Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
His name had to be clever – it had to be “fun!” – something that rang with “The Christmas Spirit.”
I called him “Ebenezer.”
It was a compromise, really. No one will adopt a dog with a name like “Krampus,” yet calling him “Rudolph” was in every way wrong. So, I settled in the middle, with a name that (I hoped) maybe could’ve set the stage for a happy, wholesome ending.
I should have called him Devil…
The day they brought him in, van rocking, headaches barking, I thought they bagged a bear. Growls and yowls doubtfully-canine tore within the van as the lead animal wrangler stepped out. Jack, usually jolly as a peach-plum drunk, now wore a soberness reserved for pallbearers. Ezra, his partner, looked almost seasick.
“You should be careful ‘round him. He’s a nasty one.” Jack’s eyes were locked with the back doors, on that incessant barking, “Comin’ here, it sounded like he was cursing at us.”
I gave out a laugh, but Jack didn’t notice – he kept staring at the double doors. Ezra came out, and with a unified confidence they stepped up and opened the van. Ebenezer was there, caged like a wireframed present nobody wants. It was evident, even from just a glance, that he had tried chewing his way out.
Ezra and Jack handled his crate with the same care given to a box full of faulty TNT. Snapping-spitting jaws teeter-tottered the cage and threw up the thought of one fleshy finger worm slipping inside, in range of the beak that growled and barked.
Luckily, no one was hurt, but after a tense ride on the slobbering seesaw, the two men were ready and gone.
“I’m telling you,” Jack shifted the van into drive, his voice and wheels running away, “You be careful ‘round him! He’s a nasty one!”
❄ ❄ ❄
MHS (the Maymeadow Human Society) will accept almost any animal: birds, cats, dogs, ferrets – once we even had a beaver named Hoover. Treating each other with love and respect is what it means to be human, so I see it as a special privilege, extending that care to those who don’t identify as homo sapien.
That said, getting Ebenzer through intake required more than a few smoke breaks. I don’t smoke, but I was damn close to trying. I really hate to sedate them that early, but he was still due for an examination. I thought of a dentist fighting in the mouth of some violent toddler, and then I thought of Ebenezer, who had twice the bite and a third more teeth. I love animals, but I also love my fingers.
Based on our exam, Ebenezer was a gray / black doberman mix, clocking in at a thick 78 pounds of muscle, and maybe four or five years old (though you can hardly tell sometimes). He had a few more scars than your average veteran, but that seemed somewhat fitting given his “charm”.
We took some blood samples, checked for a chip (there was none), and scheduled his next appointment. Then he was gently escorted to a private suite where he could cool off and relax.
Ebenezer must have missed the memo because come that morning he was pissed. A snowstorm of stuffing scattered the floor, his bed and blankets torn to shreds. The Yeti of this realm greeted us with a show of teeth, his roars muffled behind the glass.
This was Ebenezer, our resident Scrooge. Over the coming days he warmed up to us like a sore tooth on ice. I tried sitting with him (behind the glass of course), trying to get him accustomed to my presence. After twenty minutes, his howls shrunk to growls and then ten minutes later, a silent glare. But the slightest shift and–
Back to phase one.
He was a royal pain in the shih tzu – even out of his room. Anytime you moved him, there had to be two people present. One time, one of our technicians took him out on a walk, and Ebenezer bolted, dragging the guy (leash attached) on a skin-rafted sled. A few others caught him off at the turn, but it was really their shins which caught the lead. The escape was scuffed only by chance and the worst game of jump rope I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, he was a real monster, but I held on hope. A lot of strays are wild, and Ebenezer was no exception. He was grumpy, aggressive, and stock full of testosterone.
But all of that would change. At least, some of that would change.
Ebenezer was going to be neutered.
❄ ❄ ❄
He was still sneering off the anesthetics when I came to check on him.
I’ll be honest, I felt bad for Ebenezer, but seeing him flat on the floor, still growling, and lazy as a Super Bowl drunk, I also laughed.
“Don’t feel like killing me, huh?”
One paw scraped the floor, a cow tail swatting a fly. He groaned.
“Don’t worry bud, it’s for your own good.”
I started to leave.
