Read FREE! Episode 12 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. Rescued…For Real this Time?

Welcome to lovely February, month of Valentines and proposals, apparently. In checking my new handy calendar of all things holiday, today, February 8th, is ostensibly Proposal Day.

I, for one, propose that we all stay in bed all day, how’s that for a proposal we can all get behind? Fine, we’ll do it tomorrow instead, since we’re too late to commence the plan today. True confession, I may have started without you yesterday…but today I’m back on the straight and narrow and providing you with another episode of Imagine: Life on a Chain.

Interestingly enough, the hubby actually did propose to me today, having no foreknowledge that today was Proposal Day. Eerie! He bought us new wedding bands in the trendy style of matchy-match that were supposedly created from meteorites, and they came in today. So he reproposed to the woman who’s made him crazy for the last thirteen years (God love him), while I stood in the kitchen in my sweats. When I asked why he didn’t save them for Valentine’s Day, he promptly asked for the ring back.

But I said, “No givey-backy’s, Man. It’s all mine now!”

Now, let’s talk about Imagine. His chainer has succumbed to the virus, flat out in his backyard. What will become of Imagine now? If you need to catch up, here’s Episode One. Start there, and click at the bottom of each episode to bring you to the next. Happy Reading!

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Twelve: Rescued…for Real this Time?

Another Ambulance

The dog sighed and laid his head on his paws. He felt no sadness, only relief. And yes, fear…because as bad as the Prince of Darkness was, the truth was that this awful man had been his only source of food and water.

Would anyone come for him, or would he die here on this chain?

The thought engendered anxiety, but a seed of HOPE had begun to take root, too.

He was struck anew by the fact that he was not in control of his own life. His fate was intertwined with that of the humans surrounding him, his destiny only as good or bad as they allowed.

A somber realization, to be sure.

He felt no need to bark, no need to draw attention to the unmoving figure face down between him and the house. It was way too late for Prince.

An hour passed before the neighbor lady again poked her head out her back door; the dog was glad for her nosiness, lifting his head to see what would happen next. “AHHHHHHH!” she screamed. “ELMERRRR! That idiot next door is dead or sumpin’. Don’t go out there! Call 9-1-1. He probably has the sickness. Lord, I hope you didn’t already bring it back from his place with ya’.”

Elmer shoved past her to see for himself, but never left the doorway. “Goddammit, Helen! You made me go over there. Now we’re probably gonna die from that gawdawful virus, too!”

Soon the dog heard the sound of sirens and knew his backyard was the destination. The noise was so shrill it felt like a drill into his brain, and it raised all the repressed fears and longing for his mom, his once safe home, and the family he’d loved and lost.

Within minutes three humans in full protective gear raced into the backyard with a stretcher and medical kit. It didn’t take long for them to ascertain what the dog already knew: the man was gone. Their movements slowed. There was no rush now.

They took their time loading Prince onto the stretcher and covering him up, one of them taking notes while the other two worked. As they turned to carry his body back to the waiting ambulance, Elmer yelled from the safety of his yard next door. “Hey, is he dead?”

“Yes, sir,” the medic called back. “Unfortunately, we were too late for this man. Do you know if there’s anyone else living in the home we can speak to?”

“Nah, he lived alone. But he’s got this here dog left out back. What’s to be done wit’ him?”

The medic turned and Magnum strained toward him, willing the chain to release him from its grasp. “There’s a group about an hour away that does chained dog rescue, Freedom Chaser. Have you heard of them?”

“Nah.”

“Well, look them up and give them a call. Or take him to the local shelter if this guy has no family. By the way, do you know his name?”

“He called ’im Magnum.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the medic. “I was talking about the deceased, sir. Not the dog.”

“Ah,” Elmer chuckled, the sound out of sync with the darkness of the occasion. “Believe me. That dog is a whole sight better’n the man ever was. His name was Prince, but he weren’t no prince. Rudy Prince.”

“Thank you. Someone from the coroner’s office will be out tomorrow. Goodnight, sir.”

Elmer yelled as the three retreated with the body. “So, no help for the dog then? This is my problem now, eh?”

There was no answer.

A Full Belly

The next morning Helen stuck her head out the door and glared at Magnum. “I guess you’re my cross to bear now, dog. I don’t even want to go in that jackal’s house to get your dogfood. I’ll probably get the ’rona and die if I do. Just hold on. Elmer’ll be out in a minute.”

The dog stood and wagged his tail slowly…wistfully. At least she didn’t sound too mean this morning. Plus, he usually got nothing this early…no food, no water, no acknowledgement of his status as a living being. 

He was mostly invisible.

Which made her attention already a step above his normal day.

The door swung open again and Elmer grumped his way through the two yards and over to the dog, hands full. Magnum eagerly picked up his battered dish and met the man at the edge of his territory. “Where’s your water bowl?” Elmer asked, looking around in confusion. “You only got one dish? What a loser that guy was,” he snorted.

Elmer poured water from a gallon jug into the dog’s dish and set the plastic bowl of leftovers beside it. He peered over his shoulder to make sure Helen wasn’t watching, knowing he’d get an earful about letting the dog eat from her good plastic. “Go ahead, dog. Eat up…I’ll find you another old bowl come dinnertime.”

The dog dug in, not believing his luck. Food! In the morning! Human food at that…so much better than the generic nuggets he normally choked down.

Elmer watched him gobble the offerings and clucked his tongue. “Poor old guy. I’ll go call that rescue group for ya’. Hopefully they’ll have room and you can go find yourself a better life than this wretched one. See ya’ later, boy.” Elmer reached out and ruffled the dog’s fur before leaving, the closest thing to a petting Magnum had received since the day he lost his mom.

He’d cry if he could. A quiet whine escaped his throat. At least my belly’s full, for once. And, I still have water left over for later.

Alreadythis day was better than the ones that came before.

