The puppies

Wails from somewhere outside pierced the walls of our house and ripped me awake. What was that? A loud baby—or an animal? Another cry. Definitely an animal. If those neighbors across the alley had chained up a dog to its neglect—or if they were mistreating it in some other way—so help me. I looked out the kitchen window, eyes narrowed.

But nothing stirred on the plot of land beyond our chain link fence.

I set to work brewing a pot of coffee, memories of one particular dog across the alley flooding my mind and yanking something in my gut all over again. That poor thing had grown thinner and thinner—tethered to one spot under the elements—until Husband sauntered over for a talk with the tenants. But that was years ago.

Ten minutes passed. The mournful sounds continued. I abandoned my coffee cup and headed out back. No movement anywhere. Still, cries drifted to me from nearby. Was a dog caught somewhere—or injured?

I followed the noise, but before I stepped foot onto the neighbor’s property across the alley, a man burst through the back door of the house, his gaze trained on me.

He patted the air with an open palm. “It’s all good over here.”

With vivid colors, he painted a picture of the noise’s cause, explaining it was mating season for the dogs at their place. I shuddered. Too much information.

Too many puppies already wandered our part of the city, minus collars and supervision. Our neighborhood teemed with backyard breeders bringing more pit bulls into the world. And for what purpose? I had heard about the ones used for fighting or to guard guns and drugs in stash houses, but that was the worst case scenario, wasn’t it?

I walked back home, shoving away my thoughts so I could keep living in the neighborhood. But they caught up with me again a week later while sitting behind the wheel of my Honda at a red light on Seventh.

My pit bull, Lala, rode shotgun that day, scanning the landscape like a queen surveying her empire. A car rolled up on our left and honked. I looked over. The driver—a guy with a smile so wide I frowned—twirled his finger for me to lower my window.

“Boy or girl?” he hollered over, lifting his chin toward my dog.

“Girl,” I yelled back.

“We need to do some breeding.”

I wrinkled my nose. This wasn’t the first time a stranger had propositioned Lala. When I walked her on the streets of North Minneapolis, drivers of passing vehicles would often slow, roll down their windows, and propose “play times,” so their animals could mingle with mine.    

The traffic light snapped to green.

“She’s fixed,” I called out to the driver.

His smile slid off. “Too bad.”

I tromped on the gas, grateful for green lights and spay surgeries. Again, I shelved my thoughts, because life offered bigger dilemmas than an abundance of puppies.


One day, a few months later, Dicka peered out the kitchen window. “Mom, check this out. They’re so cute.”

Two pit bull puppies bounced outside our back gate, their skins too tight to hold their zest for life. Like so many before them, they looked eager to break into our yard—and lives.

I squinted through the glass. “Now where did these guys come from?”

“From over there.” She pointed at the house across the alley.

I did some quick math, and my calculations fit; these little ones were likely the result of That One Morning.

I sighed. “They’re actually smiling, if that’s possible.”

Beaming, my girl zipped out the back door and passed through our gate. In a second, the puppies bobbed at her legs, then glued themselves to her.

Where were the owners? How long would we need to double-check—no, quadruple-check—our rearview mirrors before backing out our vehicles? How many times would we herd the furry ones back home before they were gone—and then how long until we’d do it all over again?

I strode outside as a third dog bounded over to join the party. I released a breath and stowed my thoughts again. Happiness frolicked on our driveway, living in the moment. And in that moment, there were no calls to Animal Control or interventions with the neighbors.

For now, there was only love to give and ears to scratch.

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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.