As each day brought a beautiful, radiant sunshine to the afterlife waystation known as Collarworld, the land where beloved pets wait until they are reunited with their masters and owners once more, Cha-Cha the boxer seemed to make new friends wherever she went.
The boxer, who with her brother Rascal were protective therapy dogs for a battered woman in the Living World, found herself visiting as many realms in Collarworld as she could. She befriended the farm animals at Indigo Acres; she talked to the police and rescue dogs at Precinct 3:16; she shared stories of faith with Jackson the Golden Retriever and Messer the Newfoundland at the Shore of the Cedars; and she even watched a few races at the Oval Pastures, cheering on each horse whether they finished in first or in last place.
Vincent, the king orange tabbycat from the green meadow, watched as Cha-Cha became more and more a part of the Collarworld family. Even on those days when Cha-Cha said she had to visit a troubled soul in the Silver Forest, Vincent knew that the “troubled soul’ Cha-Cha described was the tortured German Shepherd known as Bismarck. At first he was worried about Bismarck’s rage and anger, but when Cha-Cha explained that she and Bismarck spent most of the day just talking and listening, Vincent’s fears eased.
“Are you going to visit him again today?” Vincent asked the boxer.
“I worry about him,” said Cha-Cha. “He’s been feared and he’s been attacked. He’s built that home for himself in the Silver Forest, and I don’t think he’s ever felt comfortable outside of his exile.”
“I just want you to be careful,” Vincent purred.
“I have been,” Cha-Cha replied. “Sometimes all he wants to do is just talk. About anything. He once told me about his master, who was a famous college professor. He talked about books that the professor taught to his students – books written by great men.”
“I’m sure he has many stories. Have a safe trip.”
And with that, Cha-Cha began her journey from the green meadow to the Silver Forest.
The journey to Bismarck’s realm took several hours, and along the way Cha-Cha always made note of her surroundings and what they all entailed. There were the Doghouse Condos, home to some of the happiest outdoor dogs she had ever seen. And the Neon Stream, a freshwater home for thousands of tropical fish. In the distance, along the horizon, she could see some of the birds rehearsing for the Flight of Faith, a series of beautiful precision team flying techniques.
The path was long and dusty. Cha-Cha noticed some of the animals were also traveling the road, on their way to or from their home realms. She smiled at several of them. They smiled back.
Around the corner, Cha-Cha saw what looked like a small gathering. She could make out three animals – a flop-eared pointer, a Doberman and a tiger-striped cat – and they were surrounding a fourth dog, a dog whose breed Cha-Cha could not identify.
As she got closer, however, she realized that the three pets surrounding the mixbreed dog weren’t playing games.
They were taunting and teasing and harassing the mixbreed.
“You’re not welcome here, mongrel,” the tiger-striped cat hissed.
“Filthy mutt,” snarled the Doberman.
“Why don’t you’all go someplace where freaks like you belong,” taunted the pointer, “you’re not a purebreed, you don’t belong here, you freak.”
Cha-Cha was several feet away – she could see the troublemakers, but they could not yet see her. The mixbreed dog was on the ground, his paws covering his small face to protect himself from the abuse.
“Freak,” the pointer repeated. “There’s no place for freaks in Collarworld. Your parents should be ashamed for breeding you.”
Three against one. And if somebody didn’t stop the three animals, they might continue their abuse on the mixbreed for days.
“Hey Snicker,” said the Doberman, “You want I should take this guy to Fred’s Chasm?”
“I dunno,” sneered the pointer, “you shouldn’t waste your jaws on this filth. He just needs to know that Collarworld is for purebreeds.”
With that, Cha-Cha walked up to – and past – the three combatants, and directly up to the fallen mixbreed.
The tortured dog looked up. A slight whimper.
“Hi. My name’s Cha-Cha. What’s your name, friend dog?”
“Terry,” he stammered.
“That’s a nice name,” Cha-Cha replied, keeping her gaze straight on Terry and making sure Terry focused his attention on her – and away from the glare of the other three troublemakers.
“You’all got a problem?” Snicker the pointer barked.
Cha-Cha ignored him. “I bet your master loves you very much.”
“He – he did,” Terry softly barked. “He bought me from a humane shelter and he took care of me all my life.”
“That’s amazing,” Cha-Cha smiled. One eye on the troublemakers. They kept their distance, not knowing what to expect. “Can I ask you something?”
Terry nodded slowly.
“I was on my way to meet a good friend of mine, but then I thought, there’s a place in Collarworld that I haven’t visited yet. Do you know where that is?”
Terry looked at his tormentors.
“No, no, Terry, look at me, sweetheart. Don’t pay attention to them.”
“It’s a place called the Sawdust Oval. It’s the home of some of the greatest circus animals from the Living World. And tonight, guess who’s performing his jump through fire?”
Terry was now focused on Cha-Cha’s every word. Perfect, the boxer thought. She kept her body between the mixbreed and the trio.
“Why, the Great Ingemar, of course. The most famous circus tiger in all the Living World.”
“The Great Ingemar’s here?” Terry barked.
“Yes,” smiled Cha-Cha. “Let’s go visit him now.”
And then Cha-Cha turned to Snicker and his cohorts.
“You’re welcome to meet the Great Ingemar … if you like.”
Snicker swatted a pebble with his paw. “You’all made a big mistake, boxer. You shouldn’t interfere with the Guild of the Bloodline.”
“The Guild of the Bloodline … hmm… I’ll have to meet them some time. Come on, Terry, let’s go meet the Great Ingemar. If we hurry, we can get to the Sawdust Oval by nightfall and see his first show!”
Cha-Cha knew that Terry was scared and frightened. So as long as she stayed with Terry and kept him safe – and away from the tormentors of show animals who christened themselves as the Guild of the Bloodline – she knew she could keep the peace.
At that moment, Snicker and his two compatriots started to walk away. “This isn’t over, boxer.”
Cha-Cha walked away, Terry at her side.
“You’all hear me, boxer?”
Cha-Cha and Terry continued on their way.
“You made an enemy of the Guild of the Bloodline, boxer. You interfered in our business. That’s your first mistake.”
Snicker the pointer spit on the ground, as Cha-Cha and Terry were almost out of earshot.
“And it’s your last mistake.”