If you were to ponder the collective lives of free canines, where would they be? No, don’t answer. This is my story, so I get to tell you. But Kant or some other dead German said something about needing to know where you are before you can ponder about where anything else is. Maybe it was some dead French guy. Doesn’t matter. I will begin by telling you where I am.
I am sitting in the exact center of the Kingdom of Boy. The center moves too, depending on where I put the old wooden stool that serves as my Chair of State. Sometimes it ends up with a view of Third Street. Not much happens there, except the time huge old Opa Mueller across the street got stuck in the tub. They called the fire department to get him out, but that wasn’t so interesting really. The best view is when I drag it to the window so I can look at the apple tree.
It is a good place, as it is where I used to sit in the shade with Cherise’s head on my lap, her tail wagging as I tried to read books out loud. Most were pretty hard, but we both really liked a book that Father had when he was little. It was the story of Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne. We liked the part where they found a place they could stay and everyone welcomed them. There were lots of pictures that made the story better.
We read or played whenever we wanted, because a special exemption form said I didn’t have to go to regular school. I attended Friskar Elementary for thirteen days, until the teacher’s union filed a claim of undue and unusual stress. I read their submission on the secure internet site, which was almost too easy to break into. All the names were blacked out, but I knew who was who. If Mrs. [name withheld] broke down like that, I really hope the school board does a better job of screening who gets to be a student. Anyway, I was homeschooled under the supervision of a visiting tutor. No one ever showed up, and none of the adults said anything. I didn’t either.
I just wanted you to know the Chair of State is my chair, and it moves whenever I want it to. It also helps you to know the Kingdom of Boy is what the malimaginative think is just the attic of Grandmother’s house. I just made that word up. It’s pretty neat. Maybe I can use it at dinner tonight. Maybe not. But it is a good word. And a good chair. I was sitting on it twenty-nine years ago, when I heard about the dog republic. And the reason I was even interested in it was because, three months before, Cherise was let out the back door to go pee. She never came back.
Just ninety-one days later I found out where she went, thanks to Mrs. Doris Marie Hundre and KSJR-AM. She told the whole story, all in one go. I never met her, but that is not surprising. She lives down south, some place on San Francisco Bay. It is the same place that KSJR lived too.
I always liked the radio. When I couldn’t sleep, I went to the attic and tuned into stations all around the world, all through the night. One night, I started DXing at the bottom of the dial, but didn’t find anything better than a boring beatnik talk show from the Portland College of Communications. So I moved up to the top end of the dial half an hour before sunrise. You get the best signals at sunset and sunrise. That morning I found a station I never heard before – KSJR, on the AM dial. I missed the broadcast power, but it wasn’t more than fifty watts. If that.
I missed a bunch of stuff because of static, then a lot more because Mrs. Doris Marie Hundre was kind of sobbing and sighing when host Chuck Thaw clicked her live on the air. When she went live, oh my goodness! It was as if she was puking out her words all at once. I was getting ready to dial down when she said her lovely little poodle had abandoned the comforts of life in the Hundre house for FREEDOM ON FOREIGN SHORES! Mrs. Hundre didn’t say it was all capitals with an exclamation mark, but I heard them. I am sure every other listener of KSJR also heard them.
Mr. Thaw faded her out, then said “Chuck Thaw here with a great big KSJR good morning to all our listeners around the Bay. KSJR, the station at the top of everybody’s dial! Today we’re talking about where runaway dogs go.” He cut back to Mrs. Hundre on the telephone. The sound was really bad. I think her telephone was about the last rotary handset still used in the entire state of North California.
The month before, she said, she was crying to a friend about her dog running away. After an hour on the telephone, the friend said to meet her at the local HaidaBucks (back then it was a new coffee chain with an Alaskan Native theme. Now EVERYONE has their own HaidaMug. Even me). Once there, as Mrs. Doris Marie Hundre repeated her story, an old man at the next table joined in.
His little Fifi had run off the year before. When he told his cousin, a driver for South California DOT in Pasadena, the cousin got all quiet. The cousin said he knew where Fifi and a whole lot of other missing dogs went. But don’t worry. It was a good story.
The cousin got it from a fellow he worked with. That man’s daughter’s best friend’s half-sister had it first hand from an Animal Control Officer she was dating in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. A lot of people knew about this, but none of them really talked about it. Many didn’t because they couldn’t believe it themselves. Some, because they didn’t want to be called liars. Others thought dogs deserved to make their own choices and to be free if they wanted. Here’s how the story went.
