The next afternoon everyone met in the tree again. Tigger was trying to steady himself on a branch that was bending a great deal under his weight. Shasta smoothed back her sleek grey coat.
“Did you find out what breed the dog was?” asked Shasta excitedly.
“Golden retriever!” Socks exclaimed triumphantly.
“OHH! This will be so easy,” Tigger snickered with an evil grin, just about losing his balance on the branch.
“I always liked golden retrievers,” said Mia a little sadly.
“Rumor has it that he will come out for an afternoon run, so we have...”, Socks checked the location of the sun through the trees, “about fifteen minutes to get there. Let’s go to work ladies and gentle cats.” He plunged down the tree trunk followed by Shasta, Mia, and then Tigger moving very slowly. They all waited for him at the bottom.
“Hurry it up princess!” called Shasta with a laugh.
”Can never be too careful,” Tigger muttered to himself as he pulled one claw out of a bit of bark. The effort caused him to lose his balance and he feel to the grassy floor with a thud. “Ouch!” he hissed.
“Maybe you have dog blood in you,” Shasta sneered and she followed Socks around the corner of the neighbor’s yard. Tigger growled.
“That’s enough,” said Socks crouching behind a bush. Now we have to go single file across the street or else the neighbors will know we are up to something and might suspect that we are plotting to take over the neighborhood.” Tigger rolled his eyes. “Shasta you are first, then Mia, me, and last of all Tig. Ready go!”
Shasta pranced across the street without any trouble. Mia on the other hand was her usual cautious self. She sniffed at the road and then looked both ways a few times. Socks growled impatiently. She placed one paw on the road, and then hearing the distant sound of a car far off, made a mad dash across the street as though the car was on her heals. Socks followed slyly across.
“Don’t know what they are so worried about,” Tigger declared and started walked his way across the street. Everyone looked very concerned on the other side. He stopped in the middle of the road to pick a piece of grass out of his coat. Socks gave him an evil look, and he very slowly made his way to where they were all hiding.
“That car almost got you,” exclaimed Mia as a small car came slowly around the corner and down the road.
“Yeah it was SO close,” he mocked. They followed Socks into the back yard of a white house with green shutters. Another chain link fence enclosed the yard.
“Out you go Annabel!” the back door of the white house opened and out bounded a small yellow golden puppy with floppy ears. Acting like a typical dog, she bounded her way happily around the yard sniffing every tree and rock.
“Oh this is going to be so easy,” Socks rubbed his paws together. Mia was pressing her face against the chair link fence staring at the puppy.
“But she is SO cute!” she exclaimed with a loving voice.
“Enough of that,” said Socks. “We are Cats and time to start acting like it. Now on my signal we jump into the yard and show this villain who is boss. Ready…”he checked to make sure the owners were not watching, “and GO!”
All four of them made a flying leap to the top of the fence. Tigger missed by about half a foot and bashed his face against the fence, falling back and landing on the wrong side. When he realized what had happened his made a second attempt, barley landed at the top, and then awkwardly rolled over the top to the other side.
“What did I miss?” he panted catching up to the others. All three of them stood stone still with their backs arched and their fur sticking straight up. Shasta’s tail was like a feather duster. They stood before a very frightened little puppy.
“HELLLOOOO THERE!!!” growled Socks in his most authoritative voice. “We are the cats in the neighborhood and we don’t like dogs.” Tigger fluffed up his fur and put on his meanest face but ended up looking more like an angry snowball.
The dog sat there frozen and unable to move. The cats were awaiting an attack of some sorts but what happened next both shocked and surprised them all. The little dog ducked his head, put his nose under her paws and burst into huge doggy tears.
“Oh now look what you did,” cried Mia edging her way towards the tearful puppy.
“It’s a trick Mia, don’t go near her!” Socks warned, but Mia had already standing besides the puppy with one white paw on her floppy ear.
“There, there dear. There is no need to cry,” she comforted. The other three cats kept their distance and appeared to be ready to run off at the slightest hint of trickery. The puppy’s sobs got louder.
“Nobody likes me!” she cried looking into Mia face with a look of anguish. “Its my first day and already I got in trouble for having an accident on the living room carpet, and the dog next door was teasing me.” She placed another paw over her nose again. All four cats shivered. The dog next door was a bulldog named Rudolf. Nobody messed with him, not even Socks.
