s building weren’t allowed to go out into the snow except for walks on leashes, so while CJ cleaned out their kennels my job was to play with the dogs in a fenced area inside the big room in the building. A lot of the dogs didn’t want to play, though. A couple of them were too old to do anything but sniff me and then lie down, and a couple just didn’t know how to play, snarling and snapping at me while I danced out of the way. Those dogs seemed sad and frightened and were put in another inside pen, one at a time, while CJ cleaned their kennels.
This left me with a lot of time to watch Andi play with Luke, her big brown male, and two females, one yellow and one black. The game was this: Some old people sat in metal chairs sitting far away from each other, and Andi would lead the dogs one at a time up to sniff them. The people didn’t play with the dogs, though—sometimes humans like to just sit, even if there’s a dog right there. Then Andi would put the dogs in their kennels and the people would all stand up and change position, sitting in new seats.
She told all the dogs they were good dogs, but she really got excited with Luke. Every time Luke was led to a man with no hair, Luke would carefully sniff, then lie down and cross his paws and put his head on his paws. Andi would give him a treat right there on the spot. “Good dog, Luke!” she would praise.
I wanted a treat, too, but when I dropped down and crossed my front paws Andi didn’t even notice and CJ was unimpressed. That’s how life is—some dogs get treats for doing almost nothing and some dogs are good dogs and get no treats at all.
At one point CJ came to get me and we went out to the outdoor pen. Several inches of snow were on the ground and I crunched through it to find a good place to squat. CJ put the burning stick in her mouth and exhaled smoke.
I heard the back door open and ran over to see who it was. A flash of alarm coursed through CJ, so the fur went up on my neck.
“I thought. You. Might be out here.” It was the bald man in front of whom Luke was always lying down. He made a gasping sound while he talked to CJ. I nosed her hand because she still felt scared to me. “Could. I have. A cigarette?”
“Sure,” CJ said. She fumbled in her jacket.
“Would you. Light it. For me? I cannot. Get. Enough. Suction,” the man said. He stroked his bald head.
CJ lit fire and handed the stick to the man. He lifted it to his throat, not to his mouth like CJ did. There was a weak sucking sound and then smoke came out of a hole in his throat.
“Ah,” the man said. “So good. I only. Allow. Myself one. A week.”
“What happened? I mean…”
“My hole?” The man smiled. “Throat. Cancer.”
“God, I’m really sorry.”
“No. My fault. I didn’t. Have to. Smoke.”
They stood together for a moment. CJ was still upset, but her fear was slowly draining from her and dissipating like the smoke coming from her mouth.
“Your age,” the man said.
“Your age. When I. Started. Smoking.” He smiled at her. I decided I didn’t need to stand guard over CJ anymore and went over to sniff his hand and see if maybe he had any treats. He leaned over. “Nice dog,” he said. His breath smelled like smoke, but it also had an odd metallic tang to it that I instantly recognized from when I was Buddy and had a bad taste in my mouth that I couldn’t get rid of. The bald man probably had the same taste in his mouth, because it was on his breath.
The man went inside and CJ stood in the cold air and stared off into space for a long time. The stick in her hand was still smoldering. She leaned over and poked it into the snow and then threw it in the trash can and we went inside together.
Andi was playing with the yellow dog. I was off leash and CJ was distracted, so I trotted over to where the bald man from outside was sitting in a chair. I went to him and bowed down, crossing my front paws as I’d seen Luke do.
“Look at that,” Andi said. She came up to me. “Hey, Molly, did you learn to do that from Luke?”
I wagged. However, I did not get a treat. Instead, Andi led me back over to be with CJ.
I really liked Andi. I loved the way she greeted me with all the hugs and kisses a dog could ever want. But I thought it was unfair of her to give Luke a treat but not me.
When we got home, Gloria was glad to see CJ but ignored me as usual. I had learned to stay away from Gloria, who never spoke to me or fed me or even looked at me, most of the time.
“I think we should have a Christmas party this year,” Gloria said. She had a pad of paper in her hand and waved it at CJ. “Something really fancy. Catered. With champagne.”
“I’m seventeen, Gloria. I’m not supposed to drink champagne.”
You can invite whoever you want,” Gloria continued. “Are you seeing someone special?”
“You know I’m not.”
“What about that nice young man, Shane?”
“And that’s why you’re not my go-to source for deciding who is a nice young man.”
“I’ll invite Giuseppe,” Gloria said.
“Who? What happened to Rick?”
“Oh, Rick? He turned out to be not what I thought.”
“So now you’re dating Pinocchio’s father?”
“What? No, Giuseppe. He’s Italian. He’s from St. Louis.”
“That’s where Italy is? No wonder I do so badly in geography.”
“What? No, I mean real Italy.”
‘“Are you helping him buy a house or something?”
“Well, well, yes. Of course.”
I went into the kitchen to check to see if anything edible had fallen on the floor, and that’s when I saw a man standing outside, peering in through the glass doors. I barked the alarm.
The man immediately turned and ran away. CJ came into the kitchen. “What is it, Molly?” she asked. She went to the door and slid it open and I raced out into the yard. The man’s scent was on the air and I followed it quickly to the closed back gate. I knew that smell, knew who it belonged to.