Congratulations to our talented writers who can proudly claim the following Petlitzer Prizes for their submissions to our Dark and Stormy Night short story prompt:

First Place: Elaine Garley, of Minneapolis, MN

Second Place: Liz Hartman, of Merritt Island, FL

Third Place: Kathi DuTilly, of Jeffersonton, VA

And here are those entries in their entirety:

First Place Winner by Elaine Garley 

It was a dark and stormy night, and my puppy was on his first camping trip in northern Minnesota. Just hours ago my husband, Teddy Bare the 10-week old Wheaten Terrier puppy, and I settled in our tent to enjoy the great sleeping weather. After a day of officiating at a white water kayak race, we were ready for some great outdoor sleeping. A slight breeze caused the tent to make flapping noises. Since it was the 1980’s, we didn’t have access to Doppler radar and had no idea what was headed our way!

Around midnight the tent started rocking from the winds and whipping the flaps. A loud clash of close thunder woke me.  The dark and stormy night was at our camp site! The sky lit up with lightening dancing across the sky. Well, I hoped it was dancing across the sky and not touching the ground near us. Since we camped in rain before, I knew we could handle it. Both John and Teddy Bare didn’t react and kept sleeping.  Crack! Flashing lightening and the rain came down in sheets. Oh no — reality started to settle in. Hmmm, a huge tent with a metal dog crate in a lightning storm. How wise was that?  Yikes, it was time to move!

I grabbed the metal crate with Teddy who was still sound asleep, my pillow and a blanket. I unzipped the huge door and stepped out under the awning. Then zipped the door shut. Was the van unlocked?  Crash, bang, clash, lighting flashing! The lightening provided wonderful lighting so I could see the fire pit. The rain came down in sheets and we got soaked in the 15 feet to the van. Fortunately the doors were unlocked and we settled in for the stormy night. Teddy Bare was calm and cuddly as he slept with his puppy breathe in my face. For a 10-week old puppy, he took everything in stride. This was normal to him.  I fell asleep on the hard rubber mat curled under the blanket.

Several hours later, I woke up to quiet. The rain stopped. It was a beautiful night with stars shining. I decided to go back to the comfort of a sleeping bag and the tent. I took Teddy Bare out for a quick visit to the woods and went to the tent. I quietly unzipped the door and stepped in. John said quietly, “What are you doing here?” I said I wanted to sleep in the sleeping bag. John laughed! “I’m on the only dry spot in the tent. Go back to the van!” So Teddy Bare and I went back to the van and slept until the sun rose. What a great way to spend a “dark and stormy night!”

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Second Place Winner by Liz Hartman

The Thug and the Cat Carrier

It was a dark and stormy night, and my cat was hunkered down in the windowsill watching the thunder and lightening through eyes as big as the tops of tuna cans. How, I wondered, would my pampered house cat react to his first airplane ride and being ushered into the body of a large winged thing.

My cat is not your ordinary cat. His name is Thug. Why? He has been pushy and arrogant since he was a kitten, and he has not mellowed with the passage of time. However, he does have his moments of love and affection for me when he hears the can opener. I have learned to live with Thug’s likes and dislikes, because he has learned to live with mine. We live harmoniously in a home with various hiding places to accommodate Thug’s disappearing act when he hears the words vet and annual visit.

Close friends invited both of us to visit their new home in the country. To ensure an easy transition from house cat to airline passenger, I first spoke with Thug’s veterinarian and contacted the airlines.

My veterinarian laughed as we discussed Thug encountering an airplane. He was aware of Thug’s examining room antics, which consisted of puffed up fur, flattened ears, low guttural growls, and an overall bad-cat behavior. He said I could ease the transition by using perseverance and patience, and Thug must have time to adapt to the carrier. Under no circumstances should any pushing, shoving or screaming be allowed by either of us.

The airline representative explained a valid shot record, boarding fee, and airline approved cat carrier would be required. I purchased an approved carrier that could be hand-carried into the airplane and fit comfortably under my seat.

I arrived home with the carrier, and Thug greeted me at the door. I patted his head, scratched his ears, and placed the carrier in the living room. Thug began to check out this new addition to his domain. He carefully walked around the carrier stopping and sniffing every inch of it. He saw me watching and immediately walked away from the carrier, flopped down in his favorite chair (formerly mine), curled up, and went to sleep.