Freedom Chasers

That night Elmer—good to his word—brought another bowl (Food! Again! Twice in one Day?) and some more water. The man wasn’t grumpy this time; in fact, he was smiling. He could barely contain his excitement. “Guess what, Magnum! There’s a rescue group coming for ya’! I talked to someone today and told them about Prince dyin’, and they’re sending someone out for ya’ tomorrow. Now the missus and I don’t have to witness your sufferin’ anymore, and you can git yourself the life you deserve. I can’t wait!” He giggled, sounding more like a teen girl than the grumpy old man he normally showed the world.

The dog didn’t understand a word Elmer said, but he caught the air of elation and began to get excited, too. Would he be free? Soon? Today?

In fact, it would be another 24 hours before someone other than Elmer made their way to the backyard where the dog was contained.

Magnum lay on his side sunning himself, belly once again full (unbelievable!), when he heard women’s voices and a knock on the front door. With their query unanswered, the group made their way to the backyard; the dog stood warily to his feet, chain clanking.

Elmer and Helen both raced outside, tripping over themselves to tell the ladies all about that “poor dog over there.”

The “poor dog” wagged his tail.

Would today be the day?

Next Episode: Starting Over

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode 11 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. The Sickness is Here

Good Tuesday to you all, from one of your (probably numerous) pandemic slacker acquaintances. I see so many people going to town with their creative efforts during this time, and I’m envious but lazy.

I so wish I was one of them! Apparently just not enough to get my butt off the couch and my nose out of a book…

Speaking of which, I’ve never been a football fan, but I read an article today about Tom Brady retiring. It talked about how he never let others’ opinions of him sway his belief in himself, made his own truth. Don’tcha wish we could just bottle that up and sell it? I know I’d be first in line! [Or 20th, or 2,000,000th…depends if I was reading a good book at the time.]

Today we unveil episode 11 of my fiction novella, Imagine: Life on a Chain. Imagine’s background tale is finished now, and we hit present day, where his rotten owner isn’t feeding him. Wonder why?

If you need to catch up, start here at the 1st Episode and hit the buttons at the bottom of each to jump to the next. Have a Happy Week and Happy Reading!

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Eleven: The Sickness is Here

Real Life

The conclusion of his mental movie—not a happy ending in sight—brought the dog full circle to his current reality: stuck at the end of a chain.

“And a glorious one it is!” he thought sarcastically, pulling himself to his feet. His joints complained anew, an ongoing reminder that he was not the dog he once was.

Magnum paced the perimeter of his territory, both happy and sad to have revived memories from his youth. It seemed so long ago and so far away, almost as if it happened to a different dog in a different world. “I loved my family so much,” he sighed, “but it hurts to remember them—both for the loss, and for what has become of me since.”

In truth, he despaired of ever leaving this backyard alive.

The sun was high in the sky now, a sign that mid-morning had passed him by. The temperature had risen, making his day more bearable, and a light breeze still carried that disturbing scent. He lifted his head again, drew a deeper breath. “Where is it coming from?” he wondered.

Did he dare hope his captor was the source of that telling odor? If the worst (or best?) should occur, what would that mean for him?

There remained no sign of movement from the Prince of Darkness, although his rumbling snores still assaulted the dog’s ears. The neighborhood itself stayed ominously quiet, amplifying the sounds coming from inside the house.

Magnum knew deep in his gut that something had changed.

He just didn’t know what.

 The Sickness

Dinnertime came and went, and the dog’s pacing grew more agitated as he worried. Was he going to get anything to eat or drink today? He rarely howled anymore (what was the point?), but this seemed like a good time to revisit that policy. His throat was scratchy from disuse and the constant thirst that plagued him, but he stretched his neck to speak out anyway.

“Woo Woo!” he called, his voice rasping. “I’m hungry and thirsty! Is there anyone out there who can help me?”

The light flickered on at the neighbor’s house, and a woman peered out the door. “What’s wrong, bud? Isn’t that prick feeding you?” She made a disgusted sound in her throat. “Elmer!” she screamed. “Go next door and see if that schmuck is dead or alive. His dog’s out there starving again. I swear, why that man continues to drag these poor beasts home only to treat them this way is beyond me.”

Magnum pulled his chain toward her and wagged his tail, but she slammed the door and went back inside. Dejected, his slumped to the ground. “What’s the use,” he thought. “No one around here cares about me, anyway. I guess this is how I go down after all. At least I’ll be out of this miserable place.”

Soon the neighbor’s door opened again, and the man who must be “Elmer” stomped out. “Why do I always have to do the dirty work,” he grumbled to himself. “Like she’s some kind of saint herself, with the animals. Ha.”

He pounded on Prince’s back door and waited, scrambling back when it was flung open. An obviously-ill man held onto the frame, his breath coming in wheezes. He barked out, “What is it, man? I’m trynna’ rest! I got a cold or summin’, I’m not feelin’ good taday.”

“Oh, dude, do you got the ‘rona?” Elmer gasped, easing his way further back.

“Nah, it’s just a cold, I toldya. That’s all fake news anyhow. Waddya want?” Prince raised his head just enough to glare at his neighbor.

“Ruth sent me to tell you to feed yer dog,” Elmer stuttered. “He’s out here cryin’ and she can’t even hear the TV for all the ruckus.”

“Well, why don’t she feedim then, if it’s botherin’ her sa much?”

“Because he’s yer dog, not ours. Just take care of him. Or we’re callin’ animal control on yer arse.” Elmer huffed—proud of himself for delivering the threat—and stomped back to his house, slamming the door for good measure.

The Prince of Darkness swayed in the doorway, grimacing at his stolen dog. “I dinna why I ever picked ya up that day,” he growled. Magnum whined softly, wagging his tail in hopes of persuading the man to bring out his daily rations.

The dog hated having to prostrate himself before a being so cruel, but he was helpless, dependent on the man for his very survival.

