‘Puppy Spa World’ by Timothy DeLizza17 min read

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Part I: Planning the Rescue

After much debate, the Park sisters named the mission “Operation Rescue the Squeaky Red Toy from Puppy Spa World”. An outside viewer might feel some concern about the quality of the mission strategy given that Boomer, Missy, Shadow and T-Rex had spent the majority of the planning meeting on two agenda items: (1) what to call the mission and (2) choosing code names.

Boomer took some comfort in knowing that they’d spent a lot of time planning overall. Like, hours. If they had a tree house, it would’ve have taken place there. Instead, they planned the heist afterhours in the conference room at Boomer’s job in Scotia Plaza, giving the whole thing a legitimate and professional vibe even though they were conspiring to steal back a dog toy.

Bandit, a black and tan Jindo puppy with matching jolly-roger bandana, had gone to Puppy Spa World over the weekend using a Gift Certificate and had returned with a Report Card that bestowed the middling rank of Good Dog, which was better than In The Doghouse but several rungs down from the rank of Lassie, which presumably required saving Timmy from a fire.
On Bandit’s Report Card, he received two out of a possible five Paw Prints in Obedience, Grace and Discipline and three Paw Prints in Grooming. He did have five Paw Prints in Sociability and Enthusiasm, but these seemed like the softer categories, and ripe for grade inflation.

The Grave Insult, though, came from the surveillance footage. For a premium, dog owners could get a DVD or a YouTube upload of the highlights of your own dog with a cutesy cover with a title like Bandit’s Spa Day Extravaganza! Bandit’s Gift Certificate only involved the basic package, but every pet owner, and indeed the public, had access to the last few weeks of raw footage which the spa uploaded to its website along with a sort of “Best Of” highlights section.

T-Rex, despite being only 11 years old and the youngest sister, was the best with technology. She started investigating the raw footage once she realized the toy Bandit had gone in with was missing. The missing toy was a little annoying because it squeaked, but it didn’t, like, b squeak. You couldn’t hear it in the next room or anything. The toy didn’t have a name when it went missing, though the sisters agreed that it should after the rescue. The best they could do was the Squeaky Red Toy, which was admittedly a little generic sounding for a toy belonging to a dog who wore a skull and crossbones bandana all the time. Still, Bandit’s toy was gone, and he was abjectly heartbroken and whimpering about its loss since the visit.

T-Rex directed Boomer to minute twenty of the surveillance footage, in the Fake Poop Room. At first Boomer watched Bandit, who was rolled up in a spa towel, looking like a little lamb. Boomer also sensed he was indignant, all wet and naked like that, without his trademark skull and crossbones. His one little bit of solace was chewing on his toy.

At minute twenty-one, the Squeaky Red Toy was stolen directly from Bandit’s mouth. Each dog wore a bandana (Blue for boys, pink for girls) with their name written large, so there could be no doubt that the perpetrator was a large jerk of a poodle named Lady who probably got oh-so-high Paw Prints for Grooming and Grace.
At minute fifty-two, the toy was then taken from Lady’s mouth and placed in the common toys bin, where it remained in the following day’s footage.

T-Rex had called to see if they would mail the toy back, but when she explained the situation the receptionist had hung up on her after dismissively saying “Private toys aren’t allowed in the Fun Room.” Missy suggested the secretary thought the call was a prank and Boomer should call back. “Oh, she knew I was serious,” T-Rex said, “I sounded dead serious. And maybe I called her back a couple times, and maybe she made it clear we shouldn’t call anymore.”

So the sister cabal concluded that drastic steps were necessary. After Missy’s suggestion of a bad Yelp review was rejected on the grounds that the owner was sort of friends with dad and had given Bandit the Gift Certificate in the first place, Boomer suggested a rescue mission. She felt moral outrage. Boomer was the unofficial “fun things” coordinator for the group in moments of low morale, and months had passed since the last sister adventure that didn’t involve sitting and drinking bubble tea.

