They were going to come back.
Snow circled a small, unfamiliar den, ground hard and cold on her paws. She wrinkled her muzzle at the harsh smell, one she could not quite place, but seemed to be coming from the glinting caged walls. A den made by the alfas that walked around on two feet.
Strange dogs paced and barked from other dens all around her, all separated from each other by the glinting walls. The echoing noise stung her ears and made her restless.
This was not the first time her pack had done this. Left her alone in a strange den with unfamiliar dogs. It was always scary at first, but after a while she would get to know the other dogs. Play with them. Play with the alfas on two feet who cared for them all. She would become so busy she wouldn’t even notice when her pack returned to bring her home. They always came back. She wasn’t worried.
This place seemed different, though. Colder. Louder. Unfriendly. And she hadn’t been let out to run and play, yet.
Snow went to say hi to a dog in the den next to her. If she made a friend, maybe this place would seem less scary. But he bared his teeth, growled and snapped at the cage that separated them. She looked down at him and tilted her head, confused. Maybe he was scared because she was big? Looked even bigger than she was with her main of white fur. She didn’t want to scare him, so she left him alone.
She trotted over to say hello to the small dog on the other side. But that one only leaned against the wall of his den and shivered like he was afraid of everything. Snow let out a low, ‘whoof’ and wagged her tail, trying to tell him it would be alright. He probably had his own pack of alfas that had left him here. They would come back for him, just like Snow’s pack would come back for her. This was probably the first time the dog had been left in a strange place, and he didn’t understand, yet. But there was nothing to fear.
Snow tried to tell him this, but he just kept huddling against the wall and trembling. She gave another low ‘whoof,’ and then padded away. She would try to cheer him up, later. The caretaker alfas at these temporary dens usually let them out to play with each other. Sometimes gave them toys and treats. Snow would share the toys with the scared dog. Maybe the treats, too, if she got more than one.
Every time her alfa pack left, they came back with new smells and toys, and lots of new food to try. They always talked a lot, smiled and gave Snow extra attention. She thought they must be going off on big long hunts, to bring back bounty for all of them to share. They were off providing for Snow, she was sure. She was always confident they would return from another successful hunt.
After a long time, an alfa caretaker brought food. When he got to Snow, she barked, wagged her tail and bounded up to say hi. But he quickly dropped the bowl and slammed the door shut again. Snow was a bit sad and confused, but ate, anyway.
In the next den over, the small trembling dog hadn’t touched his food.
The caretaker brought food to the aggressive dog, next, opening the cage just enough to slip the bowl though, then slamming it shut again as fast as he could. The dog attacked the food with throaty snarls, as if it was still alive and he had to catch it before it scampered away. Snow was confused, again. Why eat so fast? There was always plenty of food at these temporary dens.
Or, there always had been, before. But this time, after Snow finished her own food, she was still hungry. She liked her chops and stared longingly at the untouched food in her neighbour’s den. The caretaker probably didn’t realize she was a big dog that needed lots of food. That was okay, though. Her pack would come back, soon.
Lots of feedings went by. Lots of different alfas came through. Sometimes they fed Snow. Sometimes they just looked at her. Some of them, especially the little ones, said hi while smiling and jumping up and down in the equivalent of wagging their tails.
Snow would wag her own tail, yip and lick their fingers. She loved to say hi, even if it wasn’t her pack. But all the visiting alfas came and went quickly, and none of them came back, twice.
Sometimes, they would try to coax the timid dog from where he was always huddled in the back of his den. Or they might try to say hi to the aggressive dog, only to quickly move on when he barked and snarled at them. He was a very rude dog.
It was impossible to know night from day in this den. Snow only went outside long enough to do her business, then was called back in by the caretaker. The rest of the time, she spent in the tiny den. She started to get hungry. She began to feel cold all the time. Would curl up to keep herself warm.
The timid dog beside her hardly moved, even to eat. He kept getting thinner and thinner, until the caretaker came to take him away.
Good. He was going back to his pack, where he’d get treats and toys and attention. The alfas here were not good hunters. But it didn’t matter. The timid dog would be happy now with his pack, where he would eat and play and get strong, again. And Snow’s pack would come back for her.
They must have gone for a long hunt, because it seemed like they were gone longer than they ever had been. But that just meant they’d come back with more bounty than ever before. Snow would soon eat until her belly sagged to the floor. She started to pace her den, thinking of all the treats that would eventually come.
Her pack had two adult alfas, and a pup that Snow loved most of all. The girl pup would run and play with her all the time, and Snow always slept in her room at night. There was also a brand-new pup that had just come. Snow had been so excited to see him, yipping and sniffing gently.
After that, the male and female alfas had a fight. They yelled at each other the way dogs might snarl. Snow didn’t like it. Watched and whined when it happened, until the male alfa pointed to her and told her to ‘get.” She didn’t understand what that was about, but after that, the alfas moved to a new den. A smaller one. Snow hadn’t even had time to explore, before they brought her here. Maybe they were off hunting for supplies for the new den. Maybe that’s why it was taking so long this time. When they came back, they would be happy and not fighting, anymore. Things would get better.
Her pack would come.
Every time a group of alfas came by, Snow would perk her ears and run up to them, wagging her tail and yipping. Was it her pack, this time? No. It never was. But she said hi all the same. The alfas were friendly and happy, but they moved on quickly.
Snow whimpered. Her pack had been gone a long time.
The den where the timid dog had been, was eventually filled with a yappy dog that made a mess all over himself. He didn’t know how to wait for an alfa to let him outside.
