A Change of Heart

[Prompt: You are a cynical, evil dog who has had many owners. You are adopted by a lovely couple with a toddler. You do not want to be friends with the toddler but somehow you are going to love the toddler ]

 Dog    I hated being caged. Too many times in my short life I could recall being trapped within a metal barrier or clipped to the end of an unbreakable chain. I had also learned what actions resulted in consequences at a young, tender age. Barking out of turn promised a muzzle. Begging for food meant a missed meal. Showing excitement gained a kick in the ribs. Growling ensured the shock collar was put around my thin neck, and any type of eye contact with the human after that point was a memory of immense pain. But I had learned one valuable lesson during my time with my first human: biting meant I got to leave.
     Over the past three years I had resulted to biting four separate times. I had never drawn blood or caused a true injury like the first time, but I used my power to convince the bipeds I should go somewhere else. I had been exchanged between men who wished for a ‘tough looking sonofabitch’, although the sentiment meant nothing to me. 

     The last man to claim me as his had left me in a small crate while he worked. I was barely able to turn around in the pen, and remembered laying in the same position for hours on end, my joints and muscle locking and cramping in protest. The man had neglected to feed me for three days when I finally wouldn’t be forced into the crate for another day. The man had hit me over the head with the bottle he was drinking from and commanded me to get in. I had no choice but to snap. But this time the man didn’t give me to another, he took me to a place called the pound. 
     Once again I had been caged. I can recall people passing by my enclosure, opting not to make eye contact and pretend I wasn’t there. I laid in silence behind the chainlink fence on the cool cement for months without anyone but the caretakers taking notice of me. Part of me was relieved to be away from the men, but another part of me feared who would come next.
     I awoke one morning to an unexpected sight. A set of bright, blue eyes stared at me through the fence. A small, round face with short brown hair fashioned in pigtails presented me with a smile only a child possesses. I eyed her wearily, concerned at her intent. 
     “Dat one!” Her small hand pointed at me. Glancing to her side, she squealed and spoke again, “Dada I want dis one!”
     A man approached the gate and I felt my hackles raise. I knew better than to growl or show any other signs of discomfort. I kept my eyes on him as he spoke to the little girl.
     “Oh gosh, Ally, are you sure?” he crouched down to her level and tilted his head, “There are a lot of other doggies here to pick from. This one doesn’t look very happy.”
     “Yesh dada, I want dis one.” The young girl exaggerated her nod as she gripped the fence with her tiny hands, “I think he needs a fwend and I want to be his best fwend.”
     The man looked me over, his eyes pausing at the sight of my raised hair, “Hm, I don’t know honey, don’t you think a smaller doggie that could fit in your bed would be best?”
     “No, dada. I want him!” The little girl jumped up and down and shook the chainlink with her hands. 
     “Okay, okay, let me see who you two are looking at,” a young woman approached from behind the man and girl. She had brown hair like the little girl, and a wore a warm smile on her face. Placing a hand on Ally’s shoulder, she calmed the girl from shaking the gate. “Oh wow, is this your new friend, Ally? Let’s see here…” The woman’s eyes skimmed a piece of paper in her free hand. “It looks like they don’t know much about this dog, he was dropped off after hours and left chained to the door…how sad. It says here that he’s withdrawn and it’s not known how he acts with children or other pets.” She glanced sideways at the man and pursed her lips, raising an eyebrow. “It sounds like this dog will require a lot of work, Phil. What do you think?”
      Phil returned the unsure look to the woman then glanced between me and his doting daughter. “Well…we did tell her she could pick out the dog…”
     The woman shifted her eyes back to me with a smile, then squeezed Ally’s shoulder gently, “Okay Ally, it looks like we’re going to take this doggie home with us.”
      As the little girl squealed happily and hugged each of her parent’s legs, I heard a sweeping sound behind me and realized my tail was wagging for the first time in months.
      I knew that I needed to play along if I wanted to leave this concrete prison, so I behaved as the keeper entered my enclosure and encircled my neck with a chain. He led me from the cell and to the outside, beyond any fences to contain me. I perked my ears up and sniffed the fresh air, thankful to be out. I could hear little footsteps padding towards me. I turned my head to see Ally running my direction. I sat down on my haunches and tilted my head.
     “Ally, slow down honey! We need to introduce ourselves first! Remember what we learned about meeting new dogs?” her mother trailed behind her, reaching down to grab one of her small hands. Ally’s pace slowed to a reluctant walk, and they approached me. Ally’s mom crouched down to assist Ally in the meeting ritual. 
     “Alright, remember, first we put our hand out like this,” her mother hung her hand limply in front of my nose, “And then we talk to the doggy and tell them our names and ask if it’s okay to pet them, like this: Hi, my name is Laurie, is it okay if I pet you?” 
     I played along, lifting my nose to sniff lightly at her hand. She seemed appeased and reached behind my ears to give me a scratch. Her fingers were gentle and I was surprised at the enjoyment I felt from the touch. Lowering my head slightly, I pulled away from her hand. 
     “Okay Ally, it’s your turn,” Laurie pat Ally on the back and gave her an encouraging smile.
     The little girl lifted her hand up to my snout, “Hi, I’m Alwy, can I pet you?”
     I sniffed the little girl’s hand, I detected a hint of something sweet and possibly sticky on her small fingers. As I puzzled over the source of the lingering scent, Ally was quick to step forward and wrap her arms around my neck, embracing my large frame in a clumsy hug. My body went rigid and I braced for the oncoming discipline Laurie was sure to dispense. 
     “He’s so soft, mommy!”
     I looked to Laurie and whined in nervous anticipation. Laurie merely stood and watched Ally, the same inviting smile on her face. These humans didn’t make any sense. 