Thug totally ignored the cat carrier for the next several days, and I was becoming nervous and apprehensive about the upcoming trip. After day five, Thug and the cat carrier were resting in their respective places—Thug in his chair, the cat carrier still on the floor. I envisioned my well-planned trip disappearing like Thug’s favorite cat food.

I waited patiently for Thug’s curiosity to override his independent attitude. My patience was rewarded as I watched him place one paw into the carrier and slowly inch his body inside. He sniffed and shuffled around, walked out, ignored me, plopped in his chair and went to sleep.

The following day, Thug was noticeably absent. I checked most of his favorite hiding places, but I could not find him. I gave up looking for him, knowing he would grace my presence when he heard the can opener. As a last resort, I looked into the carrier. Thug was sleeping peacefully inside. I reached down and gently scratched his ears and spoke softly to him.

My patience and perseverance paid off, and Thug spent the next few days either sleeping in his favorite chair or inside the carrier. Trip preparations began. I finished packing, including Thug’s favorite cat toys and food, and went to collect my wonderful cat. I walked to the carrier. It was empty. I called for him, but there was no response. I looked for him, but he was gone, and I knew I would not find him in time to make our flight.

I stayed home with Thug who showed up after I had put the cat carrier away. My friends were disappointed Thug and I would not be visiting; however, I insisted they come and visit with me. I can hardly wait to tell Thug we are having visitors and they are bringing their cat, Spike. Thug may want to look for some new hiding places.

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Third Place Winner by Kathi DuTilly

It was a dark and stormy night, and my humans looked just a bit silly crouched down on their knees peering under the bed trying to comfort me, obviously thinking that I was afraid and hiding out because of the storm.

I think sometimes they forget that I am feral born and quite accustomed to the elements.  I know that not only will the rain nourish the earth but it also provides quite nice puddles of water for ferals less fortunate than I have been.  It is nights such as these that take me back to the old building I lived in with my mom and siblings; we would huddle together for warmth and my mom would wash the dirt of the day off of us one by one.  She taught us how to find the best spots to stay warm and dry; and when the rain would stop and the sun would shine we would tumble outside for a little roughhousing in the tall grass.  Life seemed good and I am forever grateful to have had the experiences that I did because now I know how much better it can be with humans who have made me a part of their family and have washed the dirt of the day off of me for good.  I only wish that we could have all gotten out, but only the young are taken and brought to loving homes like this one.  For the older cats, like my mom, it is too late in their development to be socialized to people.  But thanks to humans like mine, I know that my mom and others like her in my colony are well cared for and that there will be no more babies born into the feral existence.  Now she and the colony are free to enjoy their lives knowing there will be a meal at the end of the day from people who will not hurt them, hay is provided in the winter time to ensure their warmth and if anyone needs special care, there will be help for them as well.

Sometimes, after they have gone to visit and feed my mom and the colony, they will come home and tell me how she is, they have even brought me a picture of her from time to time.  Sounds silly to you I am sure, but my humans are more evolved than most and believe that I understand what they are telling me….which of course I do.  I understand so much more than they could ever guess – we all do you know.  I am forever grateful to them for loving me enough to love my colony family, for making me feel as important to them as I was to my own mom and most of all for understanding that it is people who have caused the sad existence of feral colonies and it is people who must be responsible for stopping the birth of hundreds and thousands more.

Ahhh, such digression from the point of my story.  For some reason these dark and stormy nights do cause me to become quite maudlin.  Perhaps it is because my humans love me so much they are willing to risk looking quite silly just to make me feel better.  Hmmm, they now seem to be performing some type of stupid human tricks thinking it will entice me to leave my very warm nest.  But I think we all know how absolutely cozy the slippers of someone we love can be on such a night; it is one of my most favorite things ever to snuggle in with something that smells like the humans I love best.  Snuggling deeper….zzzzz….hmmm??  A different scent has just wafted past my keen feline sniffer.  Waaaait a minute…. is it….can it be??  Yep, TREATS!!!   Oh….fine….languidly I open my eyes, I stretch, I yawn….and ….out I go so they can “comfort” me.   Did I mention that life really IS good?

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Hear the stories by the winners of the Petlitzer Prize writing contest read live on Dog Works radio Friday, June 17 at 3 p.m. Central time.

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