Checkers chased after the frisbee his Master had just thrown. He caught and returned it to his Master who threw it again. Checkers caught it and held it out, but instead of taking it, his Master crouched down and hugged him. His Master began speaking in Master-speak. Checkers didn’t understand, but he could tell his Master was happy with him.
Checkers licked his Master’s muzzle and barked, as his back was stroked and his belly was rubbed. And Checkers was being led home. He was looking forward to an evening curled up with his Master in front of the fire.
And then Checkers woke up. There was no fire here. No frisbees. Just a cramped cage and a bowl of water that hadn’t been changed in three days. Checkers had a new Master now. One far angrier than his old one. One that had never hugged him or had rubbed his belly. Checkers had been woken up by the sound of Winston the Bulldog limping back.
Winston had a thick-set body and a short tail, which barely extended over his rump. His muscles were visible under his fur, but patches of it were missing. His four legs were usually sturdy, but he was now limping. And there were scratches along his back. Checkers approached him, pulling at his chain that was catching on his cage. He knelt down and started licking at Winston’s scratches. The Bulldog was lying on his side panting.
“What happened?” Checkers asked.
“Just getting old, kid. Too old for this.”
“Why does Master make us fight? It’s not right.”
“I am a Bulldog. You are an Alsatian. We’re dogs. They’re masters. That’s the way it is.”
“Well, we can stop it. We can escape together.”
Winston rolled over. “There’s only one way out of this and you know it.”
Checkers bowed his head. He knew exactly what Winston meant. Only yesterday, his second day in this hell, he had seen Master take a Staffordshire Terrier outside. Checkers had heard a bang and Master had returned without the dog. But Checkers couldn’t give up.
“We’ll escape. We’ll go tonight.”
“Don’t be stupid, kid. Go to sleep, you’ll be fighting soon.”
“I can’t fight. I’m not brave like you.”
But Winston had started snoring. Checkers returned to his cage and looked around. At the light struggling to penetrate the windows. At the dark rotting wood. At the things floating in his water bowl. At the Master machine in one corner that was used to train a dog’s stamina. Checkers had been forced to run on this when he had first arrived, and his neck still chafed from the heavy collar. When he had started running, he hadn’t been able to stop. Next to the Master-machine was a pole, which had a soft toy dangling from the end. This was used to build up a dog’s leg muscles.
Checkers looked over as he saw Winston shivering. He knew that the Bulldog was sensitive to the cold. He went over and laid by him, before going to sleep.
Checkers ran up to his Master who was by the door. They’d be going to the park. But something was wrong. His Master looked sad and he wasn’t holding the frisbee. Checkers barked, but allowed himself to be led into the backseat of the car. The window was wound down and he stuck his head out, as the car began moving. He started barking. He was going to the park, but then they drove past it. Maybe they were going to a different park. And then they stopped and Checkers was let out.
He barked, as he realised that they weren’t in a park. There was no grass or trees, just concrete and cars. His Master crouched down and hugged him. Checkers licked his muzzle, but then his Master walked away. Checker tried following him, but he was ordered to stay. He stayed and sat, as his Master got in the car and moved away. Chckers barked. Maybe his Master had forgotten the frisbee. He’d be back soon. Checkers walked to the wall and laid down. His Master would be back soon. He would wait.
And Checkers had waited and waited. Day after day, as his stomach grew emptier. As the cars came and went. And then he smelt something. It was food. Coming from outside of the car park. Checkers wanted to wait for his Master, but he was so hungry. He stood up and tottered to the smell. It was getting stronger now. His stomach was screaming. He stepped up and hobbled over to a bowl full of food. It was only as the cage door snapped shut did he realise that it was a trap.
Checkers was woken up by his Master’s footsteps. He saw his Master holding a stick and he knew that he would be using it on Winston. He wasn’t going to let this happen. He stood in front of him, waking the Bulldog up.
“What you doing, kid?”