Five minutes went by before the visibly-sick man dragged himself outside, sloshing much of the food and water mixture onto the ground as he went. As he approached Magnum, the dog was hit with a stench so rotten he almost retched on the spot.

That smell WAS coming from his owner! This does not bode well for the man’s future.

Magnum had a hard time feeling bad for him, though.

After sloppily dumping the remnants into the dog’s bowl, the man turned to go back inside, unsteady, too ill to even taunt his captive like he normally would.

He took five steps toward the door and face-planted into the dirt, laying still.

He gasped once for air and tried to push himself up, but his body shook violently and then he was gone.

Magnum knew that particular quiet all too well.

He calmly finished his food and settled against his doghouse.

It was gonna be a long night.

Next Episode: Rescued, For Real this Time?

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode 10 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. The Prince of Darkness

Welcome, welcome, to another Tuesday here in cheerful America. Can’t you feel the whisperings of hope in the breeze? Ha. No, me neither. But I suppose we shall endure, as humans have been doing for centuries despite the cruelties of the world.

But I digress. In today’s episode, Imagine/Magnum gives us a glimpse into what he’s had to endure in the last three years, and it’s a life I’d like to believe most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. To think that folks in America—and the world over—find dog chaining an acceptable practice still blows my mind, 20 years after I started Dogs Deserve Better.

It’s cruel, and everyone knows it, whether they make excuses for the practice or not.

If you’re just happening upon Imagine’s story, start here at Episode One and continue following the links at the bottom to today’s release. Thanks for joining us!

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Ten: The Prince of Darkness

A Mistake, Alright

“That mistake,” the dog acknowledged, “cost me three years of my life…and counting.” He’d now been chained in this backyard for three winters, somehow surviving seasons of frigid temperatures, snowfalls, and ice, followed by unbearable months of heat and humidity.

He couldn’t tell which was worse.

He looked around bleakly. “And what a miserable existence it’s been. It’s unbelievable, but I’ve been stuck here longer than I lived with Mom and Dad and Dream.”

He wished it was all a bad dream.

Thomas the cat washed his face and continued to be unimpressed by the canine’s tale of woe; but the dog felt just a tad less lonely with someone to talk to. He brushed aside the cat’s indifference, sniffed the air for threats, and then lay down again. He was almost to the end of his musings.

The man who rescued him had turned out to be anything but a rescuer. Imagine cried, barked, whined, and howled by turn all that first day and into the night. Neighbors yelled, “Shut that dog up, Prince,” and even banged on the man’s door, but he ignored all entreaties. Imagine could hear the TV playing inside the house, yet the man never came out or offered him food or something to drink. He was so thirsty!

“Prince,” he scoffed, after he’d barked himself hoarse. “Prince of Darkness, maybe, but I’ve never met a human further from an actual prince than that guy.”

Late the next afternoon the man stumbled from his back door, smoke again trailing in his wake. He lugged a banged-up metal bowl and sloshed water and old dry dog food over the edges with each step. By the time he reached his captive’s doghouse, half of the mixture was gone.

“Here, mutt. Guess I’d better thinka sumpin ta call ya…I know! Magnum. ’Cause ye ain’t mean yet, but you will be soon’s enuf, and then I’ll sic ya on these annoyin’ neighbors a mine. Ha!” He laughed at his own joke, poking the dog as he eagerly lapped the meagre offerings.

Imagine growled, afraid the man was going to take away what little sustenance he had. This only made the man guffaw louder.

“That’s raight, Magnum. Yer gittin’ it now. If’n yer lucky, I’ll bring ya more tamarra. If yer lucky…and don’tcha be barkin’ no more neither.” He threatened and shuffled back inside, chuckling to himself as he went.

The dog, still hungry but knowing there’d be nothing more tonight, dragged his chain to the side of the doghouse and threw himself against the termite-ridden siding.

He’d never felt more hopeless. 

Endless Cycle

Perhaps the cruelest part of life on a chain, even moreso than the physical, mental, and emotional trauma, Imagine soon realized, was that there was no end in sight.

Each day was the same, an endless cycle of pain and abuse. He hunkered in the rain, huddled in the snow, and sweltered in the heat. He wished for death, yet somehow his physical body betrayed him just enough so that he woke each morning to face another onslaught.

As he paced the circle created by his chain, he acknowledged that his owner had been right about one thing: the dog now known as Magnum grew meaner, even killing voles, mice, rats, and groundhogs when they were unfortunate enough to wander within reach of his jaws.

The dog he used to be, Imagine, the name he called his “former self,” still felt shame afterwards; yet hunger and intense anger at the world drove him to commit crimes against his fellow beings anyway.

Magnum, the dog created by the “Prince of Darkness,” had grown indifferent to the suffering of others.

He glanced at the cat mere feet away, noting with concern the rattle in his chest as he breathed, the missing and matted fur, and his skeletal appearance. “Or have I?” he questioned. “Am I really as evil as the one who named me? Or could I yet be saved?”

Thomas glanced his way, waved his tail in a lazy goodbye, and wandered off into the bushes behind the doghouse, searching for his morning meal.

Magnum envied him that freedom, at least.

Next Episode: The Sickness is Here

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode 7 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. Mom Comes Home

I hope the New Year finds you all well and rested! Apparently I just had a cold last week—not Covid, according to a rapid test at least—although I had another brush with “that darn virus” over the weekend. I await my body’s verdict on if it will take hold or not. With omicron sweeping the country, it becomes more and more likely we will all contract it at some point, alas.

I got a new calendar (yes, still old school there, also known as JUST OLD.) You’ll be happy to know today is National Spaghetti Day. Mangia!

That brings us to this week’s FREE read, Episode 7 of Imagine: Life on a Chain. Mom Comes Home. If you’re new to the story, start HERE and follow the links at the bottom of each episode to find the next.

