The cage was cramped and reeked of waste and wet animal. The attendants tried to keep it clean, but the filth piled up quickly with four animals to each cage.
Zagra, curled in the corner against the metal gate, trembled as she tried to nap on the cold, uncomfortable grate floor. The only warm pet bed was occupied by Chimera, the dominant female. They were all afraid of Chimera and chose to allow her the queen’s bed when she napped. It was wiser not to instigate a fight. If they were caught, the attendants might deem them hostile; a death sentence for most in this homeless animal shelter.
Chimera yawned and stretched her gangly legs. They protruded over the edge of her bed, stealing even more valuable floor space from the others. Still, none of them protested. They merely adjusted their positions to accommodate her. When Zagra unintentionally bumped Chimera’s leg, the ferocious female nipped at her, almost drew blood.
Sleep was fruitless. Zagra gave up and decided to suck some stale, warm water from the dispenser. It tasted metallic and smelled of sulfur. She hated the water. She missed her old home and her adopted family, her warm bed and regular meals, and her filtered water.
The shelter was just a prison for wrongly accused pets, the discarded and unloved ones. Zagra was a good girl. She had obeyed her owner. But she grew up, and he grew tired of her. Now she was trapped here; too old, too used, too risky to make a good pet for a nice family. She felt doomed to live her life in a dirty pen.
From the other end of the kennel, she heard the sound of visitors. She perked up. Visitors meant the chance to show what a charming and useful pet she could be, if she could only get them to notice her.
Their voices drew closer. She positioned her small body in front of the gate. She needed the visitors to see her. If they saw her eyes, they would melt for her. At least she hoped.
Chimera had the same idea. She bolted from her bed and pushed Zagra aside, stealing the prime viewing spot.
The visitors appeared at their cage. The smallest visitor pushed his face into the gate, and Chimera gently licked his nose. She put on a good show. The visitors were smitten. Zagra pushed forward for a pat on her head, but they immediately turned their attention back to Chimera.
“Mommy which one should we choose!” said the small one.
His mother replied, “I really like the one with the nametag Chimera. She seems to like you.”
The father said, “Well, she seems good, sturdy and her description says she’s assertive. Let’s take her. Okay, son?”
“Okay, daddy! I love her already. The other ones are ugly and old anyway.”
Zagra was devastated. She had lost again. Her one solace was that Chimera would be gone soon.
An attendant arrived to help the family with the adoption. He brought paperwork to sign and a complimentary collar and leash. He released Chimera from the cage, grabbed her leg for control and slapped the collar around her neck. She obediently sat at her new master’s feet and nuzzled his leg.
“What kind of tricks can she do,” asked the mother.
“Well, like most humans,” the attendant said, “she can clean and do some light cooking, but Chimera can even speak a few words. Not many. Mostly just ‘Yes, no, thank you,’ the basics. She’s a smart human. She’ll be perfect for a family of canines, like yours.”
“That’s all well and good,” the father said, “but she will not be needed for those things. Our plan is to enter her in the human fighting ring. She’s perfect with her long legs and aggressive attitude. And if that doesn’t work out, we’ll rent her to the military as a battle pawn. They always need more pawns for the feline wars.”
“Fine, then. A good fighting human is a lucrative pet too,” the attendant added and pulled Chimera toward the exit. “Follow me.”
Zagra watched the canine family whisk Chimera away to her new life. She breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that she had been shunned this time, but smirked at the thought that Chimera got exactly the family she deserved.