“I’m going to protect you.” Checkers looked up, as his Master arrived. His Master shouted in Master-speak, but Checkers didn’t move. And then the stick crashed onto his back. But he didn’t move. And it crashed down again, but he still stayed standing. And then three more times, but Checkers wasn’t going anywhere.
“Go kid. I’ll be fine.” Winston mewed out.
Checkers ran back to his cage. He looked away as Winston was whipped, as he heard his friend whimper. Once it was over, he picked up his water bowl and clumsily carried it to Winston. He slopped out half of it and deposited it. He tried his best to lick out the dirty bits, before pushing it forwards with his nose.
“Drink.” He barked.
“Don’t be silly. That’s your water.”
“Drink.” Checkers insisted and smiled, as Winston struggled to the bowl and started drinking.
“You looked after me when I first got here, now I’ll look after you.”
Winston fell back from the bowl, allowing his whip marks to shine in the moonlight. “You need to look after yourself. You could have a long time here. I only have one or two fights left, before Master takes me outside and doesn’t take me back inside.”
Checkers licked Winston’s wounds. “I can’t do this without you.”
Winston stood up and faced Checkers, so that he could see every wrinkle in the Bulldog’s face.
“You said you’re not brave, but you’re one of the bravest dogs I know.”
The next morning, Checkers was woken up by a high-pitched ringing. He was scared of the noise, but was more scared of what it signalled. Fight-day. His Master entered the room and unchained him. Checkers was nervous; this was going to be his first fight. He was led into a big room with barred windows and lots of masters talking in Master-speak. They all smelt of sweat.
And then Checkers was led into the ring that had walls far higher than his two feet. It wasn’t really a ring, but closer to a square. 15×15. And carpeted. He was led into a corner and told to sit behind what looked like scratch lines.
And then his opponent entered the ring and was taken to wait behind scratch lines in the other corner. It was a Pitbull Terrier, which stood five inches smaller than Checkers. Its fur was dull and was drawn tightly over its bones. Even so, its teeth was bared and its jaws looked vicious. There was a high-pitched shrill and before Checkers knew what had happened, he had been knocked aside. The Pitbull had crashed into him, leading to the Masters cheering. Checkers scrambled around, flailing out with his legs, trying to avoid the Pitbull’s teeth. He managed to kick him aside, before standing up. He tried reasoning with the Pitbull, but it was useless. It was too far gone.
It charged into him again, mounting him and clawing his side. Checkers struggled to break free, but then the Pitbull ripped into his ear. Checkers howled and broke free, but the Pitbull knocked him to the floor again, before gouging its claws into his belly. He knew he was defenceless, that he only had seconds left to live. He waited for it to be over, but then alarm blared out. A Master jumped into the ring and wrestled the Pitbull away. As for Checkers, his Master hauled him up and took him back to the cages. Checkers saw that there was a bowl of food in his cage, but whined, as it was taken away. And then his Master returned with the stick.
After he had been whipped, Checkers laid in front of his cage. How could masters be so cruel? What had he done to deserve this? He lifted his head, as he saw Winston waddle up to him, holding his dog bowl in his mouth. It had a little food in it.
“Eat up, kid.” He said.
Checkers wolfed down the food, as Winston licked his wounds. He felt a little better after that.
“Who did you fight?”
“It was a Pitbull. It was vicious.”
“I knew a Pitbull once. He was called Cyrus. He looked after me when I first came here. Taught me everything I know. And he was kind and patient. Gentle, but brave. And then Master changed him. Beat him. Starved him. Turned him into a monster.”
“What happened to him?” Checkers asked. He had finished eating.
“We fought each other in the ring. A death match. And I won. And the thing is, I think he let me win. He wanted out and I made it happen. I made it quick, made sure he didn’t suffer. He deserved nothing less. Anyway, you need your rest. Today was your warm-up. Next it’ll be your death match.”
Checkers whimpered and shook his head. “I can’t do it. I can’t go back. I’ll lose. I’ll die.”
