‘Dog’ by Ann Roberts

John had been like a specimen tree that grows in the middle of a lawn: strong, straight, and tall, and in no doubt that he would always be strong, straight, and tall. When he was growing up, he had always been picked first for teams. His powerful legs had carried him to the front of the pack his whole life. That was his place, to stride confidently, unapologetically, ahead.

     It wasn’t that long ago that he had been running along Beach Road with his shirt off, full of pride and arrogance; now it seemed like it was a life that had belonged to someone else.


When the taxi dropped him home after work, there was a dog sitting on his doorstep, staring at his front door. ‘Go away,’ he said to it and slipped past and through the door.

     During the night, John was woken by the noise of howling and scratching, but the sleeping tablets he’d taken to save him from his problematic sleep kept pulling him back down. 

     In the morning, a taxi arrived to take him to work – he’d only recently started back, part-time, light duties, soft duties he thought.

     He opened his front door to find the same dog curled up on the door mat.

     ‘You!’ he said accusingly. ‘Go away.’

     John clapped his hands to frighten the dog away, but it gave a tentative tail wag, and only took a few steps back. It was a scruffy, dirty, Bitzer, thing. Surely, it wouldn’t still be there when he got home. He got into the taxi and left.


Later that day when John arrived home, the dog was still sitting at his front door, staring at it. ‘What the? Go away!’ and he slipped inside. But it scratched at his door and began to howl all over again.


It howled long and loud enough that it drew John’s retired neighbours from across the road over. 

     ‘What’s this about?’ said Dierdre indicating the dog when John answered the door.

     ‘I don’t know. He won’t go away.’

     ‘Hmm,’ she said, ‘He must be lost. He’s got no collar though. Looks to have been lost for a while … or a bit neglected. Gee, he’s keen on you.’

     ‘I think it’s the door. Maybe he likes the colour.’ It was a deep blue, royal blue – John had chosen the colour because he thought it to be energetic and masculine. The dog’s gaze alternated between John and his closed front door through the whole conversation. 

     ‘I think he wants to stay with you for the night,’ said Deirdre.

     ‘Don’t be silly.’

     ‘He needs to stay somewhere.’

     The young mother who was his neighbour to his left had now wandered over.

     ‘Aww, look at that face, such soulful eyes,’ she said looking at the dog. John looked at him again and supposed there was something sad and deep about his expression.

     ‘Why don’t you take him?’ John said to her.

     ‘I have a rabbit, a cat and two children to look after already.’

     ‘Or you,’ he said to Dierdre.

     ‘Paddy doesn’t get along with other dogs.’ Paddy was a Jack Russell.

     ‘What about them,’ and John pointed his thumb in the direction of the other neighbours, not remembering their names.

     ‘Sally’s allergic to dogs.’

     John rolled his eyes.

     Dierdre bent down to pat and inspect the dog some more.

     ‘He’s got some scars on him, and look his ear has a bit off it. I have a feeling no one is looking for him. You poor little guy.’

     ‘OK. He can sleep in the laundry, but I’ll need a lift to the pound in the morning though.’

     ‘You can’t do that,’ they cried simultaneously. 

     ‘He’ll be good company until they find his owners,’ said Deirdre.

     ‘I thought you said no one would be looking for him.’

     She looked at John pleadingly, ‘Give it a go for a few days. If it doesn’t work out, you can always give him up then. Look at him!’

     ‘But I don’t want a dog. Certainly not this one. I can’t even tell what breed it is.’

     They were all looking at him with disapproving expressions. John was feeling a sense of obligation, he didn’t like it, he’d never had to feel that before. But they’d put his bins out and brought them in again for months for him, brought him cooked dinners; he’d come home to find his front lawn mown. How had he lost so much control of his life?

     ‘But I don’t have anything for him.’

     ‘I can help,’ said Deirdre.

The dog had his nose wedged in the corner of John’s front door, sniffing loudly.

     ‘He thinks he’s home. Can’t you see it,’ said Deirdre.

     ‘OK,’ John said with resignation and opened the door. The dog ran straight in and began a thorough sniffing around, even up on John’s bed, until John pushed him off.

     Dierdre came over with some things for the dog: food, a toy, bedding and some flea control wash. ‘Paddy has everything and more,’ she explained. John shook his head when he saw her pop a tablet in the dog’s mouth. ‘I think he might need a bath though.’


     ‘Do you want a hand with that. Phil would be happy to come over.’

     ‘I can manage!’ John snapped.

     He opened one of the cans for the dog which it ate in about three gulps. ‘Gee, hungry, fella.’

     John then put a blanked on the floor next to the couch, and the dog settled down on it which John was thankful for. The only thing to interrupt the peacefulness was the scratching.

