I had been going to Sanctuary for just a few years when the adventure that changed my life occurred. I was at Sanctuary as often as a bee is at his hive. I fit in, for the most part, I got in a few arguments every now and then, but the sentinels started giving me some time during the day to rest and I became a much happier dog. I loved Sanctuary, the sentinels, and most of the dogs as well, but something was missing.
On the day I first went to the place beyond the shed I walked into Sanctuary to a scene of madness, a scouting party had just returned, the sentinels and the dogs were all yelling. The council was being convened in the meeting place between play yards, a small two-foot by a two-foot area where the big dog council members met with the small dog council members. One of the sentinels was there with them. I went to the leader of the scout party, Bailey a giant German Shepard with a very fluffy coat. “What is going on Bailey?” I asked approaching her as she was drinking from one of the water buckets, she picked her head up, looked at me and motioned for me to join her before dipping her head back into the water bucket. I began drinking from the same bucket, and she lifted her mouth out of the water just enough to speak “We found one.” “One what?” I stammered, stunned. She turned her body towards me lumbering over me like an old oak above a blade of grass and gruffly growled “A puppy”. I gasped, “a, a what?!” She nodded, that’s what the council is discussing right now. “What discussion is there to be had?” I asked, Bailey’s hackles raised, eyes narrowed, “It was with the cats.” I softly said “I see. Could it be the dark . . .” but before I could continue Bailey was called to appear before the council, she nodded at me and headed off to say her piece.
If the cats had a dog it could mean a world of pain for us in the sanctuary, but a dog from the place beyond the shed hasn’t been found in years, even the sentinels don’t know the last time something like this had happened, and some of them have been here for over 70 years. I began searching the play yard to see who was around to help me satisfy this ever-growing curiosity, Fonzie! Of course! We don’t know what Fonzie is, basset, pit, mutt mix. He had a long body, short legs and was grey with brown spots, but boy he could hear anything and everything. Just the dog I needed to get a sneak peak on what the council was saying. I called to him and he ran over, “What?” He quickly asked. “Can you do something for me?” I shot back nodding towards the solid metal gate separating us from the council, he looked at me before saying “you want me to spy on the council?” I shook my head, “No! I would never ask you to do that, I just want you to tell me what they are saying! Think of it like telling a story.” He turned his head a little I don’t know what was going on inside of there, but he eventually agreed. We walked over to the gate and Fonzie put his nose to the ground, and his ear against the gate.
Bella, a large Yorkie who has been there longer than anyone can remember, longer than some of the sentinels, said: “We have to send a search party to bring home this puppy, no dog should be left to the devices of cats.” To which Codie, an old yellow, lab said “We cannot risk a search party, it is too dangerous. There is nothing more we can do” Fonzie’s eyes grew wide, he turned to me, “they are about to vote but they are going to leave the dog there! Coco, we have to do something!”
I nodded my head and began to look around, we would be defying the council, so we needed dogs I could trust. Sniffing the air I scented just the right dogs for the job. Bubba, a brown pit mix who was loud and cranky just the dog I needed by my side if we ran into any cats. Charles, a smaller grey terrier mix who was also in charge of training all the large breed puppies since he was the same size as most of them anyway. He would be the perfect dog to help guide the puppy to Sanctuary.
I turned to Fonzie who must have had the same thought as me, he said: “I’ll make sure the path is clear to the shed.” I nodded and went to get Bubba and Charles who both agreed to help, and we set off to get the puppy back.
Once we got through I let Fonzie take the lead, “Do you smell anything Fonz?” He shook his head, “No it’s just the woods and some stale scent of the cats. I can’t tell where they went through.” I thought we should stay on the path. We all knew the stories of the poor dogs who got lost in those woods. The others agreed with me, so we set off, on the path to the Great Oak.
