The Meeting Place was crowded on a sunny morning in Collarworld, the afterlife waystation for pets to wait until they are reunited with their masters. And as Vincent the king orange tabbycat watched the new arrivals of dogs and cats and birds and other pets receive their welcoming blessings from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all animals in Collarworld, he thought about the experiences that the new arrivals brought with them from the living world. He also knew that many of these new arrivals would be scared and confused, and it was his duty – as it was the duty of many of the veteran pets at the Meeting Place – to soothe and calm the new arrivals.
The final arrival of the day was an old boxer. “Vincent,” called St. Francis of Assisi, “come welcome our new friend.”
The tabbycat walked up to the boxer. “Welcome to Collarworld, friend dog. My name is Vincent, and we’re happy that you’re here with us. What is your name?”
“Am I … where is my … what is this place – ”
“I know. It’s hard to understand. But you’re no longer in the Living World, you’re here with us in a new place.”
The boxer looked around. “All these animals … you are all … ”
“Yes we are,” the tabbycat explained. “We’re just waiting here and someday we will meet our masters again. And so will you.”
St. Francis of Assisi slowly placed his hands on the boxer’s ribs. “You have been through many adventures, young one. Let me heal you.”
The boxer looked up at the patron saint. “If I am here … then my brother … my brother is here too?”
“You’re the only boxer I’ve seen so far today,” Vincent replied, as St. Francis slowly rubbed the boxer’s chest and neck.
“My brother … he must be here,” the boxer replied.
“Vincent,” the patron saint said, “Come look over here.”
The tabbycat walked over to the boxer’s left side. It was there that Vincent saw something in the boxer’s front left shoulder.
The boxer’s left front flank had the remains of a bullet wound.
“My Lord,” the tabbycat whispered. “What happened here?”
“I need to find my brother … please, if he’s here, you must help me find him.”
The tabbycat looked up at the patron saint. The saint nodded. Vincent then turned to the boxer. “If your brother is here in Collarworld, I’ll help you find him. Are you able to walk?”
“Yes,” the boxer replied. “You’ve seen my wound. That was a long time ago. I can still walk. It hurts sometimes, but I manage.”
“You will be fine here,” Vincent replied. “Come join me. I live in the green meadow just over the horizon. I have many friends who would love to meet you and become your friends as well.”
The boxer nodded. “As long as you help me find my brother … I will be your friend.”
As the tabbycat and the boxer walked the long, dusty path to the green meadow, Vincent explained to his new friend about the realms of Collarworld – the locations for farm animals and circus animals and racing animals; the places for service pets and rescue pets and the like.
“And how long have you been here?” the boxer asked.
“A very long time,” Vincent replied.
“And you haven’t seen my brother?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t recall recently seeing a boxer. You’re the first one in a long time.”
The two continued their journey.
“You know, friend dog, you haven’t told me your name.”
“I’m sorry. My mistress called me Cha-Cha.”
“That’s a good name for a dog.”
“She named my brother Rascal.”
“Tell me about your brother and your owner. There’s still a long way for us to travel, and I’d like to know more about you, friend dog.”
Cha-Cha looked at Vincent. “Can we rest a bit first? My shoulder … it aches …”
“Sure,” Vincent said. “This tree will give us some nice shelter.”
And as the two walked over to the oak tree, Cha-Cha the boxer told Vincent an amazing story of her life in the living world.
“We were a litter of five. We all played together on a farm, and my brother Rascal and I had so much fun together as puppies.”
“I bet you did.”
“Then one day, our mother called us over, and said that we would be going to a human owner. We were so excited, just the thought of Rascal and I staying together and helping a human. And our mother said to us, ‘Rascal and Cha-Cha, this is very important. You must protect Miss Dollie.'”
“That was our mistress. See, boxers are very smart dogs, and we know when there’s trouble. And even though the first time we met Miss Dollie, she picked us up and kissed and hugged us, we could tell that she was very scared.”
Vincent listened as Cha-Cha continued her story.
