The four kennels of the legendary Dogwarts School are:

Founded by the powerful dog Muffin Wigglebutt, Wigglebutt Kennel prides itself on nurturing pups with the traits of howlery, digger, powerful noses, and tail-chasing.

The work of famous 15th-century dog Brutus Snufflepup, Snufflepups kennels nurtures the virtues of hard bark, coming when called, being a good dog, loyalty, and playing with balls.

Famous dog Mitzi Ravenpaw made her name by hunting birds, and her kennel therefore prizes obedience, knowledge, sitting, and of course birding.

Smoochums Shitindoor is known among dogs for his controversial insistance that dogs knew better than their masters where, when, and how to poop. His kennel is therefore dedicated to tha art of defecation, making messes, running, and sneaky eating of kleenexes stolen from the trash.

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Rex growled at the sliding glass door. “Look at them out there. Running around like they own the place.”

The birdfeeders visible through it were host to a pair of fat orange squirrels who seemed content to laze about eating seeds when it suited them. “They’re mocking us, and they know we know.” Tiger seemed at ease, but the violent herky-jerky movements of his tail belied this.

If there was one thing cats and dogs could agree on, it’s that squirrels were a bad thing.

Rex kept his throat at a low rumble. “I tell you, if I was out there…”

“If you were out there, you’d make a lot of noise, tree them, and they’d sit there smirking until you went inside.” Tiger had seen it a hundred times before.

Tiger continued: “If I were out there, I’d stalk one and murder it and leave it where all could see.”

“And that’s why you’re not allowed out.” Rex well remembered what had happened when the dead squirrel had appeared in the master suite.

“Because I’m too good.” Tiger did take a lot of pride in being the only confirmed squirrelslayer in the household.

“Because you’re too dishonorable.” Rex found the idea of sneaking distasteful; battle was to be joined head-on.

“Keep telling yourself that.”

“Fine, I will.” Rex kept glaring ouside. “Still, I’d love to know what they’re plotting.”

Out in the garden, the squirrels each had one eye on the glassed-in predators. One rolled over with a lazy chirp: “Our plan is working.”

“Yes, brother.” The other twitched his tail rapidly. “They’re so preoccupied with us, they’ll never see it coming.”

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“I just…I haven’t seen her in so long,” bawled Vakt the Rosy into his cups.

“There, there. Tinuviel’s just not feeling well after getting scratched up by a jackalwere in the middle of a cavern infested with gibberlings,” said Iffy the elf. “She’ll be down soon enough.

“She’s just so short…so sweet…so tiny…so…so…” Vakt began bawling again.

“I think you’ve had enough,” deadpanned Chanel the elven cleric. “How much have you had to drink already?”

“It’s just root beer,” Vakt sniffed. “House blend. Iazgu’s still making my first tequila slammer.”

“Maybe you should go a bit easy on the tequila slammers,” said Adenan the halfling.

“HEY!” barked Iazgu the Flayer, demon of the Abyss and chambermaid/bartender for the Demon Arms Inn. “I’ll not hear a word said against my tequila slammers! It’s a recipe of the abyssal realms, strong enough to stun a quasit, and it’s the only thing close to a real drink that’s been served here in 10,000 years!”

Creeping up on the clearing, they saw Mercury the bulldog in the midst of a crowd of howling gibberlings, not unlike the ones they had fought in Ransack Cavern earlier. He was being ridden bareback by a gibberling while the others hooted and cheered at the spectacle. For his part, Mercury seemed rather resigned to this, accepting it as just a fact of life: the sky was blue, the trees were green, and he was ridden by tiny hyperactive monsters.

Adenan grabbed one of the scruffy horrors by his hair and yanked him backwards. “What do you think you’re doing?” she growled.

“Riding! Fun!” squeaked the thrashing gibberling. “I know you! You killed Gus! And Gus Two! I’m Gus Four!”

“Let the bulldog go,” Adenan continued, as menacingly as any halfling could, “or I’ll squash you into jelly before I throw you in the river.”

“No! Not jelly! Jellied gibbs can’t get into gibberheaven!” The gibberling seemed to steel himself a bit. “But dog is ours. Has been forever.”

“No he isn’t.”

“Is too! Used to guard cave! Hatched him ourselves!”

“No you didn’t.”

“Don’t know where dogs come from!” the gibberling wailed.

The library golem was impassive. “You must return the stolen book and pay the fine, or your life is forfeit. The fine is 50 gold. Pay or die.”

Iffy raised her hands. “But my library has an interlibrary loan program with the Elderbrary,” she said in her most convincingly scholarly tone. “We don’t have to pay any fine if we return it!”

Clicking and whirring as it processed this, the golem demurred. “Very well. Surrender the Monster Manual and we will consider your hold lifted.”

Longingly, reluctantly, Iffy gave up the tome. The library golem inserted the volume into its book drop slot, whirred some more, and departed.

