The Story of Butch
“Are there many humans here in Quito?” I asked Pack Leader as soon as we were stuffed into a normal car-car by the kind-smelling older human who came to meet us. (If he’d had a tail, it would have been wagging fast.)
“Almost three million.” Pack Leader grinned at my surprise. “And you thought Vancouver was big? By the way, it would take a puppy pile of more than three thousand wolves, standing on one another’s shoulders, to get to this altitude. What’s the matter, Major? Feeling a little woozy at ten thousand feet?”
“The air is less jangly here,” I informed her. Humans have no clue about magnetic fields and few of them so much as a decent sense of direction. I think that’s why they built computers—to make up for what their gods held back from them. I wasn’t going to get into that discussion again, however. “It seems very quiet for such a big tribe of humans. Do you suppose there are many dogs?”
“Wait till morning,” Pack Leader said. “You can look out the window and count canines all the way to Cotacachi.”
Morning atop the Old Town of Quito proved misty and mysterious. I caught a few glimpses of non-human activity as we careened down the precipitous streets in yet another car-car but the dogs of Quito were even more ghostly than I. As the sun strengthened and we drew further away from Quito and closer to the little leather-making town where we were to stay, Ecuadorean life became more substantial and I began to see dogs. Dogs without leashes. Dogs without humans. Dogs on their own!
A leather town seemed like a chewy idea. Where there’s leather, there must be meat, no? I whipped my head from one side to another as we drove into Cotacachi, eager to meet my first Latin American canine friends but a little worried over whether we would speak the same language. Pack Leader, I noticed, was making entirely different sounds with her mouth and apparently our driver could understand them. Whenever she was talking to her friend Dawn, another aging female human who had, amazingly, found us at the hotel the previous night, she sounded normal but then she would switch to the new sounds as soon as the driver said something. Full of surprises, my Pack Leader. “Hablas espanol?” She caught my eye and grinned wickedly but I was too excited about the dogs of Cotacachi to take her bait.
In Ecuador the humans have built their dens all in a tight row down the street, with no room between them. No front yards, no boulevards, no patches of grass or bush—a dog’s got to find a comfy spot on the brick sidewalk, or, if lucky, in a shallow doorway, and curl up for a snooze until a social event starts happening. The sidewalks are interrupted every few dog-lengths by poles, wires, trees or various things that stick out from the buildings, which makes for an interesting peemail trail. If another dog comes by and suggests a jaunt somewhere, you just get up and go—your human is probably absorbed in his computer upstairs somewhere and will never even notice you’re gone.
Heavenly freedom! I thought—until I learned the truth about a dog’s life in Cotacachi.
I was curled up for a snooze in the travel agent’s office, waiting for Pack Leader to sort out some plans for a hunt or a run—who knows what these humans want to do with the few hours in their lives when they’re not hovering over a keyboard?—when a female human came in with an iffy-looking dog. A shar pei. Pack Leader had been bitten by a shar pei, I knew, and this one looked like the canine version of a human skinhead—a mean fighting machine without a lick of sense or compassion. I stiffened, wondering how I would defend Pack Leader.
His human couldn’t see me—very few humans can—but the dog did. What little fur he had on his neck ripples stood up. He stopped, stepped backwards, and made a sound between a growl and a moan. “Don’t be silly, Butch,” coaxed his lady. “We’ll just sit down and wait right here.”
“Relax,” I growled softly. “But if you hurt my Pack Leader, I will be your zombie-wolf from Hell.” An empty threat, but the best I had.
Butch shivered a little. A small whine escaped him. “I’d never hurt a human. Hell, I never even hurt another dog, except that one time….”
“What are the humans like around here?” I encouraged him.
He sighed, head on paws, where you could see lots of raw skin, halfway through its struggle to grow a new pelt. In some places, he was a half-naked dog, and I was soon to find out why. “I’d say there are three kinds. First kind, the locals. They expect a dog to earn his keep or fend for himself on the street. They call you ‘the dog’, not ‘our dog’. So packs form up, and sometimes there are rumbles between the packs. A dog’s got to eat, after all, and there’s never enough food to go around. You should have seen how skinny and mangy I was before She found me!”
He threw his human a loving look and she responded with a gentle pat on the head. Yup, there was love there. My opinion of Butch went up.
“Then there are the Ex-pats. Don’t ask me why they have that name. Maybe they used to pat dogs in the place they come from? Maybe it’s short for ‘expert patter’? My human’s an ex-pat, and she used to have a dog, she told me, back in her old place. She refers to me as ‘my dog’—there’s the difference, you see? The ex-pats get together and talk about us dogs and how to help us. I’ve been to a zillion of those meetings; they’re fun because there’s always food and good dogs get some of it. The street dogs pretend not to be jealous of us ex-pat dogs, but they are. We can’t have puppies because the humans removed some of our equipment, but otherwise, what’s not to like? Soft beds, great food, fun outings and lots of cuddles? Puppies can be such a nuisance, anyway. Let the street dogs have the puppies—if they live that long!”
That sounded ominous. “And the third kind of human?”
“You don’t want any close encounters with those guys! While I was on the street, we started a project, a database of the scents of each and every one of them. Then, whenever we found that scent, we’d leave peemail to warn the next dog. It was hard, though, because we were always hungry, and they’d leave the most tempting bits of meat behind.”
“Who are they?”
“They have names.” His voice darkened. “Los Asesinos, we call them. They call themselves los eliminadores, a gentler, kinder term for the murderers they really are.”
“You mean…these humans would kill dogs? Right there out in the street?”
“Have you ever seen anyone die of poisoning, Big Boy? It’s a pitiful sight. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do—can’t even ease the terrible pain. Even the Ex-pats can’t help, except to give a shot to put the poor buggers to sleep for good. Some of those little goodie balls the asesinos planted were laced with more than just plain old poison—they had ground glass in them for good measure. I lost my best friend to one of those. Worst day of my life.”
Butch fell silent, hid his face for a moment, and sighed. His human scratched his head gently. “Won’t be long now, Butch,” she said. “You’re such a good boy to be so patient.”
“It gets worse. Well, it got worse—this is not supposed to happen anymore. But for quite a while, every so often we’d wake up to a huge influx of new dogs, who told us they came from Quito or even Guayaquil. They’d been picked up by some male humans, flung into a truck, and after a long drive they were released in Cotacachi. Some human must have decided this was the perfect place for extra dogs. How were we supposed to find food for all of them? No wonder they fell for the traps set by los asesinos. And then, after more horrible dog deaths than you can count, the humans would stage a huge party, eating and drinking enough to have fed every dog in Ecuador twice over. Oh, it was grim. I started to fall apart. I got a case of poisoning and my skin went crazy; all the fur fell out and I could hardly see and my head pounded with pain. I had pretty well decided to curl up and die when my human rescued me.” He turned his head to nose her hand and give her a lick. “The Ex-pats had another meeting and los asesinos aren’t supposed to come any more, but I’d be careful if I were you. Don’t eat any street food,” he cautioned. “Oh, wait—you’re already dead, aren’t you?”
‘Let’s say I’m learning to be dead. There are some positive aspects of death, to be sure, but I’d rather be alive, eating and peeing and sniffing and romping.”
“Come run along with me and my friends anytime,” Butch said graciously. He grinned, a truly happy dog.