“No you won’t. I’ll make sure you win.”
And over the next few days, Winston trained Checkers. Unless it was for food, water or fights, their Master didn’t come to see them. Neither of them had been called for fights, which intrigued Checkers, be he didn’t pursue it. He needed all the training he could get and Winston was training him well.
Winston taught him from his experience of a hundred fights. Teaching him how to attack and how to defend. When to go on the offensive and when to conserve his energy. Although hindered by the chains, they were able to spa with each other, and Checkers was taught the most vulnerable areas to attack. He was taught when to bite and when to scratch. His endurance improved and he learned how to use an opponent’s weight and energy against him. All while the other dogs watched them. Broken and silent.
And Checkers had learned all about Winston. How he had been adopted by a Master when the snow was on the ground, and how he had been given away when the snow had melted. He then went to a new Master who had lots of other dogs and who would sometimes give them to other masters. This was what had happened to Winston. He had been given to the Master who had made him fight other dogs.
On the fifth day, Checkers was woken by the high-pitched alarm. His Master entered the room and unchained him. This was it. Checkers was led out. He expected Winston to offer a few words of advice or at least cheer him on, but the Bulldog was silent. As Checkers was led into the ring, he couldn’t understand just why this was. It didn’t matter now. He was going to fight and he was going to win. It seemed like there were more masters than ever. Some she-masters were mixed in with the he-masters. But all of them were screaming. They all looked so angry. And then Checker’s opponent entered the ring. The Alsatian barked in surprise, as he recognised the Bulldog with the small legs and squat body. It was Winston. Both dogs were unchained and there was a shrill, as the fight began. The two dogs circled each other, as the masters roared.
“You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?” Checkers asked. He could sense the masters growing impatient. He flinched, as some Master-food was thrown at him.
Winston didn’t respond.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’ve been doing this for too long, kid. I want out. And I want a dog and not a Master to do it.”
“But, I can’t-” Before Checkers knew what had happened, he had been knocked onto his back. And he knew that he had screwed up. He had underestimated the Bulldog. Winston was faster than he looked. Checkers rolled back to his feet, but still had no intention to fight.
“Defend yourself, Checkers.” Winston knocked him down again and waited for him to stand back up.
“Come on, kid. Give me a good fight.”
Checkers nodded. He waited for Winston to charge at him, but at the last mintue, he stepped aside. The bulldog’s momentum sent him crashing into the far wall. The masters cheered at this, while Checkers inspected his friend. Winston was panting on the floor, and as Checkers stood over him, the Bulldog bit his leg, with his massive jaws designed to latch onto his opponents. Checkers toppled down.
“Don’t let your guard down.” Winston yapped.
But Checkers hadn’t. He was exactly where he needed to be. Corkscrewing his body, he bit onto Winston’s belly and threw him aside. Checkers stood up and panted, allowing the blood to drip out. But the Bulldog wasn’t beaten yet. The two crashed together again, and despite Winston being a foot smaller, he stood his ground. Both dogs brawled with each other trying to snap their heads around to bite. Checkers bit onto Winston’s ear and flinched, as he heard the Bulldog yowl. He didn’t want his friend to suffer like this. They continued wrestling with each other with Checkers mounting Winston and slashing his back. Winston wormed free, but Checkers barged into him sending the smaller dog flying across the ring. He crashed down and whimpered, as bones were smashed.
Checkers approached him, careful not to get too close. He whined, as he saw his friend Winston panting. He had once been strong, brave and wise, but hr was now a broken mess.
“Just do it, kid. I’m done.” Winston spoke into the ground. He didn’t have the energy to lift his head.
“I can’t. Please. There has to be another way.”
“Don’t let your opponent suffer. That’s what masters would do. We aren’t masters. We’re dogs.”
