The hospital lights flash in my eyes and a man wearing blue scrubs injects me with a needle. I can’t feel my body anymore, and all I can see is his blue-clothed back and the nervous faces of my owners, Geoff and Bree, looking down at me. I can see them holding my paws, reaching to pat my ears, but all the sensations are distant.
* * *
None of my friends at the dog park believed me when I told them that my masters had been bringing me to the hospital to have a real doctor check on my puppies.
“The vet, you mean,” they said. “They take you to the vet’s office.”
But my masters had taken me to the vet before, and the doctor was different. That’s how I knew my puppies were going to be special.
“They’ll take your puppies away,” the other dogs at the dog park told me. “They’ll let you nurse them for a while, but the humans always sell puppies in the end.”
I knew they were right about that. Muffy, Lulabelle, and Susie had each had at least three litters of their own, and not one of them had a puppy left to show for it. But none of them had been taken to a real doctor at the actual hospital. So I hoped against hope that with my puppies and my masters it would be different. It had to be.
* * *
Beneath the hazy, floating sensation, I feel a dull pain pervading the core of my body. I see excitement in my owners’ eyes. Bree lets go of my paw with one hand and reaches across to grab one of Geoff’s hands. I can see her squeeze it tight. They are such good owners, standing by me, faithfully. They care about me so deeply.
Time drags on forever. I feel like my body will crack open from the pain. Then, I see the blue-clad doctor’s back straighten as he stands up from where he bent over me. He’s holding my puppy in his hands! It’s large, and he wraps it in cloth before handing it to Bree who clasps the bundle to her chest. He doesn’t hand any more puppies to her, and I’m a little confused and disappointed. Muffy says her litters are always exactly four puppies, and Lulabelle brags about the time she had a litter of eight!
Still, I can see from the swaddled bundle in Bree’s arms that my puppy is quite large. Larger than any of their puppies could have been, as Muffy, Susie, and Lulabelle are all quite small dogs. I’m a Bernese Mountain dog. Large and proud. And it seems my puppy has taken after me.
Bree holds the swaddled bundle toward Geoff and the two of them coo over it. I’m so exhausted, I can hardly stay awake, but I simply have to see my puppy before falling asleep. A quiet whimper-whine escapes from my jowls, and Bree smiles down at me. She tilts the bundle in her arms so I can see between the folds of fabric.
Golden eyebrows, cherubic pink cheeks, an upturned nose, and wide blue eyes with long, dark lashes.
I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing at first. My puppy doesn’t look anything like me. Could it look like its father? I can’t remember any male dogs that were ever close to me in the way Lulabelle described to me, but she insisted one of the dogs must have been since I was with puppy.
My puppy doesn’t look like any dog I’ve ever seen though.
It looks like Bree. And Geoff.
I hear the doctor speaking but I don’t understand his words — at least not most of them. “What are you going to do with the dog, now? Return it to the company?” he says. “You know, some couples who use goat surrogates will roast the animal on a spit over a bonfire at the baby’s christening to serve in a big ceremonial feast.”
“Isn’t that kind of barbaric?” Geoff asks.
The doctor shrugs and says, “So, you’ll give it back to the company then. I’m sure this dog could do several more years of good work as a surrogate.”
Bree and Geoff look at each other, but I’m still looking at my puppy. I can tell from her smell that she’s female, and, my goodness, the more I think about it, the more I realize that she’s the most beautiful, amazing puppy I’ve ever seen. She’s so special that she’s transcended from my own race to that of my masters. I couldn’t be prouder of her and I can’t wait to feel her nestled at my side. I know my masters will want to keep her, and I plan to spend the rest of my life serving this most wonderful of puppies.
“Actually,” Bree says, “we’ve gotten attached to Gloria over the last nine months.”
“Yeah,” Geoff adds. “We were thinking of keeping her on as a nanny dog.”
“Oh,” the doctor says. I still can’t understand his words, but he sounds surprised. “Not many couples with a new baby want a dog this large around.”
“Surrogate dogs are supposed to be really good with the children they carried. Something about bonding with the babies before they’re born,” Bree says. “They’re supposed to make the best nannies.”
“Right,” the doctor says. “Well, good luck with that.” Then he leaves me, my masters, and my new puppy alone together.
Bree holds the puppy down to me and lets me press my muzzle lightly against her head. I can tell my masters are pleased with my puppy too. They must be jealous that I have such a perfect puppy while they have none, so I reassure them with a quiet woof, “We can share her.”
Mary E. Lowd is a science-fiction writer in the Pacific Northwest. She’s had more that forty short stories published, as well as two novels: Otters In Space and Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly. Her fiction has been nominated ten times for the Ursa Major Award and won a Cóyotl Award.