The formula for kindness. Trisong returns

The first book is here:

Mikhail Samarsky



The Adventures of an Extraordinary Dog

                A dog is so devoted that you don't even believe
                a man deserves such love.      
                I. Ilf


                In Lieu of a Preface               
          A-arf, my dear humans! By that, I mean to say, "Hello!" Do you recognize me? We haven't seen each other for a while. I've really missed you, but as always I welcome friends new and old. So, if you haven't read my first book, "A Rainbow for a Friend,"* let me introduce myself: I'm Trisong, a Labrador retriever. I graduated from a special training school for guide dogs. I'm sure you've heard of my profession before. We help blind people. However, not everyone knows how we're trained, how we work, what we can do and all the things we're capable of doing.   

* "A Rainbow for a Friend," Mikhail Samarsky, L&L Publishing, 2013
         Let me tell you, it isn't an easy job. However, a dog like me isn't necessarily interested in the easy way. As a guide dog, the main task is to serve man devotedly and wholeheartedly. In my first book, I described how I worked with old Ivan (may he rest in peace) and then with a blind teenager named Sasha. You know, it may be hard to believe, but once I gave to my young friend a real rainbow as a present. Yes, yes, these things happen. By the way, it isn't customary for guide gods to refer to our people as masters. We call them fosterlings. As you read this book, you'll understand why.
         A guide dog's work doesn't always go smoothly. Sometimes, we have to take care of things that our teachers and trainers couldn't imagine. So, I'll put it this way: A guide in a critical situation shall act as a rescuer, protector and even . . . .  Well, I shouldn't get too much into the details at this point. If you're curious, though, you can read my first book. I got into one tight spot after another! I wasn't even looking for trouble, nor did I have to. Trouble came looking for me! Now, though, it's time to tell you about my next adventures.
I must tell you something, before we go any farther: This story might never have been told, if I hadn't survived till this day. Several times, I was within a hair's breadth of dying. Thank God that I was able to get away safely. As they say, dogs kind and fair are everywhere, and so are kind people. Don't consider me foolish for saying it, but occasionally I modify your human proverbs with canine thinking.
          I have done some thinking on my own, too. For instance, I realized that you might have wondered what happened next, after the end of my first book. As you'll recall, Sasha and I separated very suddenly, and because of it I felt ill at ease. So, we'll fix all that as we continue with this one. After all, it was too early for me to retire. I had to keep working. It isn't for nothing that I received such special training. I don't know how things are with you, but at my training academy they treat specialists like me with respect. They won't send a guide dog to be a watchdog (although such things did happen, as I'll describe later). Professionals like me are worth their weight in gold. Therefore, as long as I have my senses of smell, hearing and eyesight, along with strength and training, I'll continue to work as a guide dog.
            I won't brag now, because some of the people who read my first book might have thought of me as boastful. Please understand that I don't describe my abilities just for the pleasure of bragging. I do my best for you, the reader, just as I do my best for my fosterling. Go on, admit it: Before our encounter, many of you didn't even imagine what a guide dog is and how he works. I didn't make this up, either. My readers told me so! 
            I even managed to be an actor, once. After the book "A Rainbow for a Friend" was published, I was invited to a book presentation. At that time, my training academy had a series of visitors, and a certain handicapped man agreed to come along. He wasn't sure whether he'd take a guide dog, but he figured he could learn what it was like to have one. Anyway, my instructor Lena accompanied us on the trip for the presentation. I performed right in a bookstore, where I demonstrated my mastery to a group of spectators. My work isn't child's play--especially when it's meant as a performance--so I was incredibly nervous. Nevertheless, when it was my moment to shine I was transformed into a real actor! I walked onto the scene and gazed at all the people. They sat there silent, in total amazement. Well, I had to do my best, because an embarrassment was the last thing I would've wanted. In the end, though, it all went perfectly. A few minutes after the presentation, a photographer approached my instructor and me. As he stroked my head behind the ear, he said, "Thank you for coming with Trisong. I'm forty now, but I'd never seen a real guide dog before." That made me feel very proud.               

          Well, let's get back to business. You couldn't imagine how many stories I've accumulated since we separated. Some are harrowing, but others are great. I'm not sure how I could fit them all into a single book, so we should agree on this: I'll just begin the story, and we'll see what happens. It might be just a story, a novel . . . or maybe an epic, like "War and Peace"!

         Chapter 1

          Dogs, like people, grow in life experience with each new acquaintance. However, may God save you from some of the acquaintances I've encountered. Even now, I shudder when I think of them.               
           First, everything went smoothly. Once my fosterling Sasha had regained his sight, I didn't stay idle for long. Within just a month I was assigned to a blind woman . . . a writer. There, I had a great life. What I na;ve dog I am: I thought I’d work for her until I kicked the bucket. It wasn’t to be, though. I suddenly parted with my new fosterling. That’s how it went. As for what happened next, well, I won’t jump the gun.
            Although Anna Igorevna Krivosheyeva was my fosterling for just a while, we parted as good friends. She lives abroad now. Warning: If you meet this wonderful woman, don’t try to call her a writer. She'd be offended by that. She thinks such a description simply doesn’t exist in human language. Well, it’s not up to us dogs to ponder such questions. After all, these are trivial matters. By the way, nobody called her Anna Igorevna at home. Her official name was buried deeply in papers, letters, documents and so forth. In daily life, everyone called this charming woman Annushka, or Anyuta or just Anna.               
            What a beauty she was! I thought she resembled me a bit, with the golden hair. She has strikingly beautiful lips, a high forehead, a straight nose and the most slender fingers. She is so fragile, tender and light. She's simply ethereal. Many would take her for a ballerina. I don't go to the theatre, so I've never seen a ballerina. Well, once I saw a ballerina on TV. No, Annushka isn’t a ballerina. Of course, ballerinas are known for their beauty, but they're too jumpy. They run around and hop a lot, but Anna is calm and quiet. She's gracious. I think that if some gifted artist would paint her portrait, some time later the Louvre would swap it for the Mona Lisa. It would certainly be a trade with the Western art world.             
           Have you seen the Mona Lisa? There was a reproduction of it in Anna’s cabinet. I don’t know how anyone could create something so awesome! The Mona Lisa is kind of sly. She has a look, or an expression, that would make me a bit uncomfortable sometimes. It was as if she was ready to command me to sit, lie down, stand, fetch, etcetera.  The most amazing thing was her ability to watch me--to look into my eyes--no matter where I was in the room. That is one heck of a portrait! Although my fosterling hoped she could one day see the original, her dream didn't come true. I don't think it's something to grieve over, though. All right, forget the Mona Lisa. It isn't about her.               
             I felt very proud of my fosterling Anna whenever we walked together in the park. I never met a single man who would not turn his head and stare at us. To put it simply, this Anna is a stunning woman! The first time, we walked only near the house. Each day, though, we'd go a bit farther. Anna grew so daring that soon we would take the tramway to another district. We didn't need any extra help, either. By the way, that's quite a thing for a blind person to accomplish. For a person like Anna, it's freedom.
            If you only knew how I lived then! Ouch! You'd be green with envy, I'm sure. This . . . . Well, it's hard to describe, so I'll try it this way: Do you remember old Ivan? Do you remember Sasha, his family and their friends? Well, if Ivan would have described my life in the writer’s home, he'd say, "Trisong is living high on the hog." Sasha would just say: "Cool, Trisha!" His grandmother Yelizaveta would cross herself and whisper: "My God! A pig in clover!" As for Sasha's mother, I'm not so sure. She would have put it simply: "The highlife!"            
            I really had it made.  The family was simply amazing. There were four of us in that country home. We had the mother, the father (Konstantin), their daughter Masha and me. Masha was a kid who had just turned ten, but she was quite a filly. Her father used to call her a fidget. I wasn't familiar with the word, but Masha was never offended by it. So, it must be a good word. Masha was a copy of her mother. By watching that girl, I could picture how Anna was at her age.
           Masha and I were friends from day one. I love children, anyway. Masha bathed me, brushed me and always tried to give me treats. First I refused and turned away, since I've been trained not to eat anything but my dog food. Then, so as not to offend the girl, I started to accept those treats little by little. I always remembered that my instructor had said I couldn't take food from strangers. Masha was no stranger, though. She was practically my sister. We even played football together. I'll tell you about her later. I think Masha will grow up to be a singer. You should've heard her sing karaoke! The family liked to sing together in the evenings, and I even sang along. You might call it howling, but to me it wasn't. Of course, I'm not a singer, but they all liked it when I howled along. After the concert, they'd always give me a special treat, like a meatball, a bone or something sweet.   
           Wait a minute! I nearly forgot about someone. There weren't four of us, there were five. We had another fuzzy-head there: Pussycat. Just don’t think I'm trying to be nice. That was her nickname. They say that when she appeared in the house (which was long before me) they called her Missy or Dissy, but by someone’s easy hand everyone started to call her Pussycat. Oh, that Pussycat!  Why is it that these cats fall out of the sky and always, always land on my head!? Pussycat and I lived in peace, though. We got along well together. Sometimes, though, that cat could really be a nuisance.               
             Just picture the situation. I returned from a walk, ate my food, drank some water and took a nap. I always have to sleep more than regular dogs, because my work requires such precision. Even when I sleep, I'm at work. Anyway, here's how it all started. Pussycat had nothing else to do. She was bored and wanted to play. "Well," I thought, "take your plastic mouse or a ball and play all you want." Heck no! Right when I was about to fall asleep, there she was. She would paw at my tail, or something about my ear would bother her. She would walk past me and graze my nose with her tail. That’s what I disliked most. Generally, after such a nasty trick, I would sneeze very loudly. A couple of times I did that, it startled Anna. I remember that she laughed and said, "God bless you, Trisong!"
            "Arf," I replied. 
            Anna couldn't see the tantrums that Pussycat would throw, so she probably thought I thanked her. She smiled and said, "You're welcome, my dear."
            It is pleasant, of course, when people are polite. However, what could I do? I simply placed my paws over my eyes and fell asleep. Pussycat was still itching to do something. Sometimes she would throw a fit, and that would make me howl like a wolf. She'd jump onto me, lie down and purr. Some kind of circus rider she was. At those moments, I wouldn’t chase her. "Go ahead and creep around on me," I'd think. "Just don’t tickle my nose." Sometimes Pussycat and I would sleep together. What could I do? I couldn't bite her. She was part of the family. But it’s no biggie. Later I'll tell you about some cats that are truly special. Pussycat is no match for these green-eyed creatures. It’s more complicated than that.               

