Jenny stares dubiously at Cheese Toasties, who gives a tentative tail wag. They’re standing about three feet apart, just sizing each other up. It’s about the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.
“Is she just going to stand there all day?” Chelsea whispers to me.
“She’s never met a dog before,” I whisper back.
“Ever?” Chelsea incredulously almost doesn’t whisper.
Chelsea holds her hand over her mouth to prevent either laughter or d’awwing, I’m not sure which. She blinks slightly, takes a deep breath, and adds, “she’s doing pretty well, then.”
Half-frowning at the beagle, Jenny slowly reaches out a hand. Cheese Toasties licks it, and Jenny makes a disgusted face. She doesn’t move away or anything, just stares, horrified, at the dog, who’s now wagging his tail in earnest, repeatedly licking her hand.
“Um, hello,” Jenny says.
Cheese Toasties makes a sort of ‘boof’ sound. Or maybe a ‘hoomph’.
“Cheese Toasties, shake,” Chelsea says.
Cheese Toasties obligingly holds out a paw for shaking.
Jenny greets him awkwardly. “Um, good wolf. Good wolfie. That’s a nice wolf.”
Cheese Toasties licks her again.
Ursula falls out of a tree cackling, because apparently she can’t keep herself perched up there when there’s something this funny to fall/float towards. I wonder how long she’s been there and if maybe I should be at least a little surprised.
“So,” Jenny says to her, “I met a dog.”
Ursula, still laughing, offers her hand up for a hi-five.
“Congratulations,” Chelsea mutters to me, still uncertain about the whole thing.
I figure a trained dog is a lot better than a pet dog, though. With an excited yip followed by a tongue loll and a lot of panting, Cheese Toasties runs straight into my leg. Then licks it. Then makes a face, and goes inside.
“Nice to see you, too, Cheese Toasties,” I say, following the dog into the house, where he comes back to greet me again, this time dribbling water onto my shoe. I give his scruff a scratch.
“So that’s a wolf,” Jenny says, sitting down at the table. “I mean, a pet wolf. A dog.”
Ursula snickers again, and then says carefully, “you did a good job, hon. Very brave.”
Jenny glares at her.
“You can give him commands,” Chelsea says. “If that would make you feel more comfortable with him, I mean. He’ll sit or beg or roll over for you.”
Jenny screws up her mouth again, staring for a while. Finally, she says, “Cheese Toasties, sit.”
Cheese Toasties sits. On my foot. He’s not very heavy, so it doesn’t bother me, but I can’t imagine it’s all that comfortable for him.
“No,” Jenny says, amused, and points in front of her, “no, sit here.”
Surprisingly, the beagle actually wanders over to her and sits in front of her. She starts patting his head. Extremely carefully, and with only a small amount of enthusiasm, but she pets him. Ursula gives him ear scritchies, and he seems pretty happy with that.
Chelsea laughs, almost spilling her tea. “Yeah, I wouldn’t expect that to work on all dogs. We’ve been training this pup to follow pointing commands.”
“Who’s a smart doggie?” Ursula asks, “who is? Cheese Toasties is!”
Cheese Toasties yips.
“Pointing?” I repeat, “what for?”
“Well, usually for if we can hear something and don’t want to risk losing track of it,” Chelsea says, “but it also works when it’s really loud and someone’s afraid of dogs.”
“Afraid of dogs,” Jenny mutters, “that’s hippie-talk. Who would ever be afraid of, you know, a carnivorous apex predator that lives in your house?”
“It’s okay,” Chelsea says, with a sympathetic nod, “Cheese Toasties only eats fish.”
I laugh, especially at the head turn at hearing his name, and then the perked ear at ‘fish’.
“And processed fish at that,” Chelsea adds, to the other ear perking, “so you can rest assured you’re not in his sights as a potential meal.”
Jenny blinks and clears her throat. “Do they actually eat fish, too, or are you fucking with me?”
“What?” Chelsea says. “Yes, they do. I mean, it’s not usually most of their diet, the pup’s on a special diet, but yes, why wouldn’t they?”
Jenny makes a noise of consternation and pets Cheese Toasties with more assurance.
“I heard something like a third of search dogs are extranormal,” Ursula says.
Jenny shakes her head. “Kitty, are you asking if the, uh, the beagle has powers?”
“Yes,” Chelsea says, refilling their cups. “I mean, no, not a third, it’s closer to a sixth, and even then, not quite, but yes, he does.”
“Aw, he’s a superdog, yes he is,” Ursula says, flapping his ear again. “Where’d he get it?”
“Natural outgrowth of the training, near as we can tell,” Chelsea says, with a shrug, seamlessly handing me a lint roller as Cheese Toasties runs back over to me and jumps into my lap.
I sigh, accepting the lint roller and hoping all the hairs will stick to it, once I get Cheese Toasties off my lap. He sighs happily and drops his head onto his paws as I pet him. I think he’s fallen asleep, because his paws twitch occasionally. Then he starts snoring.
Jenny and Ursula are both laughing now. Chelsea is very stoically holding the teapot poised above my mug and asking if I’d like more tea. I grin as I nod. Ursula takes a picture.
“So did you just sneak after Jenny to see how she’d react to a dog,” I ask her, “or did she invite you here, and you decided to burst out of the trees for a different reason?”
Ursula looks at me for a beat, then turns to Chelsea. “What powers?”
“Oh, he can track five separate scents at once without getting confused,” Chelsea says, “it’s great for following multiple people, especially if the trail is patchy.”
“Oh, hey, I have that,” Jenny says.
Chelsea looks at her, looks at me to see if she’s joking, to which I have absolutely no response, and says, “you can smell people?”
Actually, Ursula’s staring at her incredulously, too.
“No,” Jenny says, with a laugh, “I mean, I can keep track of several different trails at a time. When I’m following people. I can look for, you know, separate clues. At once.”
At that, both Ursula and I nod, and Chelsea shrugs, handing around tea cakes.