Every morning at exactly eight o’clock, without fail, Emma walked her dog twice around the neighborhood before leaving for work. Like clockwork, the small and spry corgi waited patiently by the door five minutes before his highly anticipated walk.
“You ready, Acorn?” Emma asked, as she reached for the collar and leash.
Acorn wagged his tiny tail excitedly and pushed his head forward into the collar. The tags clinked and tangled together, leaving Emma to sort the identification tag, the vaccine assurance tag, and the small, electronic GPS tag.
Together, Emma and Acorn left the house and begin their daily walk around the neighborhood. Acorn had a wonderful time sniffing at every garbage bin he passed and lightly tugging on the leash when he believed Emma was walking much too slowly.
Acorn was a relaxed, playful corgi who had a strong bond with his owner. When she moved across the country for work several years ago, Emma’s parents insisted she get a dog as an added measure of safety. Emma believed they meant for her to adopt a tough, sporty guard dog who could protect her and put up a good fight against any burglars. However, when she visited the local SPCA, she couldn’t resist adopting the friendly, carefree corgi – even though it was highly unlikely that he would be able to protect her from any threat larger than a squirrel.
Despite this, Emma loved Acorn with all of her heart. The two did almost everything together, and Emma truly felt that Acorn was her most trusted companion and friend.
As Emma and Acorn began their second lap around the neighborhood, they passed a large house with darkened windows. Everyone in the neighborhood knew to steer clear of this house – its owners had left it abandoned years ago, and some said they could hear strange noises coming from the house. There were dark wooden steps leading up to a large farmer’s porch. The looming front door was a deep maroon color with black accents.
Acorn stopped in his tracks and quickly sat down, facing the dark house and staring up at the large front door. Emma was surprised, as it was entirely unlike him to stop during his beloved walks, unless it was to smell something or wag his tail at a passing dog. Emma gently pulled on his leash, and Acorn just ignored her, which stunned Emma even more. Then, without warning, Acorn lunged toward the house, twisting the leash out of Emma’s hand. He bolted up the steps and scratched and barked at the door.
Emma stood at the sidewalk, dumbfounded, before chasing the dog onto the porch. She scooped him up, scolding him loudly and wondering why the homeowner had not come to the door with all the commotion they were causing.
Cautiously, she knocked on the door. No one answered.
“Sorry for that!” Emma called toward the closed door. “It was just my dog.”
There was no reply.
Emma shook her head and carried the corgi across the street, to their own house. It was a small house, but it was home. There was a stone patio leading to the bright-blue painted door, windows accented in the same color, cool white paneling, and plants and flowers were scattered around the front yard. The entire house exuded a warm, cozy feeling.
They entered the house, Emma still stunned from Acorn’s strange behavior. She set him down on the couch and stood back, crossing her arms.
“What,” she asked sternly, “was that behavior? I’m shocked and disappointed at you.”
Acorn didn’t reply, only stared at her blankly.
“Nothing to say for yourself?”
“Well, you’re terrible for conversation.”
Emma chuckled to herself and patted Acorn’s small head. Like always, he nuzzled up in her palm with his cold, wet nose.
“Oh, I forgive you. Who could stay mad at a face like that?”
But Emma was still concerned. She moved to her office and opened her laptop to try searching for answers, but none of her queries yielded any results. It appeared that Acorn’s behavior was, as she thought, abnormal for most well-trained dogs.
Just as Emma was about to close her laptop, a brightly-colored advertisement flashed across the screen. “The Most Innovative Technology of the Year – For Dogs!” it read, showing an image of a small metal collar tag with round buttons. The advertisement played a clip of a golden retriever wearing the collar tag. “Speak with your pet! Learn from your pet! Understand your pet!” a voice boomed. The digital golden retriever barked, and a second virtual voice called “Let’s go to the park!” Emma clicked the link at the bottom of the advertisement.
Emma skimmed through the reviews and descriptions of the communication device. Then, without really thinking, she decided to purchase the item. It may have been the only way to figure out her dog’s strange behavior.
She closed her laptop. “Acorn! I’m leaving for work, boy.”
Strangely, Acorn did not come trotting into the office as he normally would. Emma walked back to the front of the house.
She spied him sitting near a window by the front door, looking out into the neighborhood. He was staring intently out at the dark house across the street, tilting his head ever so slightly.
Over the next two days, Acorn became increasingly stranger. During their morning walks, he would pull incessantly on the leash when they passed the dark house. When Emma would leave for work, she would see him sitting at the front window, gazing out at the mysterious house. When she returned, Acorn was still sitting by the window with the same expression.
In the evenings, Acorn would silently walk through the house, his head low. This concerned Emma even more, as it seemed he had lost his playful, puppy-like personality.
After two sleepless nights and worry-filled days, Emma arrived home from work to see a package at her doorstep. She eagerly scooped it up and went inside, finding Acorn in his usual place by the front door. She opened the package and pulled out the device. It was a small, metallic dog tag with two buttons and a tiny speaker. Emma flipped through the instruction manual, then called Acorn over. She attached the tag to his collar, where is joined the three other tags and pressed the first button.
“Hi, Acorn. It’s Emma,” she said, looking into the corgi’s eyes.
He stared blankly at her. Emma pressed the second button, one that would curate and translate a response.
After several seconds, a high-pitched virtual voice said, “tired.”
