He loved to hang two or three heads out the window; he loved the wind on his faces, the cool air, and the sounds of car wrecks behind him
Art by Tamara Rees
“I don’t feel like going to school today,” he said, a lower lip trembling with injustice.
“Tough. Get in the truck,” his dad said. “You know you have to go to school.”
“I have a headache. Actually, I have two. The second one really hurts.”
“I don’t care, you have to go to school,” his dad said. “It’s court ordered and if we miss it, you are in a whole lot of trouble, young man. Now get in.” His dad wasn’t his real dad, but that’s how they got along. His dad was the kind of guy who yelled easily and whose eyes blazed with anger if you annoyed him. Other people were scared to death of him. Even Cer tried to soft shoe it a little around his dad, at least sometimes. Cer trudged towards the shiny red truck, dragging his big feet.
“Let’s go, buddy, I mean it!”
Cer slowly dropped himself into the passenger seat in the front. He felt like he was all limbs, as he often did, so he tried to readjust himself. His serpentine tail curled around itself on the passenger seat floor. Cer pushed the power window button and put one of his heads out the window.
“I didn’t mean to eat somebody’s Chihuahua, you know,” Cerberus said to his dad. “I thought it was fast food.” He was quite sullen about the whole school thing.
“Well, it wasn’t, and that furry little rodent was the lapdog of the owner of our building, and now you have to go to obedience school for 8 weeks, in addition to all the fines” said his dad. “Obedience school, of all the stupid punishments. I do not have time for this. The things I do to keep our apartment in this city.”
Cer swung his middle head out the passenger window to join the right head. He loved to hang two or three heads out the window; he loved the wind on his faces, the cool air, and the sounds of car wrecks behind him.
“Are we there yet?” Cer asked. “I have to pee.”
“You should have thought of that before we left. We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
They finally pulled up to the Positive Thinking Dog School and doubled parked.
“Parking in Manhattan is such a pain. Oh wait, I have to put on your leash,” said Morningstar as he pulled it out of the glove compartment. He knew Cer should wear it more often but he didn’t care.
“I hate that thing! Do I hafta wear it?” cried Cerberus.
“Yes, you do, you’re not allowed into dog school without it. I know the collar doesn't fit well.”
“Oh, that’s an understatement!”
“Well, that’s why we only use one of your heads, and apparently that’s all you bother using too.”
Morningstar snapped the leash onto the collar on the middle head while the left head rested on Morningstar’s shoulder, nuzzling and snuffling. All three necks sported a choke chain collar that fed into one handle. Morningstar let Cerberus out of the truck and they walked to the school’s doorway.
The small bush adjacent to the front door had been used by a lot of students. After Cer peed on it, the bush turned brown and collapsed into mulch.
“Did you bring my training treats?” he asked.
“Oh, man, I forgot them. Okay, first of all, you may not eat other dogs as a training reward, okay? That’s how we got here in the first place.”
Cer thrust out a couple of lower lips and sighed, a deeply unhappy double rush of hot air.
“If you behave today, I’ll get you hamburgers on the way home.”
Five of Cer’s ears perked up. He loved fast food.
“Can we go to McDonald’s?” asked Cer. “I know you like the way they contribute to gluttony.”
“Sure, yeah, just behave yourself or no burgers. Remember when we went to the vet and you scared that poor vet tech into wetting her pants? There weren’t any burgers after that incident.”
“She had a thermometer!” cried Cer.
“You still didn’t have to circle your heads around hers.”
School was starting to look much better to Cer. The mere thought of all those burgers made several strings of drool cascade into liquid ropes. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. He shook his heads.
“Stop that Cer, you’re getting drool on my Armani,” his dad snapped, taking a designer silk handkerchief out of his jacket pocket to dab at the drool. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“Sorry.” His dad’s anger banished Cer’s thoughts of burgers and thus ended the strings of drool.
“Yes, I know,” said his dad. “Again you’re sorry. Why mastiffs drool so much is beyond me.”
