A compelling shot story of a shelter stray
who learns a new name to brighten his day.
Dog stories and poems are best read aloud,
To an audience of one or a theater crowd.
THE MEANING OF M.U.T.T.
© Illustrations and story by Jim Willis 2001, all rights reserved
Dudley wasn’t sure how many weeks he’d been in the animal shelter, but it seemed like forever. Each day was the same as the one before and he spent most of his time sitting on the wooden palette in his pen, staring at the wall and waiting for dinner. His life with his former owners, brief though it was, hadn’t been great - he wasn’t loved or wanted - but even that was better than this, he thought.
He occupied himself by watching a fly on the wall until he heard some of the other dogs barking a greeting to the old bloodhound Humphrey, as he made his morning rounds. Behind his back the others called him “Harrumphrey,” because of his habit of “harrumph!-ing” whenever anything displeased him, which was most of the time.
Humphrey was the mascot of the shelter, allowed to roam the building as he pleased, and he slept overnight in the office. He’d lost a hind leg years ago when a nearsighted hunter couldn’t tell the difference between a bloodhound and a deer, so the shelter staff didn’t have to worry about him wandering very far.
Humphrey paused in front of Dudley’s pen and inspected the young mixed terrier, which made Dudley even more uncomfortable. He hung his head a little lower and avoided Humphrey’s stare.
“You boy... look alive!” Humphrey ordered. “It’s opening time and the people will be coming.”
“Alive?” Dudley sighed. “Alive for what? Nobody’s going to want me. Not even my mama wanted me. They said I was found in a dumpster when I was a puppy.”
Humphrey pondered that for a moment.
“Of course you were,” he drawled. “Put you there for safekeeping, she did. No place safer than a dumpster - solid steel. Nothin’ could have happened to you there, I promise you that.”
“My former owners didn’t want me either,” Dudley explained. “Said they didn’t have time for a dog. Said I ate too much. Said I cost too much. Said I didn’t match their furniture. Said they wanted a human baby instead.”
“Harrumph!” grunted Humphrey. “Some humans are too stupid to take care of themselves, let alone cohabitate with a superior being. It was their loss, I assure you. Why, look at you! You’re a fine specimen of a...well, anyone can see that you’re obviously a....um...
“A mutt,” said Dudley resignedly. “Go ahead and say it, everyone else does. My former people called me a mutt, everyone that comes down this aisle points and says ‘oh, he’s just a mutt,’ and then they go look at the purebreds on the other side. I’m not even sure what a mutt is, but I know I am one.”
“Just a mutt!” Humphrey sputtered. “Why I’ll have you know there’s nothing better than a mutt! Mutts are healthy, intelligent and brave. Haven’t you noticed that the bluebloods on that side are usually only here for a few days, while some of you mutts are here for weeks and months?”
“Yeah,” said Dudley, “because nobody wants us.”
“Balderdash!” Humphrey roared. “It’s because we can hardly stand to part with you! Mutts are some of the most cherished members of the canine community.”
“If we’re so great, what is a mutt?” Dudley asked suspiciously.
“A mutt?...I can scarcely believe you don’t know. A mutt is, well, it’s an old...newfangled term meaning, let’s see, how should I put this?...it’s short for, uh...hmmm...yes! It stands for ‘Magnificent Under-Touted Terrier’ ... M.U.T.T.”
“Manigifent under-tooted terrier?! What’s that?” Dudley asked, perking up his ears.
“MAGNIFICENT under-TOWted terrier. Touted means ‘praised and appreciated,’” Humphrey replied confidently.
“Really? Is that true?” Dudley asked.
“Absolutely. It’s even written in the Good Book...Neuteronomy chapter 3, verse 16, I think.”
“Well, I’ll be...” Dudley shook his head in wonder. “You mean that big boy in the next pen is a M.U.T.T., too?”
“One of the rarest. That’s a Lithuanian Liver-Spotted Lop Ear.”
“My! And that longhaired girl over there is also a M.U.T.T.?”
“You’ve got a good eye - she’s a, um... Moroccan Multi-colored Mongrel.”
