by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Dissident Signals, July 2018
Lucky was a good dog. He’d been a good dog all his life.
So why was he standing in an office supply store, watching his three adopted kittens run wild, while trying to figure out how to make protest signs for a rally to free his tabby cat wife from prison?
Two of the kittens, Allison and Pete, kept bringing Lucky glitter pens and eraser sets designed to look like spaceships, piling them up on the floor around his paws, while he and Robin, the quiet kitten from the litter, stared at the different types of poster board. Some were flimsy. Some were thick like cardboard. There were even neon green and yellow ones.
“Mama would like a green poster,” Robin meowed. His ears hadn’t unflattened since Lucky had picked the three kittens up at the police station. “We should make her green posters.”
Right now, Lucky would do anything to keep his kittens happy. If buying some extra junk at an office supply store would distract them, then so be it. The terrier grabbed three pieces of the green poster board and several white ones of different weights. Then he balanced all of the cutesy eraser sets on top, grabbed a rainbow pack of extra-thick pens, and headed for the check out counter. Before he got there, Allison slipped the glitter pens onto the top of his pile as well.
The dog behind the counter was some sort of lab-spaniel mutt, all smiles and wags. As she scanned the items for their prices, she looked over the counter at the kittens and woofed, “Doing a school project?”
Robin hid behind Lucky’s legs, and Allison was too busy counting the colors in the glitter pen set to answer. But Pete announced loudly, “We’re protesting that the bad cops locked Mama up.” His tiny orange-striped face was almost hilariously serious. Almost. Except there was nothing hilarious about their situation.
The lab-spaniel’s jowls strained; she looked stricken. She must have finally recognized them — the family of Petra Brighton, that infamous orange tabby. Petra’s case had been all over the news. According to the big news stations, Petra had assaulted a police dog who’d pulled her over for a routine traffic check. The smaller indie news sites were more measured in their coverage, pointing out that video footage of the arrest hadn’t been released yet, and maybe they didn’t have the full story.
Lucky didn’t need to see video footage. He knew his wife; Petra had a temper, but she wasn’t stupid. She hadn’t assaulted that cop. She couldn’t have. He was sure. Pretty sure.
“Could we have a bag for this?” Lucky woofed, gesturing at the pile of pens and erasers, hoping to hurry the check out process along. Not wanting to talk to a random retail worker about his personal life.
The checkout dog packed Lucky’s purchases into a bag, handed it over, and woofed, “Good luck.”
She sounded sincere, and Lucky smiled at her, warmed by the sympathy. A tired smile, buried under his scruffy terrier beard. “Thanks.” He gathered the three kittens around him and walked them out to the car. It wasn’t until he was driving home, all three kittens strapped into their car seats in the back, that the words “good luck” started to sour in his mind.
Why should he need luck? He needed justice. Petra had been wrongfully arrested and was being illegally detained. Justice. Not luck.
Was the checkout dog saying that he’d need luck because cats can’t get justice? Was she saying that she believed the big news stations, that Petra had assaulted the copper dog?
Or was she just wishing him luck because he was a dog with cats in his life — his wife and his kittens — and cats are unreliable, unpredictable, erratic creatures? They can flip from purring to hissing at the drop of a dime. Any dog dealing with cats must need luck to get by, right?
Good thing his name was Lucky.
Lucky seethed, grinding his teeth, as he drove. He hated cat stereotypes. His kittens were no different than any litter of puppies. They squabbled over toys, begged for treats, and drove their parents crazy by being adorable trouble-makers. They swished their tails when they were angry and purred when they were happy, instead of wagging their tails when they were happy and growling when they were angry. But so what? A kid’s a kid, pointy ears or floppy, they all need love and patience.
After a while, Lucky realized he’d been driving in circles, looping around the local playgrounds, instead of taking his kittens home. That was probably what Petra had been doing when she got arrested. He hadn’t been able to ask her, because the cops wouldn’t let him see her. But he knew she liked to take the kittens on a drive when they were being restless. Once the trio was strapped into their car seats, they had to settle down, and it gave Petra a moment of peace. Sometimes the kittens even fell asleep.