Years ago, there was a lab cross named Trixie, who belonged to an inventor from Santa Clara. He was already rich from selling a shelf-lined gate to NM Electrics. None of this makes any sense to me, but the electric guys must have liked whatever it was. They gave him a lot of money. Anyway, Trixie had a radio transmitter on her collar because her owner was making some kind of mathematical map of daily dog routines. One day, when she was let out the back door, she ran straight to the back fence, then back to the house. She jumped up and down a couple of times then ran to the back and zoomed right over the fence. All before the inventor’s eyes.
He watched a little radar screen to follow Trixie up the Valley, then lost her. But the inventor was determined to follow the trail. If for no other reason, he wanted his radio back. I wish he wanted Trixie back more, but “some people” as Mother used to say.
The inventor called his brother, also an inventor guy, and together they drove up I-5 towards Walnut Creek then Vallejo. This was really strange, because it meant Trixie was running at nearly 40 miles per hour. The signal kept going north. So on they went to Redding, then Portland and Seattle. By then, they figured Trixie was in a car or something. Ha! I got that right away. Boy, they thought, someone must really really want Trixie, to dognap her and bring her all the way to the shadow of the Space Needle. I went to the top once, but the rotating restaurant made me motion sick. I threw up on my sister’s shoes. The beeping signal kept leading them even more north.
It was just after midnight when they arrived at the border with Canada. The signal was getting faint because the battery was running out – then it died. The border guard (who didn’t even have a gun) asked what their business in Canada was. They didn’t know what to say, so they accidentally told the truth. We’re looking for a stolen dog, they said. But we don’t know where she went now, because the battery died.
The border guard was confused until they explained it was the radio battery that died, not the battery for the dog. He called the Vancouver District animal control office for advice. But between eleven p.m. and six a.m., callers only got an answering service. Even as the gunless border guard was explaining that to the brothers, his telephone rang. It was the on-call animal control officer. He was finishing up a call very nearby, and could help them right away.
The border guard looked surprised, then asked how far away he might be. The ACO (they like being called that instead of dog catcher) told the guard to look over at the grounds keeping shed across the parking lot. He did, and a man in an ACO uniform was standing with a cellular telephone to his ear. He waved at the border guard, and they both laughed. It sounds like Canadians do that kind of thing all the time.
The ACO was there because of complaint about an owl swooping night shift workers around the Peace Arch border crossing. He walked across the lot and listened to the inventor brothers’ story. After following the radio signal for nearly a week, the brothers were starting to feel like it was a foolish mission. They were embarrassed, and kind of hoped the ACO would just tell them to go home.
Instead, he took them to an all night cafe, where he told a tale of his own, drew a map, then sent them on their way. He said they would get there about dawn, and have to wait for the first fairy. The inventor brothers drove through miles of flat farm land before getting to the actual city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Then they drove through the city, over the Lion Skate Bridge and up to Horseshoe Landing. Someplace along there, the driving brother said they’d clocked a thousand miles. Because they were far north of San Francisco, and it was early morning, it was cold, but not Canada cold. They didn’t even see any Royal Canadian Mounties with dogsleds, which surprised me as much as it did the old man telling the story. By then, Mrs. Hundre’s friend remembered an important appointment and hurried off.
The brothers waited for a ferry boat, which makes more sense than some sort of pixie. Then they drove for a while until they reached a village called Sechelt. Do you think Canadian places have funny names too? Just before getting to the business strip, the map said to turn right, drive two miles, then take the left fork past the bridge. They were supposed to go to the turn-around, then walk the rest of the way. The narrow lane had grass growing down the middle. Sure enough, it ended in a wide turn-around, surrounded by a circle of mossy concrete blocks.
A million years ago or so, glaciers dumped a bunch of gravel there. When I was ten, I thought it would be like a dog taking a poop. That’s not right, but I still don’t know how or why the glaciers brought all that gravel there. Anyway, people started digging the gravel up and turning it into sidewalks and skyscrapers and stadiums. When they were done, the people moved on, leaving big holes of nothing much.
The inventor brothers walked past the blocks and crawled through a broken wire fence to stand at the edge of a used up gravel pit. There were no dogs, just rocks and clay and bunches of little stick trees. They walked around trying to figure out what to do next when a little man with a big voice yelled right behind them. “Go away! Private property! Nothing to see here!” He looked them up and down before adding “Go away!”