Not long after I came to our den in Garneau, Pack Leader and Mistress decided to hold a Party. You’ll recognize it, Puppies—it’s like a Howling. Humans need to socialize, just as we do. They collect a lot of food and drink and bring it all to one place, where they stand around in clumps and talk out loud while music is playing, sometimes from sundown until deep into the night. Both the males and females will move from clump to clump, sitting down, then standing up; then sitting down again with the next person. At any Party worthy of the name, the music moves them to dance or at least jump around in pairs, leaving those without a partner at the edges of the group, pretending they don’t care. I used to think this was the human version of puppy play but now I understand that the Party is part of the mating ritual. Humans hope to find a mate at a Party. That’s also where they sort out their dominance issues. For us, it’s so simple: all we need is a place to roll and tussle, with maybe a stick or bone to play with. For humans, it’s complicated: a proper Party means ceremony, a big kill, and a lot of that funny flavored water that makes me sneeze.
Neither Pack Leader nor Mistress had chosen a mate yet and frankly, I hoped, in my puppy days, that Pack leader never would. I was selfish, as puppies are, and wanted my new mom all to myself. Fortunately, she didn’t seem too eager for mating rituals. “Meet my puppy,” she said proudly to several male friends in the first weeks of our relationship. I sniffed them all politely. No worries: all but one grizzled old dog, who smelled rather pleasantly of the forest, were less dominant than Pack Leader—or me. I could curl up at her feet and take a nap when they were around.
Mistress, however, was another kind of kibble. She was seriously into the mating game. “You don’t understand!” she wailed at Pack Leader as Chichi, alarmed at her distress, slunk behind the couch and hid. “I’m the poorest in the class! Those girls spend more money in a week than I have for the whole semester! And their clothes…they don’t come to class looking like hippies! You can do that in literature classes but you can’t pull that off in med school!” She began to sob. “I’ll never make it to the end of the year—I just don’t have the money! And I’ll never make it with the guys, either! You watch—not one of them will date me! Especially not…not Laird….”
Pack Leader made Mistress a cup of tea and sat her down. “Listen,” she said as I snuggled under the table near her and Chichi watched warily from his safe little niche, “we’ll get you some really nice clothes—”
“I can’t afford it! Have you seen my budget? There’s just enough student loan to pay rent and food.”
She began to wail again, all about how there weren’t enough milkbones to go around and nothing good would ever happen to her again. Pack Leader stopped her noise with a single question: “Have you ever seen anyone in our society starve?”
I guess Mistress hadn’t, because she shut up. “Well, then,” Pack Leader continued, “how likely do you think it is that you’ll starve if we spend a little of this money on making you look good?”
This must have been the perfect argument, to judge by Mistress’ lessening sniffles and her suddenly hopeful look.
“So. Let’s go find you the perfect coat and boots, and maybe two outfits to go with them. And then we’ll have a Party.”
“What? Are you crazy? Why would they come here? Then they’ll all know how broke I am! Besides, we can’t afford it!”
Pack Leader yanked the fresh bread out of the oven and expertly flipped the hot loaves onto the cooling racks. I drank in the heavenly scent—so much better than actually eating the stuff—and even Chichi ventured out of his couch refuge to crouch close to Mistress. “They’ll come.” Pack Leader was calm, confident—just what we all needed. “They’ll come. And they’ll see how interesting and classy you really are. Besides,” she flipped Chichi and me a milkbone each, “it’ll be fun. Even poor students are entitled to some fun.”
The Party was to be a huge Howling. Do the math, Puppies: think of your four paws. Now think of a big wolf pack, the lead pair and their litter plus several aunts and uncles. Lots of paws in that pack! Now imagine two more big packs coming to join the first pack. A forest of paws! Think of all the tracks and all the scents to follow!
Epic hunting expeditions were needed to feed such a huge pack of humans. Pack Leader lost no time in beginning the preparations. In the early dawn light, she fitted herself and me each with an empty backpack, stuffed a little money paper into her jeans pocket, snapped the leash on us, and hopped onto her bike. At first I thought this was another training run, where I was supposed to stay on her left and never, ever run ahead of the bike. That turned out to be true enough but this time we were in serious hunting mode.
To be continued….