All is peaceful at the Las Animas neighborhood park. A young couple holds hands as they stroll through the grass. An old lady tosses breadcrumbs on the ground for a family of ducks. A father gently tosses a baseball for his son to catch. Truly a picturesque scene. Shrill screams break up the peace and resound throughout the park. A golf cart comes careening down the grassy hill. Inside are two screaming teens, an elementary school kid at the wheel and a scruffy dog howling its lungs out. It is clear no one is control of the situation.
"Get out of the way!" Young Fanny shouts as park goers scramble to escape the out of control cart's destructive path.
Police sirens can be heard in the background. A loud speaker bellows, "Stop the golf cart."
"We clearly can't!" Carmen cries as she uses one hand to cover her eyes and the other to cover the dog's sitting in her lap.
"Our Father, who art in Heaven," Angela's hands are clasped in prayer. She's ready to accept the inevitable.
An elderly man with a walker is oblivious to the impending doom barreling towards him. With a smile, he shakily moves forward and says, "Oh my, what a lovely day."
Carmen points at the elder in danger, "Old man twelve of clock!"
The dog takes action, leaping onto the wheel and successfully dodging the elder in danger. Onlookers watch with open jaws as all three girls and their dog head straight for the pond. The golf cart gains air as it hits a bump and flies over the body of water. The chaotic scene freezes moments before the cart hits the pond.
I can guess what you're thinking right about now. Where in the hell are the parents of these unruly children? Well, I'm right here. See that scruffy mangy mutt in the cart? I'm their dad, David Ibarra. Let me explain before this gets any weirder.
1 YEAR PRIOR TO THE GOLF CART INCIDENT
The scene rewinds to the outside of the Ibarra family home. A small suburban house. It's quaint. David, a man in his late 30's, lines up his camera on top of a tripod. His wife fusses over their three daughters as they ready for the shot. The youngest daughter bats away her mom's hand.
"Stop! I liked it the way it was!" She quickly messes up her hair again.
The oldest sister busies herself with her phone. Her fingers texting like her life depends on it. Her mom nudges the teen, "Put the phone away. Now."
"Uh-huh." She's practically hypnotized by the screen.
"Maybe you would've gotten into that private high school if it weren't Instagram," the middle sister rolls her eyes at the immaturity of the older sibling.
"Maybe you'd have friends if you didn't that huge gap in your front teeth." The two exchange glares.
"Girls! Pretend like you like each other for two minutes. We're not letting the McKenzie's outshine our Christmas card again this year." Their mom is dead serious.
"Everyone squish in. Gosh, we really having a good looking family," David gloats with pride.
"Dad, can you just take this stupid photo," the youngest of the Ibarras hops from foot to foot.
"Alright, I think I figured this thing out," David squints at the camera settings. "Are we ready Ibarras!"
"Ready!" Their mother beams. The daughters all mutter under the breath.
David presses the timer button before running to stand next to his wife. "Big smiles ladies!" The camera flashes.
Meet the Ibarras! See that gorgeous lady right there? That's my wife, Melanie. We're high school sweethearts. It was your textbook romance story: two soccer players who tried to out compete each other ended up falling in love. I hate to admit it, but she's a slightly better forward than I am. Slightly.
To her right is our oldest daughter Angela, the one doing a duck face. She's fourteen and absolutely boy obsessed, much to my dismay. She has the beauty of her mother, so it's no wonder she's such a heartbreaker. She's got the gift of the gab and can make friends no matter where she goes. Even though she pushes my buttons any chances she gets, she has the biggest heart of anyone I know.
See the one with that huge toothy smile? That's our second daughter, Carmen. She's a mini me. Straight A's, captain of the 7th grade debate team, the best soccer player on her team, and all around nerd. She decided when she was four she wanted to play for Stanford's Women's Soccer team and major in Biology. I have no doubt she'll be the first doctor in the Ibarra family!
The littlest one who looks like she'd rather be anywhere else? That's Stephanie, but she goes by her nickname Fanny. She's seven but acts like she's going on thirty. She got busted in kindergarten for selling individual m&m's for a dime a piece. She beats to her own drum, and that's what I love about her. I swear she's going to be a stand up comic when she's older.
I'd do absolutely anything for my girls. They're my whole world. We've always been a tight knit family. Nothing would keep me from ensuring their happiness. Nothing.
So, now comes the complicated part of how this scrawny little mutt came into play.
. . . . . .
David Ibarra lays down roof tiles on top of a newly built two story home. He wipes the sweat off his brow and adjusts the yellow helmet on his head. As he takes a step back, he momentarily loses his footing and swings his arm around to catch his balance. He stabilizes.
"Ibarra!" He looks down to see his manager waving him over. That can't be good. David quickly hops on a ladder and slowly descends. His feet safely touch the ground as he makes his way across the construction site. From the corner of his eye he catches a forklift backing up straight at him. He jumps back and slams his fist against the machine.
