by Janet Rising
Several years ago I joined the local writing group. Every month we are tasked with writing one or two short stories. I challenged myself to write not one word about horses and, so far, I have succeeded. One month the title was Dog, and here is the result.
Jack Russell Agent 03672 felt a pressing need to pee. He had cocked his leg at least seven times on his way to this meeting, but now he had arrived at the rendezvous and was waiting for Agent B he realised he still had something in reserve. Besides, Agent B was one hell-of-a-scary bitch! Silently, and without warning, a large Mastiff entered the small copse in the park and sat down opposite him. Agent 03672 wagged his tail in an exploratory manner. The Mastiff did not reciprocate.
“We’re calling in all our agents worldwide,” began Agent B, in an even tone. “We need a general overview of how things are going, any progress made, slip-ups, items of concern, that sort of thing. I’ll hear your report now, Agent 03672.”
Agent 03672 gulped, wishing he had been able to bring his noo-noo rag or favourite squeaky ball with him for some comfort. Noo-noo rags, balls and toys of any kind, however, were strictly forbidden.
“Well, Ma’am,” he began after clearing his throat, “there are some developments of which I need to make you aware…”
Agent B visibly bristled. “Developments?” she growled.
“On the plus side,” continued Agent 03672, deciding to start with a positive, “wolf numbers are increasing. Mankind seems keen to ensure they are returned to their traditional habitats to breed, and restore what Mankind calls the balance of nature.”
“Now that is interesting,” said Agent B, lifting a hind leg and half-heartedly scratching her left ear. A long, silvery length of drool leapt from her jowl, causing Agent 03672 to duck as it flew past his head and landed in the foliage behind him. “I understand from our African operative that numbers of African Hunting Dogs are critical, although she reports that Mankind is assisting the population. We need to keep an eye on that.”
“Yes Ma’am,” nodded Agent 03672, relaxing a little.
Returning her hind leg to the ground, Agent B stared down at the Jack Russell. “But things are not going so well in your part of the world, are they Agent 03672?”
Agent 03672 felt his stomach flip, much like it did whenever he heard the word ‘bath’. Unwilling to volunteer information to which Agent B may not be party – as if – he opened his mouth to speak, only to close it again in the hope that the Mastiff would give him a clue. Agent B obliged.
“I’m talking about Spaniels!” she spat. “And Huskies! Not to mention…” Agent B leaned forward until her glistening black nose was almost touching Agent 03672’s identical, scaled down snout, “LABRADORS!“
“Ahhh, erm, well…” stammered Agent 03672, leaning back onto his haunches.
“We place our agents in the field to gain back control, not stand by and watch it all slipping away,” continued Agent B. “Agent A – our great founder Anubis – encouraged the breeding of Mankind to assist in his worship and, for a while, it went well. But then Mankind got rather above itself – not to mention the cat problem it created – and things have been going downhill ever since.”
Agent 03672 hoped he looked interested, as though he hadn’t heard all this before. Agent B, he knew from experience, enjoyed the sound of her own voice.
“Then there’s the religion thing that won’t go away: the great Christian conspiracy, started by the donkeys to add credence to the crosses on their own backs, and the one whose name we daren’t mention in case the radicals start getting all squirrelly – STAND DOWN Agent, there is no squirrel – and countless other deities, all vying for attention, Mankind not realising that our very name, an anagram of god, is no accident. The only one worth its kibbles is Buddha, for obvious reasons. Mankind should still be swinging through the trees, we should be in charge. Agent A still doesn’t quite understand how it all got away from us. Any ideas, Agent 03672?”
“Er, opposable thumbs, Ma’am?” suggested Agent 03672, still quivering from the squirrel misunderstanding.
“Oh yes, the old opposable thumbs chestnut!” spate Agent B. “But we’re wandering from the point, Agent 03672. Spaniels! Care to explain that one to me?”
“Well, everyone knows Spaniels are martyrs to their noses,” spluttered Agent 03672. “They were okay as gundogs – a perfectly acceptable, natural occupation – but lately Mankind has exploited them to sniff out drugs and money, even idiots lost on mountains – and Spaniels will snort anything, given half a chance. Hedonists, through-and-through, your Spaniels are.”
“Hmmm. And Huskies?”