It was relatively late, the shelter was closed to the public, and most of the other animals were starting to settle down. So as I walked away, there was nothing at all for me to mishear.
A muffled sound, half like a bark, but more like…
My mind hit the brakes. Paused. Then went into reverse… What?
I spun around. Ebenzer was still lying there, mostly unconscious, breathing low and slow. He hadn’t moved. His tail was flat, his head was down. But, straining, one drugged-up eye reached over his muzzle and kept my gaze.
There’s no way, I thought, I’d have to be crazy to believe that he just…
For an unspoken time, Ebenezer and I only stared at each other. Eventually I left, shaking my head at the thought that he might have been smiling.
❄ ❄ ❄
It seemed to me that after he was “fixed”, Ebenezer only got worse. Not outwardly, and not in any way that you would easily notice, but subtly.
We weren’t exactly on speaking terms (despite what I might have heard and what I convinced myself was only just a bark) but our relationship-weather-strip had been torn straight off. After he got the snip, Ebenezer was… quiet. I mean, losing your jingle bells is a sensitive subject, so the substandard grumble was adequate for his usual bark. But that’s missing the point; Ebenezer was quiet, but more like he meant it.
I never felt comfortable around Ebenezer, but now? Now, I was nervous.
Why? He’s just a dog, I thought. But after that thought I’m reminded of before. There’s no way – Animals. Don’t. Talk.
I’ve seen plenty of videos on social media – cats meowing “hello”, dogs woofing “I love you”, and a crow more human than parrot. But those animals aren’t really talking. Their noises are more like “happy accidents”. I guess you could say the crow was talking, but even that’s not right. Parrots, cockatoos, these birds don’t know what they’re saying – they’re only “mimicking”.
But there were times when I’d walk by Ebenezer’s room, when he would be watching me and listening… and sometimes, when I turned my back, I swear I’d hear him laugh.
I could never catch him in the act – furthering doubts of an “act” to be caught. If I was willing, I could’ve rigged the whole room, installed ghost hunting gear: EMFs, LEDs, and night vision cameras. But for what? And for who? Hanna-Barbera might buy the footage but to anyone else my talking-dog video would be just that, worth a few thousand likes and a couple subscribers.
No, trying to prove the impossible would only be scratching a rash. For the sake of my sanity, for the sake of my job and public appearance, I would go on laughing at snickering mutts.
❄ ❄ ❄
No one will want him, I thought.
I put my bet on the winning horse, on the puppies and kittens, on the sweet and lovable and cuddly and not Ebenezer. Once he was put up for adoption, I thought that was it, this was as far as he’ll ever come.
We were in peak season – Christmas – the time when so many families add a new furry friend to their home. Prospective pet-parents strolled through the shelter, stopping here or there for every cute contender.
Freed from Isolation and into General Population, Ebenezer stood out like a black and stubbed toe-nail. While his silence was attractive, anyone stepping close found his superficial obedience like Texas snow.
One little kid nearly lost her hand. She left crying – the poor Pooh Bear she stuffed through the fence bearing her mistake. Mother bear was least pleased, accusing us of ruining her child’s week, her favorite little toy, and chewed us out in equal shreds.
Funny how we were put to blame. Not the little girl gunning for a pirate hook, nor Moby-Mutt. But I guess that’s how it is; You can’t blame a kid for being stupid and you can’t blame a dog for anything. Afterall, it’s not like they understand… right?
That same day, after Mom & brat left with no pet, after Ebenezer was left with his wealth of ravaged toys, I was left closing shop.
“Sit! Good boy!”
It’s part of my daily ritual, saying goodnight to every dog. It’s late so they’re tired, but happy to sit for one last treat. Going through this routine you build a bond with them; Show a dog an ounce of kindness and they’ll give you a pound of love.
I went from cage to cage, dog to dog, handing out kibble and snacks until…
I didn’t even bother. He never obeys my command and never would. As I dug for his treat he growled.
“Oh shut it.”
I held the treat out of his reach and leaned over. “Why do you have to be such a pain, huh? Why can’t can’t you be more like them?” I gestured towards the other dogs, the ones that would sooner lick my face than tear it off.
Ebenezer huffed, a scoff more than a sigh.