They walked down the hallway and turned into a room marked “Beginning Obedience, 7 p.m.” A woman sat at a registration table. Her eyes widened when she saw Cerberus and she dropped her pencil.
“Hi, I’m Luc Morningstar, and this is my dog, Cerberus. We’re here for our first class.”
The woman gulped. “Your first class? You mean you didn’t go to puppy class?” She eyed Cer nervously. One head was sniffing at her paperwork, the middle head was checking out the room, and the third head was under the table nudging up the edges of her short skirt.
“No, I’m sorry, we were not able to attend puppy class. When Cer was a puppy, we didn’t live near any school that offered it.” Cer thought once again that his dad was a smooth operator. “But we’re here now and that’s the important thing, isn’t it?”
The woman looked at her paperwork. “I see…oh, stop that right now!” she said to Cer in a high-pitched voice. She pushed the head away from in between her thighs. “I see you’re court ordered.”
“Well, yes, but we were planning on attending anyway.”
Cer pulled his head away from her skirt and brought it over the table to inches away from her face and smiled widely, showing her the cavernous insides of one of his mouths. Even for a three-headed mastiff, Cer was a big boy.
“I see,” she said, her voice another octave higher. Her eyes were wide. “Uhm…I see Cerberus ate a…ate another dog?”
“It was an unfortunate accident. He thought it was a bunny. It won’t happen again, I assure you. He’s seen a veterinary behaviorist and is now taking medication.”
“I see. And what kind of dog is he?”
“He’s a mastiff.”
“He has three heads.”
“He’s from an ancient line.”
"Well, you’re all signed in, you and Cerber…oh!” she screamed, as another of Cer’s heads goosed her warm thigh. “You can just take a seat and we’ll start in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Morningstar said. He and Cer walked from the table to a nearby chair. Morningstar moved like a model, lithe and muscular, always utterly straight. Cerberus sat behind him so that his left head was still in reach of the woman whose skirt and warm thighs he now loved. The woman scooted her chair down to the other end of the table. Cer extended his left head but wasn’t quite able to reach her hem. He watched her with rapt attention as she registered a black lab and a Great Dane.
Five minutes later, a young man wearing expensive casual clothes came in leading a sleek white dog with red tipped ears and red eyes. The dog was the size of a large Doberman, imposing but much smaller than Cerberus. As soon as Cer saw the dog, he was on his thick feet, all three heads in motion, growling and baring lots of teeth.
“Cerberus, stop that now,” Morningstar said. Cer’s growls subsided but the teeth on two heads were still bared. Cer lay down behind Morningstar’s chair and swished his tail slowly.
“What the hell is that hound of death doing here?” asked Cer. “It’s not like anyone would even notice him if he’s spectral. I mean, this is New York. And you know we’re not gonna die, so whose death is he announcing? It can’t be a real hunt!”
“I assume they’re hunting a soul. Hmm. That is odd,” his dad said. “Arawn knows what he’s supposed to be doing right now.”
“Some hunter. Here he is in broad daylight. Man, I’m scared. Shaking in my drool. Not. Boy, Cwm looks stupid when he’s not spectral. Those red eyes look like he’s got conjunctivitis.”
The young man with the sleek white dog glanced over and locked stern eyes with Morningstar but said nothing to them and began his registration. The woman behind the desk stared into the quiet dog’s glowing red eyes and gulped.
“And who is this?” she asked with trepidation.
“This is Cwm,” said the young man. He glanced at Morningstar, who would not acknowledge him. “I’m Charles Arawn.”
“And what kind of dog is Cwm?” the woman asked.
Arawn looked down at her, disdain evident all over his military features. “Cwm is a mix of Welsh breeds,” he said.
“Which Welsh breeds?”
“I don’t know,” said Arawn. “He’s very well behaved, however,” he said as he glanced at Cerberus. Cwm looked at Cerberus too. A low warning growl emitted from one of Cer’s mouths. “I thought a refresher course would be a good idea.”