     It soon began to grate on Johns’ nerves.

     ‘Right! You need a bath. How did I get talked into this?’

     The hardest part was going to be getting him into the bath, but John came up with a solution. He threw a piece of meat into the bath and with a little shove from behind the dog was willingly helped into the tub. John sat himself on a stool as bending over a bath wasn’t the easiest thing for him to achieve.

     It was a struggle to keep the dog in there and John ended up nearly as wet as the dog, but in the end, it was finally done, and fleas peppered the brown water.

     When the water was let out the dog shook himself, spraying water everywhere.

     After some towel drying, John let him clamber out of the bath. He took off at a great rate, rubbing himself along the sides of the couch and smearing the side of his head across the carpet with his bum in the air. John couldn’t help but laugh at the sight, despite himself.  It was the most he’d laughed in the past nine months.

     ‘Nine months, it’s early days,’ they said to him. Right now, he felt like it would be like this forever – he feared it would be forever. ‘Everyone’s journey is different,’ the doctors explained to him. But he should have been one of those people who recovered quickly, that was his expectation, but his body had let him down in the recovery.

     At bedtime he put the dog in the laundry, but he began to howl and scratch at the door.

John went to the laundry intending to tell him off – but the second he opened the door the dog wiggled through like an eel and ran about searching until he found what he was looking for – John’s bed. He could barely make it up there because his legs were short; he was a ridiculously proportioned, unathletic dog. John shook his head in disapproval. He didn’t want him to sleep on the bed, but John was tired, and the dog was peaceful.

     John’s nights were often full of torment. Full of pain. One of his reoccurring dreams was that he was whole, that losing his leg had been a bad dream, only to wake and find the opposite was true and to grieve anew.

      At some point through the night the dog moved closer, and John could feel the warmth against his side, and he dreamed he was sleeping next to someone. He woke from the dream with a lump in his throat and reached out a hand to rest on the dog.


Learning how to walk again was harder than he’d expected. He’d seen pictures of athletes running on prosthetics and assumed that would be him in no time. He went to a place where hopelessness and pain suctioned like quicksand. 

     You see, he’d had high standards, ruthless standards, and he’d measured other people up to them too, but now he couldn’t even meet them himself.

     Growing up, he’d always been athletic, he’d never hung out with the wheezy asthmatic, uncoordinated kids. That hadn’t been the place in the world he was meant to occupy – he had been so confident of that. Who would accept him now? How could he expect anyone too.

     He’d broke it off with his last girlfriend because he found her endometriosis inconvenient.

     He didn’t know who he was anymore, what he deserved?

     He’d lost himself along with the leg.


He was woken by a wet nose in the morning. ‘Yes, dog. Good morning. That’s enough. Oh gross!’ because dog’s tongue had managed to make its way into his mouth The dog leaped enthusiastically off the bed in sudden excitement.

     He found dog at the glass door, smearing it with his nose. John opened it and dog went straight out and relieved himself, yet when it was time for John to leave to attend appointments, he wouldn’t go back out. John tricked him by throwing a piece of meat again, out the door, and quickly shutting it behind him as he ran out to chase it. When John came home, dog was so excited he did zoomies through the house. John felt guilty about such pleasure at his presence.

     John rang the pound and placed a notice about him on the community Facebook page.


Dierdre dropped over with a gift. ‘It’s a ball thrower. It’ll make it easier for you to exercise him.’

     ‘He’s not staying. And what happens if he doesn’t come back?’

     ‘First you say you don’t want him, now you’re worried he won’t come back?’

     After she left, John took dog to the park around the corner.

     He threw the ball, further and further but he kept on coming back.

     John gave such a mighty throw that he almost lost his balance, he quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed. It was tricky on soft and uneven ground.


Over the following week dog threw up on the carpet, kept on pulling all the toilet paper off the toilet roll so that John had to remember to keep the door shut, dug a hole in the garden and walked dirt through the house. Cleaning up after dog, feeding him and taking him to the park definitely did not leave John with as much time to lay around on the couch as he used to.

     Laying around on the couch – John had done a lot of that over the past nine months. He’d spent the first six weeks in hospital, he’d healed well after the operation, but then the fitting of the prosthetic brough all kinds of complications. His stump, he hated that word, just wouldn’t stop developing ulcers. At first, he had borne the pain stoically, he had thought he could overcome it with will power – but that was another thing he’d been wrong about.