“It’s ok dear. We like you. We will be your friend” Mia reassured the saddened puppy. Tigger gave her a look of death. The little dog pulled her nose out from behind her paw with a half smile.
“Really?” she asked with a big tear rolling down her face. There was a hesitation as Mia looked at the other three with a look of pity. Shasta’s face brightened.
“Of course we will. Right guys?” There was no answer. Shasta walked up to the puppy.
“Oh goodie, I was hoping to make some friends,” the dog smiled. “My name is Annabel.”
“Wonderful to meet you Annabel, I’m Shasta and this is Mia.” Mia gave Annabel a friendly smile.
“What just a minute,” growled Socks appearing very confused. Annabel looked worried.
“Don’t worry I’ll handle this,” Shasta whispered in one of Annabel’s floppy ears. She pranced over to where the two boys were sitting with a sly smile.
“What do you think you are doing?” Tigger whispered to Shasta, glancing at Annabel who was now having a pleasant conversation with Mia about the care of ones paws. Mia was showing Annabel how to use her tongue to clean them.
“Annabel is harmless,” Shasta said. “And besides just imagine how much more power we will have in the neighborhood with a dog on our side. We can raise her properly.”
A thoughtful look came over Sock’s face. He scowled a bit at the clumsy puppy attempting to use her long wet tongue to get dirt out of her paws. Suddenly a sly smile ran across his face.
“Imagine how big she will be in a year. She could be very handy,” Socks whispered maliciously. Tigger did not look convinced.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Shasta said grinning. “Now come-on and meet her.”
Socks and Shasta walked over to where Annabel was trying to free her tongue from her paw.
“Annabel,” Shasta said “this is Socks. He is the leader of our group.” Annabel looked nervous, almost as if she wanted to salute him.
“Please to meet you,” said Socks.
“And this is Tigger,” Shasta introduced as Tigger gave Annabel a mean look.
“I don’t think Tigger likes me very much,” Annabel whispered in Mia’s ear.
“Don’t worry,” Mia whispered back. “Tigger is my brother and I know it takes him a long time to warm up to strangers.” Annabel gave Tigger a nervous smile.
“Now if you don’t mind,” Socks said in his army voice “we would like a look around your yard for strategic purposes.”
“Sure,” Annabel beamed and excitedly bounced from one corner of the yard to the other with her ears flopping about and her tail wagging wildly. The cats followed walking elegantly behind her, Tigger in the rear. Socks seemed to be making mental notes and Mia was complementing Annabel on such a fine back yard to own. Annabel seemed very proud.
At one point Annabel lowered her voice standing next to an overgrown hedge.
“This is the way you can see into the neighbor’s yard,” she whispered.
“Excellent,” grinned Socks and the four cats entered quietly into the bush followed loudly by Annabel who was trying to sneak in as well.
Through a narrow gap in the fence, they could easily see the neighbor’s yard. It was very un-kept and overgrown with a shabby doghouse in the far corner. They could vaguely see a large paw sticking out of it.
“This will be very useful,” Socks whispered. Annabel was panting loudly in his ear and a loud grunting noise came from the rickety doghouse.
“Back everyone,” Socks said in a low voice, and they all made their way out, Annabel making quite a ruckus.
Next Annabel showed them her doggy door into the garage. There was a small heater beside a large dog bed with a heated water bowl beside it.
“It’s for the winter…to keep the water from freezing,” Annabel explained proudly.
“Talk about living in style!” declared Shasta. Socks stuck his head out the doggy door and up at the sky.
“Its getting late,” he said “ and we best be making our way across the street before it gets late and all our humans come home from work in their cars.”
“It was great meeting you all, and please come back and visit me soon,” Annabel said leading them back across the yard to the fence.
“We will be back again soon,” Shasta said jumping the fence followed by the others. Annabel giggled a bit watching Tigger struggle to pull himself up to the top and then over the edge. He gave her an angry look on the other side that made her stop laughing.
“Oh and thanks for teaching me how to clean my paws Mia,” Annabel shouted as they left.
“No problem,” Mia called back. “Next time I'll show you how to wash your head!”