Death of a Dog

©Sue Ann Bowling
When the radio awakened him, Carl tuned out the news content almost as soon as he was aware of the sound.  He knew what the headlines would be—more murders, mass unrest, at least three—perhaps four by this morning—threatened attacks on an increasingly isolationist America by nations with nothing left to lose.  He sharpened his ears for a different sound, lifting his head until he could see the pale gold body sprawled on an absorbent pad by the bed.  A thread of breath, scarcely audible over the sound of the radio, and, yes, an almost imperceptible flutter of a clump of dead hair lying near the nostrils.  Daisy had survived another night.

Carl maneuvered his aged body to the edge of the bed and sat up, his eyes on the sleeping dog.  Part Labrador, he thought, but mostly something else entirely.  He remembered old Jack, his grandfather's black Lab.  Jack had been old even then, but that hadn't stopped the dog from dragging Carl out of the pond the three-year-old boy had almost drowned in.  Absently he wondered if Jack might have been one of Daisy's far ancestors.  Certainly the old dual champion had been behind most of the Labs in the state by the time Carl had been old enough to have a dog of his own—one of Jack's great-great-granddaughters.

He stamped on the floor a time or two, until Daisy flicked an ear and lifted her head slightly, milky eyes blinking.  "Want to go outdoors?" he asked her.  She couldn't hear him, of course.  She turned her head blindly, searching for the source of the vibration, then sighed as her grayed muzzle found his outstretched hand and she caught his scent. 

He gathered her up, pad and all, and carried her to the door opening on to the tiny yard and down the three steps to bleached grass.  He put her down carefully, setting her on her feet and supporting her while she let loose the flood she had somehow contained over the night.  She was close to incontinent now, and as ashamed of her condition as any person could be.

Once Carl would have put her down long since, ended a life that could hardly be anything but a burden, set her free to run with all the other dogs of his past.  But that had been before the Animal Emancipation Act.  Back when it was legal to own a dog capable of reproduction, even when he could deliberately breed his strain of show Labradors.  Back when the love of a dog was a part of growing up. Back when is was possible to find a dog.  And if he were honest with himself, he could not bear the thought of life without a dog—and as far as he had been able to find out, there wasn't a puppy left on the continent; maybe even the planet.  Daisy might well be the last of her species.

Well-meant legislation in the western world, aimed at reducing the millions of surplus dogs and cats killed each year.  Other laws, perhaps less well-meant, sponsored both by dog-haters and by those who thought of domesticated animals as slaves.  Sheer starvation in much of the rest of the world.  Breeders like Carl had been reviled as slave breeders, required, first by punitive license fees and then by making breeding a domesticated animal a felony, to abandon any attempt to breed healthier, sounder, more beautiful dogs.  Cats had gone feral as they always had, and were still plentiful enough in the countryside.  Dogs?  Daisy's litter had been found in a wilderness area when the last feral dogs were being lured into cage traps, sterilized and put up for adoption.  She was the only dog in the small town to which he had retired, at any rate, if not the only one left in North America.  And the town was more than usually tolerant of animal guardianship--in many places, Carl would have been run out of town.

Beneath his hands, Daisy lifted her head and growled toward the city, fifty miles to the north.  A loudspeaker blared somewhere, some kind of public announcement.  He ignored it to concentrate on helping Daisy walk to the back fence, her body swaying even more than usual against his supporting hands.

Was it just his imagination, or had the near-breakdown of society gone hand in hand with the elimination of pets?  He remembered the disastrous paper he'd published, back when the first DNA studies had suggested a far more distant divergence of wolf and dog than the archaeological literature had ever hinted at.  He had pointed out that the new dates for the domestication of the dog overlapped those for the development of modern humans, and suggested that the growing relationship between two different social hunters had resulted not only in the development of the dog, but perhaps in the evolution of modern human beings, as well.  After the media had finished with the distorted idea of wolves setting out to domesticate humans, he'd barely been able to parlay his new Ph.D. in molecular biology into an instructorship at a small community college. 

Daisy's head turned from side to side, and Carl reached out to scratch an ear.  Was she actually hearing the loudspeakers, deaf as she was?  Carl listened for a moment. 

Full mass attack. Seek shelter immediately. Nuclear attack? Biological? Computer virus? There'd been lots of public warnings about the possibilities of all three, along with a few others, but he'd never heard of a full mass attack.

He looked back at Daisy, swaying between his hands. She wouldn't be accepted at a shelter, even if he had time to take her to one. And if man and dog had indeed evolved together, become a symbiosis rather than two separate species, then what could be more fitting but that that they should die together?

Daisy sighed a little and seemed to grow heavier between his hands. Her head drooped, and Carl eased her body gently to the ground, then lowered himself to sit beside her, her head cradled in his lap. He didn't need to put an ear against her chest to know that her tired heart had stooped.

He could seek shelter, now, with no feeling he had abandoned his last friend. He might even survive the attack. Did he want to survive? Survive to a world without dogs, where no child ever learned to interact with another social species, where no one ever knew the unjudging love he had known all his life. He got to his feet, slowly, turning toward the yard's only exit, through the house. The shovel he used to clean the yard was leaning against the building, next to the door. He looked at the shovel, and back at Daisy's body, through tear-filled eyes.

Damn it, that long-ago paper might have been a disaster professionally, but he still believed it was true! Companionship between the two species had shaped wolves into dogs, but it had also shaped pre-humans into fully human creatures. Maybe the attack was inevitable, given the development of mass weapons. But in the grief of Daisy's death he couldn't help blaming it on the fact that humankind had repudiated the ancient link with the dog. And he did not want to live in a world in which that link had been abandoned.

He dug while a new sun rose in the north, and the computer-driven loudspeakers cut off in mid-word. Dug and listened to the sounds of crumpling metal and shattering glass as the traffic-control computer quit functioning. There would be no food deliveries to the stores in the little town tomorrow, and precious little food left soon. He looked down at Daisy's body, stroked her eyelids into place, and lowered her into the grave.