“You know, you’re never going to get out here like that. No one wants a mean dog.”
I discarded the treat by his feet. He barely looked at it, but tilted his head. Now it was my turn to sigh. I got up, brushed my hands of dog food, turned, then…
My ears burned red. “W- what did you just say?”
“WAnt GoOd BOy. BRrAt WAnt GoOd BOY. BE GoOd BOy!”
My fingers flimsied for my phone like Jello chopsticks, forced through pockets, finding it, dropping it, outroar rising. The whole kennel was in a frenzy, my grip unsteadily pinning six, seven, too many digits on the screen – my face scanning shakily over blood-pumping potholes.
I pulled up the camera. The hunched creature in front of me was back to barking, back to its snarling disguise. Yet as I ran from the cage, ran out of the room and further from steady thought, I could still hear it laugh. Shriek and shrill and sounding like the Devil freed from hell.
❄ ❄ ❄
Everything fell apart.
Pull too hard on a rubber band ball and it’ll snap, split, scatter. Exploding, any shape or hope of sense comes apart. That was me.
I was bumbling, stumbling, picking up the pieces, unsure what went around where and if what I dreamed was real or if what is now was dreaming. I can’t honestly say if I ever fell asleep. I know for a fact I laid in bed. I know the ol’ Movie Mind Theater played Mouthing Mutts on screen, but whether what premiered was memory or dream is for the critics to decide.
The next day, I went to work.
I won’t pretend I was totally sane. Driving there was stop and go without any slow between. I felt the traffic biting down, cars barking for speed, running between lanes and pulling me along.
Tires slipped on snow as I whipped into park. Technically, I wasn’t scheduled to work – it was my day off. But there was simply no way I could move on, no way for me to know or to rest unless I was sure…
Ebenezer was there. Good, I thought – but part of me disagreed. He was in his cage, contained, formally snarling.
He didn’t speak.
I watched and waited, and he waited just the same. For longer than I’d like to admit we carried on a challenge of who-would-speak-first? No one was around, no one made a sound. But as our staring match grew stale, much, much later, without speaking, without blinking, Ebenzer laid down.
I shook my head and left…
Throughout the day I kept a mental periscope. At every moment, I’d weigh the urge to check – to resurface, refresh, and reset the clock that was counting each breath.
It was impossible – one or the other had to give. If I kept this up I would have to quit. Literally.
A man came up to me – a visitor. He said he was looking to adopt. Good, I thought, I can follow him and sneak a peek by Ebenezer’s cage.
“Sure, what kind of pet are you looking for?”
He smiled and said he already found one – a dog. His name was Ebenezer…
Ebenezer? Was he speaking Latin? My brain was looking for subtitles – In that moment, the name meant nothing, didn’t fit, didn’t exist in the context of our conversation.
“Uhm, I’m sorry, you said you’re looking for… which dog?”
Ebenezer, he repeated, the grayish doberman.
I laughed – a sort of manic giggle, which forced the man in front of me to take a subtle step back.
“I’m sorry, it’s just… Are you sure? He’s a bit uh- Maybe you didn’t read his adoption profile?”
This time he laughed. He said he did and didn’t see how such a sweet dog could be labeled as aggressive. The confusion on my face said something was wrong. He asked if maybe the names had gotten swapped. Were there two dobermans?
No, there was only Ebenezer, but he most certainly had the wrong name. There’s no world where that dog is defined as “sweet”.
Together, we raced back to the kennels. Really only I was racing – the man, uncertain of my urgency, followed in an awkward half-skip and jog. We arrived, and the moment we did I nearly screamed.
A mother and her son, maybe ten or twelve, were pressed against the fence, fingers ringed around and feeding into the cage. It was Ebenezer’s cage.
I rushed in just in time. Ebenezer was reared, muzzle to the fence, and… licking the boy’s hand. Huffing behind me, the man (the father, I assumed) approached his son and wife and pointed at the dog. This one, he wheezed.
I told the boy to step away, saying it wasn’t safe. A little unsure, the mother pulled her son. At the same time, Ebenezer sat, panting, tongue lopped to the side in a happy, goofy grin. His tail was wagging.
