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Chapter Nine: The Pound

I watched the sun go down and it got real dark and the planes became blurs of lights and noise when they passed me by on their way into the air. I crawled across the patch of grass on my belly to the fence and pressed myself against it, laying as flat as I could to keep myself from being seen. Every noise I heard I looked around wildly, my heart beating so hard I was sure any enemies coming toward me in the dark could hear it. I shivered and waited and waited.

Nick would come for me, I told myself, he had to. He would find me. He wouldn't stop looking until he did, would he?

I pressed my nose against my paws and I must've fallen asleep at some point because the next thing I knew there were hands on my sides and I was being lifted up. I kicked my legs in a panic and wiggled until I caught a glimpse of a short, fat man in a blue suit with heavy leather gloves on his hands. He picked me right up and carried me across the patch of grass I'd spent the night on toward a big white van waiting at the curb. He opened up the back of the van and there were empty pet taxis lining the walls on shelves and a big open space with blankets covering the floor. Old, kinda worn out blankets. He set me down on one of the blankets.

"Looks like you belong to somebody," he mumbled, and he reached for my collar. My collar is red and it has a Tampa Bay Buccs tag with my name on the back. The strange human turned it over, "Nacho, huh?" he asked. I wagged my tail once because this is the most effective way to say yes to a human. "Hmm, looks like your owner didn't put any further information on there about you.... Let's get you back to the pound and I'll call the airlines and see if anyone's reported you missing yet." With that, pulled closed a gate that blocked off the door, then shut the doors themselves.

I lay there on the funny-smelling blankets. Despite the fact that they smelled like a vast many other dogs, the blankets were warm and I was so cold that I was able to over look the smell. I nuzzled down into the blankets and, even though I didn't know this human even a little, I felt a little safer than I had all night and I was so exhausted that I fell asleep while he was driving.

Quite some time later, the van came to a halt and the human came back and opened up the doors. He pulled a leash from a bag hanging on the door and reached through the gate and hooked it onto my collar. I don't know why he thought I was gonna run away - I had most definitely learned my lesson about running away. That lesson being don't do it. "C'mon Nacho," he said, and he lifted me down to the ground and closed the van doors.

We walked across a small dirt lot toward a lonely looking building in the shade of some trees. Even from outside, I could hear a lot of dogs barking and that funny smell from the blankets permeated the air. I wasn't positive I felt safe anymore and I hesitated in following the human. He tugged the leash he'd attached to my collar until I continued on with him. Nick never tugged my leash like that. If I hesitated, Nick either carried me or didn't make me go the direction I was hesitant to go in. I wanted my human, not this random strange human that smelled like other dogs.

He made me follow him into the little building and we were in a small room lined with cages with sleek cats whose tails swished as they watched with beady eyes as the strange human led me by. I glanced up at them and they stared down at me and I tucked my tail between my legs because their stares were so regal and so cold that I couldn't help but feel intimidated by them. I rushed to stay close to the strange human.

He paused behind a desk and I stayed close to his ankles. Somewhere in the building a bird was making a racket and there were dogs barking and howling and the cats were mowing and there were other noises that I couldn't identify, things I'm guessing I've never met before. I could barely move, I was so scared. The strange human was talking on the phone, but I didn't listen to him, I was too busy trying to keep my eyes on alert for whatever one of the animals present would try to kill me first.

After a little bit, he leaned down and picked me up and put me down on the counter top and unhooked his leash from my collar. I could feel the cats staring at me again and I lifted my front paw, something I did whenever I was truly scared shitless, and trembled. "Gon' be a'ight," the strange human said. "Just a couple hours here with us and you'll be on your way with your owner."

He lifted me up again and carried me through a door toward the howling and barking that was previously just a muffled background noise. I looked around as we entered a very dark, drab area that I learned later was called a kennel. He carried me down the hallway and every one of the individual areas had faces pressed into the links of the fence. All eyes were on me.

"Who's the new guy?" I heard voices asking.

"Looks pampered to me."

"Yeah look at that collar, that's a leather collar."

"Real leather, too, it looks! And not a chew mark on it!"

"Your mommy an heiress, ey, little puppy-wuppy-pie?" they teased.

Even if I had an answer to provide, I couldn't have at that moment because I was way too scared to even think about making a peep. The strange human carried me clear to the back corner and opened the very last holding stall and put me in. "You wait here, little fella," he said, and he pulled the stall door shut and walked away.