“Okay,” said the woman, relieved that Cwm only had one head and was not pressing it into her thighs. “Take a seat and we’ll begin shortly.”
A striking, confident woman walked to the center of the room. Tall and thin, she wore black jeans and a black sweater, and had a black treat bag snapped to her belt.
“Hi, I’m Melissa,” she said to the assembled dogs and people. “I’ll be your instructor for Beginning Obedience. Today we’re going to work on some basic steps. Our goal here is to teach your dog to be a good companion in the house. We’re not going to be working on five-minute downs next to a doughnut or anything like that. Many of you have already taught your dog how to sit, how to down, and how to wait at the door. That’s great, but we’ll be going over those first to reinforce your training and to begin for those of you who haven’t learned those steps yet.” Her eyes rested on Cer, who extended his middle head towards her and sniffed.
She took a tiny step away from him and turned to look deeply into the blazing red eyes of Cwm paying rapt attention to her. She quickly turned again to look at a Basset hound.
Each of the ten people in class asked their dog to sit. Cwm dropped into a perfect sit immediately, an impressive display of obedience. Cwm looked up at Arawn and received a treat from Arawn’s jacket pocket. Cwm stared adoringly at Arawn’s face. The tip of Cwm’s tail moved up and down with pleasure. All of the dogs except Cer did a decent sit. Cer was staring at the woman teaching the class.
“She’d be pretty even without the treat bag,” Cer said.
“Sit!” said Morningstar, his eyes taking on a hue akin to Cwm’s. “I’m not kidding, we cannot afford to fail this class. Park your butt. Do not attract attention to us.”
Cer slowly lowered his hind end to the floor, but he was quite lopsided.
“But look at her,” Cer said.
“I don’t care if she’s the best looking woman you’ve ever seen, you’d better sit properly.”
Cer continued to look at the woman and began to salivate out of one mouth. He leaned over to the side so that his sit was even more lopsided.
“Okay, I see everyone…” said Melissa, “well, almost all of us has the sit mastered. “ She walked towards Cer, and all three heads came towards her eagerly as he stood up. Morningstar could see Melissa’s knees shake.
“Stop that!” he hissed at his dog.
“What’s this dog’s name?” Melissa asked.
“Cerberus, or Cer for short,” Morningstar said.
“All right, Cer, look at me,” she said. She pulled up her palm up toward her face so that Cer would follow it and raise his head.
“Good boy,” she said. “Keep your head up, I mean your heads, and now sit.” Using the hand signal, she focused the dog’s attention.
Cer dropped into a perfect sit. Melissa gave him a treat, although she was momentarily flummoxed as to whether or not she had to give one to each head.
“Is one treat sufficient?” she asked Morningstar.
With one leg, Cer stepped on Morningstar’s foot and then returned to a perfect sit. Drool started from the two heads that had not had a treat.
“Three would be best, thank you.”
“I see,” she said as she doled out the other two. She wiped drool from her hand onto her jeans. As she turned to walk away, Cer goosed her behind with the middle head.
“Stop that, Cer!” said Morningstar. “I’m sorry, Ms. Melissa. He loves pretty women.”
“Okay,” she said, ignoring the comment. “Let’s walk in a circle to the left and see how these dogs heel.”
The ten people and ten dogs started off in a haphazard circle. Cer glowered at Cwm, who was on the other side of the circle. Cwm was heeling perfectly, like a veteran show dog high stepping it in the ring. Cer was too focused on other aspects of the class, such as the teacher and the Pomeranian, to concentrate on walking. Then he sniffed the butt of the young black lab in front of him. The black lab turned around to play, but his owner yanked him on ahead.
“Cer! Walk like a normal dog!” said Morningstar through gritted teeth.
“Hey, you want a normal dog, get one. But nooooo, you wanted the guard dog from hell.”