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Seven: Mom Comes Home

The End of the End

Two weeks went by in a blur of sadness, always waiting for Dad to come home from the hospital, always hoping for good news that didn’t come. Even Dream—the more even-keeled of the two—was losing her equanimity, often snapping at her brother.

Neither said so, but fear dogged their every waking moment, invaded their sleep.

“How long has he been gone this time, Imagine?” Dream whined. “Why does he leave us alone every single day. He doesn’t feed us the way Mom does, either…we’re lucky to eat once a day. Thank goodness we have the doggie door, or we’d be making a mess in here, for sure.”

It was Imagine who played peacekeeper now. He rolled onto his back next to his sibling, rubbing his face along her ear. “I think he’ll be home soon, Sis,” he said soothingly. “Want to go in the yard and play ball? It’s a nice day.”

“Who’s gonna throw it, Immy? In case you didn’t notice, we’re the only ones here.”

“I’ll throw it to you! And then I’ll chase you for it, just the way you like,” Imagine cajoled.

Dream smiled begrudgingly. “Fine, but get the new ball. Your slobber grosses me out,” she teased, then got to her feet and trotted out into the yard.

It’s Mom

“Incoming!” Imagine yelled as he whipped his head and released the ball toward the edge of the fence; Dream raced to grab it before it took a bad hop and disappeared from sight. Imagine was proud of his throwing ability . . . he’d taught himself in the “before days”—happier times when each morning brought new promise of adventure with his little family.

He sensed those days were gone.

“Dream tormented me about my ball obsession,” the dog remembered fondly, scratching his ear in tacit acknowledgment of the fleas already taking their blood breakfast. Dream would tire of the game quickly, as did Mom and Dad, so Imagine had taught himself—tossing the ball up into the air and catching it . . . over and over and over again.

“I never could get enough of that ball,” he sighed sadly, looking around at his empty, dirt-packed home. Not a ball, or any toy for that matter, in sight. How many years had it been since he had a ball? He couldn’t even remember anymore.

Suddenly Dream stopped dead in her tracks. “Immy! I hear the car! Dad’s home,” she cried, rushing past him and in through the door. “Maybe today will be the day he’s happy again,” she called over her shoulder to her brother.

Imagine shook his head. He didn’t think that day would ever come.

Afraid to hear any more bad news, he dawdled in the yard, pretending he had to re-mark the property boundary to keep intruders out.

“Well, that boxer next door needs to learn some manners,” he rationalized, grumbling to himself. “He’s always daring to stick his snout through that hole in the corner of the fence. He’s just lucky I’m a gentleman,” he huffed as he reluctantly took himself into the dark of the rec room and up the stairs to the kitchen.

Before he reached the top of the steps his gait quickened. What was that he heard? Could it be? Was that Mom’s voice?

It was coming from the living room!

Heart pounding, he charged into the room and ran smack into Dream, knocking her over. Neither dog said a word, though, as they pulled themselves together.

Both had eyes for only one person.

It was Mom, sitting small and seemingly shriveled in the corner chair, the good one, the one they never used. Her eyes met his, and he was struck by memories of his goodbye with Star. For in the eyes of the human he now knew as “Mom,” the one who made him feel safe and loved and kept his belly full, he again saw both sadness and resignation.

The only difference was that this time he wasn’t confused by the look—he understood what she was telling him: “Hello and all too soon Goodbye, my love.”

Next Episode: Homeless

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode Six of Imagine: Life on a Chain. His Greatest Fears

I’m feeling covidy today; but alas, there are no tests to be had in my town during this omicron outbreak, so I’m just staying in bed and reading…not so much a hardship, then, eh? This does mean I ALMOST didn’t publish today’s episode, but didn’t want to break my promise in case I have someone actually waiting on tenterhooks {ha!}, so here we go…

Remember, if you need to catch up, start at this link, then just follow the links at the bottom to the next episode.

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Six: His Greatest Fears

The Middle of the End

Imagine and Dream moped downstairs, while an eerie silence took hold of what was once their warm, safe home. Dad had rushed off to the hospital after Mom, and the two dogs felt scared, alone in wondering what was happening and if they would ever see their mom again.

It was many hours before Dad came through the door, the sadness apparent on his face as he brushed a hand over his eyes and rubbed down toward his mouth. The dogs waited patiently, sitting quietly nearby and hoping for Dad to tell them something, anything.

Dennis sank heavily onto his kitchen chair. He looked at Val’s empty teacup beside him and tears began to work their way down his cheeks. He suddenly sprang to life, grabbing a scrub brush and a bucket of soapy water and ferociously swiped at the kitchen tiles, trying to remove every last spot of blood from Mom’s fall.

His anger spent, he sank back against the cabinets and looked at the dogs. “Come here, Imagine, Dream,” he called in a hushed voice. The dogs were nervous; negative emotions filled the room, and nothing felt the same. Their home was normally a happy one, but today everything was different. The siblings obediently crept to Dad’s side and lay down, heads in his lap.

The three sat for what seemed like hours, Dad running his hands through their fur and talking to them softly. They didn’t understand much of what he told them, but they knew from his tone that they had probably been right about Mom.

“I don’t know if you guys have noticed lately, but Mom hasn’t been well. I kept after her to go to the doctor, but I think she was afraid to hear any bad news, so she refused to go and played it down. She told me it was just a cold, just a headache, just a little tweak or twitch that would go away. I think she’s been in a lot more pain than I realized.

“They did a bunch of testing at the hospital . . . It’s the worst news we could imagine. Mom has cancer, and it’s all through her body; there’s nothing they can do. On top of that, she now has pneumonia, and they don’t even know if she will ever come home again.

“How is this possible, Imagine?” Dad asked brokenly. “Just last week we went on that hike to Red Rock, remember? Yeah, she was slower than usual, but so was I. I figured it was just our age getting to us. I had no idea she’s been this sick for this long.”