             Everything with Anna and her family was great, no matter what I might say about Pussycat. For one thing, the food was really delicious. It was pleasant, as old Ivan used to call a nice meal. Imagine this: I had my own room, with a sofa in it! Yeah, I did! It had a pillow and a blanket, too. It was great in my room, with Pussycat on the other side of the door. She wasn’t allowed in there, because her reputation was tarnished. She had jumped onto the desk and thrown papers around. It would be nothing if that was all she did, but she also went after the flowers and turned the office into an autumn garden. Yellow-orange petals were everywhere. Once she got into that room, she was no longer just a fluffy housecat. She was a hurricane with a tail.
            Well, my fosterling would work at that desk and I would lounge on my sofa, where I could listen to her as she read from her newest novel. Anna had a special computer that was made for blind people, but usually she'd dictate a chapter into a machine--called a Dictaphone--and either Konstantin or Masha would type it in. Then Konstantin would criticize it. Oh, excuse me: He would "edit" it. Sometimes, they would argue so hard that I'd think, "That’s it. They're enemies forever."            
             I was wrong, though. The next morning, Anna would say, "Konstantin, I've thought it over, and the scene at the seaside has to be redone. You're right, it's banal."
         Konstantin would answer with something like, "Well, I don’t insist on it, Anna. After all, you know better than I do what your story needs." 
             Wow! Did you hear that!? He didn't insist! Well, is that so!? Yesterday, he had told his wife that he had never read anything so lacking in creativity and skill. How could he say he didn't insist? That kind of stuff will be the end of you! Well, anyway, after a while I stopped being amazed by such Jekyll-and-Hyde transformations.  You know, creative people (like Konstantin, who's an editor and a poet) are as fickle as the wind. Sometimes they'll read poetry and prose all night long. They might even read fairy tales.  They sigh, laugh, yell and even cry.  The next day it all goes to . . . .
            My cheek muscles tighten whenever I think of these crazy human expressions. I just don't get them, sometimes. Where do you think it would all go? That’s right: to hell in a hand basket. Please, please tell me what that means! What do hell and a hand basket have to do with it? Who came up with that one? There is one more expression that's even worse, and it knocks me off my paws: "dog poop." You've heard that one, right? What kind of poop would that be? Is that good or bad? You keep saying that a dog is man’s best friend. You love all those Chubbies, Smarties, Baileys and Harleys, but almost any name is an insult to the dog. Have you noticed that, if everything in your world doesn’t fall exactly into place, you'll say, "It's a dog's life."         
              Some people might envy how I lived with Anna, but it was a normal dog’s life. Today, the way I live, you wouldn't even call it a dog’s life.         

          Chapter 2               

I went from the writer's house into . . . . Well, I don't have the words for it. God only knows where I wound up. Of course, I didn't go directly from Anna to a new fosterling but through the school, as usual. That's how it goes: I'm brought back, retrained and taken out again.
The last time they took me, it was something. You wouldn't believe what I had to endure! Of course, I could tell you only about my life with the Krivosheevs. That would preserve the happy mood. It wouldn't be right, though. The masters were educated folks. I liked to listen to them, and their guests were interesting people. My horizon was broadened significantly. You, however, should know what the next chapter was really like. I can't just erase one of my fosterlings from my canine biography. I have to tell the truth--the whole truth--whether it's good or bad. Maybe it'll come in handy for you.               
I have to admit that I even cried at night; quietly, without tears. I would whimper mentally until I fell asleep. Sometimes there was no question of sleep, though. I lived as if I was on the edge of a volcano. Something could happen at any moment. That's when I started to understand the real meaning of the expression "dog's life." All right, I'll stop complaining. Enough is enough. As my first fosterling Ivan used to say, "You can't dodge destiny." Life wouldn't be real if all I had to do was lie around on the sofa and swim in the pool. I had to see the other side. It simply had to happen. The life--the dog's life--tested me. I'll be honest: I passed all the tests with flying colors and always did my very best (even if it wasn't my duty).            
Konstantin once read an e-mail that Anna had received. There were the following words: "All of life is a rainbow. It is multicolored. A color rejects another, appears from the previous one and goes into the next. So it is in life. There are colors, and there are shades. Any color is just a part of the color white, which is broken into all the colors of the rainbow. You can't succumb to the temptation to paint all the events in one color. Difficulties are given to man so that joy can be felt more acutely. Misfortune occurs so that joy will be even more obvious. Everything in life changes; everything corrects itself." It sounded like a letter spoken about people, but to a dog the difficulties can come in the form of hazards.
What a wonderful thing a rainbow is! It wasn't for nothing that Sasha was obsessed with them. You can explain a lot of things in life with this phenomenon.               
Well, once Paulina Ivakhnik came to pick me up. She looked like a piece of crumb cake, so polite and kind. As she listened open-mouthed to the instructor, she kept petting me and even kissed me on the nose. However, I immediately felt something wrong. Some old man frequently urged her along, holding her by the arm. Paulina called him Mironych, but she told everyone that he was her brother. I figured out immediately that her calling him a brother was like calling someone your cousin's grandfather.
Mironych rubbed me the wrong way, from day one. He would frequently disappear somewhere and, upon his return in the evening, Paulina would be more joyful, rosy and talkative. She'd also put on a fragrance that left a strong trail, which wasn't particularly pleasant for a dog. She would kiss me on the nose and then, for half an hour, I'd see wonderful birds and violet stars before my eyes. Well, as you might have guessed, my granny would drink a lot. It wasn't lemonade she was fond of. Well, what can you do? Every human has a vice. One drinks, another smokes and the third one . . . Well, it isn't up to us dogs to discuss what people do right and what they do wrong. The important thing is that they look after us. They shouldn't hurt us. The rest is up to their conscience.               
Clearly, we have always helped you, and we'll continue to help. Do you remember my story about an unwritten agreement between man and dog, at the dawn of civilization? That agreement is sacred to us, and we abide by it. Oh, if man would only do the same in regard to his obligations! Imagine: Paulina would sometimes even forget to take my harness off! I'd have to sleep with the guide gear strapped to my body! As for brushing, bathing and feeding, well, I'll keep my muzzle shut.
Our acquaintance with Mironych didn't end at school. After I moved in with my fosterling, he would visit her. A sly little man, he was. As I guessed, Mironych would show up immediately after Paulina received her retirement check. That really raised my hackles. Just think: First, I disliked all those . . . how to put it politely . . . intoxicating smells; and secondly, the old folks frequently forgot that I need to go outside at least two or three times a day. I simply wasn't part of their game plan. Thirdly, I saw how Mironych openly cheated the old woman. When money ran short, the old man would disappear, allegedly to see his relatives, or he'd tell her that he felt sick or had a lot of work to do. So, in other words, my life had become a nightmare. For example, with this particular fosterling I could spend the whole day at a beer joint. Paulina's friends would pet me with their dirty hands. They'd play with my ears, often with less than a gentle touch. They could pour beer on my head and drop a herring. This is nothing, though. One of those brutes nearly squished my paw off. It hurt so much, I had to bark loudly. I'll admit, I only barked there. I completely forgot the "A-arf" and "Ouu" that I had used with Sasha.             
Those people would even slander me for no reason at all. Once, as I sat under the table, I saw a smoked fish fall to the floor. It was a cute one; so appetizingly semi-transparent. I was as hungry as . . . . Goodness gracious, I nearly said I was "as hungry as a dog." (People have so many "dog" sayings!) All right. Well, there I sat, dying of hunger. Paulina had forgotten to feed me that morning, since she was apparently in a rush to get to the beer bar. Well, that fish fell from the table as if from the sky. Even in this case, I didn't attack the fish and eat it. I had nothing of the sort in mind. I know my work. I carefully took the edible item, got out from the table and gave it to my granny. At that moment, one of my fosterling's drinking buddies yelled, "Holy mackerel! What are you doing, you bastard!?"
Initially, I didn't realize the yelling was directed at me. The slob continued: "Beast! Paulina, your be-be-beast stole a fish from me!" Well, that was a turn of the table! I thought, "I don't need your fish. You lost it. It fell to the floor, so I picked it up and gave it to my fosterling. You have some kind of nerve to accuse me of stealing! Boy, oh boy!"
"Enough," Paulina said, speaking in my defense. "Here's your stinky fish. There's no need to yell. You dropped it yourself, most likely, and my dog picked it up. He's trained. He picks up everything and hands it over. You should say 'thank you' to him . . . ."
"I didn't drop anything," the drinking buddy continued, obviously seeking an argument. "The fish was in my pocket. That filthy dog of yours tried to sneak it away from me."            
I couldn't stand the shame anymore, so I barked. The man got frightened and staggered back. Then he started screaming:
"You see, Paulina, he has become aggressive. Now he wants to attack me. He needs a veti-vetri-rinatium . . . well, a dog doctor." 
"It's you who needs a doctor," Paulina said with a loud laugh. "I told you, this dog is no thief. Got it?" She handed the fish to the man. "Here's your snapper. Eat up."
"Heck, no," the man said as he pushed Paulina's hand away. "The last thing I want is to eat it after the dog had it in his mouth. Here, you take it back. Let your mutt finish it off."
"Have you gone nuts!?" another drinker exclaimed. "Give it to me!" He snapped the fish out of the woman's hands, twisted the head off and took a bite of it.   
I swallowed saliva and realized I had no chance in that establishment. It would be great to get home by the evening. Otherwise, there was no telling how long I'd have to go hungry.
"Hey," the first drunk said with bulging eyes as he asked his neighbor in amazement: "You going to eat it after the dog?" He nodded at the beheaded fish. 
"Sure," the man nodded and joyfully declared: I ate it already. Why not? This isn't some stray dog. Trisong is Paulina's guide. He's an intelligent dog."               
It's a pleasure to hear compliments, of course, but honestly, I would have preferred the snapper. The smell of it had reminded me of my days spent fishing with old Ivan. 
"Anyway," the man snapped discontentedly, "it's too much. Why not give him a seat at the table and offer him a beer?"            
"Oh, my God!" Paulina threw her arms. "Stop being such a martyr! You seem to forget how you ate his dog pellets. You and Pasha gobbled half a bag of the stuff, as if it was nothing!"
"Some comparison that is," the man said, as if he'd been insulted. "I didn't eat out of his bowl."
"All right," Paulina said with a wave of her hand. "If you don't want to eat, then don't. Nobody's forcing you. I'd rather eat after Trisong than after certain people."
"Just who do you mean by that?" The man was indignant. "Me?"
"Why would it be you?" Paulina smirked. 'There are plenty of other crazy people in the world. Calm down . . . ."
The group soon forgot about the incident, and even the squeamish drunk ate a piece of the fallen fish. It's always the case. First there's indignation, followed by complaining, and then they finish up after us dogs. This was a real gourmet class of people.         
It was so foolish of me to get angry at Sasha for calling me "Trisha." Do you know what Paulina often called me? You'd never guess. I'm even ashamed to say the word. When she was sober, though, she'd call me correctly. When she would pass a drink or two, her tongue sort of went sideways. She would say, "Trusson, to mine." When I heard that the first time, I didn't even realize who she was addressing or what she wanted. Think about it. What kind of command is "to mine?" I'm not some bomb technician who runs through mine fields. How could she blabber something like, "To mine"? I barely made it out. Well, what she really said was "to me." Such a strange woman, she was. What about the name "Trusson"? Damn it, what vulgarity! Is it from the word "truss" or something? I'm no "truss." I'm a pretty cool dog, you know. I don't know, maybe it was from the word "trousers." That would be completely insane, though. I never expected my name to be so mispronounced. So, by comparison the name "Trisha" seemed to me quite harmless. It was even pleasant.
The matter of the name, however, is child's play. I remember how Ivan used to say, "Call me a pot but heat me not." The name is nothing. The most important thing is to remember it. It's registered at school and in my documents. Nobody would mix it up or forget. What can you do with a drunken person? I'll be Trusson, all right. I've been everyone in this life. After all, I was even "Rex" once. Do you remember that? I didn't lose my coat over it.
Other things were more troublesome. The matter wasn't in the name, but in my lifestyle. To be honest, I had turned into a real hobo. Please don't think it was my fault, because it wasn't. Few things depended on me.         
An instructor visited Paulina often during the first week I was with her. He looked, checked, trained and gave advice. We first learned a few routes: the store, the drugstore, the hospital, the closest park and so on. The old woman behaved completely differently, then: She would feed me and brush me. She wouldn't brush or bathe me too often, but I could live with that. What then? Goodness gracious! I shudder to remember it. I wouldn't get home for a couple of days in a row. My fosterling would roam around aimlessly. She'd sleep God-knows-where.
She could sit the whole day in a beer bar and then fall asleep on the grass in front of the bar. I would sit all night and guard her. What could I do? I would put my head over her leg to make sure she didn't go anywhere, and I'd nap that way. Sometimes, I hated to look at myself. Once I saw my reflection in the window of a storefront, and I nearly fell to the ground from the shame of it. If not for the harness and Red Cross badge, people would think I was a stray mutt.
Things weren't any better at home. I slept in that apartment, which smelled of alcohol. It's torture, too, when your fosterling forgets to remove your harness. Did your shoulder blade ever itch and you couldn't reach it with your hand? You'd have to be a contortionist or an acrobat to reach it.
That's the life I had. Well, as you say, "It's a dog's life."