The caretaker brought Snow outside just for short times to do her business. She would trot along beside him like a good dog. Nuzzle his hand and wag her tail, but he never responded. He didn’t look at her or pet her, no matter how friendly she was.
Snow remembered a time when she had seen a skinny cat lying on the side of the road. She loved cats. They were so much fun to tease and play with, especially when they batted you with their tiny little paws, thinking that they were lions. But Snow had not bounded up to this cat. She only felt sad and turned away, sensing that the cat was weak and not up to playing. There was no point in trying to make friends. That would just make it sadder when the cat was lifeless the next day.
Sometimes, Snow felt like that was how the caretaker treated her. He looked away, like he didn’t want to get attached. But Snow was not like that cat. She was not weak and skinny. Maybe he didn’t want to get attached because then he would miss Snow when her pack came back for her.
They were coming. They were. They would come back and she would be full and happy, again.
But the longer she was here, the more she started to wonder. The longer she was here, the worse she felt. Hunger gnawed constantly at her stomach, the same way she used to gnaw on the delicious bones her pack used to give her. She was restless from being in this tiny den. She still bounded up to alfas who came by, but not to say hi, anymore. She came to see if they had food. To see if they would take her out of this place. Her pack was lost. She had to get out and find them. She’d yip and whip her tail back and forth in a frenzy, trying to show them what a good dog she was.
It never worked. They didn’t give her food or let her out to play. They just gave her a quick pet and moved on.
Snow whimpered and huddled in the back of her den. She started to eat like the aggressive dog and whine like the timid one.
What happened to her pack? Did they get lost? Injured? Was there a famine and they were having a hard time finding food? There must have been a famine, because this caretaker wasn’t giving her enough to eat.
But her pack was working hard to get food, right? They would return. Maybe a bit tired, but full of the same love and treats as always.
She started to feel tired all the time. Didn’t even want to go for walks, anymore. She shivered from the cold floor. Wrinkled her muzzle at the bad smells. Her fur got dirty and knotted.
She stopped bounding up to the alfas that came by. Stopped hoping it was her pack. Stopped hoping someone would let her out. If her pack was gone, then why should she be here? She had nothing to wait for, anymore. She would fade away, like that cat on the side of the road.
Like the timid dog, she stopped eating. Started to whimper and tremble all the time. She was a big dog, but started to feel small.
The yappy dog next to her grew quiet, too. The aggressive dog was taken away and never came back. Snow didn’t think he was going back to his pack.
One day, her den-door opened and a new set of alfas stepped inside. Snow barely raised her head.
They came over and patted her. A male and a female who seemed to be mates.
Snow wagged her tail a little. It felt good to be petted, again.
The female crouched and scratched her ears, then talked to her in a high, exited voice, telling her to get up.
Snow was tired, but tried to listen to the nice alfa. She stumbled to her paws.
The male knelt down and ran a hand along her back. He turned and yelled at the caretaker, standing outside the den. Snow had never seen an alfa scold another alfa. Maybe the caretaker had done something wrong?
The male alfa patted Snow again and spoke softly to her.
She waved her tail and licked him, then tried to walk on unsteady legs when he led her out of the den. She was tired, but felt happy for the first time in a long time. Maybe these new alfas knew where her pack was. Maybe she could find them, now.
They took her to a new den and gave her food and water. The place was unfamiliar, but warmer, more comfortable and bigger than the den she’d just come from. It had soft, welcoming smells, instead of harsh, sharp ones.
But Snow still whined and lied in a corner, wondering where her pack was. It seemed these alfas weren’t going to take her to them. Even after a few days, when she’d eaten and grown stronger, she barely moved. She still wanted to get out and find her old pack.
She got up when the alfas took her outside or gave her a bath. Waged her tail and liked them. But not the same way she once did.
These new alfas were nice, but they weren’t her pack. She liked them, but couldn’t abandon her old pack. She was still waiting for them.
The new alfas gave her treats. At first, she didn’t take them. But then, slowly, she started to accept them. Slowly, she felt better. Would run and frolic on walks, again. Would wag her tail and bound around the new alfas.
But at night, she still whined for her old pack. For the young alfa she always used to play with.
Then one day, the man and woman brought an alfa pup home. A young, thin boy who didn’t use his legs. He was pushed around on a moving chair.
Snow, sensing a sadness to the young pup, trotted up to him and nosed him gently.
He turned away and didn’t respond.
The adult alfas spoke low to each other.
This young alfa was sad. As sad as Snow had been when she first got here. It made her realize she was a lot happier, now. Still not with her pack, but these alfas were good. She wanted to make this little one feel better. She started following him around. Rested her head on his lap every time he was still.
At first, he didn’t respond to her, but Snow was patient. She started sleeping with him at night, and for the first time, she wasn’t whining for her old pack, anymore. If she couldn’t be with them, she would help this new young alfa.
One day, while she was resting her head on his lap, the boy patted her.
The two adult alfas were in the room, and they jumped up with exited shouts.
Snow waged her tail. The boy laughed in that strange but charming alfa way. After that, he started to pet Snow and talk to her all the time. He wheeled his moving chair outside and played fetch with her.
Snow would always bring back the toys he threw, and place them gently in his lap, then bound off when he threw, again.
She stopped thinking about her other pack, as this boy alfa grew happier and happier with her around. She followed him everywhere as he got bigger and stronger. He threw the toys farther and farther every time they played fetch.
Snow thought she’d been waiting for her old pack. But really, she’d been waiting for this alfa pup, who needed her just as much as she needed him.
Maybe he’d been waiting for her, too. But like her, had not even known it.
But now they’d found each other, and neither had ever been happier.
It was worth the wait.