After a while, Fonzie saw something “Come here! Quick I think I found something!” We all ran to where he was “What is it, Fonzie?” Bubba said, he pointed towards what seemed like a makeshift path in the woods. The brush had been pushed aside but the path was small. Charles said, “It smells like cats for sure, could this be a path to where they gather?” Fonzie shook his head “I doubt it the scent is too stale for that and they would do a better job of covering their tracks.” Bubba scented the air, “do you all smell that?” the rest of us did the same, it was another dog. Fresh too! “Well let’s go!” Bubba and Fonzie nearly shot down the path if it wasn’t for Charles saying “Wait! This is too convenient, I think it’s a trap.” Bubba scented the air before saying “I don’t smell any grimy cats! Fonzie said it himself the scent was stale!” Charles looked around and said, “These woods are known for tracking dogs like us. We must be careful, or we will be lost like the others.” The mention of being lost in the forest made Fonzie and Bubba freeze in their tracks, eyeing the rotting woods around them. I added “How can there be fresh dog scent but stale cat scent? I thought the dog was with the cats?” Fonzie and Bubba looked at each other, turning their heads ever so slightly as the cogs of their mind began to work. Fonzie slowly said, “Maybe the pup got away?” Bubba nodded, “Yes, and we must go save the poor thing before the cats find the dog and us!” With new found confidence Fonzie and Bubba shot down the path towards whatever awaited us. Charles and I followed behind, slowly, leaving rocks behind us so we could find our way back in case it was a trap and the path was gone. Charles looked at me and said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” I nodded, “It seems too easy.”
The path led us to a small rounded clearing like if someone were to cut a tennis ball in half and flatten it, on the edge of it was a mountain jagged rocks led straight up just like the walls at Sanctuary. “Dead end” Charles scoffed. I shot him a look as if to say shut up and he did. Fonzie sniffed the air and Bubba walked towards what looked like a blanket on the side of the mountain, “Puppy, this is what we were smelling.” Fonzie then yelped “Their coming! Hide!” We all dashed to the edge of the forest and hid behind trees or under shrubs. I stuck myself in the middle of some shrubs to see a procession of a few dozen cats walk into the clearing and behind them, on a ratty old leash was a Border Collie puppy only a few months old.
A black cat stepped out of the group scented the air and said “Come on out dogs, we know you are there. We would hate to do something to this poor puppy.” Begrudgingly I walked out, and the others did too, all except Charles. The cat huffed “Is this all the mighty Sanctuary could muster for one of their own kind?” He puffed out his chest “No matter, tie them up.” The three of us snarled as the cats came closer with old leashes. Bubba lashed out as I looked at the leash, thinking there was no way it would even be able to hold us, I laid down and let the cats leash me, Fonzie was running in circles. Not fighting just running around the clearing. The puppy was cowering as three cats had her in between them. Bubba tossed several cats around with ease before five jumped on him, claws extended bringing him down. Bubba, still growling as the cats leashed him and cornered Fonzie.
They brought us to a tree which didn’t look too rotted away and tied our leashes around the base. The same black cat as before stepped forward and said, “Well since you are all tied up I guess we’ll take the pup.” Licking his paw and beginning to clean his face after a few moments he looked up “what? Nothing? Storm was so much more fun to play with than you all.” I yawned and laid down, Fonzie rolled on his stomach wagging his tail, I’m not sure what he thought was going on, and Bubba snarled before angrily barking “You won’t get away I’ll make sure of it!” The black cat cut him off, first flicking his tail forward then saying “Well we aren’t going to just leave you here. Set the bait.” one of the cats opened a bag of some foul-smelling stuff, old fish maybe, it was hard to tell. Bubba gagged as the scent washed over him. Fonzie sat up as if his favorite food was being made in the kitchen. I kept my eyes on the puppy, trying not to think of the foul odor which was filing the clearing. The cat smiled and said “the bear should be here soon. Good luck.”
With that, the cats began to walk away with the puppy. When they were out of earshot I whispered, “does anyone see Charles?” Fonzie and Bubba shook their heads, Bubba was still gagging. Charles appeared from behind us our leashes no longer tied to the tree. “Why didn’t you just take them off?” Bubba asked Charles glared at him “I was afraid you were going to throw up on me.” Bubba laughed before running into the forest to vomit. When he returned we took off the leashes.
“What do we do now?” I asked, looking at Charles. Charles shook his head “I don’t know why you’re looking at me like I have any idea.” Fonzie looked at us and asked, “But aren’t you the only one who has been here before?” Charles gasped looking at us, “None of you have been here before?!” I shrugged, “I guess I didn’t think about it when I asked you all.” Charles slumped down “Well. . .” Before he could finish we heard a rumbling in the forest “Time to go!” Fonzie yelled before taking off down the path. We all followed after him hoping the bear wouldn’t be able to pick up our scent with the fish or whatever it was that was stinking up the place.