“Some guard dog you are!” snapped Morningstar. “You let so many souls escape that now we have to recapture them before we can go back. You’re the reason we’re stuck up here.”
“Whatever.” Cer dropped his head and lifted a paw to chew on.
“When I tell you to stop heeling,” said Melissa, “I want you to ask your dog to sit. Okay, ready? Stop.”
A couple of the dogs didn’t stop when they were supposed to and bumped into the dogs in front of them. Cwm stopped cleanly and sat perfectly. The Great Dane stood up on her back legs and kissed her owner. The Pomeranian barked. Cer bumped into the basset hound and stepped on her back foot. The Basset yipped in pain.
“What the heck?” said the Basset’s owner, a middle-aged woman with frizzy hair. “Your dog, if you can call it a dog, just stepped on my dog’s foot!” She bent down to examine the foot. The Basset milked it for all it was worth and whined and whimpered. “I’m going to have to get this foot x-rayed,” the woman declared.
“So sorry, madam, I’d be more than happy to pay for your dog’s medical attention. I’m sorry my dog bumped into him.”
“You bet you will, mister. What are you doing bringing that beast into here anyway?”
“He’s learning to be obedient.” Morningstar glanced sideways at Cer, who heard him but ignored him.
“Well good luck, that dog doesn’t listen to you!”
“We’re working on that,” said Morningstar, his jaw muscles tightening.
“Is there a problem over there?” asked Melissa.
The Basset’s owner fumed for a bit. Melissa felt the dog’s paw, and agreed that it should be x-rayed and that the Basset not finish class today.
“Okay, everyone start heeling again, please,” said Melissa.
Now Cer was behind the yappy Pomeranian. They started walking in a circle again.
“We’re going nowhere,” Cer said. “I’m bored.”
“Don’t even THINK about that Pomeranian,” said Morningstar. “Excuse me, ma’am, but I think it would be best if we were in front of your little dog.”
The Pomeranian’s owner immediately pulled out of line to go behind them. As the Pomeranian walked by him, Cer sniffed him with the left head. The Pomeranian started barking furiously, skittering across the floor like a wind-up toy. Cer brought his middle head up over the left one so that both heads could glare at the 6-pound dog, and curled the lips on both heads. The yapping stopped, and Morningstar never saw the tiny puddle of urine. Now they were behind a German shepherd, and only one dog behind Cwm.
But when Cer looked at the high-stepping Cwm, who moved in perfect alignment with Arawn, he felt twinges of anger.
“That little brown-noser,” said Cer. “I can’t stand that hound.”
“I don’t care, Cer, leave Cwm alone. He’s always been much better behaved than you. We’ll talk to him and Arawn later.”
“But why are they here, if he’s so perfect? This is beginning obedience, isn’t it?
“I have no idea. Forget him for now. Or at the very least, do what he does. Why can’t you be more like Cwm?”
Cer dropped his right head towards the floor.
“Fine, you want a dog like Cwm, you can have Cwm. I’ll just leave you two alone.”
Melissa clapped her hands. “Okay, everyone stop now, and sit your dog.”
Cwm dropped and parked instantly.
“What a candy,” Cer said under his breath as he lumbered to a halt.
“Okay, everyone face me, please,” said Melissa.
The circle turned inward to look at her. Cer’s left head wandered around and sniffed the crotch of the German shepherd’s female owner, who swatted at Cer and told Morningstar to control his dog. Cer could feel Morningstar’s significant effort not to let loose his anger. The woman took her German shepherd to the other side of the circle. To Cer’s delight, he was now standing behind the perfect Cwm. All six of Cer’s ears went up.
Cwm turned his head to the right a barely discernible half inch. The blazing red eye lighted on Cer’s heads, and then Cwm looked back to the instructor as though he had not seen Cerberus. Cwm gazed into Melissa’s face and dropped into a sit even though he had not been asked to.