A moment later, Iffy the elf turned on Mr. Funderberger IV, who throughout the conversation had been trying to back into the tick copse of woods surrounding the meeting spot. “YOU!” she roared. “THAT BOOK WAS STOLEN!”

“I gave you a good deal,” he whined.


“What exactly did you have to do?” said Chanel the elven cleric. “You still haven’t told us how much sugar you had to give.”

“I will neither confirm nor deny a specific amount of sugar given!” Iffy roared. “But he’s gonna pay!”

Mr. Funderberger IV had quite enough; he made to bolt. Iffy, in an uncharacteristic show of physical prowess, tripped him with her staff.

Then, she proceeded to pummel him senseless.

“Let’s see how you like THIS sugar!” she screamed, drawing her dagger. Casting Phineas’s Phun Phoam on Funderberger’s head, she used her dagger to shave off his carefully coiffed locks. Then she took everything of value in his pockets, even down to his phony tin sword.

“I think you’ve gotten your revenge, Iffy,” said Adenan.

“Hardly!” Iffy continued. “Mercury! Bulldog! Get over here and piss on Mr. Funderberger IV! We’ll see how much sugar you get after that!”

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It was that hum that first keyed most people into the fact that something was deeply wrong.

Oh, there had been signs before. Flocks of birds flying south in June, for one. Massive deaths among the ones that stayed, like the flock that beat itself to death against the front windows of the IGA. Lots of people lost their dogs, and lots more found them cowering under couches and in crawlspaces.

But that hum, that ominous pitch-defying hum that seemed like the music of the spheres one moment and a dire portent the next…that ever-uneasy tone that seemed straight out of the sound design for a horror movie.

We knew where it was coming from: cicadas. 17-year cicadas, emerging from their split shells to sing from the treetops. It shouldn’t have been anything to worry about, just an annoyance. But seeing the creatures was what made most people sit up and take notice.

It had only been five years since they’d last come up. The 17-year cicadas were 12 years early for the first time in human history, and nobody had any idea why.

We found out soon enough.

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The downtown unemployment office was the one most often frequented by white-collar workers freshly laid off by the latest terrible economic news that politicians hastened to blame on their opponents or predecessors. The fact that most of the employees passed it on the way to work before their Hummers were repossessed, and the fact that it was in a very gentrified part of town without visible street crime helped too.

Next door was one of the few businesses that are often recession-proof: a bar.

“So,” a man in a rumpled and creased $2,000 dollar suit said to his neighbor barside. “What are you in here for? Saw you in the office next door.”

“I worked for the city newspaper,” the man, wearing a pressed and ironed but stained shirt said. “Copy editor. We’re always the first ones to go. ‘Spellcheck is good enough,’ they say. Damn owners think a homonym is two dudes in love. What about you?”

The first man shrugged. “I wrote copy for the novelty company across the plaza. Bumper stickers, greeting cards, that kind of thing. I debuted a bumper sticker that cost the company $250,000 after they had to recall and destroy them all.”

“Ouch. What happened?”

Expensive suit man shrugged. “You know those ‘I heart NY’ bumper stickers? I had the idea that we could do one of those for dog lovers, you know, because people who are nutty about their dogs are always buying novelty stuff for them. So I changed it to ‘I heart my dog’ but that wasn’t quite doggy enough. So I replaced the heart with a cartoon dogbone. The company loved the idea and made three million of them in anticipation of demand.”

“That sounds nice enough,” stained shirt man said. “Why’d they recall and destroy them?”

His drinking companion sighed. “Turns out that people don’t want a bumper sticker that says ‘I bone my dog.'”

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I’ve known many people who’ve lost a pet, but due to the circles that I find myself in most of those people are atheists or not religious. As such, I don’t have many antecedents, many examples, to help lead me through where I find myself now. I suppose a large part of that is the fact that I haven’t lost a pet since 1998, and I haven’t lost a family member who I knew well since 1996. That’s a long time without any kind of major grief.

As such, I find myself at a crossroads about what to believe happens…afterwards. A little research has, if anything, muddled the question. My strict religious relatives would probably argue that animals don’t have souls, and they’d probably be on more doctrinally solid ground than I (to say nothing of what to think about my food as an avowed carnivore under those circumstances). The New Age concept of a “Rainbow Bridge” that links a “green meadow located this side of Heaven” with the hereafter where departed pets wait for their masters to join them isn’t satisfying either. It seems like a trite 1970s flower-power storybook; the fact that the people I know who cleave to it are also largely irreligious also has a galling quality to it.

In short, I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know that I ever will, honestly. So what’s left to me, in the face of the loss and the need to do or to feel something about it?