But not this time. They were too busy brainstorming ideas for their protest signs.
* * *
Once they were home, Lucky set the kittens up at the kitchen table with the poster board and pens. He claimed one of the thicker white pieces for himself but let the kittens run wild with the rest.
With a big, thick, green pen in his orange-striped paw, Robin scrawled, “L3t MaMA gO.” Green pen on a green board. Not the easiest to read, but sweet and sincere.
Allison seemed to lose sight of the objective and filled most of her white board with a glittery rainbow. She grabbed one pen after another with her gray-striped paws and added one line of color after another to the bottom of the rainbow until she’d used every single one of the pens, glittery and otherwise. She had to squeeze the words, “Equil Rights 4 Cats & Dogs,” into the lower right corner, squished and hard to read. Still, the rainbow was eye-catching.
Pete, on the other paw, drew a shockingly good caricature of his mother behind bars, reaching towards a cartoon version of himself. Two orange tabbies, one big and one small, separated by cold iron. It was cute, funny, and heartbreaking all at once. That boy was going to be an artist.
For himself, Lucky wasn’t sure what to put on a sign. He knew that ARFF — All Rights For Felines — staged protests every couple weeks for cats who’d supposedly been wrongfully arrested. Like most good dogs, he was sympathetic, but he’d never actually been to one of the rallies or paid much attention to them. He hadn’t needed to. He wouldn’t even be preparing for a protest now if one of the ARFF coordinators, a calico named Cassandra, hadn’t cornered him as he was leaving the police station and asked him to say a few words at tomorrow’s rally for Petra. He had no idea what he would say.
Eventually, Lucky wrote “Due Process Knows No Species” in big black block letters. As he stared at the finished sign, he wondered whether they were all making a big deal out of nothing. Surely, the cops hadn’t been serious about refusing his demands to see Petra. It must have been a misunderstanding. They weren’t done processing her; they wanted him to get the kittens out of the way; and that Cassandra cat had been riling everyone up with her threats of a rally. If he went back alone, he could get everything sorted out.
* * *
Half a day wasted on phone calls, babysitters, and the police station waiting room proved that idea wrong. No one but the president himself would be getting in to see Petra.
The wolfhound at the front desk was warm, polite, and apologetic to Lucky, but she couldn’t help him. Even when he lost his cool and barked at her, furious at the bureaucracy of it all, she stayed patient with him. She even asked after the kittens, wanting to be sure they were okay after seeing how shook up they’d been.
By the time Lucky gave up on seeing Petra for that day, he was utterly confused. He hadn’t believed the sensational speculation on the news about Petra slashing a cop’s nose with her claws, but all the dogs at the police department were being so reasonable. Firm but reasonable. And one of the cops was even a cat. Maybe if they were holding Petra for observation there was a reason. Maybe her temper had finally snapped? She had been really run down and stressed out lately. Maybe she had attacked the cop.
Just a small scratch, of course. But still, it would explain better how the cops were acting.
Lucky wouldn’t know until he saw her.
On his way out of the police station, Cassandra cornered Lucky again. Somehow, the calico from ARFF had managed to gather a half dozen cats with signs in front of the building, even though the rally wasn’t until the morning.
“They’re still giving you the runaround in there?” Cassandra asked. Her black-and-orange splotches gave her face a lopsided look.
Lucky shrugged, feeling beat. He’d barked himself out at the wolfhound already.
“Don’t worry yet.” Cassandra’s triangular ears kept twisting, and her golden-eyed gaze darted about as if, even while talking to Lucky, she was more focused on monitoring the crowd. “We’re working on forcing them to move Petra to a shared cell. That way she won’t be alone. There’ll be an observer for anything they do to her.”
Lucky frowned. He wasn’t sure what Cassandra thought the cops might do to Petra. If there was any truly safe place in the world, it would be a police station. The cops here were good dogs. And the one cat, of course.
Lucky was more worried about the fact that Cassandra had somehow learned more about Petra’s situation than he had. How much trouble were she and these ARFF cats giving the cops? Was their trouble-making part of why he couldn’t get in to see Petra?
