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Dogs Without Men

by Steve Wade

The alpha female made her way along the worn track by the river. In her jaws a live thing. The pack members picked up the scent and the sounds. They rushed to greet her.

She stopped, dropped the creature into the hardened earth, and reminded them of her dominant rank. With her hackles bunched, her ears erect, and her lips curled back, she snarled. The young animal between her paws squalled.

The pack backed off, their yips and yaps graduating to playful growls and barks. Two of the higher-ranking members, a Kerry blue and a Labradoodle, used the opportunity to fight each other for position in the pack.

A huge Maremma Sheepdog, the alpha male, leaped into the savage tousle of twisting bodies, snarls, arched backs, spittle-foam, loose fur and red-raw wounds. The two subordinates flipped onto their backs, their underbellies and throats exposed.

The sheepdog then shifted his attention to the live thing guarded by his mate. Through his nostrils he pulled in the sickly taste of sour milk, urine and faeces.

The alpha she-dog, collected the abandoned stray in her jaws, and trotted off towards the den in which she had, weeks earlier, given birth. The den, a tunnel measuring three adult dog lengths, which led to the birthing chamber, she had excavated under a fallen tree.

Inside the chamber squealed five puppies. Among them she placed the new arrival. Unlike the others, it showed no interest in suckling. But, as soon as the dam licked it clean, and it took in the heat from its new siblings, it too attached itself to a teat and suckled.

Sitting up, it then made gurgling sounds, looked properly for the first time at the she-dog and her puppies.

“Wow-wow,” the he-child said, and laughed a gurgly laugh.