Checkers nodded, and as firmly, but as gently as he could, he closed his jaws around the Bulldog’s neck. He pressed until Winston stopped struggling. And then the doors crashed open and new masters stormed the room. Checkers’ old Master tried running away, but he was tackled to the ground, as were the other masters.
One of the new he-masters entered the ring. Checkers was scared and confused, but he was damned if he was going to let this Master get near Winston. He stood up and growled, baring his teeth. But this new Master seemed different. He crouched down and started speaking his Master-speak. He didn’t sound angry, but calm and gentle. He held something out in his hand.
Checkers sniffed it and realised it was a treat. He snatched it away and after he had eaten it, he saw the he-master approach him. He growled and the he-master stepped back. Checkers thought for a few seconds, before sniffing him. He didn’t smell like the others. Not like sweat and hatred. Maybe this was a good Master. Were there any of those left?
Checkers stood aside and nodded to Winston. The he-master saw this and called out. A she-master entered the ring and wrapped Winston in a blanket, before carrying him out. The he-master led Checkers outside and into a van, where Winston had been laid to rest. Checkers climbed in and laid next to him. The seats were soft and there were bowls of food all around. Some of the other rescued dogs were there too. But even as the van moved off none of this mattered to Checkers. For he was howling and whining for his friend, Winston the Bulldog.
I originally began this within my creative writing group where we had to write from the perspective of animals. This was a tough story to research and write, but necessary all the same. I do realise that within dogfighting, Pitbulls and Staffordshire Terriers are exclusively used, Alsatians and Bulldogs would never be used. However, I feel that it’s much easier for the reader to tell Checkers and Winston apart, if they’re a different and more easily recognisable species to the other dogs.
Below is an alternate ending, which takes place just after Checkers kills Winston. Why did I write it? I’m not quite sure. I am happy with the current ending, but I also saw a different way for the story to finish. Thus, I thought I would write the alternate ending and see how the two compare. Although the original is far more of a bittersweet ending, I think the alternative ending is far more realistic. It is the sad reality that many of these dogs are never rescued and die in captivity. I also liked Checkers’ transformation into Winston: he has become a broken version of himself. A version who has become completely resigned to his fate. To all dogs who are being forced to fight into illegal dogfights, I hope like Checkers you are rescued and go to good, loving families:
And then the alarm sounded and the masters cheered, drowning out Checkers’ howls. His Master jumped into the arena and grabbed hold of him. He allowed himself to be taken away and carried back to his prison. But, instead of being led back to his cage, he was placed down on a fluffy bed, loaded with cushions. There was also a bowl with clean water and three bowls filled with food. Not only was there a mixture of dry and wet food, but also treats and the master-food that Checkers loved the most: bacon.
But once Checkers’ master had left, he shared out most of the food with the other dogs. He then returned to his cage and laid down, staring into the emptiness next to him. It would have been utterly insulting to eat and sleep well, after what he had just done. He was a monster. Monsters didn’t deserve to eat and sleep well.
A few hours later, Checkers was woken up by frantic barking. He saw a Pitbull being forced into the room by three masters. It was looking for a way out, but it was being pushed back by cruel master-machines that dealt out electric shocks. The Pitbull was trying to be brave, but it was obviously terrified. Checkers was just like that when he had first arrived. He wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, but he stood up instead.
“Don’t fight it, kid. Just come here.”
The Pitbull ran over, and the masters left.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Billy. What’s going on? Last night I was with my old master and then I woke up and now I’m here. I don’t understand. Where am I?”
“Hell, kid. You’re in hell.”
“I don’t belong here. I need to leave now.”
“There’s only one way out of here.”
“What do you mean?”
Checkers picked up the bowls with the last of the food and placed them in front of Billy. “Eat up, kid. You need to keep your strength up.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re not in a good place, Billy. The masters here aren’t good masters. They’ll make you fight other dogs. They’ll make you kill other dogs.”
Billy howled. “I can’t fight like that. I’ll lose. I’ll die.”
“You won’t die, kid. I’ll make sure you win.”