Two little girls knocked on the door. Beyond them, just off the front porch, were Puccini and Ratso. Puccini was part wolf, dark red with yellow eyes. Ratso had some German Shepherd in him. Puccini was the dog the man most feared because of his size and almost human eyes, the stuff of nightmares.
The girls were frightened, the dogs threatening them. The neighbors across the street, Richard and Dolores, had gone to the city, and once again left the dogs untended. They had leapt the fence as they had several times before.
Both dogs had lived their early years on California's wild Big Sur coast. The dogs knew no boundaries and didn't belong in a small town. Certainly five-foot fences couldn't hold them. And as time went by they seemed to get wilder and more vicious, not less.
He pulled the children into the doorway. They told him they lived up the hill and were walking home when Puccini and Ratso began stalking them. The girls were shaking, their lips trembled. ``They wouldn't let us go up the hill,'' the older girl said. ``They showed their teeth.''
``I'll walk you home,'' he said, and took them by their hands. Puccini, lowering his shoulders, and Ratso, his teeth laid bare, moved forward. The man stopped. They meant business. He had encountered them before, and it had been a near thing. But this was different. Now he was responsible for children. His own children, too, also two young girls, were off playing, and their safety was in jeopardy when they returned.
Suddenly he remembered Jack London and how London had written that a man with a club, if he kept his composure, was a match for an aggressive dog. It was a brutal scene, Beauty Smith battering White Fang, if he recalled correctly. Or perhaps it was something he read in ``Call of the Wild.'' In any case, it was London.
He guided the little girls into the house. He went into the kitchen. In a tall vase his wife kept several sticks, saplings, actually, that she had peeled the bark off and used to stir things. He found one and tried it in his hand. There was a life and spring to it that stung when he slapped it into his palm.
At the door again he told the girls to stand behind him. He walked down the porch stairs slowly, his heart pounding. Puccini and Ratso backed away, Puccini getting lower and lower until his stomach seemed to scrape the pavement, his head bent up, the yellow eyes staring. Ratso growled, then, as if he had decided much earlier, perhaps because he didn't like the man, came suddenly, launching himself into the air.
Time seemed to slow and the man, remembering Jack London, swung the stick carefully and with precision, catching Ratso on the side of the head. The blow was solid, the contact loud, a snapping sound. Ratso twisted sideways and his body, his left side, hit the street with a thud. The man, shaking, was still more concerned with Puccini who started to spring then caught himself in midair, landed like a cat, sniffed the still Ratso, howled and backed away. Ratso tried to get to his feet, fell, then stood again, staggering.
The man's heart beat hard. The girls clung to him. He took a step forward and Puccini backed away again, low to the ground. Ratso reeled and limped down the hill, twice falling and rising. The man waited, then backing up the hill, walked the girls home.
Returning with his daughters, he was relieved the dogs had gone. He thought perhaps Ratso had gone off to recover or die and that Puccini was at his side. He tried to calm himself. He thought about Jack London and how the writer might have saved the life of a little girl, perhaps several little girls. He gave all the credit to London because he knew it was because of what he had written he had been able to do what he did. That otherwise he would have had no plan and it would have turned out badly.
A few weeks later he returned home late from work. Richard and Dolores had gone to the city again and Ratso and Puccini rushed out to dominate the street. When the man got out of the car they turned sharply and moved away. Ratso snarled, but that was all and kept moving, down the hill.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...