Matthew Bracken sends this Boxing Day fable for you to ponder during the lull between Christmas and New Year’s.
Note: Alert readers will observe that our rules concerning decorum have been relaxed slightly in Mr. Bracken’s case. This is true of all the fiction we publish here. However, the posted rules for decorum still apply to commenters.
Wolfophobia On Dog Island
by Matt Bracken
Now you young pups sit down and listen to an old dog who didn’t get to be old by being a dummy. Try to sit still and pay attention, because some folks will tell you otherwise about what happened, but they have their own reasons and I have mine, and mine are right and theirs are wrong. After you hear the true story of what happened with the wolves on Dog Island, you’ll understand why you should never forget it. I was there, and this is what happened. Stop fidgeting and pay attention.
In those days, before the wolves came, there were a lot of show dogs on Dog Island, just like now, but back in those days the Standard Poodles were in charge, because for some reason everybody gave them credit for being the smartest dogs around. And compared to most show dogs, Poodles are geniuses, I’ll give them that.
Supposedly that’s why they were put in charge of dividing up the dog food, keeping the water bowls filled, and things like that. And despite their silly fur, Standard Poodles can grow pretty big, so they are not pushovers. And of course the show dogs loved it that the Poodles were in charge, and gave them dog food even though they didn’t work. If you can believe it, the show dogs had almost everybody convinced that they should get fed just for looking so good and raising everybody’s morale. And the poodles agreed with this nonsense and kept the show dogs fed for doing nothing but looking good.
And a big part of the reason for this crazy state of affairs was the fact that Apollo, the boss of the Poodles, was such a damned good bullshit artist. He could really lay it down thick, so that even some of the working dogs agreed with his ideas, such as feeding the show dogs even though they don’t work.
Of course, then like now, us working dogs did all of the work on Dog Island, but even so, Apollo and the other Poodles ran the show. They said that their breed’s specialty was brain work and consisted of managing things for everybody day-to-day. But that was okay, as long as there was enough dog food, and the water bowls got filled. Even though it griped us that the show dogs got fed for doing nothing.
But one thing we all agreed on, working dogs and show dogs, was that we could not let any wolves onto Dog Island. Wolves and dogs were enemies, and that was that.
We knew all about wolves on Dog Island. We could hear them yipping and yapping and mostly howling at the moon the way they do, on their own island which is farther out on the river and downstream a bit. Occasionally a stray wolf will fall into the river or be driven into exile, and they will show up trying to get onto Dog Island, but we never permit this. That was always a big important rule on Dog Island. No wolves. Period.
But then apparently there were some worse-than-usual problems over on Wolf Island. Their moon howling became extreme, and some wolves tried swimming upstream to Dog Island. Normally we drove them off, but this time some Poodles met a smallish male wolf on the beach, and Apollo proposed that we should not drive him back into the river, as was customary.
When I heard about this, I met up with Duke and we went down to the beach to see what was going on. Duke is the biggest German Shepherd, and all the Shepherds and Dobermans and Rottweilers look up to him.
I’m not as big as Duke, but nobody messes with a male Labrador-Pitbull mix who is bigger than any other Labrador Retriever or Pitbull on the island. I like hanging out with Duke, we get along well, and the working dogs all look up to him. When we are running together, Spike and Duke, nobody messes with us, and most of the working dogs want to follow us. And the show dogs know enough to stay the hell out of our way.
But now Apollo was trying to convince us to let one poor wolf who had been forced to flee his home island stay and live among us on Dog Island. Apollo said that all canines are equal, and we must not show prejudice toward our cousin the wolf. He did not choose to be a wolf, he was born that way, and conditions on Wolf Island have become unbearable.
Apollo explained that our guest was a gray wolf, and they were always fighting with the red wolves on Wolf Island. All the game was wiped out by over-hunting, and the wolves were down to hunting each other, with no quarter given and the losers eaten. The refugee wolf had some old and new wounds and was truly a pathetic sight. And I’ll admit there was some satisfaction in seeing one of our eternal enemies reduced to this wretched state. He would even roll over on his back and show his throat, like a complete sissy lap dog. Yes, I’ll confess that it was enjoyable to see a wolf roll over and be submissive before us dogs.
There was plenty of dog food to go around, so we decided to go along with Apollo, and let this one miserable cringing gray wolf stay on Dog Island. It would be a death sentence for him to be sent back to Wolf Island, Apollo said. And we had no trouble with one wolf on Dog Island, even after he regained his strength by eating lots of our dog food. Apollo promised us that this wolf had given up his former carnivorous habits. This wolf must not be judged as a wolf at all anymore. We must not judge him negatively merely for being a wolf, which he did not choose and he cannot help. To do so would be wolfophobic.