          Chapter 3               

Let me share something with you. Because of my duty as a guide dog, I encounter all kinds of people. I see them in public transport, in stores, at pharmacies, in parks and whenever I'm out for a walk with my fosterling. Do you know how I determine whether the person I meet is good? I look at him and ask myself, "Would he be capable of working as guide?" If I see that he'd work as a guide, it means he's a good man. At school, the puppies are carefully culled. Breed is breed and pedigree is pedigree, but not all the puppies from the same mother can grow up to be guide dogs. So it goes.               
It is clear that people aren't culled at all. For you, that would be a horrible thing. It's because, in the human world, the cobbler doesn't always stick to his last. We don't have that tendency because we're bred to certain purposes. So, if you're a watchdog, don't get into guide work. Otherwise, you'll take your person who knows where. I hope this doesn't offend you. Let's make a deal on that. Maybe I'm wrong, anyway. I'm a dog, and this is the way I think. You might say it's a load of dog feathers. All right, then. I'm not offended. I didn't graduate from one of your universities, so I have to figure it out myself. I can be wrong, sometimes.               
I will tell you a bit more about the Krivosheyevs, because, if I only tell you about my life with Paulina it'll be sad. Let's go back to Anna. You probably want to know the details, right? I'll tell you about her and her misfortune.
Anna went blind when she was thirty-eight. Before that, she was a socialite. Even when she was blind she'd go to various parties--or hangouts, as Masha called them--but she never took me. Instead, Konstantin would accompany her. I never got upset about it, though. After all, someone had to watch over Masha. What would I do at those receptions and parties? I'd have plenty of chances to party. In fact, I'll remember partying with Paulina till the day I die.
Early in my time with the writer, I remember that someone suggested that Anna should take me along. However, Anna didn't agree. She said, "Oh, no. I couldn't do that. He'd scare the guests away."
It hurt a little, I must admit. Listen, I'm not a scarecrow. I'm used to people. Would they be afraid I'd grab them by legs or dive headfirst onto their dinner plates? I'm a calm, well-bred dog. If my fosterling chooses to socialize with someone, I'll fall by her feet and take a nap. From time to time, I'll open an eye to assess the situation and then continue my nap. My ears are always on guard.            
Eventually, I realized what Anna meant. Here's the problem. Many people have never seen a guide dog but have only heard the term in passing. When we bump head to head, they wonder about me. Important people have gathered, ladies, gentlemen, expensive dresses and crocodile-leather shoes, and into it all barges a blind person with a dog. I'll confess: It's like that in my country. Once, I watched a show on TV. In a European city, there was a congress with people from all over. Amazingly, among the delegates there were blind people with guide dogs. Nobody was outraged, though. They didn't rubberneck some of the guests just because they had dogs.            
Tell me honestly: Can you picture a blind person with a guide dog in the Russian Parliament? I can't. If they were to let you come, you'd probably have to cut through red tape for half a year just to get a permit. In my country, a guide dog is still a curiosity. There are few of us here. If all the people could see, you wouldn't need us. The problem is that there are lots of blind people but very few guide dogs. Here's another thing I don't quite understand. Is there at least one person from among the blind who could vote in Parliament together with other representatives? Once I head over the radio that the spiritual and moral health of the nation is measured by its attitude toward children and the handicapped. It's too early for kids to be in Parliament, but handicapped? A-arf! By the way, the writer Jorge Luis Borges went blind but became a library director. That's very interesting. Are there many blind library directors in this country?

Anna turned forty-two during the time I was with her. If I didn't know her age, I wouldn't have believed it. Vika, Anna's friend, would frequently visit us. I even remember her last name. Maybe I'd never have found out otherwise, but Konstantin would always announce: "Vika Berezovskaya is paying a visit!" In fact, she wasn't only a friend but was Masha's godmother. She was a beautiful, charming lady. She smiled a lot, so I guess she was very happy. I like smiley people. It's a pity that dogs can't smile just the way people can.               
Do you remember when I tried to pronounce a couple of human words? Boy, that was a lost cause. After that, I secretly tried to experiment with smiling. I figured, "If I can't talk, let me try to smile." I even experimented before a mirror: I tried it this way and that, but nothing came out. I looked at my reflection and commanded, "Smile!" I tried everything, too. I let my tongue out, opened my chops like some insane crocodile, wrinkled my nose, widened my eyes and even flapped my ears. I nearly dislocated my jaw just trying to create a smile. I wanted my face to radiate sunshine, but no. Whatever I did, I look freakishly aggressive, like a monster. Once I even worried: What people would think if they saw me? Seeing my awful version of a smile, they'd drag me to the vet. I'd be injected with a bunch of drugs, and for the next two days I'd be confined to the sofa with a really stupid smile on my face. Well, I gave up. If one's destiny isn't to smile, what can one do but walk around with a sour face?         
Vika caressed my fosterling's hand and said, "Anna, tell me your secret: How do you manage to keep your beauty at forty-two?"
"Well, Vika, stop your compliments," Anna replied. "What kind of beauty can it be when you're pushing fifty?"
"Don't you say that," Vika said with a smile. "A woman thirty years old could envy you."
Anna was reluctant to pursue the topic. She sighed heavily and said, "Well, even so, who needs this beauty now? I can't see myself. I go out let and less. I'm just waiting for old age and death."
"What are you saying, Anna!?" Vika exclaimed. "Thinking about death at forty-two!? Come on, dear!"
"Eventually, we'll all depart," my fosterling said.
"Yes, that's true," Vika agreed. "Why rush into the coffin, though?"
"I don't know, Vika, " Anna relied. "God only knows. I never thought I'd be handicapped at my age, with this blindness. That's how it turned out, though." 
"You shouldn't try to worry less, Anna. Consider your own happiness. After all, maybe everything will turn out all right. You have a great husband, and you have us. Don't think about death. You have little Masha to raise. Just hold on, my friend. Who could have thought this would happen."
"Okay," Anna interrupted. "We really picked up a gloomy subject. Listen, I'll make you some exotic tea. M father-in-law brought it from far away . . . ."
Sudden blindness is always preceded by a terrible misfortune. Anna and Paulina had misfortunes. For example, on that ill-fated day Anna went to a birthday party with her husband and daughter. Their friend lived on the fourth floor. It was a great party, with just a few friends as guests. As the host said, the neighbors were troubled people with constant problems. They'd forget to shut off the water, so the place would flood. They had frequent quarrels, too. Nobody could straighten them out. The police would come, and then they'd be quiet for a day or two. Soon, however, they'd start again.         
The Krivosheyevs' friends even thought of moving away. They didn't manage to, though. Propane exploded that evening at their neighbors' place. The couple had left with the propane stove still on. The blast was so strong that the apartment of Anna's and Konstantin's friends was ruined. One guest even died, and the rest were wounded. Masha survived by some miracle. She happened to be in a distant room, but it truly frightened her, and for the next two weeks she refused to talk. Konstantin spent several months in the hospital with fractures. Anna lost her sight forever.               
I don't know if the guilty neighbors live there now, but I guess they can never wash away such a sin. Anna first wanted to take her own life, but tender-hearted friends and relatives slowly helped her return to sanity. When a person suddenly goes blind, she thinks that life is over. She feels there is no reason to go on living. Then she gets used to her affliction--to her state of being--and starts thinking more about her loved ones. That's the way one discovers a mission in this life. Once, I overheard Anna in conversation with her friend: 
"I'm resigned to it, Vika," she said quietly. "There's nothing one can do. Apparently, God took my sight in payment for the lives of my Masha and Konstantin. Let me be blind, then, but let me keep my family. I've grown used to the blindness, anyway. I work, I write . . . ."
"You are so great," said Vika encouragingly. "We love you, Anna, and we won't let you feel any less than the wonderful woman you are."
"Thanks, Vika," she said. "That gives me strength. No problem is too bad when you're around. You know, Vika, I see in my dreams now. I really do. I walk in the forest, play volleyball and even drive a car. I've even dreamed that I was in a movie theater. I looked at the screen and thought, 'God, how can I see that? I'm completely blind. Some doctor from the screen replied, 'We've cured you, Anna.' I didn't believe it. I covered my eyes with my hands and cried, 'No-no! It's a dream!' Still, the doctor insisted that it wasn't a dream. I still didn't believe him. You know what amazed me most in this dream, Vika? Even though I had covered my face with my hands, I could see. I woke up then, and for a while I pondered the meaning of it."
"My, what a strange dream," Vika said.
"You know, Vika," Anna continued, "I sometimes think that sight isn't really that important to a person. The most important thing is to love life. You can see with your heart. I often remember great people, like Homer, Losev, Ostrovsky, Borges, blind mathematicians, philosophers, writers, musicians, sculptors. We fail to realize that many of them were blind, but we remember their works, their strength of spirit and their talent. Take Braille, whose reading system we still use today. He went blind as a child, but he made a great invention! The entire world uses it. You can't let your spirit sink. You have to live and create. I'm certain, now, that I have everything I need. I'll survive, my friend. It will be okay."
Anna was right about that. As Ivan used to say, blindness isn't the end of life, it's the beginning of a new, undiscovered life full of surprises. The old man was right: Don't ever give up.

