she’s a keeper.

I jumped out of my kennel into air that was a lot colder than where I had been. My light red fur is a little bit thin, and I don’t eat a lot, so I’m sure the humans could see my bones quivering through my skin. The sky was colorful— perhaps morning because my stomach was growling and that was usually feeding time. The human led me to a room lined with kennels, and the room erupted with barking as soon as I walked in. The dogs were of my kind, but it all smelled so new, and the barking wasn’t very friendly. The human, not very interested in me or my lack of breakfast, ushered me into a top kennel near the back of the room. The surface felt cold on my exposed hip bones. I curled up as best I could, crossed my legs and waited patiently for breakfast. I stuck my nose through the rungs of the gate and tried to peer around the room, but my nose was too long and the scar from my muzzle was sore. The lights shut off and I was alone— as was usually the case.
Maybe minutes, maybe hours had passed, but I awoke with a jolt when I heard the door open and chorus of barks begin. I stood up, head stooped in the short kennel, and I tried to see what the ruckus was about. Was it time to run? Was it time to chase?

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I don’t remember the span of time, but my conditioned body understood race day so much that I must have been doing it a while. When I was a puppy I learned how to escape the box with a magic door and follow a mysterious white rabbit. Over and over me and my litter mates would chase the elusive rabbit, but we didn’t get congratulated and the humans never wanted to play with us. Just running on the track all day alone— as was usually the case. One day when I was small, a strange human put a cage on my face. I shook and shook, but the sad mask was stuck behind my ears. Then they put a jacket on me, but I didn’t mind so much. It kept me warm, and the gentle weight of it on my back made me feel safer than I had in a while. Shoved into the box with the magic door, I looked through a slit in the rickety hinge. There were humans gathered way up high, looking down at us and yelling and drinking a funny colored water. A horrible echo of speaking pierced my ears, but then I heard my name, “Sunstreaker,” magnified through the air. Then, in a matter of seconds, my door was opened and I did the only thing I knew how to do— run.

My little brother used to run and play with me, but he went away. His leg was funny, sort of bent, so he didn’t run fast. They grabbed him and took him away one day. I hope he is happy— wherever he is. My sister was much faster than me. She always caught the strange rabbit first. But one day, I don’t know exactly when, we were racing on a very hot day, and I saw her fall before she caught her rabbit. She was tired, I guess. Some humans in the stands were upset, and some other humans ran to scoop her up off the track. Maybe she just needed some water. We haven’t gotten to run together ever since. Another day, when the shot sounded and the magic door lifted, I started to run but became uneasy. The ground was wet, and my paws were slipping. Being a little on the cautious side, I slowed to an easy pace and watched as the brave dogs ahead of me tried to win the rabbit. Then, like a silent explosion, I saw two of my friends collide, sending them each sailing through the air and others sliding. I kept running because that’s what I was supposed to do, but I looked on my fallen friends as I passed. One lay still, its head curled unnaturally under its body, and the other struggled to get up with a paw that dangled around like a rag. I caught the rabbit that day.

Maybe minutes, maybe hours had passed, but I awoke with a jolt when I heard the door open and chorus of barks begin. I stood up, head stooped in the short kennel, and I tried to see what the ruckus was about. Was it time to run? Was it time to chase?

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The lights turned on, and a few people walked into the room: two girls and the unfeeling human who put me in the kennel without breakfast. I watched as one of the girls paced warily up and down the room. She looked frightened, saddened, concerned. I felt sad for her. Then the human let out some dogs one-by-one for the girl to play with, but for some reason none of them made her happy. I recognized that look she had. Humans didn’t often look into my eyes, but I observed from afar and could feel what they felt. For so long, I had only felt their frustration when I wasn’t fast enough. I felt their impatience when they pricked me in the hip with something that sent a burning but fleeting energy through my veins. I felt their disinterest when I wagged my tail at them. I felt their indifference as I cowered under the needle that branded my ear. I felt their coldness when they shifted us from cage to cage. I wanted to help these sad, empty humans, but they never looked at me, so I couldn’t.
I saw the girl, and I saw that her eyes were lonely. I’ve never seen my eyes, but I bet they looked the same. I whimpered. Let me out, I was saying. Let me try to make her happy. Finally, when I was just about to go crazy, the human let me out. I ran to her and put my head gingerly on her chest as she knelt down to greet me. Then she looked in my eyes and I told her, You’re gonna be okay. We can be friends. And that’s when I heard my new name for the first time. My girl said, “She’s a keeper.” Somehow I knew I’d never have to race again.

My name is Keeper. I have raced 159 races, but no more. I have been home for exactly 24 hours. I love to sneak turkey burgers from the refrigerator. I hate hair dryers. I love my girl, and she loves me.

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3 thoughts on “she’s a keeper.

  1. Such a great story. Beautifully told from a side that I have never pondered. Keeper and her girl are meant to be together forever. Keeper will never have to ask, “was it time to run? Was it time to chase?”

    I have two miniature poodles and they’re my world. They say that dogs love their owners more than themselves. They may very well be right… tails wagging, heart beating fast like a drum, and excitement overcomes them to hear someone at the door. As soon as the door pries open, a great burst of energy and happiness fills the air, “I have been waiting all eternity for this moment.” Happens all the time and it never skips a beat. Dogs really do love their human partner more than they love themselves.

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