But the next day, there were two more wolves who had come ashore, forlorn and desolate like the first wolf had been. These three wolves then became inseparable, and as they became healthy they would run all around Dog Island and generally be a pain in the ass to everybody.
First of all, they could not control their sexual emotions, and if they saw a female dog they would just mount her, if she was in heat, or not. Naturally this angered the female dogs no end, especially when they were not in heat.
And after a week, a golden retriever puppy went missing, and a day or two later, a year-old cocker spaniel. The wolves claimed to know nothing about them, and the Poodles offered no further information.
When Duke heard about the second missing puppy, he came to find me, and together we went down to where the Poodles hang out, which was now also where the three wolves were hanging out. Probably because it was where the Poodles divided up the dog food for everybody.
Me and Duke trotted right up to Apollo, between all the show dogs in the front of the Poodles. At least twenty or more working dogs were following right behind us, so we weren’t worried. Duke said he wanted to have a word with Apollo about the new wolf policy. One wolf had been okay, but not three. He said this while staring at the three wolves, who were lying on their bellies watching us.
The wolves bared their teeth and growled, but continued lying down, muzzles low. Duke said to Apollo, Two puppies are missing, and we think those wolves right there did it. Apollo acted angry and said Duke must not accuse them of such a terrible thing without proof.
And Duke said the wolves are mounting every female at every chance, and this must stop. Apollo responded that this is part of their wolf culture, and we must respect this cultural difference, and permit a certain amount of it, for the sake of good relations between the wolves and dogs.
Duke said, But we don’t want good relations, we want them gone! They are our eternal enemies, and they will kill and eat any dog they catch any chance they get, no matter what they promise.
Apollo got very angry and barked out that Duke and Spike were the leaders of the wolfophobic bigots, and we should be ashamed of how badly we spoke of our new canine cousins, and all canines are equal. Now that they had arrived on peaceful Dog Island, they would live in peace with us. Believe it or not, most of the show dogs were nodding their agreement at this utter nonsense.
And Apollo wasn’t finished. He said that more wolves were going to be accepted as refugees and immigrants from Wolf Island. The ongoing war between the reds and the grays made conditions just too dangerous for any of them to endure.
I asked Apollo, Why are only male wolves swimming over to Dog Island, where are the females and the puppies if it was so dangerous over there?
Apollo said something about the males making it safe for the females and puppies, but Duke said it was already safe here, before the wolves came at all.
Apollo said, You wolfophobic bigots had better get used to it, because more wolves are coming, and that is official policy. It’s just too dangerous for them on Wolf Island, and we have a duty to take them in and offer them food and shelter.
To me this sounded ridiculous. Things were bad over on Wolf Island because they were all red and gray wolves, and all they knew was hunting and killing. By Apollo’s logic, we would have to take every wolf that arrived, and soon we would be another Wolf Island, because they would eat us one by one until we were all wiped out. No matter what Apollo said about all canines being equal, Duke and me and most of the working dogs knew this was a lie, that wolves and dogs are very different, and cannot coexist peacefully. And, for that matter, wolves cannot even coexist peacefully among themselves, which is why Wolf Island is always such a terrible place.
The next day, there were six wolves, and they were hanging out down with the Poodles, who were still in charge. And all the moron show dogs, who went along with anything Apollo said, were gathered in their groups around them in turn. One of the sillier Irish Setter females said that even with being forcibly mounted, and missing a few puppies, this was still only a small price to pay for making Dog Island so much more wonderfully diverse. There was even talk among the Poodles and show dogs of renaming it Dog and Wolf Island, so that the newly arriving wolves would feel more at home.
When we saw there were now six wolves, we didn’t bother trying to talk with Apollo about it again. We scattered, but I met up with Duke at the other end of the island, bringing my toughest crew, and he brought his. We all agreed that we had to do something about the wolves. If any more arrived, they would form a super pack that we could never defeat. Even now, it would take a bloody battle to vanquish them and expel them from Dog Island. In a fair fight, a wolf could usually whip two or even three big dogs. Six wild wolves might take quite a toll before we put them down. If we even could.
I said that I had an idea about how to defeat them without a bloody battle. When they heard it, Duke and all the other big working dogs agreed it was a very good plan, and we would do it. Wolves were wild and ferocious fighters, and very big, bigger than Duke even, so we could not let our strategy turn into a wild melee of a half-dozen skirmishes, or the wolves would destroy us. We would cooperate, and stick to my plan, Spike’s plan, and we would win.
When all the working dogs were ready at our end of the island, I trotted down past where the Poodles and now the wolves hung out, through all the show dogs, but I just continued on past them, out onto the little point that juts into the river down at that end. It’s steep there, where the river runs fast around the point. Once on the point I turned around to face the Poodles and wolves, and I barked out that the Poodles, even the male Poodles, let the wolves mount them, and the Poodles were such craven yellow cowards that they didn’t even care about some of their own puppies being eaten by their new friends. And the wolves are so stupid they spend all night howling at the moon like idiots, and they mount their sisters, and as well their brothers.