     My new home wasn’t what I was used to. Phil unloaded me from the back of the car and lead me through a gate to the side of the large, two story house into an immense, fenced back yard. Huge trees were spaced throughout the well manicured green lawn, and flowerbeds peppered the sunny spaces. I had never been in a yard like this.
     The man reached down and I flinched, expecting the worse. Phil made a cooing sound in an attempt to comfort me as he unclipped the chain from around my neck and let me free. I looked up at him and tilted my head questioningly.
      “It’s all yours, bud. Go check out your new yard,” his smile was wide and genuine. 
     My gaze shifted from Phil to the very back of the yard. It seemed like it was a mile away. Fixing my sights on the corner furthest from the humans, I took a tentative step away from him. He didn’t move or object to my actions. My energy surged and I took off, galloping towards the end of the yard.
     The wind howled in my ears, my tongue flew out the side of my mouth. My legs pumped beneath me faster than they ever had before. I felt as though I was flying through the yard. Snaking around trees and ducking under low branches, I ran and ran and ran.
     I could hear Ally laughing from the porch along the house. I slowed my pace to a trot, then a walk, and looked back towards the noise. Ally was carrying a big blue bowl in her arms, she waddled over to a faucet and placed the bowl beneath the spout.
     “Help, dada,” she pointed at the faucet and looked at her dad. Phil obliged, turning on the water to fill the bowl. 
     “Doggie! Here, doggie!” Ally waved her arms in the air above her head, motioning for me to come to her. It only took me a moment of contemplation before I trotted back to her, I was thirsty after all my running. As I lapped the fresh, cool water, Ally patted my head as she spoke with her parents.
     “I think he likes his new home, Ally. Good job,” her mom praised.
     “Do we gwet to pick a name now?” Ally asked, still running her hand along my fur.
     “I think that is a great idea,” her dad replied, “Do you have an idea for a name, sweety?”
     Ally pulled her hand away, took a step back from me, and then began looking me up and down as she considered me from snout to tail, “Barnibus!” she exclaimed.
     Laurie and Phil shared an amused look between themselves. 
     “Barnibus, like the t-rex in your book?” Laurie asked.
     “Yep!” Ally beamed and nodded, “He is big like Barnibus and has claws and teeth.”
     Phil chuckled and crouched down to Ally’s level, reaching out to pat me gently on the head. I held perfectly still.
     “It’s a great name, hun. Welcome to the family, Barnibus.”

     That night I opted to curl in the corner of Ally’s room to sleep, after realizing I had no other choice. The little girl was very adamant about me sleeping in her room since we were going to be ‘best fwends’. Her parents finished reading her a story and told her goodnight, then turned on her dim night light and closed the door. Her little blue eyes stared at me longingly from her bed. I averted my gaze and rest my head on my paws, closing my eyes. 
     As I began to drift to sleep I felt something brush against my back. I opened my eyes to observe Ally pulling a blanket over my back. She had a pillow under one arm, which she placed next to me. Grinning, she got down on the floor and laid next to me, snuggling her head against the pillow and adjusting the blanket over both of us. A strange feeling bloomed within my chest as I admired the small girl next to me. I felt at ease, and I felt a need to protect the small creature. With a small whine, I licked Ally’s cheek and laid my head next to hers on the pillow, enjoying the feeling of her small hands in my fur as we fell asleep. 


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