Rex, a young German shepherd, was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and lost his owner very early, under terrifying circumstances. Sam, his owner, a redundant clerk, was a heavy drinker, and even the love of his dog could not bring him back to normal life. The man used to be absent for days, leaving the poor pup shut in the tobacco-smelling house and tortured by loneliness.
Day and night. Night and day. Rex soon grew up to realize it was even useless to cry. The only company of Rex was Barrel, the tabby fat cat of the neighbors, who would often sit on the window from outside, taking pleasure from teasing the pup. When Rex jumped below the window and frantically barked, the cat would wise to his feet and turn, demonstrating his grey furry ass.
It was not unusual for Sam to beat the dog for the mess the poor thing did in his absence. However, Rex felt happier with his master than without him. On his "good" days Sam would even be nice, giving Rex proper food, caressing his head and taking him for a long walk in the woods. But the time passed, and those good days were less and less frequent, as alcohol was winning the war over the man's mind.
At last, Sam disappeared for eternity. Usually, going for a long exhausting "drinking marathon", he had never forgotten to refill a water bucket in the kitchen so that the dog would not die of thirst. But this time the bucket was only half-full when he left. And after some days the bottom was completely, completely dry. Locked in the house without Sam, Rex was doomed to the excruciating death of dehydration.
The poor dog stood by the window, stretching his long skinny paws and scratching the glass with the claws. He knew it was no use crying, but nevertheless yelped and howled with desperation. Barrel, who came as usually to mock at the silly big guy, looked at the dog in awe and rushed towards his house. In half an hour the neighbors came to see what was happening. The cat accompanied them, wailing loudly. Luckily for Rex, the window opened easily from outside, so the neighbors could let the dog out. The same evening, the police found Sam’s wet and swollen body on the seashore…
The neighbors, a couple well in their sixties, called a vet, gave Rex as much water as he needed and some food (a large amount would harm him after many days of hunger) but found themselves to be unable to permanently handle such a big dog as he promised to be (besides, Barrel would have by no means tolerated. To make the things worse, the poor thing was deeply traumatized by his master’s disappearance and his own dreadful imprisonment, and the police didn’t accept him either. An animal shelter turned out to be the only way the young orphaned dog could go. The shelter was located in the countryside and run by a man called Robert who dedicated his life to saving abandoned animals. He saved quite a lot of dog lives, often finding some unlucky creatures run over by a car or left tied to a tree to die of hunger and thirst and bringing them to life again. Robert never had a family, not even friends, as all his life he dedicated to the lost and abandoned animals who often had heavy diseases and disabilities.
For two months Rex was devastated. Though Sam was a bad master, he missed the man as much as a small child misses their bad parent, forgiving abandonment, malnutrition and beatings. He almost did not react to Robert’s words and the shelter-keeper’s hand caressing his fur. There was a small brown dog called Daddy looking like a tiny deer with his thin long legs and large eyes. There was a spotty pointer called Puma, who liked approaching visitors and poking them with her toy - a green plastic hare - urging them to play with her. There was John Silver without the left rear leg and many other dogs who escaped misery and death thanks to the selfless efforts of Robert. Most of them were nervous, bored and craving for human attention: all told, a permanent rumpus stood over the shelter all day long, immensely annoying Rex, who kept aloof and never was a company boy.
The hardest thing was to trust all the unknown dogs and unknown people - Robert, the numerous volunteers who cared about the dogs in the shelter and the guests who arrived to the shelters now and then, bringing delicious homemade food, medicines and toys. On seeing a group of people, he would stride into the farthest corner of the yard and lie there in silence, gnawing grimly at a bone, as other dogs would jump with joy in their cages. Though so young, Rex behaved like a grumpy old dog overcome by a dozen of illnesses. In fact, he felt like one.
Besides, having nearly died of thirst inside a locked house, Rex had grown claustrophobic. He nearly lost his mind of fear when Robert attempted to put him into a cage, so the shelter-keeper allowed him to walk freely around the yard; the German shepherd, despite the specifics of his breed, was shy, even timid and never attempted to hurt a human or another dog. Only when guests arrived, Robert put Rex on chain to make sure he would not attack anyone out of fear.
When a short human shape approached him, Rex uttered a low growl and glanced around in order to hide. Next second, he felt curious: never had he seen a human so small in shape and speaking with such a tiny high-pitched voice. The creature posed no threat and resembled a woman. It was a female human puppy. A girl.
`’What a good fellow you are!” the girl greeted him.
Rex decided to be polite and slightly tapped his tail on the ground.
“Perhaps you wanna play with a ball?” the girl asked.
The dog tapped his tail more eagerly, for he knew what “ball” was. But no human had actually kept him a company since he became an adult dog.
“Dear, we should not annoy…” said an unknown male voice.
“We shouldn’t dad!” the girl agreed. “We must take him for a walk! Just look how lonely he looks. Seems like he hasn’t had fun for ages!”
For a walk, she said? Rex knew pretty well the W-word. He slowly rose to his feet and gazed at the humans with surprise. He had spent so much time in the shelter yard, where he could not get enough motion, and now somebody was going to take him outside! The temptation was so strong, that Rex allowed the newcomer to put him on a leash.