"Garrison! You almost ran me down!" He grumbles under his breath as his co-worker waves him off. "What do you need boss?"
"Your vacation time got approved. Taking the girls camping again?" His manager hands him a manila envelope.
"Our annual trip! What's this for?" David begins to open it before his boss clasps his hand on his shoulder.
"Consider it a bonus for all your hard work. Takes the girls to Disneyland or something this year. I can't imagine Melanie loves being cramped in that tiny tent trailer of yours." His boss gives him a wink.
David stares at him in disbelief, "Sir, are you sure?"
"I got a soft spot for you Ibarras. Plus, I do owe you for helping me out last week." Before David can respond his boss shoves his head down, "Look out!" A steel beam swings above their heads, narrowly hitting them.
"Sorry boss!" His co-worker operating the crane waves at them frantically.
"Watson! Get your ass off of that machine right now!" His boss marches over to give the man an earful.
Grinning ear to ear, David giddily stares at the manila envelope in his hands. He can just imagine his girls wearing those stupidly expensive mouse ears on their heads.
David swings his head around to see a small, fat dog making its way onto the construction site. It's a small thing, and filthy to boot. "Get outta here!" David tries to wave away the mongrel. The dog instead plops down to sit in front of him. It cocks its head to the side and stares at David intently. "You're gonna get yourself killed you dumb dog."
Suddenly David clutches his chest. He lets out a pained gasp before his eyes roll to the back of his head and feels himself collapse to the ground. His mind goes blank and everything goes dark.
What feels like a few seconds passes by as he groggily comes to. He feels warm, and kind of slimy. He can't hear very well, but he hears muffled voices and almost feels like he's floating. What happened? Did I pass out? Oh man, Melanie's gonna ring my neck.
David tries to will himself to move. To speak. To do anything. But none of his motor skills seem to work. Am I in a coma? After struggling a bit more, he exhausts himself out. I'll sleep for a bit. Maybe I just need some rest. For the next few days he mostly sleeps. Every once in awhile his stomach wakes him up out of hunger. He blindly reaches out until he finds what he thinks must be a feeding tube. Whatever it is, it tastes disgusting. But beggars can't be choosers. He drinks his fill before dozing off again. The hospital must have provided him a really big fuzzy pillow. He can't help but nestle close to it for comfort.
One day, he finally is able to gets his eyes open. Everything is so blurry and he can't make out where he is. I wonder if a nurse would be able to hear me.
He lets out a sound but it comes out as... a whine? A really high pitched one too. He squints until his surroundings finally come into focus. Glancing around he finds himself in what appears to be a prison cell. What the hell happened to me?
He finds himself in front of his fuzzy pillow. It's huge! And also breathing. What? This pillow isn't a pillow at all! It's a dog. A Clifford sized dog! I must be dreaming. David realizes that he's a tiny puppy in this dream. He has four siblings and he's definitely the runt of the litter. They push him aside whenever they're hungry and constantly whine. I never did like dogs. Why couldn't I have had a dream I was Cristiano Ronaldo or Brad Pitt or something?
He goes along with the dream and finds it extremely boring. David tries to will his mind to dream of anything else, but his surroundings stay the same. Every once in awhile a middle aged woman comes into their cell to check on the Clifford dog, which he realized was probably a 20 pound dog at most compared to humans. Eventually he's able to stand and waddle around on all four stumpy legs. There's not much to explore in his prison. I hope the girls aren't too worried about me. I can't imagine how much this is going to cost us in medical bills. Melanie and I are going to be in debt for the rest of our lives at this point. What are we going to do about college for the girls...
He can't help his racing thoughts. It feels like weeks go by and he steadily starts to grow in puppy form. David gets a glimpse of himself in the big dog's water bowl. He's a brown scruffy mutt. Maybe had Chihuahua in him? Some kind of terrier? Couldn't I dream I was a big Rottweiler? Something cooler than this?
Eventually he gets so bored he's ready to force himself to wake up from this puppy nightmare. He always found throwing himself off cliffs or letting a speeding car hit him always awoke him from his dreams. He settled on trying to run straight into the wall. With all four paws on the ground, his wags his butt before speeding to the wall. Here I come girls!
He slams into the wall and hits the ground hard. OW?????
That hurt. Like, really really hurt. Dreams aren't supposed to do that. It slowly begins to dawn on David.
I'm a dog?
David lets out a long, heartbreaking howl. He lets his puppy vocal cords go crazy as he yowls and paces around the cell. What happened to me? Did I die? Did I seriously reincarnate into a freaking dog? This can't be happening! My girls need me! Melanie doesn't have a job. She dropped out of college to have Angela. Angela! She just started high school. She needs her dad to protect her from all of those stupid teenage boys. Carmen has her big soccer tournament coming up! She needs me to run drills with her and bring orange slices to the games. And little Fanny. She's only seven. She can't grow up without her father!