Imagine licked Dad’s hand, wishing he was a human too so he could take away some of Dad’s pain.

Dennis was sobbing now, holding both dogs tightly to his chest while long, mournful moans shook his body.

Imagine looked to Dream and whined, wondering what they could do. Surely there had to be a way to fix everything?

Dream shook her head, and then tried the only things she knew. She trotted downstairs and brought Dad offerings like she did with Imagine—first a ball, then a stuffed animal, and finally her leash and the promise of a walk. But nothing roused Dad from his stupor until she carried her dog bowl to him and dropped it in his lap. Dad blinked his bleary eyes and focused on her face for the first time.

“Oh, I’m sorry, guys. I’ll bet you’re hungry. Forgive me,” he sniffed, and then stood shakily to his feet, moving slowly about the kitchen to ready their dinner.

“Here you go. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was so late…” his words trailed off, and he stumbled toward the stairs, pulling himself up the railing and to his bedroom. Ignoring their food, the dogs followed, watching as he fell fully-clothed onto the bed and lay motionless. The rise and fall of his breath were the only indications he was still of this world.

The chained dog jerked from his reverie, peering about for signs of danger. Thomas still stretched across the grass nearby, but he’d moved into a new patch of sun to stay warm. “Magnum” stood and yawned. As painful as his current life was, he recognized that day as the start of his slide into what he would become…

Imagine and Dream curled into their beds on the floor, wondering what would become of them as they watched everything they loved slipping away…  

Next Episode: Mom Comes Home

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

Read FREE! Episode Four of Imagine: Life on a Chain. The Dream is Lost

Welcome, Friends, to today’s FREE EPISODE of Imagine’s Story, a fiction tale based on true rescue pups. Need to catch up? I got you!

Here are the links to the first three:

Episode One: A Weird Smell

Episode Two: His First Home

Episode Three: Imagine and Dream Go Home

Imagine…Life on a Chain

Episode Four: The Dream is Lost

Mom is Sick

Imagine knew something was wrong with Mom, just knew it. But how could he communicate with her? He felt an urgency take hold and he paced, whining with anxiety. He heard Mom and Dad talking to Dream and him every day, but he only understood a handful of the human words they used: breakfast, dinner, treat, ball, toy, walk, RV, and swim were his all-time favorites… 

Those words had always elicited a tail wag and a happy “woof.”

Early on, Imagine and Dream learned to communicate their needs for bathroom breaks by poking Mom and Dad with their noses, and it seemed to work. Eventually Dad installed a doggie door from the rec room to the fenced backyard, and the two dogs spent part of the day chasing each other in and out, in and out, never again having to ask to do their business. 

“Well, unless we were camping,” Imagine remembered. “Mom hated to take us out of the RV for potty breaks at night, and always made Dad do it; he grumbled under his breath the whole time.” The memory was bittersweet.

Mom and Dad didn’t understand most of what he and Dream tried to communicate, either. It was generally acknowledged by all that they didn’t speak the same language, yet they muddled through to the best of their abilities—as families did.

With little choice in the matter, Imagine tried the only thing he knew: he poked Mom with his nose, then sat back on his haunches and looked at her expectantly.

“What is it, boy?” Mom asked, baffled. She yelled downstairs: “Honey, is the doggie door open? Imagine’s acting like he has to pee.”

“Yeah, everything’s a go down here, Hon,” he yelled back, muting the TV for a moment to make sure she could hear him.

Mom patted Imagine on the head. “Dad says it’s fine down there, sweetie. Run along and let yourself out if you need to go.” She made shooing motions and Imagine ruefully headed downstairs and out into the backyard, lost as to how to make her understand him.

***

Shadow

As Mom’s scent grew more pungent and overpowering to Imagine’s sensitive nose, even Dream began to detect it. “Oh, now I get it, Brother,” she told him one day. “That is a bad smell! It reminds me of the animals we see on the road sometimes on our trips, or along the trails we hike. Do you think Mom could be dying, too?”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense to me, Dream,” Imagine sighed. “I keep poking her with my nose to try to tell her, but she just thinks I have to go to the bathroom. It’s so frustrating!” He paced back and forth, not even his pile of tennis balls bringing him much comfort these days.

Imagine became Mom’s shadow, always worried she was going to fall; or worse, leave them when he wasn’t looking and never come back.

One day Mom sipped her afternoon tea at the kitchen table, lost in her own little world. Dad was mowing the lawn in the back, the hum of the tractor and scent of cut grass enveloping the house in a cozy familiarity. Imagine lay at Mom’s feet, keeping an ever-watchful eye on her as he fell in and out of slumber.

Mom crossed her legs, kicking her dozing “shadow” by accident. He yelped. “Imagine!” she cried in exasperation. “What is wrong with you? Why are you constantly underfoot? Get out of there! I need some space to think. Geez, buddy. I mean, I love you, but…”

Imagine slunk from under the table and down the steps, flopping beside his sister, who raised an eyebrow at her now-always-moody brother. “Bro, I know it’s sad, but what can we do? I don’t think she’s getting your message…you’re just annoying her now. Want to play ball? It’s your favorite…” Her voice trailed off hopefully, and she jumped up, wagging her tail and play-bowing.

But Imagine just didn’t have the heart for it.

Suddenly there came a “thud” from upstairs. Imagine looked at his sister wildly, and tore up the steps…

Next Episode: Now What?

Tamira Thayne is the author of It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups. She’s also written other books for adults and children, including these for adults: Capitol in Chains, Foster Doggie Insanity, The Wrath of Dog, The King’s Tether, The Knights Chain, and The Curse of Cur. For kids of all ages she’s published No Guppy Puppy, Raffy Calfy’s Rescue, Spittin’ Kitten’s Speed-Away, Squirmy Hermie’s Heroics, Smidgey Pidgey’s Predicament, Happy Dog Coloring Book. She is the editor of More Rescue Smiles, and co-editor of Unchain My Heart and Rescue Smiles.

