It all began one weekend when I asked my daughter if she’d like to choose a game to play. The one she selected was “Walk the Dogs”, and we actually have a double set that we combine to enhance the game play, along with some original improvisations relating to how points are scored to add dimension and strategy. This game involves manipulatives in the form of little plastic dogs, and as we find other little plastic dogs around the house, we add them to the group and assign them special point values. Recently we’d added a little white guy to the mix (we’ll call him Jack Russell), joining throngs of identical Poodles, identical Schnauzers, identical Gugs, identical Pomeranians, identical Shih Tzus, identical Labradors, and what appear to be identical Golden Retrievers crossed with identical Newfoundlands. We’d already introduced a Dalmatian singleton to the groups of lookalikes, and since she was unique she was worth an extra five points. Before we could settle down to get a game started, the Muse of Creative Play struck my child, and before I knew it, a grand drama was underway. Here’s how things started:

New dogs on the block

See the two in the foreground of this shot? That’s the Dalmatian with her new friend, Jack Russell. Apparently they’re in a stare-off with one of the poodles and one of the Golden Newfies. (I don’t know what’s happening over there on the right with the small dogs, but it looks like a puppy pile populated by pugs and poms with a few tzus mixed up in it.) I’m not sure what happened next, but soon this was the lay of the kitchen island land:

Stranger in a strange land

Now it appears that Jack is being given the cold shoulder by the carbon copy canines, marooned in that granite patch of no-dog’s land, and all are refusing eye contact, aside from maybe a few individuals from the lines of toy breeds. Of course Jack’s friend the Dalmatian, who somehow has become separated from him and seems to be barricaded by a double corridor of nose-to-tail characters, is watching from afar but looks to be doing precious little to attempt a reunion. It’s hard to explain why there are a few lone wolves over there on the left with her, but perhaps she was slowly infiltrating this unwelcoming community, one poodle, lab, and Newfie-cross at a time. Now here’s when I started to worry:

A turn for the worse?

By this point Jack has either been pushed to the brink or is considering a dire means of escaping this Stepford bunch, but either way there is cause for concern. What’s also alarming is the disinterest his turncoat comrade is displaying, her spotted head turned away from this poor portrait of desperation, not to mention the bystanders witnessing the sad scene but doing nothing to come to Jack’s assistance. From another angle, the situation is particularly grim:

Tipping point

The worst is that Pomeranian a paw’s length from little Jack’s back feet, just watching him without stepping in to help or bark him back from the ledge. You can see the deadness in her eyes in the picture that precedes this one, while almost everyone else’s attention seems fixed on something off-camera on stage right. But there’s no mistaking that this heartless animal’s pom-pom appearance belies the hidden workings of a wicked mind. And what’s even more disturbing is that my daughter had to go to bed before the curtain had closed on this developing story, and Jack spent the whole night with his head hung over the abyss (I knew better than to mess with her game, despite my inclinations to put Jack back to rights). But just when it appeared that all was lost, things somehow rectified themselves the next morning.

Back on his feet

Despite the lack of outreach on the part of the droves of clones, Jack has regained his foothold on the counter, standing as tall as the genetics of his breed will allow, the cant of his ears exuding renewed confidence and determination. Perhaps he found a sounding board in that pug whose attention is trained upon him in this capture, or perhaps the sheer grit he exhibited by resisting the hardwood depths of despair have gained him respect among the denizens of this tough crowd. Don’t miss the rubber sea star over there in the right corner, because it comes into play during the final act of this magnum opus.

On a pedestal

And there you have it, folks. Despite the inauspicious inception of this tale, it concludes with Jack in what I can only assume is a place of honor, a starfish throne of sorts. Whether this is a makeshift situation to put him at eye level with his loftier audience, or if the five-pointed perch is some kind of totem, remains to be discovered, but it certainly seems to be a very special seat indeed. And one representative from each breed, including the Dalmatian, whose lapse of loyalty earlier can probably be attributed to the tragic effects of inbreeding, are devoting rapt attention to our protagonist, Jack the Undaunted. He’s holding court here, possibly extolling the virtues of inner strength and valor despite the harsh realities of an inhospitable environment, sharing his story as a way to embolden others to embrace their individuality rather than identify only as part of a pack. Maybe wee Jack is the messiah these dogbots have been dreaming of, the one who would come and teach them the way to a more meaningful, authentic, open-minded existence. Regardless of the specifics of the conversation that’s happening here, it sure is nice to see Jack’s story culminate with the prospect of happily ever after, after all.*

*I hope. As soon as he realizes that he’s actually a bull terrier, he might do an identity double-take that will require some soul-searching, if not a good long talk with his parents about why they chose to name him after such a barky breed.

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