Read Ruff Way to Go Online

Authors: Leslie O'kane

Tags: #Women Detectives, #Babcock; Allie (Fictitious Character), #Mystery & Detective, #Silky terrier, #Cozy Animal Mystery, #Paperback Collection, #General, #Cozy Mystery Series, #Cozy Mystery, #Women Sleuths, #Women Detectives - Colorado - Boulder, #Boulder (Colo.), #Fiction, #Dog Trainers, #Dogs, #Detective and Mystery Stories; American

Ruff Way to Go

RUFF WAY TO GO

by

Leslie O’Kane

Copyright
© 2000 by Leslie Caine

 

In memory of my father, Stephan P. Mitoff, 1924-1998

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the considerable efforts and
contributions of the following wonderful individuals: First and foremost
always, Mike, Carol, and Andrew O’Kane; Robin L. Lovelock, D.V.M.; Meredith
Hutmacher; the members of Lee Karr’s critique group and especially Christine
Jorgensen; and last but never least, the Boulder critique group, especially
Claudia Mills, Phyllis Perry, and Ina Robbins. Thanks, guys!

Chapter 1

“Look,
Allie, we got puppies!” my neighbor shouted across the street to me. The words
sounded more like “‘Ook, Owie, ‘ee ‘ot ‘uppies!” because she’s only five and
has a tendency to drop opening consonants.

Melanie was
gesturing emphatically with her little hands for me to cross the road. If she
knew me better, she would realize that I’d jump through flaming hoops to pet a
dog, let alone cross our quiet street in Berthoud, Colorado, to see puppies.
What made me especially curious now was that I’d gotten the distinct impression
that Melanie’s mother would jump through those exact same hoops to
avoid
seeing
a dog. Perhaps I’d misinterpreted and was about to be introduced to guppies.

I deserted
my task of fetching the mail, which was almost always for my mother
anyway—my having temporarily moved back home less than a month
earlier—and trotted across the street, saying, “You got puppies? Where?”

“At my
house! Come on!” Melanie was jumping up and down, her dark hair bobbing with
the motion. She grabbed my hand, her fingers warm and sticky. It was a bit
depressing that she didn’t have to reach all that high in the process. With my
free hand, I fluffed up my sandy-colored hair a bit, grasping for the extra
quarter inch of height that drew me closer to the five-foot mark.

“Up there!”
She pointed at the Randons’ front porch, where Cassandra, Melanie’s mother, sat
on their redwood porch swing, enjoying this warm late May afternoon. My eyes
were immediately drawn to what looked to be a purebred Siberian husky. Even
from this distance, she appeared to be underweight and was nursing what looked
like an indistinguishable mass of dark fur balls.

We trotted
up the driveway, the gravel crunching beneath our feet. The husky and I locked
eyes. Hers were the palest of blue, and she watched me warily from her
vulnerable position. If this dog and her owners had been my clients, I would
have immediately launched into a lecture about the importance of establishing a
quiet, warm, sheltered place for the dog to nurse. As it was, I would have to
be tactful. Not my strong suit. At least the dogs were on a throw rug, as
opposed to the hard porch floor.

“Hello,
Allida.” Cassandra Randon gave me a big smile, which was unusual. In her
mid-thirties, she was only a couple of years older than I, but she’d given me
the impression that she’d decided the two of us couldn’t possibly relate to
each other. She seemed to think my being single and working with dogs for a
living made me a female Mowgli, if not a Tarzan-ette. “Melanie couldn’t wait to
tell you about our temporary acquisition.”

“Temporary?”

“Yes, we’re
fostering a female dog and her litter for a couple of weeks, until the puppies
are old enough to be weaned.”

“That’s nice
of you,” I said slowly, trying not to make it obvious how surprising it was to
me that she, of all people, would volunteer to house homeless dogs.

“It was Paul’s
idea. He’s a real dog lover. He wanted me to see what having a dog would be
like, kind of wend our way gradually into pet ownership, you know? He swears he’ll
do all the work.”

