It was quite late and dark, almost 11:00pm, when Kathy and Brian finally pulled up in front of their house in Toronto after the long drive home from Pennsylvania. They were glad and relieved to find a spot on the street in front of the house, for once. With the new pup and after more than eight hours on the road, they were grateful not to have to lug their overnight bags up the sidewalk with the puppy in tow.
The night was hot, and sticky as only happens in July in the city, and the neighbours were all out on their front porches trying to catch some cool air. As tired as they were, Brian and Kathy looked at each other and smiled weary smiles. With a new puppy and the whole street awake to see her homecoming, it was going to be another few minutes before they could rest.
That prediction came true. No sooner had Kathy taken Aleksandra out of their rented SUV on her new leash, than little Laura, the three-year-old girl next door, much to her mother’s consternation, hurled herself down the stairs to the sidewalk to meet her. Her Uncle Dave, Theresa’s brother, caught her at the bottom and put her safely on the sidewalk. Laura threw her arms around the puppy just as her mother, Theresa, caught up.
“Puppy, Mummy!” Laura exclaimed with delight.
“Be careful, Laura,” Theresa admonished. “The puppy might be a little bit nervous. Let her smell your hand and be gentle with her.” She looked up at Kathy, “She’s so cute!!! How old is she?”
“She’s three and a half months,” Kathy replied. “Her name is Aleksandra.”
“Only three and a half months!” called Theresa’s mother, Maria, from their porch. She had immigrated from Portugal with her husband, Tony, right after they’d married, thirty years before. “So big already! Look at her paws! How big will she get?”
“Her mother is 145lbs and her father is 165lbs.,” Brian said to a chorus of ‘Wows’. “She has some growing to do, yet.”
“What kind is she?” asked Barbara, coming across the street from her porch.
“The breed is called Šarplaninac,” said Kathy. She pronounced it ‘Shar-plah-nee-nahtz’. “They’re an ancient breed from the mountains of the former Yugoslavia that run through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Albania.”
“My father used to talk about them,” said Andrij from two doors up as he joined them with his wife Sharon. “He was born in Macedonia.”
“My mother talked about them, too,” said Eva, Andrij’s and Sharon’s basement tenant. “She was born in Serbia.”
As all of this was going on around them, little Laura and Aleksandra were forming a fast friendship on the sidewalk. “Leksa,” Laura called her, gently tickling her tummy and her ears, while Pink, who didn’t quite understand yet that ‘Aleksandra’ meant her, curled up in the little girl’s lap and looked far too cute in the doing.
“We should probably get into the house and get her settled before bed,” Kathy commented to Brian.
“You’re right,” Brian replied. “Well, folks, we’ve had a long day. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Their friends and neighbours wished them well for the night and Kathy knelt down to take Aleksandra from Laura. The little girl looked up at her with big, earnest, brown eyes, “Can I see Leksa t’morra?”
“Of course, you can, sweetie,” Kathy said with a smile, “but Aleksandra has had a very long drive and she needs to rest now, OK?”
“OK,” the little girl said. She gave the puppy a little hug. “See you, t’morra, Leksa.”
Brian had already taken their bags into the house, so Kathy cradled the pup in her arms and carried her up the porch steps.
“Welcome home, Pup Pup,” she whispered in Aleksandra’s ear. Aleksandra looked up at Kathy and then into the house. It smelled different. All the smells here were different. The air tasted different, but the house smelled … like … she knew that smell!
As Kathy put Aleksandra on the floor of the house, ‘that smell’ came around the corner, saw the puppy, froze for a moment with ears flat, then ran up the stairs in a large black streak.
“We won’t be seeing Baba for a few hours,” Brian commented wryly, as the cat disappeared.
Just then, another cat, this one petite and delicate grey, appeared on the right near the piano, saw the puppy sniffing the baseboards, dropped to her stomach on the floor with her ears flat and front claws splayed, hissing as she went. Aleksandra spun around, saw the tiny grey cat in full battle mode and immediately went into play pose, with her forelegs flat to the floor, her ears up and perky and a joyous grin. The cat hissed once more then turned on little white boots, sped away across the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement.
“Won’t be seeing Linkoan for a few hours, either,” said Kathy, with a wry smile of her own.
Aleksandra, her paws scrabbling on the hardwood floors, was in close pursuit of that cat. She barked happily in the chase, but when she reached the top of the basement stairs, stopped dead. What was that? The pup sniffed the top of the stairs and looked down. She could smell that cat down in the darkness. She reached down uncertainly with her paw, but couldn’t touch the bottom. The last time this happened, she got stuck! And it was dark! The puppy wasn’t sure she liked that. She sat down and humphed.
Then Aleksandra’s nose twitched. She smelled something else. It smelled like food! Following her nose, she went around a corner and found, there on the floor, a bowl with a bit of dried cat food left in it. She was a hungry puppy and that food disappeared in a flash. Hardly enough there to feed a mouse! Aleksandra sniffed the floor around the bowl and the one beside it, just in case. It was a shame to waste good food.
There was another bowl beside the food bowls. It had water in it. Suddenly, Aleksandra realised how thirsty she was and she emptied that, too!
“Wow!” Kathy exclaimed, laughing. “She wasn’t thirsty at all, was she.” Kathy refilled the water bowl and put it back on the floor, picking up the empty food bowls as she did. “I hope the cats had eaten, already. We’d best put a baby gate there to keep the cats from going hungry!”