          Chapter 4               

I remembered what happened when I was taken to the supermarket. Damn those places!  I guess I'm only lucky to have survived this long. Now, there was Paulina's supermarket. Certainly they didn't want to let Paulina have me with her inside. I remembered how I was taken from the parking lot of that other place, and how I was shoved into the trunk of a car. So, I mentally pleaded with Paulina not to leave me out in front of the store. There was no need to worry, though. She turned out to be a fighter. She cut through all the tape to get us in. The guard at the entrance might give a sour smile, but he had to let us in. It was the order from his boss.
First I thought, "Why would she argue with them? If they don't let us in, let it be that way. We have a small store nearby, and it sells all the same things." Paulina was stubborn, that's all. She wanted her superstore. It was surprising to see the ease with which she got her way.   
We entered the superstore and cruised down the aisles. She touched everything with her hands. We made a couple of turns, and then I heard Paulina whisper to me:
"Have a treat, buddy!" She shoved a piece of cheese into my face.
  It might be embarrassing to admit it, but I nearly choked with saliva. Boy, that cheese smelled great.  She went on:
  "What's up, sport? Are you too full of yourself to eat? Not hungry? Come on, don't be shy. Take it when they give it. Eat up, sport. It's my treat!"
What could I do? I nibbled on the cheese. Paulina had also prepared a little piece of cake. It was soft, fragrant and sweet. Well, I had a day of treats. She bought a bottle of milk and some bread--as her means of a cover-up--and we went home.               
"Liked it?" she asked as we went on our way. "That's pretty tasty, isn't it!?"
"Arf!" I replied. (For those of you who don't already know me, that means "yes.")
It took no time at all for Paulina to guess what I meant by "arf."
"Good boy," she said with a laugh. "The capitalists won't go broke from a piece of cheese and a couple bites of cake. It's no big deal. Don't you worry, Trisong. We won't starve."
I wondered why she would say something like that. Were we running out of dog food? Had she decided to feed me at the supermarket? I didn't like it. She might have wanted to make a thief out of me, a guide dog, but that'd be no use. I'm not a thief! Even if I was starving, I'd never take something to eat without permission. I can't be responsible. I have to obey people and execute their commands. Maybe I'm looking for an excuse, but I felt uncomfortable about it all. I was ashamed.               
We raided the supermarket a couple of times, and we got away with it. On one of those occasions I thought, "This must be my revenge upon the supermarket owners for not letting me in with Sasha that time. Man, they caused me some trouble!" I got lucky, though. Everything ended well, but it could have been much worse. If the bandits who stole me out of the parking lot and hid me in the woods had sold me to some other rascal, I could've spent the rest of my life chained to a doghouse. That's scary!               
"Get up, you lazy bum," Paulina said one morning. "It's time for some bounty."
Lazy bum, eh? Well, what did she expect me to do? Was I supposed to jump around the apartment? I never knew what to think with Paulina. Then, she covered my back with a Turkish towel. What did she have in mind? It couldn't be good. It definitely wasn't good. She put the harness over the towel and commanded, "To the supermarket! Move it!"
"Can you move yourself?" I thought. "I could go so fast that you'd be pulled right off your feet, and you'd be dragged all the way down to the sidewalk. But no, I don't do that kind of thing. I care about you, Paulina, so I take care of you." I found it particularly offensive that nearly every command was accompanied by a kick in the rump. Why did she insist on treating me that way!?  Would I disobey if I wasn't kicked? The kicks didn't necessarily hurt, but they were humiliating. How would you treat a person who said, "Let's go," and then kicked you in the butt? I had to put up with all that. Dear humans, please don't kick your pets. We have feelings, just as you do.
The thing that happened next is simply beyond comprehension, even to a dog.  As we arrived at the store, Paulina made a loud declaration before the security guard.
"I'm a blind fool!" Paulina said. "I'm old and blind, and I injured my dog. I was pouring boiling water into a cup, but I dropped the kettle onto his back. I pity the poor thing. He's my one and only dog." She petted me and then said, nearly sobbing: "Forgive me, honey. I didn't mean to do it."
The shame was almost enough to make me run away. How did she come up with such a lame-brained story? Why would she bother? Was it to get pity and compassion? Heck no, it wasn't. This frisky old lady's fantasy went much farther than that.  As always, we did a couple or rounds, ate cheese and cakes and came to the stand with sausage. If I didn't know that Paulina was blind, I would never have believed it. With the greatest of ease and agility, she hid a couple of sausage packs under the towel. A seeing person would have found such a thing nearly impossible to attempt. Then, as always, we picked up a bottle of milk and some bread before we went to the checkout counter.            
I stand, but my paws nearly failed. She paid, and we turned to leave the store. 
"Hold on, Ma'am!" the security guard said as he gestured toward us.
"What do you want?" Paulina asked, feigning impatience. She didn't stop, though. She simply kept walking.
"Stop for a moment, please," the man said as he slipped his hand under Paulina's arm. "We have to check your dog."
"Get your hands off me, you moron!" Paulina cried. "I'm going to call the police!"
"Don't you worry, madam," the guard smirked as he turned to block our way: "We've already done that for you."
I thought, "Oh, boy. Here we go." Then, I heard my fosterling give a command.
"Trisong! Attack! Get this moron out of the way."
"Excuse me, Paulina, this isn't the right kind of command for me. I can't execute it. Just believe me, I can't and I won't. First, I haven't been trained to do that, and secondly I'm not a watchdog. The woman kept it up:
"Listen up! Attack him! Protect me!"
Well, I gave a warning bark, basically in order not to appear helpless. The guard smiled and said to me, "What a class act you are, dog! You've stolen from the supermarket, and now you're barking at me. You'd better be quiet, or I'll slam your mouth shut with my foot."
Tell me, dear friends. Is that kind of talk phony-baloney, or is that phony-baloney? Who stole from the store? Was it I!? I thought, "Right. Go ahead, mister security guard. Tell me that I covered myself with a blanket and showed up here, just so I could do some shoplifting." My goodness, people. You are sometimes so unjust toward us dogs. It was all so offensive that I even whimpered a little.
The police arrived, and there were two male officers. I assumed there was one for each of us: Paulina and me. The older of the two men--the one with a moustache--bent on his knee, placed a hand under the towel and pulled out three packs of sausage cuts.               
Attention! You are about to encounter serious horse manure, but of the human variety. Only people can come up with this kind of stuff. The policeman stood up, laughed loudly and said:
"You, little brother, aren't a guide but a regular thief! Let's take you down to the station. We'll file a report, throw your mistress in jail for a while and put you to sleep."            
I nearly crumbled from the shame of it. I wasn't a bit scared, though. After all, it's better to be put to sleep than to live with a reputation like that. The man's accusation really hurt me. What kind of thief could I be!? Was I expected to preach to the old woman about morality!? 
"What are you saying?" Paulina intervened. "What's all this about throwing me in jail? What do you want?"
"Calm down, ma'am," the second policeman said. "You're suspected of shoplifting. Let's go."
"What shoplifting?" Paulina cried. "What are you talking about?"
"Calm down, granny," the younger officer said. "We'll sort it out. For now, who put sausage under the towel?"
"How would I know?" Paulina said. She was pretty slick, answering a question with a question. "What sausage? That's news to me! Who knows, maybe someone played a prank on me."
"Okay, then. We'll take fingerprints from the packaging and tell you who the prankster is."          
Paulina, realizing that the case was serious, drew in her claws. We were escorted to the cruiser, which then left for the police station.               
First, they locked me in some closet full of buckets, mops and rags. It was dark and damp. I thought, "They'd better put me behind bars. At least I could communicate with someone from there." I heard Paulina complain:
"I simply forgot to tell about the sausage at the register! Don't you get that!?"
"That old woman is lying," the supermarket security guard said. "She had everything ready in advance. She lied through her teeth as she walked in, saying she had scalded her dog with boiling water. It was a planned theft. Let's check the dog. I'm sure he's healthy as a horse."               
"You're a stallion yourself," I thought. "All right, you caught the granny and scared her to death. That's enough. Talk some sense into her, and then let us go in peace."
The officer on duty turned out to be smarter than the security. He looked familiar to me, too.
"All right," he said, "you can go back to work. We'll summon you if needed."
The security guard left the station. The police officer--who, as it turned out, was someone she knew--slid his chair closer to Paulina and said:
"What are you doing, Paulina? Got a taste for sausage? Why are you stealing from them? After all, you know where I live. You could stop by anytime, and I'd help you. Don't do anything that'll put you in the company of these characters. They'll unscrew your head for a piece of sausage, whether you're blind or not. Why would you want to get into such a mess!?"
"I didn't want to steal anything," Paulina said, waving her hands. "It just happened. I forgot to pay at the register. What will happen now?"
The officer gave Paulina a gentle pat on the arm. "What will happen? Well, I think we're done here, at least for today. Don't forget to pay next time, though. Now, take Trisong and go home." He reached into his pocket and said, "Here, take this." He placed some money in her hand. "Go to our convenience store and buy some sausage, if you want. Devil take the stuff."
A-ha! He was our neighbor . . . from the third block, I think. That's why he looked so familiar!               
"Thank you, Senya," Paulina said as she brushed away a tear. "God bless you! All right, I won't do it anymore." She touched the officer's face and added, "Senya, you're so grown up now."
"What can we do, Paulina? We're all getting older.  My son has just joined the army."
"Really?" she said in surprise. "It seems you just brought him home from the birthing center. How time flies . . . ."
Suddenly, the policeman interrupted: "Paulina, I have a request to make. I want you to . . . uh . . curb your drinking." 
"What can I do?" Paulina said with a sigh. "Sometimes I feel as if I don't want to live anymore, but after a glass or two my mood lightens."
"That's garbage," the policeman said with a tone of reprimand. "If you want, I'll buy you a player, and you can listen to audio books. They're really cool. I listen to them whenever I'm in the car. You'll like it, Paulina, I know. Want to?
"Why not?" she said with a chuckle. "Buy it if you can. Before I had radio, but now it doesn't work, and there's nothing interesting on TV."
"That's okay," Senya said, caressing her hand. "It's nothing. I won't go broke on a little gift like that."
  The phone rang, and immediately the officer picked it up. He gave the instruction:
"Let the dog out, and escort them out!" Then, he turned to Paulina. "I'll pay you a visit tomorrow afternoon, so please be home." 
A half hour later, we were back at home. Paulina was about to have tea and cake. I kept my distance, just to be sure. I had heard enough about kettles and boiling water. 