Acorn showed no reaction and turned from Emma to return to his spot at the window, resuming his strange obsession with the house across the street. Emma’s heart dropped. She followed Acorn to the window and tried the translation device again.
“Acorn, do you want to go for a walk?”
His ears perked up. “Walk,” said the device’s voice.
The voice was flat and monotone. Emma frowned. It wasn’t at all what she had expected — she thought the voice would reflect Acorn’s actual excitement for his much-loved walks, and she had hoped to have an actual conversation with him.
She shrugged and attached the leash to Acorn’s collar. Once Emma opened the front door, the voice called out again:
Acorn began pulling on his leash, harder than he had ever before. He almost pulled her to the ground, but Emma stood her ground and tugged once on the leash. Acorn turned around to stare at her.
“Listen, young man. If you can behave yourself for this walk, I promise you we can walk by the house you’re so obsessed with.”
He blinked, and the device did not read out a response. Emma took this as agreement. They began their walk like normal. The neighborhood was quiet, and the sun was setting over the neat rows of houses, painting the sky with orange and pink. During the walk, Acorn remained calm and relaxed, until the dark, mysterious house was in view. Acorn began pulling on the leash and staring directly into the windows of the house.
Once in front of the house, Emma decided to try her luck and knocked on the door once again. As she lifted her hand and rapped her knuckles against the wooden door, it creaked open.
The interior of the house was dark, and seemingly abandoned. Cobwebs and dust covered every surface, and the furniture was covered with large white sheets.
“Hello?” Emma called out. “Anyone there?”
Only the wind answered, whispering through the quiet house in an eerie gust. Acorn sniffed the air and stepped across the threshold. Emma followed him, then kneeled to the floor and pressed a button on the corgi’s collar.
“What’s going on here, buddy?”
Acorn’s device responded, “hungry.”
“Hungry? Ok, Acorn, I’ll get you a snack when we get home. But what are we doing here?”
Instead of responding, Acorn padded inside the house, sniffing the air and making his way down a corridor. He entered a small room at the end of the hallway, and Emma followed him, holding the leash tightly.
The room was lit by two large windows and the oak floor was smeared with dirt. It seemed that the room had once been a sitting area, as small couches and chairs covered by drapes were scattered around the room. There was a dark pile in one corner, and Emma could not make out what it was.
Acorn’s gaze was fixated on the pile. Emma squinted and moved closer to the dark pile. Acorn moved with her, and together they approached the corner of the room.
Huddled and shivering in the darkness was a raggedy, scrawny dog curled around two small puppies. They cowered as Emma and Acorn came near, and the pups squeaked and moved closer to their mother.
Emma’s hand covered her mouth. “Is this what you were trying to tell me about?”
Acorn turned to her and replied, “hungry,” once again.
Everything clicked in Emma’s head. Acorn had been trying to show her the cold, hungry, abandoned dogs in the dark house for days. At once, Emma grabbed her phone from her pocket and dialed the number for the local SPCA she had adopted Acorn from. While she was talking to a volunteer from the shelter, Acorn moved closer to the dog family and curled up beside the two puppies. The sun had set by now, and a cool air hung in the old, dark house.
Emma thanked the volunteer on the other end of the phone and returned to the family of dogs. The SPCA had told her to keep the dogs in her house overnight if possible, and that they would meet her in the morning to take them to the shelter.
Emma unclipped Acorn’s leash and collar and attached it to the mother dog. The translation device beeped once, and the dog said, “Hungry. Tired. Cold. Sad.”
Emma’s heart fell, and a rush of guilt washed over her for not investigating the house sooner. She scooped up the two small pups and left the house, with Acorn dutifully following her.
They made it back to Emma and Acorn’s home, where the dogs were treated to clean water, food, and a mound of soft, warm blankets to lie on. The mother dog was finally allowed a moment of rest, so she dug her nose into the blankets and fell right asleep. Acorn watched carefully while the puppies played and rolled around. Emma sat on the couch beside them all, happy to have helped dogs in need and to have solved Acorn’s strange behavior.
Emma awoke to the bright sun shining in through the windows. She had fallen asleep on the couch while watching the dogs play. Acorn was curled next to her, still asleep with his ears flapping as he snored. The pups and their mother were sleeping peacefully on the blanket.
Later that day, several volunteers from the local shelter arrived at the house. Emma spoke with them about the dogs and promised she would contact everyone she knew to find a forever home for each of the dogs. They asked how she found them, and Emma showed the volunteers the translation device. They were in awe.
“This would be really handy at the shelter,” one of them said, impressed at the technology.
Emma thought for a moment. She realized that, while she was frustrated that the device did not translate everything, only basic needs, a rescue center would find it useful. She unclipped the device from Acorn’s collar and handed it to the volunteer.
“You need this more than I do,” she said. “Acorn and I will be just fine without it.”
The volunteers thanked her and reassured her that the dogs would find good homes in no time, and that she was free to visit them in the meantime.
Emma petted each of the dogs, kissing the mother on her head and patting the bellies of the small puppies. Acorn nuzzled his nose against the pups as a goodbye and sniffed the mother dog one last time.
As the volunteers carries the dogs out of the house, Emma stood and watched, holding Acorn and petting his soft head. She smiled and waved goodbye, knowing that she and Acorn had made a difference in the world.