We made it back to the main path and paused to take a breather and listen, but we heard nothing except for the silence the dark forest mysteriously offers. “I am never going with you again,” Charles said with a wink and a huff as he laid on the ground. “Maybe if you actually ran with the pups instead of recruiting Daisy and Fonzie to do it you wouldn’t be in such bad shape,” Bubba said with a smile. Fonzie chimed in “Hey! I like running with the pups!” And for a moment we forgot where we were and there was bliss, but the moment washed away as I smelled a familiar scent, the puppy! “This way!” I yelled, Fonzie and Bubba took off after me and Charles was yelling something but we didn’t wait to see, the puppy was so close and we couldn’t let her slip away again.
Before too long we caught up to the cats who were resting on the side of the path. There were three cats and the puppy. The puppy and two of the cats rested while one was on watch scanning the forest and the road. I ducked behind a group of trees that would allow me to watch without giving myself away. I looked around, “What happened to the others?” I asked. Bubba shrugged “I don’t know, maybe they left? We better snatch the puppy before they get back.”
Charles grabbed Bubba’s collar and yanked him towards the ground “Do you remember what happened last time you went running into a situation like this? Without taking the proper amount of time to consider what is going on?” Bubba shrank then whispered, “It was a trap.” Chares quietly barked back “Yes, it was a trap! And did you learn nothing from that experience, or are we going to get trapped again because of your bullishness?!”
While they were bickering I began to walk towards the puppy and two cats slept. A single cat was on the lookout. I heard nothing, I scented nothing, and time stood still as the puppy was the only thing that mattered. My eyes narrowed as I got closer. This was all that mattered. Then I heard a shriek from the forest, the cats and the puppy awoke. The cats ran off hissing and crying leaving the puppy to fend for herself. Bubba, Fonzie, and Charles all ran towards us as I went to the puppy’s side. The puppy looked up at me “Are you going to hurt me too?” I shook my head, “No dear we are going to take you to a safe place.” The puppy’s tail began to wag and she jumped up to lick my face.
Charles howled “It’s time to leave, we do not want to be here when whatever that is gets to the road!” motioning towards the woods which were now alive with some kind of horror. Fonzie, Bubba, the puppy, Charles and I took off running towards the shed. The puppy was placed in between the four of us, Fonzie and Charles at the front of the group and Bubba and I at the end. The trees began to creek and crack around us, massive birds flew from them. Several cats were tossed out of the woods they laid still on the road. Whatever it was in that forest was following us, but didn’t step on the road or revealed itself to us. We continued to run and the noise got further and further away, and I remember thinking we had outrun the beast.
We came near to the entrance back to Sanctuary where we met the black cat with a dozen more cats beside him. They stood blocking the entrance, and the black cat hissed “Leaving so soon? Why our guest of honor has but just arrived, and you haven’t even said hello to him yet.” the cats lunged at us and we lunged at them. The puppy stayed back, cowering. Fonzie, again, began running in circles and zigzags but this time he would form the cats up into a line as they chased him and run passed Bubba who would knock the cats down like dominos. Again and Again, they did this. Meanwhile, the black cat lunged at me, and I ducked and kicked with my back legs but he clung on to them. I rolled over twisting and turning my body like a fish out of water and knocked him into the forest, right next to the puppy. I gasped, but it was too late. The black cat had grabbed the puppy and hissed “You will stop now!” We froze, and the black cat continued “Now, the puppy is going to go with me.” I growled “No such thing will happen” the black cat smiled “I knew there was a little Storm in you, but it’s too late you have” Before the cat could finish the puppy knocked the cat back and ran to us, yelping “Let’s leave!” We turned and tumbled through the shed.
Fonzie laughed and said, “That was so rad!” The puppy turned her head to the side “What was rad?” Fonzie looked at her quizzically and said “You are!” she smiled and said “I’m Rad? I like that.”
So from that day on we called the puppy Rad, and she was with me in the morning before the sun would rise and at night we would howl with the others singing the songs of our ancestors and retelling the tales of our past.