       Chapter 5               

I will tell you something, just for the sake of justice. I had a catastrophe while I was with the writer and her family. It's true, and you're right. That's the way these things occur. You lay back, chill out, never knowing what will happen five or ten minutes down the road. They say it's always calm before the storm.
The problem was something I couldn't have imagined . . . at least in my life as a dog. Now, if I retire from guide work, I'll work as a rescuer. Well, maybe not a rescuer but an instructor: I'll consult and train younger dogs. You won't believe what happened that day. It's enough to make a dog howl . . . or a cat laugh.
I lie there on the rug, just thinking. Suddenly I heard Pussycat's voice, and she was crying. Yes, it was crying. I know what a meow sounds like, and this wasn't it. People of course may not hear the difference, but I can. For example, think of a dog howling: It could be a cry. You have to listen not just with your ears but with all of yourself. So, I listened. Something incredible was going on.
"Help," yelled Pussycat. "People, please . . . help me! Get me down! Meowww! Meowww! 
"Oh, my God!" I thought. I sprang to my paws and ran to the window. I looked out, and there it was. That cotton-headed cat had climbed to the top of a tree, right out onto the skinniest branch. It was little more than a twig, and Pussycat was swinging from it by her claws. I felt faint. A fall from that height could break her into pieces. They say that cats can plane, but Pussycat was no glider. A ham with a tail would be more like it. "Ouch!" I thought, with a shudder and a cringe. "That crazy cat has to be rescued!"               
"How did you get up there? What did you forget about climbing trees?" I thought. If I could have yelled, those would've been the exact words. Well, the women didn't bat an eye. They're supposed to be constantly alert to danger, but they simply didn't notice. What should I do?  I threw my paws onto the windowsill and barked as loudly as I could. Anna's guest nearly fell out of her chair.               
"Trisong!" Anna exclaimed. "What's going on? Want to go outside?"
  "A-arf!" I replied in a lower voice. I wanted her to know I had a good reason to be at the window, barking.
"Calm down, dear," Anna said tenderly. "Once I finish talking with Vika, you and I will go out. Please be patient."               
"Forget the walk, Anna. Listen to your Pussycat crying up in the tree. Get up! Arf-arf-arf! We need to get outside, right now!"
The women failed to react, so I let out a baleful, moaning howl.
"My goodness," my fosterling gasped.
"He must see something out front," Vika said alarmingly and came to the window.
"Open it, please. Open it!" I mentally pleaded with our guest. "Then, you'll understand why I'm barking!"
I imagine what you might think, but let me assure you of this: I have nothing against cats. Please don't call me a cat hater. They can be so lame sometimes, though! Pussycat was up there dangling from a branch, but now she was strangely silent. Do cats have brains? Vika opened the window, so I pounded on the sill with my paws. The mountaineer, however, was as vocal as a bar of soap.               
"What is going on here!?" I thought. "Pussycat, you have to let out a meow now, while the window is open. How could you choose this critical moment to be so quiet? What a stupid animal!"
Pussycat didn't hear my plea, of course. Maybe she was too choked with fear. Vika looked out the window for just a moment, but then she shut it tight. That's when the acrobat decided to meow again. People are right about Murphy's Law, which certainly exists. I couldn't do anything but start whimpering and rush back and forth between the door and the window. Finally, the women realized there must be a reason.               
"Let's go outside," Anna said. "Vika, call Kostya."
We went outside, so immediately I darted to the tree and gave several loud barks.
"Holy mackerel!" cried Konstantin as he lifted his head and saw Pussycat dangling by her paws. "That's some trick you pulled!"
"What is it?" Anna asked with fear. "What's happening?" 
"Calm down, Anna," Vika said in trembling voice, "the cat climbed to the very top of the tree and can't get down."
"Our Pussycat?"
  "Who else?" Konstantin answered. "Why in heavens would she attempt such a stunt? Is she just trying to be brave?"
"That's what it is," exhaled Anna. "Is it dangerous? Can we get her?"
"We'll try," the man responded and ordered: "Ladies, you stay here and I'll get a ladder. Trisong, quiet. She may fall if you upset her more."
"Why would I bark?" I snorted. "You see it all for yourselves. There's no need to bark."
Konstantin returned with the ladder, propped it against the tree and tried to climb, but he couldn't. The tree trunk wasn't wide enough for him to balance against it.
"Ehh," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "What shall we do about this? Let me see . . . . All right . . . ."
He ran back to the house. A minute later, he brought a bed sheet and asked the women to make a makeshift trampoline.
"Stay here," he said. "I'll try to shake her down."
"Oh, dear," Anna cried. "I'm afraid."
"Don't you worry, sweetie," Konstantin replied, holding up a hand as if Anna could see his gesture. "Stand still, right here. Don't move an inch. You and Vika will hold the sheet tight."
Konstantin started to shake the tree, and Vika grabbed the edge of the bed sheet and closed her eyes. Pussycat, feeling the tree-quake, sank her claws into that slender branch and yelled as if her tail was about to be ripped out.            
"My God," said Anna with a gasp. "What's there, Vika?"
The woman opened her eyes, looked up at the daring cat and whispered:
"It's nothing. She's just afraid."
The next ten minutes yielded no result. Konstantin sweated but didn't throw Pussycat down, she was a tough "fruit." I stood nearby and silently observed everything.               
"I wonder why she'd bother to climb up a tree if she can't even climb back down." I thought. "To catch a bird, probably. I've seen her pretend to be a hunter. She would prowl sparrows on the lawn with her ears down, meaning, 'Look at me. I'm not a housecat, I'm a fierce-and-cunning lynx. It's a blast!' The birds always had the laugh on her, though. So, now she had decided to get them in the tree. What a fool! Apparently, she got carried away. The sparrows flew away, leaving the little lynx entirely out of her element. Now she's up there crying at the top of her lungs."
Another helper showed up. It was Masha, who burst into tears when saw the cat.               
"What the heck is this?" father frowned. "Why are you crying?"
"Daddy, who made Pussycat get so far up in that tree?" Masha asked, wiping away the tears with her closed hand.
"The wind blew her up there," her father said with a chuckle.
"What, like a tornado?" The girl opened her teary eyes.
"Yes, a typhoon," he nodded. "That's all it took." 
"Daddy, I'm serious!" Masha stomped her foot. "Stop kidding me!"
"Masha," said Konstantin as approached his daughter and took her hand, "please leave the observation deck. Go into the house, and we'll take care of Pussycat."
"Why should I go inside if everyone is out here?" Masha replied indignantly.
"Okay," father agreed. "Don't cry, then. Is that a deal?"
"I'm not crying, Daddy! The tears just come, all by themselves."
"All right, stand still. I've come up with an idea . . . ."
"I am being quiet," Masha said. Then she whispered, "Will you save Pussycat?"
"We will!" said Konstantin with assurance. "Now, Masha, I must ask you not to say another word."
"I'm a fish!" Masha exclaimed, mimicking her mother. I had heard such an exclamation from Anna before, and she always had the last word.
Silence followed. I had a bad feeling about it all.
Suddenly, Konstantin turned to me and said, "So, Trisong. It looks like you'll have to climb the tree."
"That's something new! I'm sorry, comrades, I'm a guide dog. Never worked in circus, climbed ladders, wasn't trained as rescuer. What do you want from me?"
"Will you manage?" The master asked.
"I don't know how to answer that. What if I fall from there? What will you do then? No, I'm not refusing, but I'm just thinking about it for a minute. I'd give my life for my fosterling. I'd defend her till my last breath. Please, though. I don't want to die because of some stupid cat. Have mercy." 
"Come on, boy," Konstantin said encouragingly as he led me to the ladder. "Go up there carefully and get the little idiot down."
What could I do? I was so used to executing commands. I simply couldn't argue. Besides, I didn't want to be called a coward. That's some shame! Then they'd say, "Here's the brave Labrador, afraid to climb a ladder . . . ." Oh, if it has to be done . . . I might as well go. Farewell, though, just in case! Scary, but I won't let my breed down!  I sighed heavily and climbed that damned ladder. I won't quibble. I was scared to death. I climb, the tree quivered, and Pussycat let out a yowl. Just between you and me, my paws were trembling more than the tree was. My heart sank, my tongue stuck out past my front teeth, and my throat was bone-dry.   
"That's it," I thought. "This is the end for me. These people have sent me right to Death's door."
I went a few steps up and, against my better judgment, took a quick glance downward. Oh, why did I do that? My breath stopped. I had never been up so high, even at school. Who would've thought a guide dog would need to climb a ladder!? 
"Well," I think, "Pussycat, if everything works out, I'll beat you when masters step away. I'll show you circus, glider: you'll fly around the house like crazy!"
I didn't notice how I made it halfway. Two more steps . . . maybe three . . . and I could grab this fool by the scruff of the neck. The most important thing was to keep myself from falling. A sheet had been opened beneath us, but it was so far down. It would be nearly impossible to hit the target. 
"Come on, Trisong," the master said, urging me forward. "Come on, just a notch."
"Ye-e-es," I barked mentally. As for the sound that came out, it was a plaintive whimper.
I was nearly even with Pussycat's muzzle when I whispered:
"Hey, you cat. Do you even have a brain? Why did you crawl all the way up here?"
"Me-e-eow," Pussycat squeaked. She was shaking.      
I reached out to grab her back, but suddenly the ungrateful creature hissed:
"Sh-sh-sh! Don't touch me!"
"Well, how the heck can I get you down without touching you!?" I asked. "Are you crazy, or are you just stupid!?" 
"Sh-sh-sh!" Pussycat repeated.
Konstantin stood far below, near the trunk of the tree. He yelled up at me:
"Grab her, Trisong! Grab that cat!"
"Don't you touch me," Pussycat threatened. "I'll shred your muzzle if you do."
"What can I do with this one," I said. The frustration was enough to make me cry. "Who sent you for my dog head . . . ?"
I felt the urge to get angry.               
"Oh, yeah? Then, listen to this: If you don't let go of this branch, I'll break it and we'll both hit the ground. In that case, whatever happens . . . just happens. You can test those cat skills then, assuming you really have them."
"Trisong . . . meow-meow," Pussycat implored. "I'm afraid! I'm really afraid!"
"Do you think I'm not afraid?" I replied. "We have to do something, unless you want to live here. Let go of the branch, jump onto me and hold tight."
"I can't! Meo-oo-eew! I'm just too scared!"
A second later, the ladder jerked and flipped around the tree. I don't remember what happened after that. I didn't think anymore. I just grabbed the branch with my teeth where Pussycat was sitting. The branch made a sharp cracking sound, and then I felt like a cosmonaut in zero gravity. We were falling. Suddenly, a terrible pain tore through my body. First, I thought that my paw had been torn off. It was so painful that everything went dark. I regained consciousness only at home. It turned out my paw had managed to get caught in the fork of a branch, right before I landed in the trampoline.
The veterinarian secured my paw between two pieces of wood and wrapped it tightly with a bandage. Then, he gave me a monster painful injection and ordered me not to move. Was that his concept of humor? How could I move? I fell asleep immediately.               
I woke up from something warm. I eased open my eyes, but I couldn't believe it. That whiz bag was sitting there next to me, and she was washing my face with her tongue! She purred and purred, as if it was her very own national holiday. I didn't make a sound, though. I just closed my eyes and kept napping. I must have been in a daze, because I heard Pussycat speak to me:
"Purrrrr . . . . I'm sorrrrry, my frrrriend! Thank you, Trrrrisong."
"You crazy hairball," I growled, and fell asleep.