My legs are not as long as Duke’s, and I’m not as tall at the shoulder, nor do I have a pelt of thick fur like him, but I have a big chest, and I can bark pretty damn loud. Pretty soon the six wolves got up, and began to slink toward me, baring their fangs and growling. As they approached, I backed up, but I kept insulting them, saying that they mounted their sisters, and their brothers, and their mothers, and even their fathers.
They were all glaring at me as they crept nearer, six sets of snapping wolf fangs arrayed in a line across. But being so preoccupied with me, they did not notice that behind them, Duke was leading a solid cohort of the biggest and meanest working dogs, including a few Rotties and Dobermans, and all the Pitbulls and toughest mixed breeds. They were creeping in on padded paws, not yelping or yipping, making no sound at all.
I was backed up all the way to the end of the point, and when the wolves were just a few yards away, I said You mother-mounting morons are all going to die, turn around and meet your doom! The wolves wheeled to face the phalanx, going berserk at the sudden sight of thirty or more big dogs so close behind them. I was ready for this and turned and plunged out into the river, the bank there being more than a yard high, and steep where the current undercut it.
Now, I’m half Labrador Retriever, and I love to swim. I can swim all day. I can even dive to the bottom and grab things. The river current was flowing, but I could handle it. From down below in the water I couldn’t follow what was happening up on the point, but in a few moments the first wolf came flying over and splashed into the water. He paid me no attention, but turned to try to regain the bank, which was steep and undercut. While he was distracted, I dove at him and bit hard into his rear leg, shaking and tearing at it, and dragging him down deep under water. When I went up for air, there were two more distracted wolves in the water, and I found ways to dive down and grab their legs and drown them too. The others paddled away downstream toward Wolf Island.
Only when Duke appeared atop the end of the point did I know the battle was over, and I swam around to the beach and rejoined the victorious working dogs. Duke still seemed concerned and said, Spike, come walk with me for a minute. We went off together, and he told me what had happened on the point after I dived into the water. There were enough working dogs shoulder to shoulder to form a solid wall of teeth across the width of the narrowing point, and most of a second rank behind, to fill any gaps caused by battle casualties.
And it was a good thing, because the treacherous Poodles, in the heat of battle, attacked us from the rear, trying to break our wall and allow the wolves to escape our cordon. The second rank of dogs was able to hold off the treacherous diversionary attack of the Poodles, but only just. If there had not been a second rank, the Poodle’s rear attack combined with the frontal assault of the wolves might have succeeded in breaking us up. The Poodles failed to save their new wolf allies, but it was a close run outcome, and might have gone the other way.
I said, Duke, I think it’s time we do something about Apollo and the Poodles, and he said, Spike, I agree 100%. He said Why don’t we use your same plan again, but modified for Poodles? So we got all the working dogs together again, and explained our idea, and they agreed. This time I was in the solid phalanx, standing shoulder to shoulder between Duke and a big Rottie named Max, as we backed the Poodles toward the end of the point. Rather than fight us, they all turned and plunged into the water. When they tried to climb back up the bank we snapped at their paws. When they tried to swim to the beach, we blocked them.
Duke barked out, You Poodles love the wolves so much, well, you’re just going to have to swim down there and join them on Wolf Island! See you later, mother-mounters!
And since then, there have been no more purebred Standard Poodles on Dog Island, only some mixed breeds and harmless miniatures. So when you young pups grow up, and you hear the show dogs talking about how good it was back when the Poodles were in charge, just keep in mind that they are just mad that we make them work now. No more getting fed just for being pretty or fancy. Now it’s a rule that everybody has to work for their dog food. Even the show dogs.
And we don’t ever let wolves take even one step onto Dog Island. We understand that we are eternal enemies, and like oil and water, we can never mix. Them to theirs, and us to ours. If they have managed to constantly foul things up on Wolf Island, and turn it into a living hell, what does that have to do with us? And why in the hell would we want to bring any of that chronic wolf violence and dysfunction here to Dog Island?
So, pups, that’s why we dogs are wolfophobic. It’s literally insane to be anything else.
Matthew Bracken was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1957, and attended the University of Virginia, where he received a BA in Russian Studies and was commissioned as a naval officer in 1979. Later in that year he graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, and in 1983 he led a Naval Special Warfare detachment to Beirut, Lebanon. Since then he’s been a welder, boat builder, charter captain, ocean sailor, essayist and novelist. He lives in Florida. Links to his short stories and essays may be found at EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com. For his previous essays, see the Matthew Bracken Archives.