“We need to get a dog.”
Craig's head snapped up from the mess of electronics he was working on. “Uh, no we don't. Why would we want that?”
Joel shook his head at him. “C'mon Craig. Look at your leg. If I didn't run up when I did, who knows what would've happened. That cougar could've killed you. A dog would help a lot for protection. Actually, I was thinking two dogs.”
Craig rubbed the bandage on his leg lightly. “Aww, that cougar was small. I think I would've got him after another minute. I almost had my knife out when you got there.”
“Craig, gimme a break! I stitched you up, remember? He was an inch from your femoral artery. And why the hell didn't you have your gun?”
Craig set down the soldering iron and turned to Joel. “I told you. I set it down on a crate. I know it was stupid. Believe me, I know. I've thought about it again and again. I just need to be more careful. That's all. We don't need another mouth to feed. Never mind two.”
Joel turned off the portable pump he was using to re-fill the generator's diesel tank. “Look, why are you being so weird about this? What is it with you and dogs? You know as well as I do that the warehouse has a lifetime of dog food in it. As long as we keep it closed so animals can't get inside, that's not an issue. Even if it goes bad we'll manage. You know that. C'mon Craig, we're busy. Our hands are full half the time. More than half the time. Setting stuff down before we pull our guns or a knife means sometimes it's too late. And we can't always be together for protection. There's too much to do. Especially now.”
Craig got up from the workbench and hobbled to Joel to help him stow the pump. “Joel, I'm almost healed now.” They each grabbed one end of the pump and hoisted into the truck. “I'll be a lot more help again, I think I already am. I'm sorry if I haven't been pulling my weight.”
Joel slammed shut the tailgate on the truck. “Jesus, Craig, that's not what I'm saying at all! You're pulling your weight fine. More than fine. You got that antenna working even when you could hardly walk around. I'm just worried, that's all. There are more animals in town than ever. Their fear of human places is almost gone. Any extra help is a plus. Even just having them around would help. Animals don't like coming into the territory of another large pack. That's how they'd see us. Four is twice as good as two.”
Craig wound up the extension cord for the portable pump and tossed it in the truck before hobbling back to his workbench. He knew he wasn't going to win this one. “Fine. We'll get dogs. But don't expect me to like 'em.”
Joel chuckled at Craig's back and jumped back into the truck to go get more diesel.
“Ok, how do we do this?” asked Craig.
They were sitting on a patch of grass. Thirty feet away, under the wooden porch of an older house came the sound of puppies whining, and the panting of the momma dog.
“She's one of the tamest dogs in the area.” Joel said. “She's always hanging around. I noticed that she was pregnant a couple of weeks ago, and figured out where she was hiding. They were born either yesterday or the day before. I'll bet this was her house. Anyway, I think her puppies would be perfect.”
“Why her puppies?”
“Well, like I said, she's still pretty tame. I think she'll let us get to them. And she's a fairly good sized dog, so probably the dad was too. So the puppies will probably be a decent size. That's better for what we want them for. I think she's some kind of mix breed, looks like maybe a lab and boxer, but I dunno. Who knows about the daddy, we'll maybe figure that out when the puppies get older. Anyway, that's good. Mixed breeds are often healthier than pure-breds. Genetic variation.”
Craig slapped a mosquito and nodded. “Ok, but why now? You said we'd take 'em home at eight weeks old. Why don't we just wait until then, swoop in, grab a couple of puppies, and hightail it out of there?”
Joel looked at his friend. “You've never had dogs, have you? Or spent much time around puppies?”
“No. My mom never really liked 'em. I had one for a bit just after the Disappearance, well, she more adopted me. But then she got killed.”
“Ok. Well, see, we gotta socialize them. Get them used to us. Human smells, being handled, played with, cuddled, all that. A dog will do a lot better if it's around people right from day one. But we can't take them home yet, because they still need their momma. We have to wait until they're a bit older, and weaned.”
Craig looked over at Joel, who was craning his neck, trying to get a glimpse under the porch. “Cuddled,” he said, deadpan.
Joel glanced back. “Yeah. Why?”
“Joel...You know how I feel about this. Now you're saying I gotta cuddle a squirmy, smelly, dirty puppy that I don't even like.”
Joel grinned. “Well, you know, I cuddle you most every night. And you're pretty squirmy, smelly, dirty, and...aaahhh! Stop it! You know how ticklish I am there!”
Laughing, Craig sat up again. “Ok, whatever. I guess I can cuddle. If I have to. What do we do?”
“Yup,” Joel said. “We gotta get momma dog there to trust us. She has puppies to look after. If we feed her, and she doesn't have to leave them to forage or hunt, I think she'll be happy as can be. Like I said, she's always hanging around. I think she would've let us near her anytime we wanted.”
“Ok, well, let's do this then.”
Joel reached into his pack and pulled out a what looked like a large sausage, wrapped in plastic. “Dog treats. Most dogs go crazy for this stuff. I dunno how they preserve it but it seems to last forever. We'll start with it.” He pulled open his knife and cut off a few chunks, giving several to Craig. He put his knife on his belt but left it open, just in case she turned out to be not as friendly as hoped, and then stood up. “Let's go.”
