Menagerie, a Child's Fable

by Charles Johnson

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Berkeley, a German shepherd, works as the watchdog at Tilford’s Pet Shoppe, owned by Mr. Tilford. Berkeley is proud of his work, and is considered one of the best watchdogs in Seattle. Although Mr. Tilford is unkind to the animals and never shows any affection or appreciation for Berkeley, the dog remains faithful to his master. One day Mr. Tilford does not show up at the pet shop. Monkey tells Berkeley that Mr. Tilford has obviously died of a heart attack and is never going to return, but Berkeley has faith that the owner will eventually come back.

After several days go by, all of the animals begin clamoring in their cages, demanding that they will starve to death if no one feeds them. Monkey convinces Berkeley to let all of the animals out of their cages so they can get to the food. Berkeley reluctantly frees Monkey and the other animals. The only one who does not want to be released is Tortoise, who had escaped from the pet shoppe a year earlier but returned of his own accord.

At first the animals are united by their common purpose of obtaining food, but soon animosity develops between the various species. Some of the animals become greedy and don’t care if other animals get enough food or not. Berkeley tries to keep constant watch over all the animals in order to maintain the peace. The fish and birds are afraid of being eaten by the predatory animals and Berkeley promises to protect them. But, while Berkeley isn’t looking, Siamese the cat assaults and rapes Rabbit. In response, Rabbit organizes the other females to protest against male aggression. Meanwhile, Frog gets ill and his infection spreads to Iguana. Monkey becomes increasingly greedy and threatens to eat the fish when the food runs out.

Berkeley loses weight and becomes exhausted, afraid to go to sleep for fear of what might happen if he does not keep watch over everyone. Finally, Berkeley allows himself to fall asleep. He dreams that Mr. Tilford has returned to the pet shop. In the dream, Mr. Tilford strokes Berkeley’s head and tells him he’s done a good job.

Berkeley is awakened from his dream by Parrot, who tells him Monkey has gotten a hold of a gun. Monkey is pointing the gun at the glass display case that holds the dog collars. Parrot tells Berkeley to take the gun away from Monkey, in order to protect the other animals. Berkeley jumps at Monkey, but Monkey shoots him in the chest, and he falls back against Tortoise’s cage.

As Berkeley lies on the floor bleeding to death, a fire that has started in the storage room begins to spread throughout the shop. He realizes that Tortoise is the only one who will survive the fire, because of his ancient armor. Berkeley tries to explain his dream to Tortoise. He tells Tortoise, ‘‘We could have endured, we had enough in common—for Christ’s sake, we’re all animals.’’ ‘‘Indeed,’’ Tortoise replies. ‘‘Indeed.’’

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