There once was a dog, a smart and pretty dog, who could do many tricks to please her master. He praised her and took good care of her. She was a good dog.
Then the dog grew old and could not perform her tricks as well. It became difficult to dance on her hind legs and hop in circles as she used to. She tried, because she wanted to please her master. But there were days when her legs hurt and her hips ached. He was dissatisfied with her performance and grumbled. She kept dancing the best she could until the pain became unbearable. She hung her head and looked sorry, because she knew her master was disappointed in her.
Her master tried to cajole her into performing her tricks for him. He explained how important it was that she dance on her hind legs and hop in circles, because it pleased him. A dog was obliged to please her master. After all, he took care of her. When reason and persuasion didn’t work he scolded her, called her a bad dog, a stubborn dog. He grew angry, shouting at her. Why wouldn’t she perform her tricks for him anymore? She had always been a good dog, a loyal and devoted dog. What was wrong with her?
He punished her and threatened to get rid of her if she didn’t shape up and start pleasing him the way she used to. She was frightened and ashamed. She didn’t want her master to get rid of her. She tried to do the tricks she could still do, like fetching his slippers and bringing him the paper. She hoped that would be enough, that he would see she was still a loyal dog, a devoted dog, a good dog.
But it wasn’t enough. Her master didn’t care about papers and slippers. He wanted dancing. He stopped showing her any affection at all. She longed for him to pet her like he used to, to praise her and tell her she was a good dog. But she was afraid to go to him and ask for the love she craved, because she was afraid he would again demand that she dance, and she would either have to refuse him, force herself to dance in spite of the pain. Either way he would be disappointed in her and turn away to read his paper, not even looking at her.
She kept on bringing his slippers and his paper, because she loved him and hoped that maybe he would see she was still a good dog. It did no good.
Every day she grew more withdrawn. When he didn’t ignore her, he yelled at her, telling her how disappointed he was in her and what a bad dog she was. She felt her love and devotion beginning to wither. Perhaps she was only a dog, but she had feelings and needs like any other living being. Sometimes he would talk to her, telling her again and again how important her tricks were to him, and how everything would be all right if she would just be a good dog and dance again. She did not know how to make him understand.
The endless abuse ate her spirit. The master who had once loved her and praised her and taken such good care of her had turned on her for something she couldn’t do anything about. Her devotion didn’t matter to him. The only reason he had been good to her was because of her tricks. She hated herself for not being able to perform anymore.
She began to hate him.
There came a day when she snarled and snapped. He tied her in the yard and would not come near her. He told her that she had given him no choice but to get rid of her.
She spent her days laying with her nose between her paws in misery.
Then one day he came to her and he wasn’t angry. He was smiling and friendly. He had been to the market to look at dogs and had seen one that caught his fancy. Even if that one didn’t work out, there were plenty of others. One of them would surely be able to dance the way he liked. This had cheered him up and made him feel charitable. He praised his old dog and told her what a good dog she had been and how much he appreciated what she had done for him. In gratitude, he was going to make sure she had a good home where she would be properly looked after.
He expected her to wag her tail and be happy. He was baffled when she just sighed and lay with her head between her paws in misery. He went to pet her, and she growled, low in her throat. He could not understand why. What was wrong with her? He had praised her, talked nicely to her, and promised to make sure she was properly looked after. Surely she could understand that he needed a dog that could dance. Why would she begrudge him that?
“Ungrateful bitch,” he muttered, walking away.
The old dog closed her eyes, her heart broken.
Then her nose caught a strange scent. She lifter her head, her nostrils twitching. Several dark shadows were moving in the woods. Yellow eyes flickered. To her alarm, a pack of dogs emerged, trotting towards her. She growled, her hackles raised, but the other dogs made friendly signs. She allowed them to approach. Some were old, like her, with greying muzzles. Others were young, hard-muscled and agile. Two were quite large and one was very small.
Peace, Sister, they said.
Who are you? the old dog asked.
We are the dogs with no masters. We are the dogs who dance only to please ourselves. We run free and fight together against our enemies. Together we howl in the moonlight and hunt for our food. We huddle close when the snows fall to keep each other warm, and lick each other’s wounds when we are injured. When the sky is bright and the breezes mild, we play together in the fields and chase butterflies. Come with us.
I cannot, the old dog said. I am old and unworthy and tied to a tree. I am a bad dog.
We care nothing about age and worthiness. And there are no bad dogs.
With that, a mastiff with strong jaws began to chew the rope. She made short work of it and soon the old dog was freed.
Come with us, they said again, and be a dog with no master.
The old dog was afraid because she had never been on her own. How would she care for herself without a master? And yet, these dogs had no masters and feared nothing, for they had each other. Their eyes were bright and their bodies strong. They knew how it could be done, and lived well.
I am too old. I cannot learn.
How can you know? Run with us and see!
What else was there for her? Nothing here, surely, abandoned by her master, alone and unwanted. She breathed in, and out, once.
I will come.
And so she left with the pack and learned new ways. She hunted with them and howled in the moonlight, took comfort with them in the cold and frolicked with them when the sky was bright and the breezes mild. She lived well.
Because always they reminded each other that they were all good dogs.