Craig opened up his own knife and unsnapped his holster. Then they walked up to the porch slowly, talking so as not to startle the momma dog.
Joel held out a piece of the treat in front of him and Craig copied his actions. “Here girl. Want a treat? Want a yummy snack? Do ya girl?” he said in a sing-song voice.
They could hear her panting speed up, but she made no move to come out from under the porch.
“C'mon girl. We won't hurt ya, we just wanna give you a treat and see your pretty puppies. Are ya hungry?”
The panting stopped. They could now see her looking at them alertly from under the porch. Maybe her owner used to use that phrase. Both of them now:
She stood up and shook her head uncertainly. She then looked at them warily, her head cocked as if evaluating them, and slowly moved out from under the porch, keeping herself between them and her puppies.
The boys knelt down, treats held out in front of them and continued their encouragement.
She moved closer and reached out with her nose, cautiously sniffing the aromatic meat snack. Then, seeming to decide it was ok, she delicately nibbled the treats out of Joel's hand, and then Craig's. The boys reached for more pieces, continuing their encouragement.
“Good girl! That's a sweet girl. Here's some more. That's a good girl.” Both of them were now petting her, the dog's tail now wagging madly.
Joel pulled a dog bowl out of his pack and poured a ziplock bag of dog food into the bowl. He gave another bowl to Craig who poured a canteen of water into it. The dog was watching them excitedly, her tail a blur.
The boys stood over the dog, bowls in their hands.
“Sit,” said Joel.
The dog sat.
“Good girl!” Joel said happily, and they set the bowls down. Momma Dog tucked into her meal with gusto, along with ongoing encouragement and pets from the boys.
“That's it.” Joel said. “I don't think we'll have any problems now.” When she's done we'll try and get under there to see the puppies.”
He was right. There weren't any problems. In only a few minutes they were sitting under the porch, puppies in their hands squeaking and squirming while they laughed at their antics. Momma Dog was lying beside them contentedly, tail wagging. She seemed to know her puppies would be safer with them around.
“Aw, c'mon Craig, it's pouring rain. And it's almost still dark outside.”
Craig was sitting on the edge of the bed, tying his shoes. “You're the one who said we should go every day to see the puppies. Now get that cute ass out of bed and let's go.”
Joel grumbled and threw his pillow at Craig. “Fine. I'm up. And I don't care how cute my ass is, you can't have it. You're lucky I let you suck me every now and then. Hey, how come you're all of the sudden so excited to see the puppies? You said you weren't going to like them.”
“Let me suck you!? Let me? You practically begged. You did beg. I remember. Something like, 'oooh, c'mon Craig, suck it, please suck it. Ooooooh.' And anyway, about the puppies, maybe I changed my mind. A bit. Just a bit. Now hurry up and get your shoes on.”
Joel was still laughing when they arrived at Momma Dog's house.
Momma Dog, pretty quickly shortened to M.D. and now just Emdy, ran out to them as soon as they were close enough. She had to wait until they opened the gate in the chain link fence the boys had erected. Not to keep the dogs in as much as to keep other dogs and animals out. Both boys spent a moment petting and praising her before filling her food and water bowls, and now another larger bowl full of puppy chow. “How are your puppies Emdy? Are you being a good momma? Are you looking after them?” This was accompanied by a good scratching under Emdy's left ear. She thumped her tail to assure them that she was and turned and ran under the porch, followed by the boys.
The puppies, now seven weeks old, were furry brown and yellow bundles of energy. They happily climbed all over the boys as they spent some time playing, cuddling, and chasing them around the yard.
“You know we gotta choose now, right?” said Joel, two puppies trying to climb over each other to get onto his lap.
“Yeah, I know. We just can't deal with more than two. Especially on the road.” Craig didn't look at all happy about the prospect. Underneath that, though, he already knew which one he was going to choose. A girl, brown in color with a kind of mottled shading in her coat, all floppy ears and waggy tail. She seemed to follow Craig around more than some of the others.
“I'm taking this one,” said Joel, scratching the ears of a mostly yellow male. “His name is Karma, 'cause that's what he's going to bring. Good karma.”
Craig looked at Joel. He suddenly realized he hadn't even thought about a name. He had never named anything before. Well, Emdy maybe, but that had just kinda happened. He never did have a name for the dog that was killed. The puppy he was planning on choosing barreled into his lap. “Hey girl. What's your name? Huh? What should your name be?”
She looked at him with her big brown eyes, licked his nose, and curled up in his lap for a nap.
“Well, you're no help at all. I guess it's up to me then. Hmmm...”
The puppy in Craig's lap was suddenly alert, head up and tail still. She quickly pounced out of Craig's lap and ran to the fence, yipping loudly at a small coyote about a hundred yards away wandering down the street. The coyote turned and wandered off in the other direction. The puppy, satisfied with a job well done, turned and climbed back into Craig's lap and promptly fell asleep again.
Craig laughed, “Nice job you little rabble-rouser you. You scared away that coyote all by yourself.” And so Rabble had a name.