“Rascal and I could tell that Miss Dollie was afraid of something. Miss Dollie wouldn’t tell us, but we knew that she was afraid. So the two of us made a pact. We would always stay with Miss Dollie and protect her from whatever it was that made her fearful. Rascal would always sleep at the foot of her bed, while I slept at the entrance to her bedroom door. We would look out the window at anyone that walked past our house, just to make sure they were friendly. And we both agreed to always make Miss Dollie proud. We never barked at night, we always finished our food, and we never made a mess inside the house. We loved Miss Dollie, and every time she held us, we could tell that we were helping her relax.”
“I know many therapy dogs in Collarworld,” Vincent said. “They’ve told me of their bond with their masters. It’s a wonderful feeling. You have a great gift.”
“You’ve seen my wound,” said Cha-Cha.
“It was a cold night, the coldest night I can remember. I remember that Miss Dollie was watching television, and the phone rang. She answered it, and all of a sudden Rascal and I could see that Miss Dollie’s face was went from happy to – to – to terrified. And she hung up the phone, picked it back up and called for the police.”
“Do you know who called?”
“Not at first,” Cha-Cha answered. “But Rascal and I both looked at each other and we said, ‘We have to protect Miss Dollie.'”
“So what happened?”
“Maybe about ten minutes after that phone call, we were sitting by Miss Dollie’s feet. And then someone started pounding on the door. It was a man, and all I heard him say was, ‘I found you, bitch, open the god damned door, you bitch, or I’ll break it down and kill you, you bitch!!'”
Vincent looked at Cha-Cha in shock.
“He was a man from Miss Dollie’s past. And he was mad. And he kept pounding on the door. Rascal started barking at him. And I started barking at him. And then the door broke open.”
“What did you do?”
“We both jumped up and attacked the man. He was going to hurt Miss Dollie. We couldn’t let him hurt Miss Dollie. We barked and we bit and we growled and snarled at him, while Miss Dollie ran for the bedroom. We had to stop this man. He was going to hurt Miss Dollie.”
“You said she called the police.”
“Yes. Maybe about two minutes after the man broke in, I could see flashing lights through the house curtains. The police were here. And then the man pulled a … out of his pocket … a small gun … and he … he … ”
“That’s where the bullet went into your shoulder?”
“He shot me first. I couldn’t move. And then Rascal jumped on the man and bit his hand. Bit him hard enough to make him drop the gun. Rascal struggled with the man, but the man grabbed the gun with his other hand … and … ”
Cha-Cha looked at the ground. The words were in her mouth, but they wouldn’t come out.
“I’m sorry,” Vincent mewed. “I’m so sorry, Cha-Cha.”
“He killed Rascal. One bullet right at his head. And I couldn’t move. He started to head for Miss Dollie’s bedroom, where Miss Dollie ran to hide. And just a few seconds later … the police burst in. The man tried to shoot the police. The police fired back. The man was killed.”
Vincent looked at the boxer. “And Miss Dollie …”
“She was safe. We protected her. We kept the man from hurting her until the police arrived. She told the police that the man was someone she had been running from for years. And that she was fearful for her life because of him. And she begged them to save Rascal and me. I was rushed to the animal hospital, and they saved my life. But Rascal … he was …”
“Rascal was brave. So were you.”
“It’s been a long time. That was many years ago. And I stayed with Miss Dollie every day since. I gave her comfort and peace. And then, one day … I went to sleep in Miss Dollie’s lap … and now I’m here.”
“Yes,” Vincent said. “You are here. And now I understand. If Rascal’s here, I’ll help you find him. I will, and so will all my friends.”
“Thank you,” the boxer barked. “I need to see him again.”
“We can start looking tomorrow. But right now, I want you to relax and get your strength back. The green meadow where I live is very peaceful. After a rest, you and I will search for Rascal together.”
The boxer leaned over and licked Vincent’s face. “Thank you, friend cat.”
And in those moments, Vincent thought about who in Collarworld might know of a boxer named Rascal.
Somewhere in Collarworld, Cha-Cha’s brother waits.
Maybe there’s another glorious reunion in store, Vincent thought.
And how great it would be if he could help Cha-Cha with that reunion.