He just wanted to see his wife.
“Do you want to go over your speech for tomorrow?” Cassandra asked.
Lucky did not. “Are your protesters going to be here all night?” he asked, looking over the motley collection of tabbies, torbies, and various solid colored cats. All moggies, no purebreds.
“Petra will be,” Cassandra answered. “So we will too.”
Anger flared in Lucky’s chest. Was this cat implying that these strangers cared more about his wife’s comfort than he did? He’d been arguing — politely and deferentially — with cops every minute that he hadn’t been watching his kittens since he’d heard about the arrest. It had been the longest two days of his life.
“I need to get home to my kittens,” Lucky woofed. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He didn’t like this cat, but maybe her protest would pressure the police into working something out — some way for him to get in and see Petra. It wasn’t much, but right now, he’d have to take what he could get.
* * *
Bright and early the next morning, Lucky packed a backpack with snacks — tuna jerky, salted cod biscuits, and candied sardines — a couple bottles of water, a few favorite lightweight toys, and extra jackets for everyone. The backpack was stuffed full by the time he was done. Then Lucky packed the kittens and the protest signs in the car and drove them all over to the police station.
They parked a couple blocks away, and Lucky led his kittens like a tiny parade along the downtown sidewalks, each of them carrying a sign. The kittens carried their signs proudly. Lucky felt awkward and conspicuous with his. For better or worse, there weren’t too many cars driving by at this time in the morning to see them. The morning air was crisp and chill against Lucky’s scruffy fur and light clothes, and the sunlight slanted between the buildings in a way that glared off of car windshields, blinding him periodically.
Just as Cassandra had promised, the rally cats were still protesting in front of the station. Nearly a dozen cats now, and also a few Chihuahua mixes. Chihuahuas always seemed to be more eager to support cats’ rights than other dogs. Usually, big dogs assumed it was because they were small like cats. But Lucky — a terrier mutt — wasn’t much bigger, and yet here he was at his first rally today. First time for everything.
It wasn’t that Lucky didn’t support cats’ rights. Of course, he did. He was married to one, wasn’t he? But there’s a difference between voting for equal wage laws and standing outside with a poster board sign. Democracy depended on voting; protests were for when democracy broke down. And as far as Lucky knew, democracy hadn’t broken down in the Uplifted States since the Dark Times after the humans left Earth. In fact, given that they’d elected their first feline president last year, democracy and cats’ rights seemed better than ever.
“You’re here early!” Cassandra meowed, marching out of the crowd to meet Lucky. “And you’ve got all three kittens! That’ll look great on camera.”
“You sound surprised…” Lucky woofed. “Were you not expecting me this early? Or to bring the kittens?”
“Well, kittens are a handful at protests, and the local news station won’t be here for a few hours.” Once again, Cassandra’s wandering ears and eyes made it seem like she was only half paying attention to her conversation with Lucky. “But if you’re up to the challenge, that’s great! Like I said, it’ll look great on camera — three kittens missing their mama.”
Lucky was annoyed. He’d given Cassandra his phone number. She could have called him to let him know when to come, and he’d had the kittens with him when she’d cornered him day before last. What did she think he’d do with them? Leave them home alone? “I didn’t bring my kittens to look good on camera,” Lucky grumbled. “They’re not props.”
Cassandra didn’t hear him; she’d already drifted back into the crowd of protesters to scold a chocolate-furred Chihuahua who’d climbed up beside a stone statue for a photo. The statue was of a human police officer, and the Chihuahua was posing next to the granite human as if the two of them were holding her protest sign together. It read, “Humanity Loves Us All” along the top, and under that, “Cats’ Rights are Canine Rights.”
It was an explicitly religious First Racer sign with that reference to the long gone human race. Lucky figured the calico must have a problem with First Racer signs at her protest.
The chocolate Chihuahua got down from the statue and started loudly barking scripture at Cassandra. A lot of feline ears in the crowd flattened. Lucky didn’t have a chance to see how the altercation turned out, however, because the kittens were ready for snacks. Already. It was going to be a long day.