This was the
most she’d ever said to me at one time. Her having a dog must have made her
feel that we had something in common. “That’s really a good—”

While I was
speaking, Melanie released my hand and reached down for one of the puppies. I
grabbed her around the shoulders and pulled her back just as the husky started
to growl at her. Cassandra, meanwhile, gasped and leapt to her feet.

“Never try
to pick up a puppy while he’s nursing, Melanie!” I scolded, putting myself
squarely between the girl and the dogs. “The mother dog will—”

“I knew she’d
be vicious!” Cassandra interrupted.

“Are you
referring to me or the dog?” I asked.

“Come here,
baby,” she said, holding out her arms. This time the intended target for her
words was obvious, and Melanie, both hands pressed fearfully to her mouth,
raced to her mother and all but disappeared into her mother’s broomstick-style
skirt.

“There,
there,” Cassandra said, patting her daughter’s back. Then Cassandra clicked her
tongue and focused her pretty blue eyes on me. “I meant the dog, of course. Her
owner is a convicted felon. I should have known I couldn’t safely bring the dog
here with my small child.”

“Was this
through the Humane Society?”

“No, through
that new privately funded animal shelter up in Loveland.” Her attention once
again focused on her child, she cooed, “Are you all right, sweetie?”

No good
could come of making such a fuss out of the child’s having received one very
justifiable warning from a dog. Melanie was either going to develop a
trepidation around dogs matching her mother’s or learn to play the dog’s every
action for Mom’s attention.

“Weren’t you
able to attend the training sessions for their dog foster program?” I asked.

“Well, sure,
we went, but I was hardly expecting to get a dog that was raised by a criminal.”

“Setting
that aside for a moment, Cassandra, let me ask you something. If you were
nursing baby Melanie and someone rushed up and yanked her out of your arms,
wouldn’t
you
growl?”

She pushed
her short strawberry-blond hair back from her forehead as she straightened, making
her several inches taller than I; but then, so was everyone. “I see your point,
Allida. Apparently, we should have been paying more attention in class.” She
looked down and, in a babyish voice, added, “Shouldn’t we have, Melanie? Didn’t
they tell us about how mommy dogs are protective of their baby dogs?”

Melanie, her
head still half buried in the folds of her mother’s skirt, nodded.

Beside me,
the puppies had finished nursing, and the husky got to her feet with some
effort. Four of the puppies had drifted off to sleep, but the fifth was making
its wobbly way around on the small oval-shaped rug. His size and ability to
walk indicated the puppies’ ages to be four or five weeks. They would be able
to begin weaning soon.

I leaned
down for a closer look. The pups had the soft fluffy fur of almost any dog, but
their collie-like ears, square jaws, and curled over tails indicated to me that
they were half rottweiler, or perhaps American Staffordshire terrier—
commonly known as a pit bull.

The husky
cautiously approached us, testing my reaction and that of the Randons, who,
fortunately for the sake of the already stressed dog, did not step back. The
dog’s appearance was so clearly one of gentleness—her ears up, eyes
alert, getting our scent. I walked to one side of her until I was even with her
shoulders, then turned to face in the same direction as she—this being
the least confrontational approach in a dog’s perception—and stroked her
thick, smooth fur.

“What’s her
name?”

“Suds,”
Cassandra answered, clicking her tongue. “As I understand it, her owner is a
big beer drinker.”

“Guess that’s
better than naming her ‘Foam,’” I muttered.

“Such a good
dog Suds is,” I said enthusiastically while giving her an ear rub. Cassandra
raised an eyebrow in response to the odd speech pattern, but by my accounts, we
were even. If I could put up with her baby talk to her daughter—not to
mention her daughter’s unusual enunciation—she could put up with my
speech idiosyncrasies when talking to dogs.

