It was dark, but no one seemed to be asleep. The other animals were making a lot of noise as Neal easily slipped out of the cage he shared with his three littermates – Dumb, Dumber, and Miss Priss, as he'd dubbed them – and hopped down onto the cold concrete floor. Dr. June had a nice boarding room where all of her overnight patients stayed, and ever since he was old enough to walk, Neal had been checking out the happenings in the other cages at night. He was the smallest in his litter, so he fit through most of the cage bars easily, and he was friendly to everyone unless they gave him a reason not to be.
In the corner hanging cage, Mozzie the parrot baraaacked and quoted, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."
Neal looked up at him and meowed, but Mozzie was too far away for Neal to really talk to. It was a shame; he seemed like such an interesting character.
A few feet away, he stopped in front of a cage with a tuxedo cat that was curled up near the door. The cat looked up at him and said, "Hey, kit."
"Hi, Jones." Neal batted at the lock on the cage until he got a claw in it and twisted. The lock released and the door popped open, but Jones remained curled up inside. "Not coming out?"
"Maybe later." Jones' tail swished behind him, but he didn't make any other movement.
Neal shrugged and bounded to the end of the aisle until he came upon a crate holding a pretty Collie named Elizabeth. She'd stepped on broken glass and cut her paw, so she was stuck at the vet's office until the infection was under control. "Hey, El. How're you feeling?"
She met Neal at the door of her crate with an anxious expression. "Oh, Neal! I'm so glad you're here. Would you go check on the new guy? He's been moaning all day and night. I think something terrible happened to him." She tilted her head in the direction of a crate set apart from the others.
Neal hurried over but approached cautiously. Now that she'd mentioned it, he could hear the dog moaning inside. Neal peeked through the crate's bars and saw a golden lab laying on his side with his back right leg in a white cast. Neal wiggled himself through the bars and swished his tail against them a couple of times to make a little noise. "Hey, there. I'm Neal."
The lab raised his head to look at him before dropping it back and groaning, "Go 'way, kitten."
"Neal. My name is Neal." He wasn't going to be deterred by a grumpy attitude. The dog was clearly in pain. "What's yours?"
The dog woofed miserably and replied, "Peter."
"That's a good name." Neal moved closer and rubbed against Peter's side. "You're warm, and it's cold in here. Mind if I—" Neal let the sentence hang as he gently climbed onto Peter's front shoulder and curled up there.
"You're persistent," Peter said, eyeing Neal's small form. "What are you in for?"
Neal fidgeted and got up to knead a little at Peter's fur before settling back down. "Mom abandoned me and my littermates. Dr. June's cool though. She gives us milk and good kibble, says she's going to find us all homes."
Peter shifted slightly, not enough to dislodge Neal, but enough to jar his broken leg. He yelped at the pain.
"How'd that happen?" Neal looked down at the leg in question. He was curious and wanted to inspect the cast but didn't want to hurt Peter.
"Hit by a car. Damn thing came out of nowhere. Now, it just aches so much."
Neal nuzzled Peter's fur. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault."
They fell quiet and Neal started to purr softly.
Mozzie baraaacked again and said, "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."
Neal snorted at that but didn't say anything. He'd noticed that Peter had stopped moaning pretty much entirely now. After a couple of minutes, Peter's breathing evened out and Neal too fell asleep.
The next morning, the lights came to life overhead much earlier than Neal had expected. He twitched but was too warm to even consider moving. That was weird since his littermates usually huddled together without him during the nights.
By the time Neal realized that he'd been sleeping on top of the vet's newest patient, Dr. June had appeared outside the crate and was looking in at them with a fond smile.
"Why hello Neal. I must say that I'm not all that surprised to find you in here. I thought Peter needed a friend last night too. Come on out now for breakfast." She opened the crate door for him and moved away to start getting the feed ready.
Neal stretched and hopped off Peter's shoulder. He turned and found Peter looking at him with dark eyes. "It was very good to meet you, Peter."
"You too, Neal, you too." Peter replied as Neal turned and jumped through the open door. He purred and rubbed against June's legs for a moment before heading back toward his cage.
"Thanks, Neal," Elizabeth said when he passed by her.
"You're very welcome, El."
Jones was asleep when Neal walked by his still open door, and Neal chuckled to himself as he climbed back up to his cage and wormed his way back inside. His littermates were still asleep so he groomed himself while he waited for Dr. June to bring the kibble and milk.
Later that day, Neal was dozing when he heard an unfamiliar voice in the boarding room. He lifted his head and watched a tall, slim man with white hair follow Dr. June down the aisle to Peter's crate. "He's doing much better, Reese," she said. "I examined him this morning, and I think it's okay for you to take him home. Just keep a close eye on him."
"Are you sure he's ready?" Reese had a deep and concerned voice.
Neal couldn't really see them from his vantage point, but he wondered the same thing. Peter had been in so much pain last night.
"I could keep him another day, but I think he'll rest better at home."
Neal couldn't help it; he meowed a protest, but no one seemed to hear him. He tried to do it louder, but he was still too small to really get any volume.
Mozzie must have heard him though because he baraaacked again and said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
The humans paid the parrot no mind. Reese sighed but agreed with Dr. June. "Okay."
There was some rustling and clanging before Neal saw Peter slowly limping down the aisle on three of his four legs. He was followed closely by his human and the vet. Neal meowed again and Peter paused to look up at him.
"Feel better, Peter."
Peter woofed. "Thanks, Neal."
Reese looked surprised by the interaction and asked, "What's going on?"
"I think Peter made a friend last night. Neal," she rubbed his head through the cage, "likes to wander the boarding room at night, and I found him in Peter's crate this morning."
"Peter's never really show any interest in cats before."
"Sometimes animals bond in stressful situations, and Peter was certainly under a lot of stress yesterday."
"My wife's been wanting a cat for a while, but we weren't sure how Peter would react. Does this Neal belong to anyone?"
"No, no. He was found with his littermates in an alley. It looked like their mother had abandoned them, so I've been taking care of them for the last few weeks. He's not quite ready to adopt out yet, but give it a week or so. Would you like to take him?"
Peter barked and nodded his head in a fashion that made Reese and Dr. June laugh.
"Did you hear that Neal?"
"I did, I did!" Neal meowed and bounced around inside his cage. "We're going to be brothers!"
"I think they approve," Dr. June said with a grin.
Reese nodded, smiled and pointed toward the door. "I should get him home, but you'll let me know when I can pick up Neal?"
"I certainly will."
Their voices faded as they moved away, but Neal was too happy to care. He was getting a home. One with Peter. For a dog, he wasn't so bad, and Neal knew that he would like it there. This was the best day ever.
Thank you for reading!