For twenty-eight years I had three names – Bitch, Fat Mama and Dumbass.
I didn’t dare ignore the voice that growled more fiercely than any animal. I didn’t question if I deserved to have a single name of my own. My existence followed a pattern. Hungry, not hungry. Hurt, healed. Pregnant, nursing. And above all, obey or pay.
Looking back, the contrast from then to my life now is staggering. Some people have said they wonder how I survived so long in that cabin with limited human contact, only the drone of game shows on television and the bubbling mix in the kitchen to break the tedium. How I kept my spirit intact. How I didn’t turn into a mirror image of the voice that both fed me and hurt me. I have to confess I came close to becoming like the soulless monsters that drifted in and out during those early years.
Until I was saved from crawling into the dark hole of hurt and misery forever. I was given a hint of hope beyond the rank four walls of my home.
I smelled honeysuckle.
Just a whiff of the perfume drifted through an open window one summer Tennessee day. At first, I thought I’d imagined it. I tipped my nose into that gentle breeze curling through the half cracked pane, each puff parting the despair one ripple at a time. Overriding even the constant hum of quiz shows.
Then there it was again. Honeysuckle. Sweet. Soft. Light. Everything opposite of what I’d known from birth.
Desperate for more, I crawled to the window, slowly, praying no one would see me. Life was easier if I stayed hidden, because otherwise I feared I would one day have to fight back. Still I was willing to risk detection to breathe more of that flowery perfume.
I have a particularly keen sense of smell, so living in a filthy meth house for twenty-eight years took a toll on me. And just to clarify, twenty-eight human years equates to four dog years for me. As a dog, that explains why the stench hit me hard.
Did you know that canines can identify smells up to ten thousand times better than a human? Well, we can. I learned that about sniffers on Jeopardy. My brain has forty percent more capacity devoted to smell than yours. Not that I mean to sound condescending or call you inferior. Facts are facts. I have over two million olfactory sensors in my nose. You have opposable thumbs. Truly, aromatherapy is wasted on you people.
I like facts. The endless television programs offered that much at least, game show after game show. Back then, I embraced those quizzes, soaking up data, anything to prove I wasn’t a dumbass at all. If I’d been a human and hadn’t started having babies so early, I’ve often thought I would have become a professor with thick black glasses. I would have sequestered myself in an office lined with books, solitude. Peace.
But back to my sniffer.
Back to the honeysuckle.
And how all that relates to the day I found freedom in a splintered door.
To be clear, I spent my life watching methamphetamine being cooked, smoked, shot, sold. The rancid odor of the drug left me groggy. Sometimes even made me snarl, when that’s not my nature. The smell of it saturated the walls, peeling the paper down in strips I chewed in moments of frenzied boredom. It permeated the saggy sofa I never sat on. Even clung to the mattresses on the floor in both bedrooms where junkies had sex. Worst of all, the toxic clouds hung in the kitchen, counters packed with everything from drain cleaner to funnels to my bowl full of scraps.
But that afternoon during my fourth summer, when I discovered honeysuckle, I considered that maybe, just maybe there was something better for me, if only I could wait long enough to escape farther than the chain in the yard allowed.
Easier said than done, because I was a money maker, just like that steaming meth cooker. My litters of boxer pups were worth a lot, so I ate well, periodically. No one kicked me for a while. Until my babies were taken away so I could breed again. They always took them too early, and then I was alone.
You may already be thinking “puppy mill,” but that’s not one hundred percent accurate. The woman who owned me – I won’t bother to distinguish her with a name – would be more appropriately labeled a backyard breeder who used me and other dogs to supplement her meth income. Up until that honeysuckle moment in my fourth summer, I thought my mission in life was to have babies for people to love even if I never got to experience that feeling myself, other than for the few brief weeks I was allowed to keep each litter, their warm tiny bodies snuggled up against me.
By the fourth winter, I wondered if I’d imagined a honeysuckle world just to survive. I began to lose hope, drawing in nothing but the fumes that made me mean.
Then, on the bitterest, coldest morning my world changed on a larger scale with another beautiful scent. Peppermint. It’s still my favorite perfume, even above honeysuckle. Those two beautiful smells outnumbered the one evil stench of this cabin. There was more out there past my chain. So much more.
And I thank the Big Master who made us that the peppermint-scented lady understood I was not at my best the day she and the sad-eyed policeman broke down the meth house door to rescue me.
Copyright © 2015 by Catherine Mann. All rights reserved. Excerpt reprinted by permission.
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A rescued dog returns the favor in the latest Second Chance Romance from USA Today bestselling author of Shelter Me.
Detective AJ Parker left undercover work in Atlanta to join a small-town Tennessee police force, hoping for an easier workload and the solitude of his cabin. But the scars left by AJ’s previous work are more difficult to escape than he thought…
Mary Hannah Gallo works with the Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue to train therapy dogs for traumatized patients. It isn’t easy, but her life is under control—until she meets the broodingly sensual AJ, who rattles her composure all the way to her toes.
After an assignment confiscating dogs from a backyard breeder reveals a dangerous drug operation, AJ must work with sexy perfectionist Mary Hannah to train an abused rescue dog—a dog now named Holly. While Holly proves to these two very different people that opposites can, in fact, attract, she also knows more than a few explosive secrets that could heal—or divide—the entire town.