The father looked dubious (of me). Again, he asked if they could adopt this dog, Ebenezer. No. I mean, technically yes, but why?
He’s not normally like this, I almost said. Any other day and I’d be shaking their hand – God Bless! A dog is saved! – any other dog.
I told them the truth; Ebenezer was available but he had a history of aggression – he might not be good for kids. At that, Ebenezer laid down, head resting slyly over one of his paws, his big brown eyes begging for love.
I think we’ll be alright, the father said. I disagreed.
“Maybe you give it another day? See if it’s the right fit? Sleep on it.”
Already I knew his answer. It was nearly Christmas. I’m sure, before coming here, they had promised the boy a dog.
The mother asked if they could let him out, to see how he behaves.
I was losing here. Ebenezer perked his ears, swiveling his head from side to side. He looked cute. Dammit, I thought, he looks cute.
Reluctantly, begrudgingly, very, very cautiously, I unlocked his cage. I didn’t even have to tell him to sit. With an eager smile he waited – his tail beating thump, thump, thump against my chest.
I fully expected him to bolt, to pounce and claw as soon as he was free. But of course, he didn’t. If he did, we would have caught him. If he did, I would have been right. I would’ve pointed as he growled and fought and said, “See! See! I told you! He’s a nasty one!” But Ebenezer was playing to win.
He waited, patiently, for the little boy to speak, come here!
And he did. He wiggled his back, put on a big smile, and saddled up to the boy. Most dogs might have jumped, might have been so eager they knock a kid down. But not Ebenezer.
He was a gentle giant, licking his face while giving him room. The kid laughed. The parents were happy. I felt sick.
It might have been cute, adorable really, if it were any other dog. Yet his performance was so convincing that even I had doubts. Doubts, fear, shame, a whole bundle of rubber bands without any way to know which ones wrapped where.
The family had decided.
There was no way I could dissuade them, no way I could prove what I knew in my heart. They filled out the forms, paid their fees, then took him on a leash and out the front door.
And as they drove away, I got one last view. Ebenezer in the back, happy as can be, and smiling with all his teeth, smiling at me…
❄ ❄ ❄
It was the night before Christmas, when we heard the news. Somehow, it still came as a surprise. Tragedies always do.
The police were notified first – the 911 call startled them all.
Then, animal control got involved. I’m told when Jack arrived, he knew before knowing which dog it was.
Given the scene, local News came next. A story like that, on Christmas no less, doesn’t stay silent.
Finally, that’s when we were brought in.
They said there had been an accident. An animal attack.
The family was sleeping, but their bedrooms were open. It struck the father first. The wife tried to help, then ran for her son. She held it off long enough for the child to flee. He ran into the bathroom, locked the door, and with his mother’s phone called the police. It’s said that in 911, you can barely hear his cries under the growling and screams.
Through a newly installed pet flap, the dog had escaped.
They asked us to trace his chip. It led them towards an abandoned meat factory, into an empty field. Likely, the chip had been damaged, perhaps even torn out.
Luckily, the parents are alive, but may not be for long. They’re in the ER right now. The boy is with his Aunt.
I know there will be more questions, more hurt, more crying. Even if everyone survives, this doesn’t go away. Even if they catch that dog, which I really doubt they will, the scars this has left on everyone involved will take many more seasons to heal…
These past few days have been tough. When I go into work and see all the dogs, I only see him. I flinch from some whom I’d otherwise pet. I jump whenever I hear a bark. I used to believe there’s no such thing as a “bad” dog. I used to believe that they only knew love, and that “hate” and “evil” were just human labels that we forced on. But if a dog can speak – really speak – maybe they can feel more than I know. Perhaps they even understand revenge…
I’ve been finding animals on my back porch. They’re dead – gnarled and shredded, a pile of gore. It’s left there where I can see, like how a stray cat leaves a dead mouse. Except, these aren’t “presents”. They’re a threat.
Some nights I’ll look outside my window, and I’ll see something. It’s gone whenever I turn on the lights, but while I’m asleep (or pretend to) it waits… hidden by the trees, a hunched, four legged posture with a silver glare pressing out of the dark.
And whenever I close my eyes, I swear I hear it… laugh…
Art by Danny Ingrassia