The Perfect Dog
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Tara Fox Hall
Out in the country, way up on the top of a hill and back in the forest, there was a house.
Many animals lived there, birds, dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, chipmunks, frogs, toads, and even some people.
One of the dogs living there was big and black. Her name was Strider. This is one of her stories.
Strider loved the country, walking out in the woods and searching the grassy fields for mice.
She was very brave and confident, much more so than Leg, her companion dog.
Strider was never afraid of the farm equipment that often rumbled by, the gunshots from the neighbour's target range, or the scary-shaped recycling bins.
She always barked loud and long at the vacuum cleaner, making it keep its distance.
Leg was very glad she was there to manage things.
Strider was a very beautiful dog, and knew it well.
Often on walks in the local park, strangers would comment on her beauty, and compliment her human guardian.
She was proud, and loved.
Her person, The Girl, called her The Perfect Dog.
One snowy afternoon, Leg and Strider were out with The Girl for a walk.
Heavy snow was falling, making it hard to see, nearly a foot of snow had already fallen earlier that day.
Huge drifts from the blowing snow lay thick and deep everywhere, it was also growing dark.
"Stay," the Girl said. "I'll be right back."
Strider was worried about her person, going alone to get the mail.
Even though she had been told to stay it wouldn't hurt just this once to disobey, after all, she didn't want anything bad to happen to her human.
She ran suddenly to The Girl's side as she reached into the mailbox.
The Girl turned, panicked. "Strider, no!"
Strider stood transfixed in the headlights of a large dark shape gliding toward her.
She stood her ground, unafraid.
Suddenly the shape hit her, knocking her off her feet.
She rolled over, the dark shape passing over her.
Strider lay in the road, stunned.
The Girl and Leg were there, anxiously telling her to get up.
Strider panted with hurt, but she slowly stood up and hobbled back to the house.
The next morning everything hurt, so much that Strider whined softly with every motion.
Nothing tasted good and she only drank a little water as the effort hurt too much.
That morning, The Girl took Strider to the veterinarian for help.
After the vet checked her over The Girl hugged Strider.
"Your tail is broken Strider, be brave, I'll be back soon to take you home."
A week later, Strider came home, a huge plastic collar on her neck so that she would heal faster.
She rested and recuperated, as the other animals comforted her as best they could, telling her she would be well soon.
Soon the collar came off , but something else was wrong.
Sometimes Strider would suddenly lose her balance and fall down, she wasn't able to run.
"Something is wrong with me," she said dejectedly one day as she lay outside on the grass.
"Nothing is wrong that eating some squirrel wouldn't fix," Leg said, then let out a bark at the squirrel up above in the tree. "Come back down, Tree Rat!"
The squirrel, hoping to get back at Leg for chasing him, chattered down "Black Dog, you have no tail! You have no tail!"
"Shut up!" Leg barked at the squirrel.
"What do you mean?" Strider said, struggling to her feet. "Of course I have a tail. It was broken, but it mended and now I'm as perfect as I ever was."
"Take a look," chattered the squirrel.
Leg clawed the tree, barking at the squirrel to shut up.
But the damage had been done.
Strider looked back at where her tail should be and saw...no tail!
She almost fell over with shock.
Panicked, she immediately tried to run, but lost her balance and went sprawling.
The squirrel above erupted with laughter.
Strider got to her feet and walked as fast as she could to the house.
Slinking inside to her favourite bed, she lay down to sulk.
"What is wrong?" asked Blackie, wandering up to her.
"I have no tail, Cat," Strider said curtly. "and not one of you told me."
"A tail doesn't matter that much," Blackie replied, stretching. "Look at my ear, it's bent and twisted yet I can hear just fine."
"A tail is not something unimportant, like a whisker or piece of ear, "Strider retorted. "I can't run.
How will I communicate with strange dogs? How will I tell The Girl I'm happy? It's so ugly not to have one."
Leg licked Strider's head to comfort her. "You don't have to have a tail for me to tell you're sad."
"First off," said Blackie sternly, "Leg is right, you are not doomed. In this family's cat lineage, a fine tiger cat by the name of Jake had your fate befall him, his tail, damaged by humans, had to be amputated. In time he healed and regained his mousing abilities, he became one of the favourite cats of this household."
"Our humans know us well enough to understand what you want or need," Leg added. "We can bark at strange dogs like we always do."
"But I'm not perfect anymore!" Strider whined.
"Look at those around you," Blackie replied. "Jessica's eyes are too big"
"They are most certainly not!" Jessica retorted from the chair, annoyed.
"Cavity is missing most of his teeth," Blackie went on. "Leg's tail is crooked, Kesteral is physically okay but her appetite is a problem"
Kesteral whacked him on the paw. "Watch it, old timer."
Cavity sidled up to Strider and licked him. "Blackie's right, it doesn't matter what you look like, we still love you."
Leg, Jesse, and Kesteral murmured assent.
Blackie rolled his eyes and said "I, um, like you, but more importantly, you have to like yourself."
Strider didn't respond, her head slumped on her paws.
Two months later, Strider lay one night on her bed with Leg beside her and realized she felt like her old self, her physical wound had long since closed and she'd learned to run again with Leg's help. Everything she'd enjoyed once she enjoyed again. The only thing that still bothered her was that she wasn't perfect anymore, her beauty had been taken along with her tail.
The Girl patted Strider's head. "Strider, you've come so far. I'm very proud of you."
Strider nudged her hand for more petting.
"No, it's time for bed," The Girl said. "Lay down."
Strider lay her head back down sadly.
"Don't be sad," The Girl said, patting her one more time. She paused then added, "Are you still my perfect dog? Yes, you are. You'll always be my perfect dog, Strider."
As her shock faded into happiness, Strider suddenly understood Blackie's words and saw what everyone around her had never stopped seeing, that to those that loved her she would always be perfect, no matter what she looked like.
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