Bob the dog had a secret, life, one that no one knew about, and few suspected.
To start off, the name ‘Bob’ was only an alias, a case of mistaken identity. His real name is a well-guarded secret, too sensitive to be revealed.
‘Bob’ was born in a lovely neighbourhood, one of 43 sons of the Golden Labrador, Missy. The identity of Bob’s father is a well-guarded secret, but a knowledgeable source has cited evidence that he might be the famous breeding Labrador “Zeus”.
Bob was born as part of a Guide Dog Breeding program. His mother would give Bob an affectionate lick on his wet, furless head every morning and feed him until he was so full he could barely move. But when Bob was 12 weeks old he was taken away from his mother and put into a new home.
He was nursed by a man in a plastic room with stuffed animals and a rocking chair. Had Bob been able to see into the adjoining rooms, he might have noted that they were each furnished identically, complete with wrinkly-faced puppy and human nurse.
Bob’s man-nurse called himself Larry. He claimed that he, too, had never known his mother very well, although Bob suspected that this might be untrue. Larry would speak to Bob all day in a calming neutral tone. Sometimes he would play with Bob, tossing toys about and growling in a manner that was quite ridiculous and yet irresistible.
Every morning and evening, Larry took Bob to a special place where Bob was expected to publicly relieve himself (only to be given a small ‘treat’ that would make Bob wish to relieve himself again within an hour). Once each day, he would take Bob on a small track with a funny smell, where Bob was expected to react to poles with lights on them and dirt painted black with white stripes, and doors that slid open and closed.
But most of the time, he asked Bob to sit calmly on the floor beside him.
He taught Bob English, putting emphasis on several arbitrary words like “heel.” And he taught Bob another language, one with fewer words, in which Bob was expected to react to hand and head signals, the angle and tension on a leash, and physical contact.
One day, when Bob was about 5 months old, Larry took Bob into a large room filled with other dogs and man-nurses, dogs and man-nurses that matched the smells in the track. There was one more group of creatures in the room, a new group that Bob didn’t recognize: Children.
Bob was paired up with one of the children. She was thin and freckle-faced. Her name was June. Larry walked away, leaving Bob alone with June. He didn’t like her. She had a funny smell to her, and a voice that was high and grating. She wasn’t calm like Larry, or predictable, and it took Bob a while to recognize the words Larry had taught him when June spoke them in such a funny manner.
Bob whined as June led him away, sat down on the floor and slid away from Larry as June pulled so hard against his leash that her body leaned forward at an angle.
June threw a green smock over Bob’s back and pulled him out a door into a world where the air rushed around him in an unsettling manner, carrying thousands of strange smells for his nose to taste. She lifted Bob into a moving glass and metal cage Bob later learned was called a car, and introduced him to a man she called her father.
Bob and June struggled to get on. Bob would hold out until the right time to go to the bathroom, but he would do it in the wrong place. June didn’t always understand how to give Bob quiet time.
She introduced him to a frightening new world, and once Bob got used to the constant commotion, he found it exciting. He went to school with June, would lie close to her as she learned her lessons, trying not to whine when he didn’t have her attention. She would take him everywhere, places that carried many funny smells, but no scent of dog. She showed him the real-life counterparts to the objects in his track: Stoplight. Street. Automatic door.
Sometimes she would wander around with her eyes closed and ask Bob to lead her from place to place. Bob understood. It was a game of trust.
And he learned to trust June, and she learned to trust him.
He loved her, and he loved her smells, her friends, her places, her love and her joy.
It broke Bob’s heart when one day she brought him back to the open room where they had first met, and passed him on to an older woman with a tight, humourless voice.
His new owner was kind enough, but she didn’t stop to play. There was no joy in her laughter. She didn’t smell like baby powder and warm milk, she had a metallic smell: lavender perfume. She took Bob everywhere, let him play the trust game all day long, but it wasn’t fun for him anymore, and she didn’t want to go to the places Bob loved, she had other places to be.
When she and Bob were out the world didn’t seem to love him as much. No one stopped to pet him or even to smile, they wouldn’t even look at his playful face, but glanced at his new orange smock, and looked away again, as if they were ashamed.
Bob was starting to feel very alone.
He missed June and was sure she missed him, and he missed being around children.
So one night after she had undressed him and gone to bed, Bob left his new owner, slipped out through the window above the kitchen counter, which she kept open to let a breeze into the house.
He jogged along the edge of the highway, chasing the wind as it carried nostalgic smells, chasing lights as they moved across the distant sky, chasing old cars as they clanked and chuckled in the night. When the sun rose, he was still running, covered in dew, panting as he averted his eyes from the blinding sunlight.
There was a sudden screech, and Bob threw his head over his shoulder just in time to see the head-light of a coming car before it hit him.