What do COVID-19 and The Tiger King Have in Common?

What do COVID-19 and the new Netflix series “The Tiger King” have in common?

They both highlight the despicable treatment of animals by humans…and how we pay the price for our cruelty in the end.

I’ve been horrified about the Chinese animal markets for years—you hear things, read things, try your best to ignore those things you can’t fix. Pretend they’re not happening. You know they’re eating dogs and cats over there and see the unforgettable pictures of our family companions crammed into crates, off to the market to be slain for dinner.

“What kind of sick monsters do this,” Americans think, going back to their steak and potatoes dinner.

Except it was only a matter of time before the dregs of Chinese society dragged enough helpless beings into their cruel markets to inflict on humans another disease that the world doesn’t have the immunity to fight.

And so we’re all going down. Yay.

It would be simple to be pissed off at all the Chinese people of the world, but—just as all Americans aren’t responsible for school shootings—it’s only the despicable Chinese people who capture and sell animals who are responsible for bringing us COVID-19.

Those fucks, I am mad at.

And while we stew in our anger that people the world over are dying and will continue to die because some assholes think it’s a good idea to eat bats and pangolins, it’s tempting to make it a problem of THEM vs. US.

THEY are horrible people. THEY harmed animals, and now we’re all dying.

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But it’s not just THEM. Americans are once again offering up proof that we are just as despicable in our own right.

Enter The Tiger King.

If you’re living under a rock (like I usually do) The Tiger King is all the rage; it’s a Netflix documentary series that pits more than one batshit crazy tiger breeder against a tiger activist and her followers.

I’d heard snippets of this story for years—if you’re in the animal welfare movements you probably did too. But I had no idea just how TRULY INSANE the story was.

INSANE. And that’s why people can’t stop watching it.

I watched the whole seven episodes last night, and I felt like my soul needed a good sudsing off afterwards.

I realized Americans can’t possibly believe we’re better than any other country when we’ve got these creepy, egomaniacal white scumbags breeding tigers to make a quick buck and then slaughtering them or selling them to shitty roadside zoos when they get too big to be of use.

“Animal Activists”: the words were spit out throughout the series by Joe Exotic, the premiere douchebag, as an expletive of the highest order.

WE, the animal activists, he claimed, are the horrible people daring to get up in his business…daring to tell him what he can do with his tigers…daring to try to shut him down.

And yet…and yet…and yet. This same man used the allure of tigers to reel in young guys (who it turns out weren’t even gay) to become his what, chattel? Drug use and abuse was rampant, with one of the husbands losing most of his teeth from meth, while the other accidentally offed himself playing with a loaded weapon.

It appeared that all the men involved in this abuse of tigers were USING THEM TO GET WOMEN (OR MEN) TO SLEEP WITH THEM.

It was a den of vipers, and each new character introduced into the story seemed even more despicable than the one who came before.

One of my biggest takeaways from The Tiger King was that America has no high ground when it comes to animal abuse. NONE.

These men believe it’s their God-given right to use the tigers for any purpose they see fit. There is NEVER a thought spared for what the TIGER actually wants. And ALL these tiger breeders kill the babies when they get too big—but they know it’s wrong and illegal, so they hide the fact that they’re doing it.

Will more charges be coming for some of the other losers who are exploiting these animals? Lordy, I sure hope so.

Even the tiger activist, Carole Baskin, doesn’t come across as being above the fray. I’m not even going to touch the missing second husband thing, hoping that’s just a smear campaign. And while I understand that when you mix it up with people of this ilk, lowlife criminals, you can’t help but get dirty yourself…I do have a few criticisms that I think are perfectly valid and need to be brought up.

1. Carole brags that she has no paid staff. It seems that she/the organization has money. She was showing on camera how much her nonprofit was getting weekly in donations just through Facebook—yet she uses only volunteer help? No. That’s unacceptable.

The creepy men were paying their people $100-$125 A WEEK—and making them work every single day—just for the glory of being around the tigers and these egomaniacs.

Yet she comes off even WORSE than them in this area. If you value the lives of the animals, and you value the people who care for them, then you need to pay them, and it needs to be well above minimum wage. Volunteers can fill the gaps, and can make life a little easier for the employees, but expecting people to give 40 hours a week or more for no pay is cruel in and of itself.

2. Her volunteers pose with bloody (dead?) white rabbits that they are going to feed to the tigers. WHAT. THE. HOLY. FUCK. I didn’t even understand what was happening when I saw that photo…who in their right mind would do such a thing? And call themselves an animal activist? When she was asked about the picture, she rolled her eyes and blew it off like people were making a big deal about nothing.

Really? So the rabbits didn’t have a right to life, just the tigers? If you’re going to call yourself an animal activist, then it really can’t be just ONE animal that has the right to live and thrive, can it? While I’m well aware that tigers are carnivores, (all the dead animals they were throwing to them was horrific, I couldn’t watch) other animals that are seen merely as food actually WANT to live and have their own agendas too. Yes, even white rabbits.

How could she be so insensitive as to allow such a photo and then wonder why others have a problem with it?

3. Her sanctuary didn’t look better than the tiger breeders’ zoos…in fact, it looked worse. If you’re going to serve as an example of what a tiger sanctuary SHOULD look like, it needs to be AH-MAZING; it needs to have lots of room for the tigers to roam, to swim, to live as good a life as possible in captivity. Having never been to her facility, I have only the show to go by, but I saw no evidence of her place being better. AND IT NEEDS TO BE. MUCH BETTER.

After watching this show last night, I felt even more disappointed in America, if that were even possible. Until humans learn and understand that animals have the same right to life that we do, we will continue to exploit them in whatever way suits our fancy.

