Chapter 1: Runaway 1 Runaway
“Can cats get sunburnt?” Buttons asks. He squints up at the harsh rays of light, and the centers of his amber eyes turn to thin black slits. “I’m not sure I like Ted’s plan.”
“Why? We get to be outside!” Mitzy says. She rolls over and wiggles against the ground. “I love outside.”
“You’re going to get dirty!” Luna yells at her. “No one wants a white poodle covered in grass stains.”
“I agree with Buttons,” Gus says. He paces in circles, tangling his leash around the leg of a table. “It’s dangerous to leave us out here by ourselves.”
“By ourselves? There are volunteers all over this yard,” Luna points out. “And by the way, I haven’t hissed at any of them.” More quietly she mumbles, “Yet.”
“They’re strangers,” Gus states. “Strangers are the outdoor version of intruders.” He lifts his snout in the air and sniffs, checking the new people’s scents.
“I don’t understand,” Buttons says. “Why would bringing us to the front lawn make people want to adopt us?” Buttons tries to cuddle against Luna in the cage they’re sharing, and Luna slides away.
“Because they can see us from the street as they drive by,” Luna explains. “And Ted thinks that will make people more likely to stop and meet us.”
Buttons scoots closer to Luna again, squashing them both in a corner.
Luna twitches her whiskers. “Can’t you move over? Just because Ted put us in here together doesn’t mean you have to sit on top of me.”
Buttons shuffles away, but keeps his tail draped over Luna. “Sorry, I was chilly,” he says. “I’m not used to fresh air.”
“Fresh air is amazing!” Mitzy exclaims. “It is why I like to go on walks with Dustin when he visits me.”
“You like to go because he gives you treats,” Luna corrects her. “It has nothing to do with the air.”
Gus continues to spin around the table, wrapping his leash more and more tightly.
“Gus, you are going to get dizzy,” Mitzy tells him. “Come onto the grass with me.”
“I need to stay on patrol,” Gus insists. “You never know who might pose a threat.”
Luna thumps her tail twice. “You look like the mutt version of a merry-go-round,” she tells him.
“I am not a mutt!” Gus argues. “I am a guard dog!”
“Wheeeeeee!” Mitzy buries her cheeks in the green blades of grass and starts to dig. “Outside is so much fun!”
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this,” Luna begins, “but, Gus, be more like Mitzy.”
“Yes! I am the best!” Mitzy agrees.
Gus stops walking and stares at Luna. “What do you mean?” he asks.
“Relax,” Luna says. “Enjoy life. Stop acting like you have to be tough all the time.”
Gus scans the parking lot, then tucks his tail between his legs. “I’m not sure I know how to relax,” he admits.
“You need a toy,” Buttons suggests. “Mitzy has her squeaky purple ball. Luna had her mouse, which she gave to me. What’s your favorite toy?”
Gus stares at his toes sadly. “I never had a toy I loved.”
“Never?” Mitzy is shocked. “That is terrible news.”
“It’s okay,” Gus says. “I never knew what to do with one.”
“You play with it!” Mitzy says. “You chew and you squeak and you run and you fetch and you throw and you squeeze and you—”
“He gets the idea,” Luna says, cutting her off.
Just then Ted exits Whiskers Down the Lane with a blanket-draped cage. He carries it down the driveway and places it on the ground.
“What is that?” Gus asks nervously.
“Maybe it’s a bird,” Buttons says. “I’ve always wanted to see a bird up close.”
“This shelter doesn’t have birds,” Luna says.
Ted grips the center of the blanket with his fingers and raises it slowly. Piece by piece the creature in the cage comes into view: tiny nose, short whiskers, pointy face, beady eyes, round ears.
“No!” Gus barks at his highest pitch. “No, NO, NOOOOOOO!” He pulls against his leash until it is stretched as thinly as a strand of floss.
“Calm down, Gus!” Mitzy pleads.
Gus jumps to the right. Then he jerks to the left. His leash strains to hold him in place.
“It’s okay!” Buttons echoes. “It’s only a big—”
Gus’s leash breaks in half, and he takes off across the lawn toward the side of the building. He rounds the corner, faster, faster, until he’s out of sight.