       Chapter 6               

  My running days were over, thanks to my adventure at the top of the tree. Now, what's that term people use? Do you know the one? Oh, yeah, that's it: badger-legged. I had turned into a badger-legged dog. At least I had the assurance that it wouldn't be for long. My family said so. During my recuperation, I seldom walked outside. Instead, I waddled or crawled. If only you could know how uncomfortable it is to walk with a wooden leg! I even made fun of the limp I had. After all, there are fishermen's dogs and there are bird catchers, but what would you call me? I was a cat catcher, or more specifically, I was the Pussycat catcher. That's the term I invented. Unfortunately, it's another of the many I can't pronounce.               
The Krivosheyevs had a pleasant activity for me. TV was to be my friend for a whole week. So, one night I watched a show on Labradors. As you'll recall, I described the wonders of my breed in the first book. (I think I could talk about Labradors endlessly.) Now, though, I'll add something interesting to it. What I heard that day was mind-boggling. Don't fall down from laughter or fright when you hear this. First of all, can you imagine what the narrator managed to say? I couldn't believe my ears. According to a particular legend, Labradors descended from the crossing of a retriever and an otter. I laughed so hard inside (outside it sounded like whimpering) that I nearly broke another leg. Have you seen an otter before? I don't really want to be related to one! The scientists have an explanation for this. They say that long time ago there were dogs, called otterhounds and waterhounds. Based on their appearance, coloring and behavior, they resembled otters.               
I won't argue with the fact that Labradors are closely linked to water. In the past, our breed was a favorite of Newfoundland and Portuguese fishermen. Remember I told you that people would take two Labradors on any voyage. You wouldn't say it was to guard the schooner, nor was it to protect the fishermen at sea. (Would we be expected to protect them from sharks!?) We were already known as rescuers by then. So, in the event of a shipwreck the Labrador would bring a special line ashore, and the people would use it to reach safety. Now can you understand why I so courageously climbed the darned ladder? It's because, from birth, I've been not only a seafarer but also a rescuer. Bear it in mind as I tell my story.
The interesting thing is that we didn't only rescue people but also helped them fish. Don't laugh. We weren't anglers, but we helped drag the nets. We worked together with the native North Americans. It wasn't a game to us. The Atlantic waters in the winter are terribly cold, but a Labrador's coat is thick and tough. My ancestors were fearless, too. They were irreplaceable, because they'd boldly jump into icy water. After fishing, we would help carry the bounty home. That's impressive, isn't it?
The history of the Labrador is chock-full of stories about water. In some researchers' opinion, this is how Labradors appeared in Europe. Once the crew of the ship "Canton," sailing from Baltimore, rescued the crew of a sinking British brig coming from Newfoundland. Puppies were also rescued, and the captain of the Canton kept them in Baltimore.
It was the first time that Europeans encountered my ancestors in the port of St. John's. It hurts to say it, but we weren't immediately recognized as a separate breed. (Even though the famous Italian artist Titian had painted such dogs, people weren't convinced.) It wasn't till 1812 that Colonel Peter Hawker decided that the breed was distinct from others. He proposed that we be called the St. John's Hound or the Labrador. The long three-word name didn't stick, but "Labrador" did. I've already told you about the three versions of the name, so I won't repeat it. However, I'll remind you that my favorite version is that the name derived from the Portuguese laborer.    
Let's return to the present, okay? Well, in recent years my breed has been one of the world's best-loved breeds. You think it's by chance? Certainly it isn't. After all, a Labrador can do nearly anything. Take hunting, for example. Labrador is a tireless hunter's helper. He's the best retriever and just a great overall hunting dog. He'll find game on land or in water. Ask any avid hunter: Is that enough? Besides, we have a faultless sense of smell and amazing endurance. A Labrador can even track a cold trail of blood. A veteran hunter put it this way: "What's important is that the Labrador doesn't range, loosing communication with his master, but executes his work zealously, obeying his master's commands. Due to the Labrador's naturally soft grip, your game won't look like ground meat in the original packaging. You'll never know what squeezing is about. The Labrador hunts not because of inner aggression but to please his master . . . ." So, now you can see what I mean!               
I've told you a lot about guide dogs, but now I'll add a bit more. I shouldn't forget this: Nearly eighty percent of guide dogs in the world are Labradors. Why is that so? The response is logical and rational: Man trusts his life to the best, most reliable dog. Shall I give you an eloquent example? During the tragic events of September 11, amid the widespread panic and chaos, two guide dogs brought their blind masters out of skyscrapers and saved them. Both dogs were Labradors.               
You already know something about my ability to perform as a rescuer.  The most important ingredient here is a calm, balanced mentality. I also have a great devotion to family. If you have kids, they'll have my constant protection. So, a Labrador is more than simply a pet. A Labrador is a friend; he's a companion. Please don't think I'm boasting, but a Labrador always tries to meet the needs of each family member. We find a common language with everyone in the home. Whether it's older person (even one who's occasionally grumpy), an arrogant cat or a talkative parrot, the Labrador.             
Excuse me for going on about my breed, but it's important that you understand as you read my story. For example, Labradors are ideal city dogs. We have short, thick fur with a heavy undercoat that's practically water-resistant. We have almost no odor, so we're safe for people who have allergies. In fact, we're sometimes referred to as having a coat of Teflon. Do you know why people say that? No matter how muddy I might get in the spring thaw or the dampness of fall, once I dry I'm basically clean again. The dirt barely has a chance to stick! Besides, Labradors get along well with other animals. We love children, too. We love to play with them, but we'll also guard them in public places. We don't bark without reason, since we understand how important that is for apartment dwellers. Why create unnecessary problems for our masters?       
The most important thing is that we aren't afraid of the cold. For instance, I can walk when it's thirty below, and I'd even dive into a hole in the ice if it was necessary. Do you know what people love us for? We live a long time, and we hardly ever get sick. Good health is important, if you want to be a reliable friend and companion! How long can a Labrador live? The record is twenty-seven years.
My breed is also tops when it comes to memorizing commands. We turn dry, short commands into a sort of communication. For example, as a puppy I started to understand that the commands "Come," "Come to me" and "Come up" all meant the same thing. That made me easy to train. The most important thing is for the master to be clear about what he wants but never to "break" or force the Labrador. Be calm, tactful and polite, and your dog will pay you back with obedience and discipline.    
Don't be concerned about our heavy build, though. It doesn't impact our endurance and strength at all. We also know how to tune into our companion's mood, so we're never obtrusive.  If you spread on the sofa and read a magazine, your Labrador will quietly settle down somewhere nearby. The soft sound of his breathing will be the only reminder of his presence. Admittedly, we tend to wheeze a bit. Generally, it isn't bothersome. Some people even like it!
You can't call us sleepyheads, either. As soon as you decide to play "Barley-Break" in your two-bedroom apartment, the joy won't go without the Labrador's participation.
Tired yet? I'll share just a couple of other interesting points.  I'll tell you about the movers and shakers; about famous people who have shown a fondness for Labradors.  For example, we have the Princess of Monaco; the King of Sweden; Estonian President  Arnold R;;tel; the film director Federico Fellini; the singers Demis Roussos and Dieter Bohlen; the designer Giorgio Armani; the movie actors Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Costner; Vanessa Paradise and the broadcasting mogul Ted Turner. Jacques Yves Cousteau, the former U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Fran;ois Mitterrand have all loved Labradors. For many years, my brethren also lived with the British Royal Family.
Labradors are well loved in Russia, too. We're companions to Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedyev and Sergey Shoygu. The story goes that their subordinates started to take Labradors as pets. I don't know whether it's due to a great love for the breed or . . . whatever. So, I don't know whether Putin started it. When someone made a joke to a famous politician, he replied in a pretty unusual way: "I loved judo even before!" (Putin is famous for his judo skills.) Honestly, I don't understand what judo has to do with any of this, but I think it must be a sign of respect for Labradors.
Well, the Labrador is a special breed. Our robust health, athletic constitution, unpretentious appetite and easy trainability make us the go-to dog for experienced breeders. Even a beginner can learn to handle a Labrador like a professional.  So, newbies, take note! We won't let you down!   

      Chapter 7               

It is pleasant, of course, to consider the nobility and excellent qualities of Labradors, but let's get down to earth. Some people couldn't care less about those qualities and titles. Even if you're of royal blood, they don't care. They can simply sell you, well, for . . . . You'll know, once you hear what happened. 

Paulina and I wandered into a basement space beneath our building. Certainly I didn't take her there. I only guided the way into that blasted dungeon based on her order. I guessed it immediately: Her buddies had planned some sort of group event. When we reached the basement, I saw a dull light bulb hanging from the ceiling, some boxes put upside down in the middle and chasers lying on top of them: There was a selection of herring, pickles, tomatoes and other stuff. However, there was just one glass for everyone to share. They started celebrating without waiting too long. I looked at Paulina and thought, "My dear granny, please don't get too enthusiastic. How will I drag you out of this bunker if that happens?" For Paulina, though, it was like water off a duck's back. She emptied one glass, then a second and a third. They started singing. It was a real cats' concert. I thought they must be singing three different songs at the same time. It was such a racket that I got a headache. What could I do? I curled up at granny's feet, hoping I could nap through it.   
The most interesting started. One of these drunks--a bearded one--spoke to Paulina.
"Paulina, tell me, why the heck you keep dragging this hound around with you. You're . . . ."
"Why the heck?" another man interrupted. "He's a guide dog."
"I wasn't asking you!" the bearded man snapped. "Don't interrupt me! Now, Paulina, you used to walk with a cane and it was okay. What the heck is this dog for?"
Paulina coughed into her fist, whispered something unintelligible and answered.
"What difference is it to you? Does he bother you? Or, has he gobbled your chasers? What do you want from me or him?"
"He doesn't bother me," the bearded man said, drawing in his claws. "I'm just curious. Why do you need him? There are extra problems. You have to feed him, care for him and all that."
"Don't worry," Paulina said, waving her hand. "It's okay. I manage."
"That's a lie, Paulina," I thought. "You don't manage well, and what does this man want? Why would he start this weird conversation? I don't like this at all . . . ."               
  I was right. After another round of alcohol, the bearded guy said loudly:
"Paulina, sell me your dog!" 
"Gregory, have you gone nuts?" Paulina snorted. I thought, "Great, granny!" It seemed she was about to nip the discussion in the bud. How wrong I was.
"He's not my dog!" Paulina said.
"How come?" said Gregory, nearly choking from amazement. "Whose dog is he, then? Aren't you with him all the time?"
I really couldn't take much more of this rascal. How did he come up with the phrase "hang out"!? He might have thought he could make a party animal of me, but he was wrong. I thought, "I'd love to put my harness over you and see how you'd 'hang out.'"
"He just serves me . . . hiccup . . . this . . . hiccup . . . sort of walks me, avoids puddles and posts," the drunken granny explained. "Got it?"
"No. I don't get it," answered Gregory with a shake of his head. "I understand that he serves you . . . ."
Picture how much it would hurt to hear such reasoning about you:  I 'serve.' It was as if I was a waiter or something.
" I'll ask you this," the man continued. "Whose is he? Who's his master? Is it you?"
"That's me," Paulina said with a nod. "Who else could it be?"
'Why are you messing with me?" Gregory flared up. "It' mine or it isn't mine. Have you gone nuts?' Paulina, whose dog is it!? Tell me!"
'Don't yell at me," Paulina shouted. "Stop yelling, or I'll set the dog on you. He'll fix your head in no time. Do you know how brutal this dog is? Don't think he's just napping, because he could kick your butt in no time."
"What the heck are you saying, Paulina!? What are you saying about your guide dog!?"
"It's a tall one," Gregory said, obviously incredulous. "I know Labradors, and they're peaceful."
"He's peaceful up to a point," granny objected. "Recently, Trisong chewed up our caretaker so badly that we had to call for an ambulance."
"Holy mackerel! That can't be true! You're lying!"             
"Why would he attack him?" asked the other man, speaking aloud for the first time.
"He was rude!" Paulina said, as if it were a matter of fact.
"So, is that such a big deal?"
"You bet it is!" Paulina chuckled. "I warned him. He didn't get it and continued to insult me, so I said, 'Trisong! Attack!' That's it. The poor bastard's in the hospital, now. If you don't believe me, just ask Nicolai. He's the caretaker's neighbor. 
Nicolai, dozing next to the boxes, lifted his head and asked in a frightened voice, "What? What happened?"
Everybody laughed. Gregory said, "Nicolai, is it true that the caretaker was taken to hospital?"
"Right," Nicolai nodded, rubbing his eyes. "So what? Did you want to invite him over? He doesn't drink! He has . . . this . . . ."
"No one is inviting him," Gregory interrupted, "was he heavily bitten?"
"Oh, yeah!" Nicolai replied.
I couldn't make anything out of all this. Had they conspired with Paulina? What were they saying? The folks would think I was some man-eater. What was going on!?
"What a dog!" Gregory whistled. "He turns out to be dangerous, after all."
"Heck, no," Nicolai exclaimed, "He isn't. Simply Ignatich, following his caretaker's habit, hit him." 
"Then the dog bit his muzzle?" Gregory opened his mouth.
"Yeah, and he drew blood!" Nicolai confirmed.
"Who were they talking about? I couldn't understand anything. What muzzle? What blood? What were they blabbering about?" 
"He's got to be chained up," Gregory said, "but he walks the streets."
"He's kind, after all," said Nicolai with a smile. "He . . . ."
"What kind of kindness is that?" Gregory interrupted. "Animal!"
"All right, all right. It could happen to anyone," Nicolai said, dismissing the discussion with a wave of his hand. "Don't give him more than three shots."
"He drinks vodka?" Gregory said in amazement. 
"A bit," Nicolai nodded, "but just a bit. He knows his quirks, so he never drinks more than three shots. Except sometimes . . . ."
Gregory apprehensively looked at me and asked:
"Did he have a drink today?"      
Apparently, the two men had their subjects confused.
"Nah!" Nicolai said. "Today he's as sober as a judge."
"Some business you have," said Nicolai with a slow shake of his head. "I'd put a basket muzzle on him anyway, just in case."
"What's up with you, Gregory," Nicolai exclaimed. "Are you all right? They better put a basket muzzle over you!"
"Why would I need one? I don't attack people!"
"Wow, what a humdrum you are! I'm explaining that all this happened because the dog was drunk, got it? It could happen to anyone." 
"Why are you letting the dog drink?" Gregory said in obvious consternation.
"Hey, you," Nicolai said, wagging his finger. "Mind what you're saying. Don't insult him. He's my friend."
"Ah, so that means you're his master! You leased the dog to Paulina, right?"
I couldn't take the idiocy of it anymore. Neither could Nicolai, who said, "Gregory, I fail to understand you today. What kind of slavery talk are you going on about? What's all this about 'master, lease'? Come on!"
"I simply want to know who his master is. There's no slavery talk."
"And who's your master?" Nicolai frowned, tightening his fists as he rose.
A younger man intervened. "Aw, man! Come on, you guys! Put your fists away. We don't need a fight here!"
"Shut up!" Nicolai roared through his teeth.
"All right," Gregory said, waving his hands. "Calm down. Let's change the subject. To heck with the hound."
"Gregory, I warn you, " said Nicolai. "If you call him a hound one more time, you'll go visit Ignatich at the hospital. Got it?"
"Guys, what's going on with you today?" Gregory said plaintively. 'Maybe I should add 'Mr.' before his name then?"
"No need," Nicolai hiccupped, "But please call him by his name!"
"Paulina, what's his name?" Gregory asked.
"What? What?" Paulina said. She had slept through this most enlightened conversation.
"I asked you what his name is," Gregory repeated. 
"Trisong!" she replied.
Whose name?" Nicolai wondered.
"My dog's name," Paulina said.
"What does your dog have to do with it?" Nicolai wondered. 
"What do you mean?" said Gregory as he stood up. 'Whom were you talking about all this time?"
"About Vassily the Ghoul."
"About what ghoul?" Gregory exclaimed. "I was asking you about Paulina's Labrador."
Silence filled the cellar for a moment, and then the whole group burst into laughter. They laughed till the tears poured from their eyes and the chasers started to fall from the boxes. Well, during this snafu I nibbled on some herring. After all, how was I going to get some? It wouldn't have occurred to them that I might like a treat.               
The partiers calmed down once they realized they were out of booze. Someone proposed to leave. What the heck. There was no more money, and nobody wanted to sit in the basement and slowly get sober. Then Gregory restarted the talk about selling me.
"Guys," Gregory announced, "Here's the deal. Would you like to have a drink?"
"We won't say no," the company chorused. 
"Talk Paulina into it," Gregory said. "I buy her Trisong and buy you a drink."
I honestly thought that Paulina would get furious and say that friends aren't for sale or something. Well, I was disappointed.               
"How much would you pay for him?" Granny asked.
"It's your dog, so you name the price!" Gregory said.
"Thirty grand," the enterprising old woman said.
"Really?" Gregory exclaimed. "Thirty grand for this mutt? Are you out of your mind!?"
I thought, "I don't know how sane Paulina is--maybe she was just joking--but for the 'mutt' I'd bite you a couple of times. Gregory, you're a lout!"
"You're the one who's a mutt," Paulina replied. "He's a trained dog; a guide. They gave him for free, but he costs more than a car. Got it?"            
"For that much, I could buy three guide dogs at the livestock market," Gregory smirked.
"Go on, then," Paulina quipped. "Leave me alone." 
"How about twenty?" Gregory proposed. "Plus, I'll buy a quart of vodka!" There was silence in the room.               
"No way," Paulina said a moment later. "Twenty-five!"
"Is she really going to sell me to Gregory? Oh, this is bad! What about the school? What will you say to the people at the school when they ask, 'Where did Trisong go?' Paulina, please come back to your senses!"
"C'mon, go for it. Don't be greedy," the onlookers said. "He's a great dog."
Gregory stood his ground. "Twenty, but no more. That's all I have."
"Take out a loan," interjected Nicolai.
"Why would I need it?" Gregory said. "I have loans. I bought a TV for my wife, and there's a year more to pay."
"I'm not selling for twenty," said Paulina resolutely. 
"Paulina," Nicolai pleaded, "C'mon, go for it. He'll buy a quart."
"No!" she said.
"She's just kidding," I thought. "She's not going to sell me. Are we at a pet store or a livestock market?"
"Here's what we'll do," Gregory suddenly offered, "Twenty grand and two quarts of vodka! Deal?"
The company sighed unanimously. That's how it turned out!  Somebody quietly said:
"Did he say 'two quarts'? This is serious."
"Two and a half," Paulina said. "I'll take a bottle with me. My sister comes to see me tomorrow, so I'll have to treat her to some."
"Okay, I agree." Gregory said, offering his hand. "Deal?"
"Deal," Paulina nodded.
"Here we go! Some way to thank me. Paulina had just sold me, as if I was a prize at a carnival shooting gallery. It's a dog's life, I guess. What can I do about it?"