I stood there at the links until the human door closed behind him.

I shook and hunkered down as the other dogs in the other kennels kept making fun and calling out taunts about my collar and the fact that I looked well fed. Which I think might've meant they were calling me fat, but I'm not sure.

Suddenly there was a noise behind me, and I jumped and turned so I was back-into the corner. Something was moving in the shadowy part of the kennel I'd been put in.

"Stop pickin' on him guys, he's scared to death." It was a girl dog, I could tell that much, but I couldn't see her, she stayed in the shadow. All I could see was a vague shape moving through the dark. "It's obvious this one ain't been far from his owner before."

The other dogs quieted. I could still hear them whispering their comments to each other, but it was better than the racket they'd been making before. I stayed low anyways, though. I squinted into the dark, trying to see the mystery pup that had stood up for me. "Who are you?" I asked.

"My name's Muffin," she replied. "Blueberry Muffin, but everyone just calls me Muffy."

"My human likes blueberry muffins. He buys them on our Jogs sometimes at the coffee shop because Lauren doesn't like it when he eats muffins. She says they're high in fat." I was rambling. I knew I was, but I was nervous and that's what happens when I'm nervous.

Muffy scoffed, a low snorting sound. "Your human? The human that abandoned you?"

"Nick didn't abandon me, I just got lost is all..."

"Lost?" Muffy said the words quietly. "I got lost once. My human never looked for me. It's the same thing as being abandoned, when they don't look for you."

"Nick is looking for me," I said, though I wasn't positive... The long night I'd spent on the patch of grass by the fence before the strange human had found me echoed in the back of my mind. I'd never howled and cried before when he hadn't come. Nick always came when I howled. Always. I'd shivered the whole night waiting for him, and he'd never come. "Maybe your owner is looking for you, too," I suggested.

A barking laugh echoed through the entire kennel as a bunch of the other dogs laughed. I looked around at all the different points the echoing bark was coming from, feeling ambushed.

"Stop." Muffy's voice was firm and all the other dogs stopped laughing and the kennel was filled with a painfully loud silence. Then, in the shadows, Muffy stirred and her paw stepped into the light. "My human isn't looking for me. I was lost three years ago..." And as she spoke, the rest of her came out of the shadow, too, slowly revealing her leg, her chest, her neck, and finally her face.

She was the ugliest god-damn dog I'd ever laid eyes upon.

She was some sort of bulldog-mix with big drooping cheeks and long ears. Her tongue hung funny from her mouth, but it was because the whole right side of her face was scarred and she only had one eye.

I pressed myself to the floor of the kennel. "What happened to you?" I asked, shaking.

"Humans don't love dogs. Humans control dogs, and when they're through they throw them away, like trash. It's better to learn it now, here, from me, rather than the hard way, at the hands of some cruel human, like I learned it," Muffy said darkly, and she turned back into the shadows, like she was haunting the kennel.

I whimpered.

I needed to get out of here. I needed to find Nick. I dug my feet against the cement floor, desperate for it to give way to my scratching. But all it did was tire me out. I could feel the eyes of the other dogs in the kennel on me, even though they weren't saying anything. Probably every one of them had tried to dig out at one point or another, I realized as I collapsed, tired, onto the floor of the kennel, panting.

"There's no way to escape," Muffy said.

"Yeah the only way out is with the Dog-Catcher," spoke up a poodle from across the hallway. He peered out of his kennel with beady little eyes that were hidden in the mess of curls that covered his body. "Or through The Door."

His words were ominous and a general mumbling went through the room. "Why do you gotta bring up The Door?" whimpered a chihuahua from down the hallway. "You know I'm sensitive about The Door!"

"Anyone in this room got reason to be sensitive about the door it's Muffy," commented the poodle. "She's next up and all."

"What's the door?" I asked.

Nobody said a word.

"What's the door?" I asked again, my tension building up.

"Nobody knows," answered a boxer. "Nobody ever comes back from the other side of The Door except the Dog-Catcher."

I realized they were all looking down the end of the hallway and there really was a door there, a big red door with a lock on it.

I looked back into the shadows at Muffy. I could just see the form of her laying in the corner. I was pretty sure - something about the way she sighed - that she knew exactly what lay behind that door.