     Every now and then, John did let dog up on the couch and they would watch a movie together. John would find himself absently running his hand through his fur, though there were some patches where the fur was missing because of scars, which frighteningly looked like bite marks. John couldn’t help but wonder what he had been through. John noticed that the more time they spent together, that dog had begun to make more direct eye contact with him and would now hold his gaze for dreamy periods. John would look back into those big brown eyes and was surprised at what he felt – what was it – connection? He’d never paid much attention to animals, though people had talked about what good company they could be. How could something as dumb as an animal be good company? But then, strangely enough, he realised he couldn’t think of better company than that of this mute creature right now.


No one enquired about dog.


Nearly two weeks passed until one morning John came out of the shower to find that dog had raided the kitchen bin. It was on its side and garbage was strewn everywhere. Dog was on the couch with a bloody meat wrapping, the juice soaking into the pale couch upholstery.

     ‘Dog!’ he shouted, ‘I don’t have time to clean this up. My taxi will be here in a minute. Bloody hell, sometimes you’re just too much work.’ Anger welled up in him. He pushed Dog off the couch roughly and yelled at him to go outside, then he slammed the door shut behind him. Dog’s tail curled under him, and his ears went down. John didn’t look at him again; couldn’t bear to be moved by dog’s pitiful expression. He removed the meat wrapper from the couch, stood the bin upright, and pushed the mess into a corner of the kitchen before the taxi arrived to take him to work.

     He hadn’t put dog’s bedding or breakfast outside for him before he left like he normally did.


By the time John reached work, his frustration had died away. He thought of Dog’s sad face and then he thought of his happy smiling face, and the difference those two thoughts had on him. Then John felt ashamed of himself. He never used to have these emotional outburst – he’d make it up to dog when he got home.

     But then rains came over, and gradually got heavier. John checked the rain radars online and saw patches of red moving over the peninsula. Thankfully, the end of the day wasn’t far off because he couldn’t leave work early. He was only there two days a week, and trying to prove he was up to it.


As his taxi got closer to home his heart began to sink. There was evidence that a storm had hit the area hard, trees were down, and debris strewn across the road. Gutters were flowing like rivers and washing across roads.

     Normally, Dog would be waiting at the glass door, his nose already trying to pry the door open, but he wasn’t there. John opened the back door and called, but dog did not appear. John found a hole dug under the side fence.

     He went out onto the street and called. He couldn’t even drive himself around to look for him. His car was in his garage, but it was still waiting to be modified and then he’d have to learn to drive again and get a special license.

     He lamented his dependence on others, but then went over to Deirdre’s.

     They drove and called but there was no sign of him. John didn’t like the thought of dog running scared and lost again. Just when dog would have thought everything was going well for him, the rug was ripped out from under him.

     ‘Has he a collar with your phone number on it?’

     ‘No. I haven’t organised that yet.’

     ‘Maybe ring the council and let them know in case he gets picked up.’

     John couldn’t believe how disappointed he felt by the turn of events.

     It was a long and restless night. The house was quiet and dull; the night empty of the soft, soothing noise of dog’s breathing. Perhaps he was worth the effort, worth all the chaos. 

     John took the next day off work to look for him, put-up fliers, and ring the ranger’s office.

     In the afternoon, there was knock at his door. His first thought was that hopefully someone had found him, but he checked himself, not wanting to feel the disappointment.

     When he opened the door there was a young woman, but he barely had a chance to acknowledge her because he was suddenly inundated by an excited dog, who was jumping and jumping up at him, knocking him off balance.

     John awkwardly caught himself on the door frame, and the young woman caught his other arm. John managed to regain his balance. He knew he didn’t have to explain his lack of balance, he was wearing shorts.

     ‘Thanks,’ he said.

      She looked up at him, ‘Wow, you’re very tall,’ she commented appreciatively. ‘Oh, look at him – he misses you so much.’

     ‘More than I deserve.’

     ‘I’m sure that’s not true. Dogs are a good judge of character. I’m Sophie. I live just a few streets away.’

     ‘I’m John. Did you see the fliers I put up?’ He was confused because he’d not put his address on them.

     ‘No. I know Dierdre and she’d spoken about you and … dog.’

     ‘Umm. Henry. I’ve named him Henry.’

     ‘I went to my car, and he was just sitting next to it. But look, your door is nearly the exact same colour as my car,’ and Sophie pointed to her car parked on the curb and laughed.

      John looked down at Henry, ‘Judge of character, or connoisseur of colour? It was the thunderstorm. I’m going to put in a doggy door so he can come in if the weather is bad next time.’

     He would have dismissed her once as not his type, but then, nothing was as it had been, and she didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave.

     ‘Would you like to come in for a coffee?’

     ‘That would be nice’ she replied and stepped through the blue door with a glance at him of the kind he’d never expected to see again.

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