And we will continue to pay the price for it…often with our own lives and the lives of the innocent who truly deserve better.

GOD HELP US ALL.

Happy Birthday to the Mother who No Longer Knows Me

dunes

Mom, second from right, with her husband Chuck, visiting my cousins on one of their trips around the U.S.

My mother turns 79 today, but she neither knows nor cares about that.

Advanced dementia has robbed her of everything that makes life meaningful, rendered her not only incapable of holding a conversation, but taken away virtually all words aside from “Jeep”, which she assiduously uses to strongarm her husband into driving her about the countryside multiple times per day.

Oddly enough, she still points in the direction she wants him to turn, retaining some sense of direction and map knowledge in a brain which has increasingly revolted against her, against all of us.

She no longer knows her children, her sisters, her friends, or even her husband, beyond the understanding that he’s her caregiver and life is much scarier for her when he’s not there.

I’d planned to make the four hour trek for a brief visit today, even though I acknowledged that it would be for my sake and not hers. I wanted one last photo of her with her birthday cake (which she probably wouldn’t eat), because I have a clear understanding that this will be her last.

Yet my recent illness and fears of being the one to put the final nail in her coffin by unwittingly passing along COVID-19 kept me home today instead.

I won’t pretend that my mother and I had the perfect mother-daughter relationship, yet the inevitable ending has a way of softening the edges of the middle.

Estep 081

A photo of Mom I found in the files from her computer. Most were blurry, ha.

My mother longed to be a writer, and although she never achieved any sort of fame or made much in the way of money at it, she did write and publish three Christian fiction novels plus a children’s book, and had a handful of articles and daily devotions published in magazines and books.

When her mind was addled to the point that she could no longer use her computer, I pulled all her writing off her laptop and saved it to my own. I’m now very grateful I had the presence of mind to do so.

As a way of saying “Happy Birthday”, and “I miss you, Mom” to the woman who birthed me and my two brothers, I share a couple of her pieces with you, below.

Help! I’m Not Aging Gracefully

by Lorena Estep
(A version of this was published in Mature Living)

Nearing retirement age, I began battling the aging process in every way possible. I didn’t mind getting older—I just didn’t want to look older. It was bad enough struggling in my 20’s and 30’s to keep the weight down, but from middle age and up, it became a Herculean effort! Each new fad diet worked for awhile, especially the lo-carb, hi-protein. That is until I began to dislike meat and crave carbs . . . especially the sugary ones with lots of icing.

Reaching the age where I was considered a senior citizen in some places and not others, I found I would rather pay the full price than admit to being in that age bracket, unless there was a significant difference in cost.

I had my first very rude (and I mean very rude) awakening while shopping in a department store with my husband one day. He said, “I’m going to the snack bar for a cup of coffee.”

“Okay, sweetie. I’ll be there in a few minutes to join you.” I shopped a little longer, then went over to stand in line for a cup of tea.

“That’s twenty-five cents,” the young girl at the cash register said.

Surprised, I asked, “Why is it so cheap? Are you having a special?”

“That’s the senior citizen rate.”

The feelings that ripped through me were hard to describe: a combination of mortification, indignation, and anger that was like a slap in the face. Of course, being a very determined person, I couldn’t let it alone.

“So how do you decide if someone’s a senior citizen?” I had to ask.

“I just look at them, and if they look old, I give it to them.”

I stared at her in icy disbelief, as she stood there in all her youthful glory, smiling so guilelessly. I grabbed my tea and stomped over to my husband. “How much was your coffee?” I asked in a snappish tone.

“Twenty-five cents,” he answered innocently, taking a sip.

I set my tea down with a thud and plopped onto the chair beside him. “Well, that’s because you look old,” I informed him.

“No it isn’t. It’s just a special sale.”

“Nope. The girl said that’s the senior discount, and if someone looks old, she gives it to them!”

He shrugged and placidly kept drinking.

That was my mortifying initiation into “seniorhood.” Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any younger looking, no matter how many different kinds of facial exercises or creams I try. Nor have I gotten hardened to the offense of being given the discount without asking for it.

Occasionally there is the upside where someone thinks you’re younger than you are. Recently, I had my four-year-old granddaughter and ten-year-old grandson in a store at a mall. The man who waited on us referred to me as their mother. My smile was wide, and I didn’t bother to correct him.

When we left the store, I said to my grandson, “He thought I was your mother.” I was still smiling.

Giving me an indignant look my grandson said, “I know. I was rather insulted!”

Then he laughed, and Grandma still had enough pizzazz to chase him up through the mall.

Lorena Estep

Rayne 3

Mom with my son when she visited him in California

I found this amongst her writings, and am very touched she nominated me for an award that I’ve never heard of. I obviously didn’t win, but thanks for trying, Mom.

YOU CAN’T QUIT, MOTHER!

“You can’t quit, Mother. You know you love to write. That’s when you’re the happiest.”

“Sometimes it’s so discouraging and overwhelming,” I complain. “There are a hundred manuscripts I want to send out at once, and I don’t know what to work on first. If the ratio of rejections to acceptances were reversed, it would be more encouraging and worth the time, energy and frustration.”

We go through similar scenes from time to time, and my daughter is as tenacious as a dog with a bone. Since she determinedly rescues chained dogs, fostering them in her home, I suspect she has learned a few tricks from the assorted canines she lives with.

“Dwell mostly on the acceptances,” she continues. “Only allow yourself two hours to mourn when a rejection comes.

“That last article you had published was great, and I loved the full-page drawing they put with it. I was thinking that for Mother’s Day, I could take that picture out of the magazine and mat and frame it as my gift to you. If you hang it by your desk, every time you get discouraged you can look at it and know all the hard work is worthwhile.”

I always end up hugging her and getting back to work.

She also does much of my critiquing, diligently checking for mistakes and clarity. On a bi-monthly basis, I put together a ten-page newsletter for the church I attend.