“Well, Huskies live for pulling. It’s not their fault, it’s in their genes. Mankind will keep on breeding for type. I admit we took our eye off the ball as far as Huskies go – which isn’t like us.”
“And how do you explain Labradors?” pressed Agent B. “Labradors are Agent A’s biggest disappointment. They’ve gone far, far over to the dark side, Labradors have.”
“Except for the yellow ones, ha ha,” snorted Agent 03672, hoping to lighten the mood. Agent B narrowed her eyes. Agent 03672 hastily continued in a more appeasing tone.
“We couldn’t stop them, they got away from us. The trouble with Labradors is that they have the help gene – in spades. I mean, what with all the specialist breeding Mankind does now it’s been bred into all of us. I can’t explain, it’s like we can’t help ourselves, we just enjoy doing their bidding.”
“Tell it to the Beagles, Agent 03672.”
“Oh, well, point taken, but things move on.”
“So are you saying you’re not responsible for yourselves? I thought better of you, Agent 03672. The refusal of your particular breed to take any notice of Mankind’s requests is one of our Great Leader’s last hopes.”
Agent 03672 stood mute, his head hung low. At the last meeting it had been all about the German Shepherds lured to the glamour and excitement of law enforcement, and the Border Collies who had sold out to sheep. Agent 03672 hoped Cruft’s wasn’t going to crop up again. The mention of any dog show tended to make Agent B lose it, big time.
“Let’s press on” said Agent B, sitting back and looking down her nose at the smaller dog. “What of the developments you mentioned, Agent 03672?”
“Ah, yes, well, um…”
“Come, come, you are here to report. Report away.”
“Er… well… you may have heard that the foxes have gained control of the city streets, so I’m thinking maybe we could form an alliance…”
“An alliance? With foxes? I’d like to be there when you break that idea to the Foxhounds – not to mention the foxes – it’s been but a decade since the hunting ban and vulpine memory is anything but short. Besides, we should control of the streets, I mean, how hard can it be if the foxes have done it?”
“Most of us aren’t allowed out at night nowadays,” explained Agent 03672. “It’s not like it was in the fifties and sixties.”
“So we’ve missed an opportunity there,” sighed Agent B. “Agent A will be unhappy about that. But there’s more, isn’t there Agent 03672? Come on, let’s have it!”
“Mankind has… has… started dressing us up… in clothes. Jumpers, mackintoshes, hats. Even the Pugs are fed up with it. I don’t know whether it’s enough to start a revolution but, well, it’s something.”
“We know about the clothes, Agent 03672. What is the big story, the one you’re so nervous about, the beans you hesitate to spill?”
Agent 03672 could put it off no longer. He took a deep breath. “It mostly concerns the Labradors, although it isn’t a Labrador-exclusive thing, hardly worth mentioning but I thought I’d better let you know…”
“Spit it out Agent!”
“Some of us have upped our game as far as helping Mankind,” whispered Agent 03672, trying desperately to stop one of his hind legs from twitching. He still longed to pee, just a tiny bit. Being surrounded by trees didn’t help. “Following on from guiding the blind and assisting the deaf, it’s been noted that we can detect some Mankind-specific illnesses and conditions.”
“Cancer mainly – and epilepsy and the new Covid-19… there are more, obviously, only Mankind hasn’t realised yet.”
Agent B closed her eyes and sighed. Agent 03672 could hear his name being called from the other side of the park. He suppressed the urge to swivel an ear.
“That will be all,” snapped Agent B. “It’s worse than we thought. This meeting is concluded.” Turning, she disappeared into the darkness.
After cocking a leg at every lamp post on the way home, Agent 03672 curled up in his basket in front of the fire with his noo-noo rag and squeaky ball and stared lovingly at his Mankind family. He knew he was a traitor but he couldn’t help himself, although he understood why. He was in love and love, whatever your species, wherever your alliance, love… well, love changes everything.
Janet Rising refused to allow the fact that she was born in the suburbs, with no hope of ever owning a pony, to prevent her from making horses her life. Her equestrian career included teaching riding at various riding schools, working for a top class donkey stud, and 20 years as an equine journalist and editor of PONY, the magazine for young riders.
All photographs copyright Jane Badger