I won't get into detail, but believe me: It was scary!  I'll just tell you that I stayed with Paulina. The company eliminated the vodka that Gregory brought. Don't you think they declared war on alcoholism. There was no way they'd do that. When I say 'eliminated,' though, I mean they drank it. After that, everyone fell asleep in the cellar. Then, after their collective snooze, the traders had another argument and left. As it turned out, Paulina completely forgot her arrangement with Gregory. I guess she tricked Gregory, because on the way home she muttered, "Some businessman he is. Heck, he tried to trick an old woman. Those rascals. Those damned booze hounds."

        Chapter 8               

We got home late that day. Paulina as usual turned the TV on, poured some dry food into my bowl, poured me water and fell asleep spreading on the sofa. I had dinner and started napping when the anchorman announced, "And now, let's talk about stray dogs in Moscow."
You know that I listen with interest to everything related to dogs. It turns out there are about forty thousand stray dogs in Moscow. It's mindboggling to think of it! By human measures, Moscow is quite a decent place. Actually, the stray dogs have their own city within the city. What shall I call it? The big city is called "Mos-cow." Maybe the smaller one should be called "Mos-dog."         
Dear friends, if you're not interested in reading about stray dogs, please feel free to skip this chapter. I, for one, am intrigued by the subject. It was long ago that I realized one could encounter stray dogs throughout the city. They can be found resting on lawns, running around markets, napping in subway stations and underground crossings, and performing at night. That's when they do their barking, howling and growling.
If you continue with this chapter, it means you're interested in where these animals come from. A wolf expert, the biologist Andrei Poyarkov, was once a guest on a TV show, and he tried to answer that very question. The subject of his study is the impact of different environments on the behavior and social structure of dogs. You won't believe it, but Mr. Poyarkov has spent several decades in the study of stray dogs. He says the external appearance and behavior of stray dogs have evolved during that period of time, as they constantly adapt to changes. Practically all these dogs were born on the streets. The truth is, if a master leaves his dog on the street, one must consider it dead. According to Poyarkov's study, less than two percent of such dogs survive.
Friends, don't hope that your dog will find a new master or a regular dwelling place. No, if you throw your pet outside, remember that you are signing a death warrant. How can a person live with such a sin?
Dr. Poyarkov works at the Institute for Problems of Ecology and Evolution, which is named after biologist A. N. Severtsov. Poyarkov started observing the behavior of stray dogs in the 1970s. He started by observing the dogs he would see on his way to work. Gradually, his research territory expanded to nearly ten square kilometers, and it had a population of roughly a hundred dogs. Poyarkov started recording the sounds those dogs made. He studied their social organization, too. He photographed them, catalogued them and marked the place where each dog dwelled.
Imagine the patience needed to do that! Of course, Poyarkov is a scientist, so he's relentless in his work. Anyway, he soon realized it was easier to study stray dogs than to study wolves. "It's a real event to encounter a wolf in the forest," he says. "One can observe them but not for very long and not within close proximity. However, you can observe stray dogs for as long as you like, right up close." According to Dr. Poyarkov, there are twice as many wolves in Russia as there are stray dogs in Moscow. He says the population density dictates how animals come into contact with each other, what subsequently impacts their behavior, psychology, stress levels, physiology and attitude toward their environment.             
According to Poyarkov, "The second difference between stray dogs and wolves consists in the fact that the dogs are less aggressive and noticeably more tolerant toward each other. The wolves strictly stick to their pack, even if they share the territory with another pack. However, the dog pack can dominate other packs, and its leader will frequently infiltrate and patrol other communities by periodically joining them." As a result of those observations, Poyarkov concluded that the leader doesn't have to be the strongest dog. The most important thing for him is to earn the pack's recognition. The pack's survival ultimately depends on the leader.
"Moscow stray dogs occupy an intermediate position between home dogs and wolves," says Poyarkov, "but they're still at the borderline of returning to wildlife. The chances that this process could succeed are not great. It's practically impossible to domesticate a stray dog: For most of them, life in an enclosed space is simply intolerable."
Poyarkov says, "Genetically, wolves and dogs are almost identical." I agree with him. Nevertheless, some scientists have tried to explain our descent from jackals. What an abomination!
Poyarkov has also spoken about the work of the Soviet biologist Dmitry Belyayev (1917 - 1985). Belyayev founded, in Novosibirsk, created a study of silver foxes at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, as part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in order to test his theory that the most important characteristic when domesticating dogs was the absence of aggression. Officially, the study was created for the research of animal psychology. Belyayev started to select and breed foxes that were less aggressive and more tolerant of human presence. After several years of breeding, the foxes demonstrated attachment to their caretakers and even licked them. They yapped and wagged their tails, and they had floppy ears. Spots started to appear on their fur, which was an unexpected turn of events. The spots were linked to the decreased adrenaline level, which is produced together with melanin and controls the amount of pigment.          
Poyarkov explains it this way: "In the example of the stray dogs, we see a step backward. It's a step toward a wilder, less domesticated condition; a more 'natural' condition. Take a closer look: Stray dogs seldom wag their tails and are afraid of people. They don't show attachment toward them and have no spots on their fur."
The lack of desire to wag the tail shouldn't be considered a step back, though. This gesture speaks only about the proximity of interests and mutual respect between dog and man. Who does a stray dog have that he can respect and understand?
  The stray dogs of Moscow were mentioned for the first time in the reports of the journalist and writer Vladimir Gilyarovsky in the second part of the nineteenth century. However, Poyarkov goes further and says that as long as the city exists the stray dogs will too. They still differ from wolves, particularly in the range of their behavioral traits. Those traits are partly the work of the ecological niche they occupy. Their ability to adapt explains why the population density of stray dogs in Moscow is greater than that of wolves in all of Russia.
Poyarkov says, "The dogs are subdivided into four types, based on their character, method of food procurement, sociability in regard to people and the ecological niche they occupy." Poyarkov also has a word for the dogs that people feel most comfortable with. He calls them watchdogs. Generally, they guard over a territory, whether it's a garage, a warehouse, a hospital or some other place, and often it's surrounded by a fence. They establish good relationships with the wardens, who feed them and whom they consider their masters.
"The second stage of becoming wild is when the dog socializes with people in general but not with personal familiarity," Poyarkov says. "Such dogs are beggars, and interestingly they're great psychologists." I've seen that kind of dog, too. During a nap, he'll lift his head when he spots easy pickings in a crowd. The dog will approach a little old woman, knowing that with a smile and a wagging tail he'll probably be fed something. Poyarkov says these dogs not only smell the presence of food for possible handouts but can also tell who will stop and make the offer.         
Beggars live in relatively small packs and are subordinate to leaders. If a dog is smart but occupies a lower place in the hierarchy, he will often leave the pack to find food. When he sees how other dogs beg, he'll learn to imitate their tricks.
The third group consists of dogs that will socialize with people to an extent but still gravitate toward other dogs. Their main feeding strategy is to collect leftovers on the street from multiple open garbage bins. Their bounty wasn't considerable during the Soviet era, so of course their population was limited. Then, with the arrival of material well-being in the post-Soviet era, the authorities stopped their battle against stray dogs and abundant leftovers appeared in garbage bins. The dogs of the streets enjoyed relative abundance.       
Is the same thing true for people? I wonder about that.            
Wild dogs make up the last group in Poyarkov's classification. These are dogs that dwell in the city but don't socialize with people. They know people but consider them dangerous. They control a large territory, and they're predatory. They catch mice and rats, and sometimes they'll go after cats. They live in the city but not in neighborhoods. Instead, they occupy industrial sites and parklands. They're active at night, so few people see them. In fact, of the four groups these dogs most closely resemble wolves.
The TV show I watched featured the story of a woman who lived near a large tract of parkland. Once, when spring had finally come, she left the windows open for the night and a cacophony woke her up. It sounded as if a number of dogs were tearing each other to pieces. The noise occurred every night for several weeks. Later, the woman found out that at springtime many stray dogs procreate. They have what people poetically call the "dog marriage season."         
A certain kind of stray differs from the rest: the Moscow subway dog. "The dogs appeared in the subways for the simple reason that people started to allow them there," says Andrei Neuronov, an animal behavior expert who incidentally worked with Vladimir Putin's dog, a black Labrador called Koni. "This all started at the end of 1980, during Perestroika. When more food appeared, people started to feed the dogs better. Then, as control weakened, the dogs started riding tramways and buses."       
Neuronov says that roughly five hundred dogs live in subway stations, particularly during cold periods. However, only twenty or so have learned how to ride trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to expand their territory. Eventually, it became a way of life, as if to say, "Why walk if you can ride public transportation?"          
"These dogs orient to their surroundings in several ways," Neuronov explains. "They understand where they are, based on their sense of smell. They recognize the name of the station as announced over the loudspeakers, as well as by time intervals. For example, if you come every Monday and feed the dog, the dog will know which day is Monday and at what time to wait for you using the sense of time intervals. That sense is part of the dog's biological clock."
Who would argue!? After all, a dog gets used to good things very quickly! Besides, a subway hound has a good handle on people: He joyfully wags his tail for a kind passenger but hides in the most distant corner in order not to be seen by the subway attendant. That isn't so amazing though, I guess. A dog with his wits about him can sense an ill-wisher a mile away.
"Right by the entrance to the subway station," says Neuronov, "a black dog sleeps on a mat. His name is Kid. Here's what I saw once: Someone set down a bowl with freshly ground meat in it. Kid, without getting up, would lazily lick the meat from the bowl."         
Stray dogs cause strong emotions among Muscovites. If the killing of the mutt called Boy demonstrated one extreme, then the other extreme is shown by the monument erected in his memory. The city officials had to take measures to protect stray dogs, but it's difficult to say whether anything was achieved. In 2002, the mayor of the city signed a law making it illegal to kill stray animals and adopted a new strategy for the creation of animal shelters. Despite significant funds, allocated for animal shelters there still isn't enough money to accommodate all the stray dogs.               
Some Muscovites expect a return to the practice of catching and eliminating stray dogs in the hope that it will eliminate those that are sick and infectious. Poyarkov thinks it would be dangerous to try this. Here's what will happen: With the removal of the biological barrier, normally supported by the stray population in Moscow, infected dogs and others will move to the city from the surrounding areas. The environment will become chaotic, and the epidemiological situation will deteriorate.
I don't understand why anyone would want to kill stray dogs. Is that a way out? For example, Alexei Vereschagin, a postgraduate who works with Poyarkov, says that Moscow could possibly find a way to control this influx. He doesn't think it's necessary to remove stray dogs from the capital. "I've grown used to them since childhood," he says. "I think they make life in the city more interesting." Like other experts, Vereschagin doubts that the problem of stray dogs can be solved, particularly with the haphazard approach taken by city officials.
Poyarkov has devoted his career to the study of Moscow stray dogs. He has tracked their return to the wild state, but he's in no rush to get them off the streets: "I'm not at all convinced that Moscow has to be left without dogs. Actually, the common attitude about them is wrong, because these dogs help clean the city. They hold down the rat population. Why should the city be a concrete desert? Why do we have to get rid of animals that have always lived near us?"
Why is such an effort so important? I've often met stray dogs while walking around in the city with my human companion. In the summer it wasn't too evident, but at that time of year even a human hobo doesn't feel homeless. However, a period of heavy frosts can kill stray dogs. It's a pity that there are people who are completely deprived of compassion for those poor animals. You might have heard the proverb, "A good master would never put a dog outside when the frost is high." Unfortunately, stray dogs don't have caring masters, and few people would provide a warm place for a strange dog.