When it’s time to add in pictures and the finishing touches, she comes to my home and uses her graphic designer skills to give it a professional tweak.

She’s a caring person who never gives up on what she sets out to do. Her home is full of children, dogs, cats and love. I’m proud of my daughter, and thankful for her love and the fact that she believes in me, and my writing venture.

On behalf of a person who won’t allow me to quit, I hereby nominate my daughter, Tammy, for the “Barnabas-Marcie” Brag award.

—Lorena Estep

Until you experience dementia in someone you love,  you will never know the unique pain this disease dumps on the family of those affected. In reality, I lost my mother years ago; now that she’s finally at the beginning of the end, I feel only relief tinged with sadness. The long, slow road to the final curtain has been replete with hurt, anger, and mourning, all while her body still lives.

I learned to celebrate a smile, and treasure the jolt of hearing her speak—because in my head she’s already gone. Her voice brings me back, for an instant, to the mother I once knew.

Happy 79th, Mom. I wish you were here to celebrate with me.

momwalkingSep14

Mom captured on our camera walking my dog Sloan and my cat Tuna in 2014

Just your Average American, Wondering if I’m a Walking Talking Coronavirus Disseminator

I started feeling sick last Saturday. Typical cold symptoms, cough, headache, feverish, etc., which I’ve experienced at least four other times in the past six months.

Except this time is difference. Because now I have to wonder…could it be? Is it? THE coronavirus? The rampaging COVID-19?

Yet I’m not in any of the high-risk groups. I haven’t traveled outside the U.S., or been in contact with anyone who has, to my knowledge. And I’m not at death’s door…so the odds of me being tested are about zero. Even though I’m one of the lucky ones who actually has health insurance—it doesn’t matter.

Because America isn’t testing anyone who isn’t set to keel over at any second. And it’s not looking good for anytime soon either.

BUT CORONAVIRUS PARANOIA HAS SET IN…both here in America, and in my living room.

Using my case as an example, let’s digress to before Christmas. My Facebook feed had been overtaken by these adorable cat paw sock ads. If you’re an animal lover, you might know the ones…they look something like this:

catpawsocks

Me: Those would make an awesome extra gift for Bryn for Christmas. I’m buying some.

Me two months later, in February: Hey, why didn’t those socks I ordered ever show up? I should investigate.

After some sleuthing, I end up filing a complaint with PayPal, patting myself on the back for using their foolproof services to pay for the purchase. Yes! At least I’ll get my money back. I’ll show those scammers.

But then…about a week later, I get a notice of a package at the post office. “Surprise…we meant to send you these kitty socks all along. We just forgot!”

From. China.

Great! So China is now shut down with the coronavirus, but I’ve just been handed a bag of very belated and not-so-christmassy cheer…by an obviously-sick postal worker. Ouch. Double whammy.

Me, to me: Don’t be paranoid. Of course the virus can’t really last on packages from China. I’m sure it dies enroute.

About twelve days later I get sick, and then two days later my daughter gets sick, too.

Me, to me: Could it be? Nah…that’s crazy. I better keep this to myself…everyone will just tell me I’m being stupid. The virus surely can’t last on packages that long, right? 

And then John Oliver jumps in to assure me that I’m nuts. They have NO PROOF. NO PROOF.

Even though I like to believe everything John Oliver tells me—because he’s John Oliver, and he’s funny—NO PROOF at this point isn’t really cutting it for me. I mean, all that’s saying is that they haven’t definitively proven it one way or another…not that IT’S NOT POSSIBLE.

Even though a dog has already tested positive, they are also saying we shouldn’t read into that little fact. I’m begging to differ there, too. “The case has raised the specter that dogs might be swept into the epidemic, which, even now, public health officials say does not appear to infect or be spread by pets. But experts say much remains unknown about the dog’s infection, and they emphasized the lone case is not yet cause for alarm or reassessments about interactions with pets.”

Um, yeah, alright.

Given that I don’t watch Fox News, I also learn from John Oliver that Jim Baker is peddling some silver solution for the virus. Far be it for me to agree with Jim Baker or any other snake oil salesman, but I’ve got nothing to lose at this point, so…

Me, feeling like complete doggy doo: Ooh, I’ve had some kind of silver stuff in my cupboard for years. Let me see if it’s still there…

Ta-DA! It is!

I spritz it in my mouth a couple of times.

No lie . . . within an hour I start to feel better. What sorcery is this?

Me: Placebo effect? I don’t think I’m really that good at thinking myself well. I’ve tried it hundreds of times before and it never worked.

Also me, two days and multiple spritzes later: I feel like that damn silver stuff helped me. Could Jim Baker be onto something? Should I join his cult after all?

Well, hell: did that silver spray really do more for me than my government did?

But seriously, here’s the problem with the lack of testing in America. I’m not the only one left confused and feeling helpless in the face of our national response. Every sick person is. COVID-19 is pretty much indistinguishable from the cold or flu, which we all can easily end up with multiple times a year.

And yet, unless or until we’re completely knocked out by the worst symptoms of our cold or flu, we still go to work. Because we have to. Because we can’t stay home for every sniffle, every cough, every sneeze. That’s a luxury we don’t have. And so for those of us who feel ill right now but know we can’t get tested, we’re just going about our daily lives.

And if we actually do have the virus, we’re spreading it. To other innocent people.

Which none of us should be doing.

America needs to get our act together. The test should be available to anyone exhibiting the symptoms, without question. We should be able to know if it’s safe to go to work or if we have “permission” to stay home for weeks at a time.

Staying home for many of us is a luxury we just can’t afford under normal circumstances.

Our government’s lies, false statistics, and “gut feelings” are just another reason so many of us don’t feel safe in America anymore.

We want and deserve the same testing that is available in most of the rest of the world. Hell, South Korea even has drive through testing! How hard can that be?