Lucky propped his sign up against a trash can, took his backpack off and dug around inside it. The snacks were buried under the extra jackets, and he practically had to unpack and repack the whole thing right there on the sidewalk to get at the coveted fishy morsels.
The morning passed in a strange haze of stress mixed with boredom. The kittens staggered their demands such that Lucky finished putting his backpack on after getting Robin tuna jerky right before Allison asked for a drink; after he got the drink, Pete was cold and needed his extra jacket. As soon as the backpack settled on Lucky’s shoulders again, Pete changed his mind — the jacket was too hot. Can you put it back in the backpack, Daddy? And so on. It felt like a bizarre obstacle course, except without the exhilaration of running or jumping.
For a while, Lucky led his trio of kittens from one end of the block to the other. It made the kittens happy, and they sang a song about parades while waving about their signs. Until Cassandra asked him to stop.
“Why?” Lucky asked, upset that she wanted him to stop the one activity that was making the kittens happy. But once again, the calico’s attention had strayed from him before he thought the conversation was over. “Will you listen to me?” Lucky snapped. “Why don’t you want us parading?”
Cassandra’s ears skewed, not fully flattened but clearly unhappy. She looked at Lucky with enigmatic gold eyes. “We don’t want to cause too much commotion.”
Baffled, Lucky woofed, “I thought that was the whole point of this demonstration.”
But Cassandra was gone again. This time, the calico had rushed off to talk to a police poodle who’d poked his floppy-eared head out of the station to check on the protest. He was a tan-furred standard poodle, nearly twice the height of most of the protester cats.
Lucky wanted to check in the with police officer too, but suddenly Allison desperately needed her rag-cat with the green button eyes and yarn whiskers from the backpack. Lucky tried to keep an eye on Cassandra’s interchange with the poodle as he knelt down on the sidewalk and dug through the backpack. The tan-furred poodle kept fiddling with the handcuffs and night stick strapped to the belt on his deep blue uniform. That didn’t seem like a good sign. Why was he so nervous? Was there bad news about Petra?
Lucky found the rag-cat and held it out for his gray tabby daughter. “Here you go, Allison.”
The kitten squeezed the doll tightly, purring and happy. “Raggedy Kitty says thank you for getting her out of the backpack!” Allison meowed. She wrapped the rag-cat’s arms around her sign’s picket and said, “Look, she’s helping me hold up my sign!”
Lucky smiled at his daughter’s adorableness, but he was still distracted by wanting to talk to the police poodle. “Come on, kittens,” he woofed. “Let’s go hold our signs over by the statue for a while.” The statue was closer to the station’s entrance, and maybe Lucky could beckon the officer over to talk to him there.
Crossing five sidewalk squares of concrete with a troupe of kittens holding signs can prove to be a far more complicated production than seems possible. First Pete saw a colorful leaf he wanted to pick up — it was only a few steps out of the way. Then Allison showed off that her rag-cat could fly — by throwing it in the air. The rag-cat landed several steps out of the way in the other direction. And Robin simply decided to be mulish and complain that he didn’t want to stand near the human statue, because humans look creepy with those flat, knobby faces. No muzzles and barely any ears!
By the time they made it over to the base of the statue, the police poodle was busy talking on a cell phone. Lucky didn’t want to interrupt him.
Lucky wondered if the poodle was the officer who had pulled Petra over. The wolfhound at the front desk hadn’t been able to give him any useful specifics, but if he could talk to the actual officer who had pulled Petra over, then maybe he could finally get some answers.
Lucky wanted to know why Petra had been pulled over in the first place. Had she run a red light? Missed a stop sign? Forgotten her turn signals? He wished she had been driving more carefully. Then they could have avoided all of this.
Lucky had asked the kittens, of course, but all three had been asleep in the backseat when their mother was pulled over. They’d only woken up when the cops moved them to the squad car — a different squad car than their mother was in. They’d been petrified by the time Lucky picked them up at the station.
In fact, when Lucky had told them about the protest, at first Robin had refused to come back to the station at all. He only agreed when Lucky had explained that the protest would be held outside the station, and there would be a bunch of other cats there. That part had seemed important to Robin.