Kathy took a larger, puppy-sized, bowl off the counter and filled it with water, putting it down in a corner of the kitchen, far from the nook where the cats ate. “We should probably take her out back before bed. It’s been a while since she went,” she said.
Aleksandra was exploring. Everything smelled different and new! Her paws skidded on the floor, but there was so much to see she had to look at it all at once!
“Good idea,” Brian said as he tucked the pup under his arm and took her down to the backyard. Reattaching her leash, so she wouldn’t get lost exploring the garden in the darkness, he put Aleksandra down on the grass. Grass! She smelled flowers! Lots of them! She tried to run around, but that dratted leash kept stopping her.
Kathy was laughing as she watched from the kitchen window, “My goodness, she’s a curious little thing. Wants to know everything at once!”
“That’s the truth,” Brian laughed back. “Come on, Puppy. Time to go pee.”
Well, Aleksandra didn’t know what that meant, but just then she smelled something. There had been some kind of animal by those flowers. She moved closer and had a sniff. Hmmmm. What was that? She kept following her nose until she came to another smell. Was that a squirrel, she smelled?
“Aleksandra, go pee pees,” Brian encouraged. Aleks continued smelling and then, when she’d got all the information she could, she peed right on top of that squirrel’s smell. “Good pee pees, Aleksandra!” Brian exclaimed, giving her a scritch about the ears. “Do we have something for her?” he asked Kathy as she came down to the door.
“We sure do,” Kathy said. “What a good girl Aleksandra is!” She gave the puppy a treat to reward her and took the leash. “Come on, Pup Pup. Time for sleep.”
Aleksandra followed Kathy happily through the door. Then she came to the stairs going up to the kitchen. The puppy could get her front paws up, but her back legs weren’t yet long enough and stairs were new. She couldn’t figure out how to make them work!
“She’s never done stairs before,” Brian remarked with a chuckle. “Don’t think she’s getting up these herself tonight, though. Why don’t we carry her up tonight and let her figure it out tomorrow? I’m pretty tired.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kathy replied with a yawn.
Once the puppy was in, Kathy and Brian turned the TV on to watch the news and relax for a bit. It had been a big day, but as tired as they were, they couldn’t relax.
As they sat on the couch, Aleksandra looked up from the floor, looking rather adorable and reproachful.
Brian looked at Kathy. “Are we letting her up on the couch?” he asked, somewhat resigned to the idea.
“Of course we are,” Kathy replied with a smile. The battle was won before it had begun. She reached down and picked up the puppy. Aleksandra looked up and licked Kathy’s nose, then curled up to watch the news with them.
After a while, Kathy started to yawn. She felt like her face would split in half, she was so tired! Brian reached for the remote control and turned the TV off. It was close to 1:00 in the morning and time for sleep.
So, Brian picked up the pup and carried her up the stairs to the bedroom, while Kathy turned out the lights, locked up, called goodnight to the cats, wherever in the house they were hiding, and up they went.
“Hello, Pretty Face,” Kathy said to the puppy who watched her over Brian’s shoulder. There was something in her expression that touched Kathy’s heart. “Time for bed, now.”
At the top, Brian put Aleksandra down and pulled a baby gate across the top of the stairs. They thought it would be best to keep her upstairs for the first few nights, until the puppy and the cats were more acclimatised, and the puppy could do stairs. Baba and Linkoan could still come and go at will, but Aleksandra would have to stay upstairs until morning.
Aleksandra followed them into the bedroom and when she saw them sitting on the bed, decided she wanted to be up there, too. She tried and tried. She reached with her front paws as far as she could, up on her very tippy toes, catching the blanket with her claw as she did. Her weight pulled the blanket backward and Aleksandra tumbled back onto the carpet. She looked at the blanket and up to the bed, sighed, humphed and sat down.
Kathy and Brian got ready for bed, watching to see what she would do.
“Was that a humph?” Brian asked with a chuckle.
“I do believe it was,” Kathy replied with a smile.
Aleksandra got back up, reached up as far as she could with her front paws, grabbed hold of the mattress with her claws and pulled until her feet were off the floor. But her belly was stuck and her feet couldn’t reach the floor anymore to push her up. She kicked the air with her hind legs as hard as she could, pulling with her front paws, but just couldn’t get completely onto the bed.
“Come on, Little One,” Kathy said as she gently lifted the puppy up onto the bed. “Your legs will be long enough, soon. Time for sleep.”
“I guess it won’t hurt to let her sleep with us, tonight. But not every night. Only when she’s had a bath, OK?” Brian said firmly.
“Yes, dear,” Kathy said, her mouth twitching as she tried not to laugh.
Kathy and Brian settled into bed and turned out the lights. Aleksandra found a good spot between them, turned around in a circle, then plopped down. The bed was soft underneath her. The only light was from the streetlights behind the curtains. She watched for a moment as Kathy and Brian began to fall asleep, then put her head down with a little sigh. Kathy put her hand on the puppy’s back.
“Have sweet dreams, Pup Pup. I’ll see you in the morning.”
As the house quieted, Aleksandra could hear noises outside. There was whooshing and high sharp noises that made her think of Ally’s geese, and deep thrums that sounded like big growls. People walked by, their heels clicking on the pavement. It was so noisy out there. She was used to mountains and the country, where the noises were normal, animals and night birds, the wind in the trees, the rain falling.
Eventually, the night quieted. Kathy’s and Brian’s breathing calmed into sleep. Aleksandra curled her little body up into a little ball, leaning into Kathy’s side, as she did. She yawned, looked around, then put her head back down, closed her eyes and slept.