Don Tassone's short stories and essays have appeared in a range of literary magazines. His debut short story collection, Get Back, was published...read more in March 2017. His debut novel, Drive, was published in September 2017. He lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Leon Pecquet had been a traditional dog breeder for nearly ten years when he decided to try something radically new.
Until then, the dozen or so dogs in his care roamed free within the gentle confines of a split-rail fence lined with chicken wire which ran along the border of several acres of open pasture. They slept and took shelter from the rain and snow in an old barn near the back of Leon’s property, about a hundred yards behind his house. Dogs went in and out of the barn and chased each other through the fields as they pleased.
When he wasn’t working, Leon spent much of his time with his dogs, feeding them, caring for them and playing with them, tossing sticks and rubber balls for them to find and retrieve in the tall grass.
Leon worked on computers in downtown Indianapolis, about a forty-minute drive from his house in the country. He had lived there alone for fifteen years. He had never found the right woman and, now in his mid-forties, he doubted he ever would.
Leon seemed to change overnight. Who knows why. Maybe his loneliness caught up with him. Or maybe he finally succumbed to the artificiality of the interactions he observed every day.
No one, it seemed, talked face to face anymore. Everyone was online. More and more, people lived in a virtual world, connecting with “friends” they had never even met.
As a computer troubleshooter, Leon’s job was to make sure operating systems worked properly. But as he observed how people were using these systems, Leon began to realize he was literally enabling superficial behavior. At first, he felt conflicted. But then he resigned himself. This was the new normal, he concluded.
For whatever reason, Leon changed. He turned inward. He disengaged from colleagues at work. He stopped seeing friends. He spent evenings and weekends at home, mainly online or watching TV.
On his way home one evening, he decided he would make another change too. He stored a dozen cages in a corner of his barn. Once in a while, he would cage a dog that was ill, for its own protection. But most of his dogs had never been in a cage.
Now Leon grabbed the cages and placed them throughout the barn, with big spaces in between. He put one dog in each of them. Then he closed the barn doors, walked the path to his house and went to bed.
He fell asleep listening to the sounds of his dogs howling and crying.
In the days and years ahead, Leon kept his dogs caged. The only time he let them out was when a female was in heat, so that he would continue to have puppies to sell. Otherwise, his dogs spent their days and nights by themselves in cages.
At first, they would constantly bark at one another. But after a month or so, they gave it up. They seemed to learn that no amount of barking would bring them companionship.
Leon slipped their food and water bowls through slots in the cages. At first, the dogs would try to lick his hand. But then, when they saw him approaching, they would back off.
Eventually, the dogs forgot what it was like to roam free. They saw other dogs from a distance but forgot what it was like to be with them.
Leon died of a heart attack in his sleep. Two days later, when he hadn’t shown up for work, a colleague went to his house to check on him and found him there.
Two policemen who came to investigate heard barking coming from the barn. They went out back and opened the barn doors. Inside, they found a dozen dogs in cages. But they thought nothing of it because they knew Leon was a breeder.
That is until they began opening the cage doors. They expected the dogs to run out. But instead they backed up and hunkered down. And when the policemen tried to coax them out, the dogs growled and snapped at them.
“Weird,” said one of the cops. “You’d think these dogs would be happy to get out.”
“Well, we tried,” said the other. “I guess we’ll need to call animal control.”
The animal control people also tried to coax the dogs out, but to no avail. So they lifted them up, still in their cages, loaded them into their truck and brought them to the county animal shelter.
There, they tried to put the dogs into a kennel, where other dogs were playing and running around. But each dog they put in backed into a corner and growled at any dog that attempted to get close. So the animal control people reluctantly put each of Leon’s dogs back in the cage it had arrived in. Only this seem to settle them down.
Animal control posted notices online to let local residents know they had new dogs available for adoption. About twenty people came by over the next few days. But when they saw how these dogs behaved, cowering and snarling in the back of their cages, they either chose other dogs or simply left.
Within a week, in accord with local regulations, all of Leon’s dogs had been put down. The veterinarian in charge wondered what had gone wrong.
She didn’t realize that all animals, isolated long enough, lose touch with reality. They forget the everyday things that give life meaning and joy. They turn inward and forget how to live.