Lucky was pulled from his reverie by the caterwauling sounds of angry kittens. “Hey, hey, calm down, guys!” Lucky barked, almost reflexively. “What’s wrong?”
Allison and Pete had climbed up on the base of the statue; an orange tabby and a gray tabby squabbling beside the knees of a granite human. Pete had taken Allison’s rag-cat and was holding it above his head, keeping it away from her. Allison was practically spitting, trying to get her beloved rag-cat back.
Lucky didn’t have a chance to sort their quarrel out. The police poodle’s voice rang out like gunfire, the kind of booming bark that startles and stops everyone in their tracks, the kind of bark only a big dog can make: “GET. OFF. THE. STATUE.”
Pete dropped the rag-cat on the statue’s base and scrambled down right away. Allison was still picking up her rag-cat and checking to make sure the doll was okay when the police poodle made it over to her. He grabbed the rag-cat out of her gray-striped paws. “I SAID GET DOWN.”
Allison yowled and reached for the rag-cat. Lucky tried to step forward and smooth the situation over, but the police dog threw the rag-cat down on the ground and Allison hissed at him.
The police dog drew his gun. At the sight of the pistol, Lucky’s sight blacked out. He’d never seen a gun in person before — certainly not being pulled on his kitten. When his vision cleared, he was standing between Allison and the police poodle. He didn’t even know how he’d gotten there.
“Get that kitten off of the statue,” the poodle barked, still pointing the gun, now at Lucky.
Lucky’s paws were shaking, and he made sure to keep his body between that gun and his baby. But he got Allison down from the statue.
Allison tried to cling to her daddy, but Cassandra had come up beside them and Lucky pushed her into the calico’s open arms, away from the gun. He never took his eyes off of the gun, as if looking at it could stop it from firing. He could barely breathe until the poodle had holstered it again.
“You pulled a gun on my baby,” Lucky woofed, out of breath and ready to burst into tears.
“She scratched me!” the poodle barked.
Lucky realized that he was still hearing his heart pounding in his ears. His vision had blacked out for a moment, but he knew what he had seen: “She didn’t scratch you.” It was hard to put words together in this state. “She hissed at you.”
“Same thing,” the police poodle woofed. “Cats gotta control their tongues. Even kittens. Gotta show the proper deference to police officers.”
The police dog was acting like nothing strange had happened, but Lucky felt like the entire world had turned upside down. He’d never felt afraid of a police officer before.
This must be what Petra felt all the time.
Other cats too.
In that moment, Lucky realized that Petra hadn’t done anything to get pulled over. Other than be a cat, behind the wheel. He hated himself for doubting her. He thought of all the times he’d thought she was being crazy or paranoid… How many of those times were justified?
“Just stay off of the statue,” the police poodle barked, “and everything will be fine.”
Lucky watched the poodle stride back into the station, tail swishing. Had it been fun for him?
Then the distraught terrier looked at all the cats, holding their signs, watching him. They’d all been living in this upside down world where the police were a force of danger all along.
Three kittens rushed into Lucky’s arms. The terrier held his feline babies tight.
* * *
Three days later, Lucky was allowed in to see Petra in her cell. It would be another two weeks before the protests built to the point where the police were pressured into releasing her. Even then, it was only because of her powerful family connections. Many cats weren’t so lucky. They became statistics.
Behind iron bars, Petra’s orange fur didn’t look fiery like it usually did. She looked faded; yellow-stripes instead of crimson. Lucky wished he could have protected her from this. But that would require changing the world.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Petra meowed to Lucky.
“I know,” Lucky said, reaching a scruffy-furred paw toward the bars. Petra came forward and held it. He was too ashamed to admit that he’d doubted her. She would forgive him. She must have already forgiven him hundreds of times already, without him even knowing it, for all the times he hadn’t understood.
Lucky clutched Petra’s paw between the iron bars. If a cat and dog could fall in love, adopt, and raise kittens together, then dogs could learn to respect cats. But it would be a long road. A road that he should have been walking down for a long time. He would start now. For their kittens.
“I’m so sorry,” Lucky said.