       Chapter 9               

The next morning, someone rang the doorbell.
"Who the devil could it be now!?" Paulina said as I led her to the door.
I followed her. An adult woman stood at the door, accompanied by a little girl about five or six years old.   
"Grandma," said the woman, "I'm sorry to disturb you like this, but we're victims of a fire and are now homeless. Help us please if you can, for the love of God." She spoke quietly, as if life had deeply humbled her.
"Oh, dear," Paulina signed heavily. "How can I possibly help you? I'm completely broke."
"I'd be grateful for any help you could give, though," said the woman tearfully. "We've been left with no food, money or clothes."
"Well, wait," Paulina replied. She turned and walked toward the bedroom.
The woman and child stared at me. The little girl wanted to pet me, but her mother stopped her:
"Don't do that, Katya. It isn't safe to pet a strange dog."
"But look, Mommy. He's gentle."
"Who knows what he has in mind. Don't touch him."
Katya withdrew her hand, as her mother instructed. A few minutes later, Paulina returned and handed two hundred-ruble notes to the woman.
"Here's two hundred for you, dear. That's all I have, so please for forgive me. You should check the amount to be sure it's correct. I'm blind, as you can tell."
The woman gave a slight shiver, and as she gently pushed Paulina's hand away she said, "Well, I must ask you to excuse us again. I didn't know. I'm sorry . . . ."
"That's okay," Paulina interrupted. "It's no problem. Please accept the money."
"N-no, I couldn't. You're a very kind woman, but we'll keep going. Forgive us for bothering you. I can't take money from a handicapped person."
"Take it," the old woman demanded, "Or I'll feel insulted! Am I not a person just because I'm blind? Can't a blind person help someone in need? Take it!"
The woman was lost for words. She stood there on the doorstep, frozen in place. If there was an easy way out of the uncomfortable situation, she wasn't about to find it.
"What are you thinking?" Paulina asked.
The woman finally took the money, and after doing so she gave the old woman a hug and a kiss.
"Please don't think we've come here dishonestly," the woman sobbed. "We've just hit rock bottom. My husband died, so my little girl and I were left with no one. They say I'll get help, but there's so much red tape to cut through. Please understand . . . ."
"You don't have to give excuses, dear," the old woman said with a wave of her hand, "I understand."
The visitors turned and walked away. Paulina sat silent for a long time, brushing tears off her cheeks.               
Paulina's sister came to see us that night. The two women were always very much alike, at least to me. When she found out what happened, she started to scold Paulina:
"You live from hand to mouth, but now you've started doing charity work!?"
"What's wrong, Irina?" Paulina snorted. "Wouldn't you?"
"Do you know how many petty criminals there are around here? How do you know what she'll spend that money on? She'll blow it on booze or maybe worse!"
Pauline replied dryly. "Irina," she said, "I couldn't care less what she'll spend the money on."
"How come?" Sister wondered.
"The important is not what she spends money on, but that I gave it. God sees everything. Let her worry about her soul, I did how my conscience told me to."
That's how my dear human was! She was right. I left the sisters in the kitchen and lay down in the corridor and engaged in reminiscences.               
I often remember my former companions Ivan and Sasha. With Ivan, I was new to work as a guide dog. I remember my first day at work. It was scary, I'll admit. I was afraid I might fail or be a disappointment in some way. It was one thing to be in training at school, with my instructor at my side, but it was altogether different to be out in the real world. There was no one to help me, reprimand me or even say I was doing a good job. Eventually, Ivan realized that he could praise me, but he only rarely did it. He almost never used curse words. He'd grumble a bit, but he'd watch his language. He didn't even cuss the time I accidentally led him into a puddle. You know, as a guide dog I'll encounter situations that my instructors never mentioned. There's no choice but to think it through and respond.
I remember the time that Ivan and I walked to the drugstore after a rain. The familiar route was littered with pebbles and twigs, like pieces on a chessboard, so I zigzagged between them. Ivan kept laughing.   
"Trisong," he said, "you're like a bear in circus. Have you been to the circus before?"
When grandpa said something, it is always between a shit and a sweat. I thought, "Oh, sure. They took me to Moscow to see the bears!"
The old man had a strong intuition, so even when I mentally replied to him it was as if he could hear me. I don't know, maybe he really did have some inner hearing. He replied to my thought:
"All right, I'm kidding. Who would take you to the circus, anyway? They already have enough animals. But maybe I should show you what the circus is like. We'll pick a day and time for that. You'll see elephants and tigers there. They have funny clowns and incredible acrobats, too. There are all sorts of interesting and amazing characters."
"The last thing I'd want to do is look at elephants and tigers. I've seen enough of them on TV, along with giraffes, zebras and panthers.  Why would I look at them? My business is to avoid puddles. All this nonsense about the circus has me confused."
You can probably see what the problem was. It was my business to watch the road. I was supposed to lead my companion past trees and other pedestrians while keeping an ear to his commands. Old Ivan, though, would blabber on about things, and in this case I got confused by the chessboard of twigs and pebbles. As luck would have it, at that moment two people passed next to us. Maybe they didn't understand that I was walking a blind man, or maybe they didn't care. Anyway, no matter how I tried to swerve--to the left or right of the puddle--I could only stop. Ivan didn't understand what I was doing, so he stepped aside and landed right in a puddle. Actually, it was something of a sidewalk swimming pool. I stood there next to him in the middle of that concrete pond, feeling totally ashamed. He did "great" as well. Don't you have my harness? Where are you rushing? If I stop, you should stop too. Listen to me. After all, I'm your guide. I thought, "Now the old man will scold me." We had known each other for just a short while then, so this was our first swim together.               
Blind people aren't all the same. Some are kind, but others are mean. At that point, I wasn't entirely certain which type Ivan would prove to be. So, I closed my eyes and waited. I was ready for him to bang me on the head with his cane. He stood there in the water for a moment, and then he started to laugh.
"Hey, Trisong! What kind of place is this? I asked for the drugstore, not a resort hotel! Did you get it right?"
"Okay," I thought, "I'm safely out of the woods. Sorry, Ivan, it just happened! I'll correct it!"
I rushed kitty-corner, over to where the water was shallow. Then I led my companion ashore. As I shook off the water, I could hear how his boots squeaked. I gave a whimper of disappointment. How could I have let that happen?
"Stop it," Ivan said. "There's no use in crying. Things happen. Move it, now. Let's hurry to the drugstore and then back home, so we can dry out."
Thankfully, the drugstore was close. From there, we made our way home. Ivan took off his shoes, washed my paws and sat down next to me.
"Hey, pup, we'll survive that. Don't get upset. It's my fault, I think. I felt like a swim, so I dove in and dragged you with me." 
I licked his cheek, and he snuggled up to me. We sat there together for a couple of hours. I think we became even better friends because of that mishap. I grew more confident as a guide, and Ivan became more aware of my movements.               
I once had a misunderstanding with Sasha, too. Of course, I could refrain from telling the story, but I'm an honest dog so I think you should know about it. I'm highly trained as a guide dog, but I'm not perfect. I've had my downfalls.               
We went out for a walk, and the route was one you'd consider easy. I've learned to be vigilant at all times--even on the simplest route--but there wasn't a hint of trouble. Well, we walked along quietly. The lad tapped his cane here and there on the sidewalk, and he whistled a little tune. I saw a dog playing with a cat on a lawn. The cat puffed out its coat and attacked the poodle. The dog defended, and then they switched roles. It was really funny. I even thought, "People use such expressions as "fighting like cats and dogs," but they attribute something negative to it. However, if a cat and a dog live in one family they become like relatives. In such a case, it's more appropriate to say "the fit together like hand and glove." Certainly, anything can happen at the beginning. They could hiss and growl, but even people take time to establish relationships. First they look at each other, and then they exchange words. They might even argue. Eventually, they become the best of friends.               
I must have been too engrossed in the battle of the lawn warriors, so I didn't notice a broken branch that jutted out toward the sidewalk. As a result, I didn't help Sasha clear the obstruction and he walked right into it. Soon, there was a bump on his forehead. I nearly fainted when I saw it. My instructor would have felt shame for me, if he had been there. You can't imagine what a guide dog feels when something like that happens.               
Sasha didn't lose his cool, though. He simply paused and rubbed his forehead. Then he laughed and said, "Sasha, you are too much! Now I have a bump on my noggin!"
I felt terrible about it. "Please forgive me for being so foolish, Sasha. If you want, go ahead and smack me with your cane. I overlooked that branch, so excuse me." In such cases I might whimper quietly. How else could I say I was sorry? Sasha squatted next to me and patted my head.
"It's okay, Trisha, so don't cry. It happens. Come on, let's go to the park."


На это произведение написаны 2 рецензии, здесь отображается последняя, остальные - в полном списке.