My initial
impression was that this was a really sweet dog and that the Randons, as dog owner
beginners, were very fortunate not to have gotten the typical high-energy
husky. Suds was soon trying to lick my ear—which I don’t tolerate under
any circumstances, and I don’t care what species of tongue we’re talking about.
I rose and said, “Cassandra, I have some free time here. How about if I give
you and Melanie a quick brush up course on care and feeding of a nursing dog?”

“That would
be nice. Thank you.”

“We can
start with my helping you set up an appropriate location in your house for Suds
to nurse her puppies.” I gave her a big smile, mostly because I was so proud of
myself for having tactfully worked that into the conversation, but she didn’t
seem impressed.

“I thought
huskies were outside dogs. That’s why I thought it would be fine if we just...closed
off a section of the porch.”

“The front
porch is out of the question. You can’t supervise your visitors out here.” The
woman must have slept through all of the animal shelter’s classes; my guess was
that she was being passive-aggressive in response to her husband’s efforts to
get a dog. Then again, I was painfully aware that my skills at psychoanalysis
began and ended with canines. “Let’s see what else we can come up with. Do you
have a mudroom, by any chance?”

She did, and
we soon had a corner sectioned off with some cardboard sheets the shelter had
provided, and made a reasonably comfortable surface with the throw rug from the
front porch covered by newspaper. Cassandra decided that, during warm days, she
could just prop open the outer door to this room and close the inner door.

Once having
given mother and daughter the basics on how and when to handle puppies, we were
soon seated at her patio table with the puppies napping nearby, while Melanie
and Suds played peacefully—that is, if one ignored Suds’s happy barks,
which I could but which caused Cassandra to massage her temples and shoot
withering looks at Suds.

This was a
true dog neophyte, and I found myself imagining what a wonderful challenge
Cassandra would make for me, if given the opportunity to convert her. I so
wanted to say,
You’ve got the dogs, you’ve got the happy, appreciative
child, and you even inherited the nice fenced-in yard from the previous owners.
Let me show you the joy of a family bonding with a dog. Let me teach you how to
communicate with dogs and experience the richness of it all.
But I decided
my pronouncement wouldn’t go over well now. Best to wait another day or two
until she’d begun to adjust to the concept of dog ownership on her own.

Having let
the conversation lag for too long, I asked Cassandra, “You said earlier that
Suds’s owner is a criminal?”

“Armed
robbery, as I understand it. I got this secondhand from Paul, when he was
checking into all of this dog stuff in the first place. All I know for sure is
that the owner’s in jail and won’t be released until sometime in July. At which
time he wants Suds back, but none of the puppies. I guess the father—Suds’s
mate, I mean—was a stray or something. In any case, he’s out of the
picture. Typical male, I guess,” she added with a laugh. “Knock her up and then
skip town.”

“If the
owner’s serving time for armed robbery, he couldn’t have been around when Suds
got impregnated. Who was watching the dog at the time?”

“I guess his
wife, who left town and deserted the dogs.”

I
automatically bristled at the thought of abandoning one’s pregnant dog, but
resisted the temptation to point out the irony in Cassandra’s not noticing how
irresponsible that was of the woman, while having joked moments earlier about
the wanton dog’s “typical male” behavior.

Cassandra
watched her daughter’s joyful play, a wary, almost fearful expression on her
own pretty, well tanned features. “I hope I haven’t made a big mistake in
taking on so much. All I agreed to was to foster a dog for a little while, to
see what having one was like. I mean, Paul and Melanie are just so avid about
having a dog and all, but what if Suds’s former owner gets out early? I know he
wants his dog back. I don’t want to take the chance of his coming back for his
dog and, you know, casing our house in the process.”

Other books

Lazy Bones by Mark Billingham
Devious by Suzannah Daniels
For Love Alone by Shirlee Busbee
Heavy Metal Islam by Mark LeVine
Her Healing Ways by Lyn Cote
Porn - Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink by Dave Monroe, Fritz Allhoff, Gram Ponante
Mary's Prayer by Martyn Waites