“All right, sit your dogs, please,” asked Melissa. The dogs all sat, some more lopsided than others, but none as fine as Cwm. “Cwm, that’s perfect, what a good boy you are!” she said as she handed him a treat, which he took delicately. His tail swished. “Don’t forget to praise your dog when he’s done something correctly. Don’t hold back, be lavish with the praise.'
“Okay, decide which word or phrase you’re going to use a release from a requested behavior. I use ‘all right.’ Use whatever you like, but be consistent with it and don’t use it for anything else but releasing.”
Melissa kept walking and talking. “Timing is important with positive reinforcement. When your dog does something right, tell him immediately!” As she walked by Cer, he stuck his middle head in her crotch.
“Cerberus, no!” said Melissa, her voice going up into a squeak. The crotch of her black jeans boasted a long strand of drool.
“I’m sorry,” said Morningstar. “I’m quite embarrassed.”
Cer could see the muscles working on his dad’s face again. He didn’t care.
Cer dropped all of his heads in abject apology while keeping his eyes on Melissa. She tentatively patted the top of the head closest to her.
“That’s okay, Cerberus, you’ll learn not to do that. You’re a good boy,” she said, and walked away.
“As if,” Cer said to her back side.
“And let’s heel again, your dog on your left, and forward!”
Morningstar stared at Arawn, whose gaze was now openly defiant. With his jaw clenched, Arawn was as frightening as when he was out hunting souls. Suddenly, Morningstar understood why Arawn was here: a coup d’état was in the works.
Cerberus eyed Cwm’s behind. The perfect steps of the elegant hound really annoyed him. Cer leaned one head forward and bit Cwm’s white behind. The ensuing noise could be heard half a block away. Fur flew. Owners tried to keep their dogs from entering the fight. The lights went out as the power died and New York went black.
When the lights came back on a minute later, the owner of the Pomeranian screamed, a sound that could render open the walls of purgatory.
“Where the hell is my dog?” she screamed.
Cwm licked blood from his haunch. He became spectral as his white fur shivered. He then executed a perfect sit next to Arawn. Arawn began walking and Cwm heeled at his side; they began fading out as they walked towards a window. By the time they reached it no human could see them. Morningstar could feel them exiting through the window on their way home.
Morningstar smiled in triumph, a look that could scare small children.
On the way to McDonald’s, Cer lifted up a bruised head.
“You okay, Dad?”
“Of course. But Cer, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you! You’re going to get us kicked out of our apartment. We have to get you into another class quick before they find out we got kicked out of this one. You can’t keep doing this, Cer, you just can’t. We can’t act like we do when we’re home.” He turned his head to the car window. “Three quarter-pounder meals, super sized, please, with vanilla shakes instead of sodas,” he said into the tinny equipment. “Yes, I know it will cost more. That’s all right.”
“But that stupid Pomeranian was under a chair, I didn’t eat him!”
“That is the only reason you’re getting burgers.”
“Cwm will be fine in a bit. That little snip is always fine.”
“That’s not really the point, Cer. The point is you need to listen to me or we won’t be able to recapture all the souls you lost. And then we won’t get home. Until we get home, stuff like this will just keep happening. That Arawn has always wanted to be lord of the underworld, and if he’d won today, he could have had his way.”
“I’ll try harder, but only because I want to go home. I hate it here. Except for McDonald’s.”
“I have to admit, it’s a good thing you noticed those two,” Morningstar said. “I don’t say this very often, but you are a good boy, Cer – I’m proud of you. We just stopped a rebellion because you were paying attention.”
The smell was killing him. Cer moved towards the driver’s seat and put a massive paw in between Morningstar’s legs so he could be close to the window.
“I’m hungry,” said Cer.
He stuck his left head out the driver’s window to get a better whiff. The middle head followed.
Behind the window, the clerk fainted, spilling the bag she was packing.
“Oh look, extra fries on the counter!” said Cerberus. He left a line of drool as he licked the counter clean. “Hello? Can I have my burgers now, please? Hell-ooo?”
October 28, 2015
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October 26, 2015
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.