David's yowls bring the middle aged lady into the cell. "What on Earth is wrong little one?" As she bends down to comfort a grown man inside the body of a four week old puppy, David notices something crucial. The door is open. He waits for the lady to get on her knees before he makes a beeline for the door. "Where are you going sweet thing?"
David pushes his stubby little legs into max overdrive. I gotta get out of here! I need to get home so my girls know I'm still here! I can fix this. I can still make this right.
David passes other dog cells and causes a big commotion as he races by. Ginormous dogs start snarling and snapping at him. He freezes in his tracks and stares wide eyed at all the large, yellow teeth sneering at him. Everything is so scary when you weigh 3 pounds.
Suddenly David is hoisted into the air and he lets out a surprised yelp. He still wasn't used to the weird sounds he made. "You're Mr. Speedy Gonzalez aren't you? I've never seen a puppy move that fast." The middle aged lady carries him back to his cell. Listen lady I don't know who you are, but my name's David Ibarra. I'm from Oakland and I have a family that needs to know I'm okay. I need you to call my wife and---
All of David's inner monologue come out as yaps and yowls. The middle aged lady is clearly annoyed with him. "Alright, alright. I hear you. You're probably hungry little one. Let's go back to mommy now." She plops him next to the big dog and hurries out of the cell. David races to the door as it slams in front of him. Please! Come back! I need to see my family!
His little body is exhausted from the small bout of energy he exerted. David sinks to the floor. In all of his life, he had never felt as helpless as he felt right now.
2 MONTHS LATER
Now three months old in dog form, David had formed a plan for himself. He had learned he was being held captive in an animal shelter in San Martin, about an hour's drive away from his home. He would play the part of a cutesy puppy looking for its "furever home". He had to be picky though, he needed to go with a family that lived closer to Oakland. Even if he broke out of here on his own, there was no way David would be able to make it on foot... or paw. A hawk could swoop in and snatch him, or maybe even a coyote might find him to be a tasty snack. David was at the bottom of the food chain now. He needed to play this smart in order to get to his girls.
Several people had dropped by in search of a dog, and puppies were hot commodities in places like these. David had played the sweet card with them, waiting for these people to mention where they lived. If they didn't live within a 10 mile radius of his destination, he'd start snapping at them. I never realized how easy it was to manipulate people. Maybe I should've been a lawyer.
Finally, a young family of three from San Leandro visited his shelter. It was cutting it close on his 10 mile radius requirement, but it was the best shot he'd had so far. Time for David to work his magic. He was the last puppy left from his litter. No competition. Perfect.
"Mommy, mommy! Look at this one!" A little boy no older than 5 knelt down next to his cage. Here goes nothing. David had been practicing his cutesy puppy sounds. He gave a pathetic whine before rolling onto his back and exposing his pink tummy. The whole family gave a collective "awwwww."
I've never been more humiliated in my entire two lives.
"Can we pet him," a little girl around the age of his Fanny pulled on her mom's pants.
"He seems like a sweetie. Can we play with this one for a little bit?" The mom motioned over to David.
The middle aged woman grappled for her prison guard keys, "Of course. I have to warn you though, he can be a little aggressive meeting new people."
Stay out of this you old hag! David gave a playful bark and made sure to wag his tail as fiercely as he could. He and the family were taken to a small playroom. David took turns playing in the two kids laps. You're doing good David. Just a 38 year old man playing with some kids he's never met before. Nothing weird about this.
"Mommy, this is the one," the young boy declared.
"Can we see a couple other dogs before we decide?" The young girl was about to ruin his whole plan. Alright, try to break out the big guns.
David planted all four paws firmly in front of the girl. He stretched himself back into a perfect downward dog pose. He had done prenatal yoga with Melanie enough times to know what he was doing. Then he moved his weight forward to expertly stretch out his back legs, even dropping them down to the ground so he could drag himself forward. He slowly crawled into the little girl's lap before taking a huge yawn. David made sure to let out a little squeak at the end. Then, he licked the girls nose before curling tightly into a little ball.
"Jacob's right. This is the one," the girl had tears in eyes.
And the Oscar goes to...
David was a bit sad to leave behind his dog mom. She had been nothing but kind to him and often scolded his siblings for bullying him. He hoped someone would adopt her soon. In the car ride he sat in between Jacob and his sister Everleigh. Melanie and I always made fun of dumb Americanized names like that. He had yet to learn the mom's name, so David decided to refer to her as "Rose" because she wore way too much flowery perfume. He kept sneezing it was so potent.
"Jacob, help me wrap this blanket around Bacon. The poor thing must be cold." David did not like his new name. He eventually hopped up onto Everleigh's lap to peer out the window. He was thrilled to see the familiar sights of the 101 North.
Hang on girls. I'm coming home!