“Whoa...that does sound unusual. And what about him?” Dudley asked, pointing to a little dog who almost defied description.
“Him? Why he’s a....a Chinese Curly-Q-tailed Cur.”
“Goodness! Do they know they are M.U.T.T.’s?” Dudley asked.
“I’m sure they do,” Humphrey said, lowering his voice. “But one of the distinguishing features of a M.U.T.T. is modesty - you don’t want to brag all over the place and make the pedigreed dogs feel bad.”
“I see,” Dudley said and shook his shaggy head.
“Now then...it takes more than M.U.T.T. status to get out of here and into the right home. Do you do any tricks?”
“Not really. I can have a ‘conniption fit’ - at least that’s what my former owners used to call it.”
“You don’t want to overdo it now. A modicum of restraint is called for,” Humphrey cautioned.
“Gee, you certainly use a lot of big words,” Dudley said.
“My former owner was a librarian. May she rest in peace,” Humphrey said as his voice trailed off.
“Never you mind...I’m as content as a hound can be,” Humphrey assured him, trying not to look too hard at the concrete and wire that made up his world, where lace curtains and a comfortable couch used to be.
“You need to put your best paw forward, show your best qualities. You are brave aren’t you?”
“Oh yes! I once killed a rat that was as big as a house!” Dudley boasted.
Humphrey squinted his eyes a bit. “And you are honest aren’t you?”
“Absolutely!” Dudley assured him. “...err, actually it was most likely a really big mouse.”
“...and sincere?” Humphrey pressed him.
“Quite. Um...the mouse was exceptionally big for his age,” Dudley admitted.
“Then that’s that,” Humphrey concluded. “I hear some humans headed this way...chin up, chest out, show ‘em what you’ve got.” And with that Humphrey marched off toward the office.
The human couple hesitated in the doorway of the kennel for a moment...so many dogs to choose from. They started down the aisle, reading the cards attached to the pens, stopping to let dogs sniff their hands and to give them a scratch under the chin. They seemed kindhearted.
“Look dear,” the woman said. “Isn’t that one handsome?”
“Too big,” the man answered. “He’d eat us out of house and home. I like the look of that one there,” he said, pointing to one of the purebreds.
“She is pretty, but too much grooming required,” the woman said. “What’s this little guy here?” she asked.
“Him? That appears to be a genuine mutt.”
Dudley’s ears pricked up in an instant. They were talking about him!
“Yes!” he barked as he jumped off his palette and ran to the front of the pen. “I’m a M.U.T.T., and a magnificent one, too! I’m intelligent and loyal - and I’m brave - I once killed a rat as big as a ...nevermind... I’m not afraid of anything. Arf! If a burglar ever breaks into your house, I’ll bite him on the ankle! Woof! Why, I’m so valuable that my mama put me in a dumpster for safekeeping.”
“He’s a spunky little guy, isn’t he?” the woman commented.
“And look at this,” Dudley barked, standing up to get their attention. “I can jump, and spin in circles, and chase my tail, and rollover, and dance on my hind legs, and beg...and show my belly...and...,” until he toppled over from the effort.
“What was that?!” the man asked.
“I believe that’s what my grandmother would have called a ‘conniption fit,’” the woman laughed. “Oh, isn’t he precious? He’s just the sort of energetic dog we want. What do you think?”
“I think we’ve got ourselves a genuine mutt,” the man answered with a smile.
Dudley beamed with joy as his new humans filled out the paperwork in the shelter office. He danced when they put a new red collar and leash on him, and he helped carry his leash in his mouth on their way to the parking lot.
Humphrey watched as the humans picked up the little mutt and gently loaded him into their car, and as Dudley jumped around on the back seat and then gave a goodbye “Arf!” as the car drove away. He turned and walked back down the kennel aisle, stopping to wipe at his eyes with a paw.
“Goshdarn cat allergies!” he muttered. “I’ve got the weepy-sneezies again.”
The other animals looked at him with understanding and they, too, pretended to have an allergy attack. Even the cats.
*Dedicated to the memory of my first mutt, “Dudley.” You were magnificent, dear boy. ~ Jim Willis
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