The shelter was surrounded with a spacious fragrant grassland, noisy with the songs of grasshoppers. He strode by the side of the girl’s dad Simon - first cautiously, not believing his own luck, then vigorously, striving to be unleashed. The sudden feel of joy drove away his serious demeanor and brought back the happy pup he used to be. When set free, he rushed and jumped on the fresh green grass, rolled on the ground, exposing his belly to sunlight, and ran after the girl, whose name was Cathy, as if just now he realised for the first time he was able to run. To his surprise, Simon discovered that Rex had been taught some commands and executed them with a lot of zeal. Cathy was excited by the view of a big and playful dog, rushing around her and her father, catching sticks and carrying pine cones in his mouth.
They spent the time outside until dusk; on bringing Rex back to the shelter, Simon took some more time to talk to Robert, but Rex had no idea what was the subject of the talk. After tasting freedom and affection, Rex was in despair and didn’t want the people go. Yes, he respected Robert and even loved him to some extent. But strong was his innermost desire to be unique for someone, while Robert had to distribute his love evenly among a hundred of other animals - not only dogs, but some fish and birds as well. Simon and Cathy were focused on him, as if he was their dog. And now he didn’t have the nerve to see them walk away. He avoided even to look at the girl while she was saying “Goodbye!”. The return to the daily routine now caused as much pain as the permanent absence of Sam.
However, unlike Sam, Cathy and Simon returned the next week. And a week later as well. Both times they were accompanied by a woman called Stella who brought him delicious homemade treats. On their third visit they didn’t lead Rex for a walk in the field. They took him to a deep blue crossover parked behind the gate to bring him home and be his family.
Rex was the happiest dog in the world. He cared a lot of Cathy and was her keenest playmate. He was a faithful jogging companion for both Simon and Stella. He was a vigilant guardian of the house, but neither orders, nor even most delicious treats would make him step over its doorstep and walk inside.
Robert had warned the new family of Rex about his claustrophobia and its cause, but they hoped it would pass as soon as he would feel safe and loved. They were mistaken. Perhaps he understood that the house of his new friends posed no danger, but all his essence stood against such ordeal as passing through the door. He was just unable to make it; Simon’s attempts to pull him inside by the collar inevitably ended with Rex’ utter resistance, whining and horrible growls. So the master had to put up with it and build Rex a wooden doghouse in the garden.
The dog enjoyed his life until winter came. Usually winters in these places were mild, but not this year. Each week the temperature descended from three to five degrees lower and very soon fell well below zero, and even the thick fur of Rex was unable to completely protect him from the cold. Naturally, Cathy and her parents did not let him suffer from cold. They brought him blankets and regularly refilled his own hot-water bag. However, it soon became clear that they could not leave Rex neither in his unheated kennel nor in the garage any more. One evening, when the thermometer stem hit -5, Stella even proposed to use a sleeping-pill to bring Rex into the house at last, but Cathy strongly objected to this solution. Rex was her friend in the first place, and she hated the very idea of playing such a bad trick on him. Besides, she feared that her claustrophobic dog would go crazy with fear on awakening, and he had already suffered too much in his short life.
“I’ve got a solution of my own. If I fail, then do what you find appropriate!” the girl was very fond of talking “like a grown-up”.
She dressed and ran into the yard where Rex had been already waiting for a dinner. The dog was stepping from one paw to another, his grey fur was on end, he was visibly uncomfortable, though still trying to hide it. In the long run, he was not a sledge dog of the North. For a short time they ran about the yard and rolled in the fresh crispy snow, as Stella was watching them from the bedroom window. Suddenly Cathy clutched her head and exclaimed:
“Your dinner, Rex!.. Sorry, dear, I left it in the kitchen! Wait a minute, dear!”
She bolted into the house, leaving the door wide open. Without taking off her boots, she ran through the hall towards the kitchen, but suddenly lost consciousness and collapsed on the floor. Stella didn’t see it happen, but Rex did.
The dog approached the door to better see the girl and found her tiny body still motionless. Without wasting a second any more, without even thinking, he leapt through the door, overcame the distance between them in two more long leaps and poked Cathy’s side with his moist black nose. She didn’t reply.
The dog whined and approached the girl from another side. He was in panic. Once he had already lost his master forever, and another loss would certainly break his heart. He tried to use his paw to to remove the thick black hair that hid the girl’s face. His sharp black claws scratched the porcelain skin, making the girl shriek in pain and push him in the chest.
“Enough, Rex! You gonna leave me with a scar!”
What a relief! Cathy was safe and sound, anger in her eyes rapidly giving place to the pure joy. As Rex was stunned by the sudden change, the girl rocked with laughter.
“Don’t panic, Rex! It was only a joke! Just a joke!” she yelled, clutching the animal’s snout. “I’m totally OK, dear! C’mon, I will see you to your food bowl, my beautiful! You deserved your dinner for sure. A dinner, a warm bath and a warm bed! Mom! You must see it!”
Only now did Rex realise that he was inside the house, the most scary place he could imagine. But there was nothing to fear any more. The place was clean, spacious and friendly-looking, filled with the smell of fresh bakery. He was a member of the family, not a prisoner.
“Cathy, you gonna freeze us to death! Will you please close the door?” Stella grunted, descending the stairs. “But is this even real?” exclaimed the woman on seeing Rex, as Cathy was still sitting on the floor. “What did you do?”
“Nothing special, Mom!” the girl replied. “I just forgot to fetch his food from the kitchen!”
Based on real events