I think the only avenue that I can fully embrace is something I’ve already begun to do. In the face of uncertainty, take the steps you know will lead to remembrance and existence, even if only in an abstract fashion, after the sorrows of the world have been rolled back. So I’m left with art: creative writing, journal entries, photographs, and paintings. Taking pictures and collecting those from happier times. Spelling out how I feel with words and images. Incorporating what I can of the lost into a painting: a pawprint here, a pinch of fur mixed with the acrylics there.

Soul or not, heaven or not, Rainbow Bridge or not, those things will be a lasting remembrance as long as I or others are around to see them.

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This post is part of the August 2012 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “fire and ice”.

The other night I just about lost it. My dog was pacing endlessly, refusing to go to bed and running downstairs every time I brought him up. I’d taken him out dozens of times during the day and during the night but he’d only gone inside the house where it could be tracked all over. Then my mom called and said she had decided to put the dog, who is technically hers, down not at the end of August but immediately, one week from today. She and my brother fly in today.

Kind of puts things in perspective, having to call the vet and the funeral home to schedule euthanasia and cremation.

In my head, I know she’s right. He has end-stage senile dementia and incontinence that won’t respond to the most powerful medication we can throw at it. Despite or perhaps because of the anipryl, which he’s been on for two weeks, my dog’s sundowner pacing and incontinence have gotten worse. Since I picked him up from the boarder a week ago 75% of his excretions have been in the house, to the point where I had to cover the floor with puppy pads just for my own peace of mind. I’ve gone through nearly 50 pads and 2 bottles of cleaner in that time. And, as happened the other night, sometimes his pacing is so bad that neither of us sleeps a wink.

In my head, I know it’s no kind of life for either of us to live. My dog is always afraid, always confused, and not at all himself. I’m bound to him like a straitjacket, with no ability to live my own life; I have to come home in the middle of the day, I can’t go out at night, I can’t even work out upstairs for more than half an hour. Mopping and Glade plugins can only do so much for the cleanliness of my house when the flow of excrement just won’t stop.

And yet in my heart I am devastated, I am torn apart, by the thought of euthanizing my dog. Despite all my frustrations, when I’m confronted with what our life has become versus his death, I’m almost willing to take that on as a burden. To keep him alive, I’m willing to put up with a level of responsibility that any dog owner or even me circa 2009, would cringe at. I can take it, I tell myself. For his sake.

After all, he’s my mutty buddy who’s lived with me for two years, the puppy who used to run with us on the Lake Michigan sands, the dog who was always so happy to see us that he’d charge back and forth barking with his favorite squirrel toy. He was born into a house of giggling Michigan teenage girls in 1998, named after a character in Titanic, an enthusiastic snowpuppy who used to come in with snow and iceicles matted into his fuzz. Even moving down here to the land of volcanic summers and no winters with my parents abroad, he’s been the only one to greet me, the only one to be happy to see me, the only one who I could hug after a long day in what’s been a very lonely and often depressing period for me.

It may be that we’d do the same for any family member, if we could, who was too far gone mentally to have any quality of life. For me, making those surreal calls to vet and crematorium in which I couldn’t bring myself to use the real words for what I was doing…I can’t honestly say which is worse, not knowing when a loved one may die, of knowing down to the second. The man at the crematoria took pains to tell me how they treat pets like humans, giving them all the dignity and care that they would any other body. He mentioned having to lose his own three dogs, which I appreciated, one pet owner to another.

The vet said I’ll have the option to be there with him at the end. It will destroy me, but I think I should.

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Wilma loped after the intruder, baying, while Fred scaled to his favorite perch with a yowl and watched the ensuing chase with eyes shining in the semi-darkness. I had quick thoughts of trying to nudge Wilma back behind the kiddie gate, lest the intruder be carrying rabies or some other nasty cocktail of diseases, but she put the lie to her 16 years on earth with a surprisingly energetic pursuit. It was all I could do to follow armed with a broom.

The strange dog, for its part, seemed equal parts terrified and purposeful. While zigzagging across my living room, upsetting furniture and bunching up rugs, it nevertheless made straight for the kitchen. I lost sight of it for a moment, but when the dog reemerged, still tailed stubbornly by Wilma, I saw that it had a boneless chicken breast–one I’d set out to thaw for dinner–in its mouth.

It was only when the intruder made its escape, through Wilma’s doggie door, that I understood how it had gotten inside in the first place. I was able to slide the lock into place before my geriatridog chased the interloping hound outside, but, seized by intense indignation at having my house invaded and my pets threatened, I went through the large door, still clutching my broom, seconds later. It was a bright night out and the streetlights were on; I expected to see the dog running for the treeline across the street and 500 yards away.

Instead I caught a glimpse of a small, pale child in a pool of streetlamp light.

It glanced over its shoulder, and I could see my chicken breast defiantly clamped between rows of square white teeth. Eyes shone vividly in the twilight, and a moment later the figure vanished behind my garbage cans.