Boomer felt slightly concerned about the legality of the plan, which she’d looked into: technically, the theft part wasn’t illegal. If they were caught, they could only be charged with breaking and entering, not robbery.
The first step towards invasion was code names. Boomer’s code name was taken from a potentially nuanced but criminally underdeveloped Battlestar Galactica character. Hers was the first selected and least controversial, in part because she was the de facto oldest in the group.

Boomer wasn’t the oldest, age-wise. Missy, who’d just turned 25, was two years older. Missy’s name took a while, because she kept suggesting Disney princesses and T-Rex kept vetoing them. “Lady” was out, since that was the thief poodle’s name, and other than this, in T-Rex’s mind, “Nala” was the only acceptable Disney character to use as a dog-codename and even that was a stretch. “Missy” was agreed on with an indifferent “fine” from the oldest and youngest sister. Missy’s purpose in joining the mission seemed primarily be the hope of stumbling into Joel, the owner’s son, so that she could flirt, let him know she was now a licensed real estate broker and generally do the things she did with cute guys.
Missy’s unstated goal seemed like committing treason-in-advance but all the sisters agreed that Joel was cool. Like, really cool. A onetime acquaintance to them all, he’d picked up Bandit like an old friend when Boomer and T-Rex had dropped him off. Missy had heard he played something in a band now, probably lead guitar. If not that, the band should totally put him on lead guitar because he’d be good at it, probably.

Shadow was on board because she and T-Rex were inseparable, but she was the most nervous. After all, Shadow’s greatest fear, the one that kept her awake at nights, was being kissed by a dog. She’d managed to avoid it so far in life, and fear stemmed from mild germ phobia combined with the memory of a bully’s taunt in third grade. The bully had told Shadow, “I bet your first kiss will be from a real dog.” Shadow was 13 years old and in the worst, most oversensitive stage of puberty. Thus, she had taken this taunt literally and prophetically. Boomer didn’t have the heart to correct her by pointing out that the bully probably just meant an ugly guy, and also figured maybe Shadow’s interpretation was healthier, in the long run.
T-Rex was on board because the idea of breaking and entering into Puppy Spa World was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. In fact, Boomer was a little troubled how on board T-Rex had been with breaking and entering. When Boomer made the initial suggestion, only half-seriously, before the thought had even fully formed, T-Rex had said “I bet Sarah Mitchell still has a key. She worked there last summer. I’ll text.” She texted with her hand up, not letting Boomer say any more, and grinned at Sarah’s immediate reply.

The exchange went like this:
T-Rex: Still have the key to Doggie World?
SMitchell: Yes why?
T-Rex: Want to invade Doggie World this weekend!!! #BestIdeaEver #Literally #ParkSistersRule #WhatCouldPossiblyGoWrong?
SMitchell: Hashtags don’t work in text
T-Rex: #YourFaceDoesn’tWorkInText
SMitchell: Whatever, I’ll bring the key tomorrow.

“What do you think?” T-Rex asked.
“It’s probably good that text message hashtags aren’t searchable, if we’re planning an invasion over text. Actually, don’t send anymore texts about this, okay? And don’t post anything from inside or take any photos.”
“Take the fun out of it, why don’t you.” T-Rex froze momentarily, then started bouncing again. “Don’t worry, this is still the coolest idea ever.”

Part II: The Rescue

Puppy Spa World was in the heart of Bloor Street and had a large front stoop with wooden dog sculptures of various breeds. They didn’t look opulent. Rather, Boomer sensed someone had selected everything with an eye for both quality and frugality.

Boomer put the key into the front door, closed her eyes in silent prayer that the locks hadn’t changed. It turned. She turned and whispered to the others, “Okay, stick to the plan: get in, track down the toy and leave quietly without T-Rex taking or posting incriminating photos to social media.”

The first room was Reception. It was covered with signs saying variations of “Puppy Spa World” and “Doggie Jjimjilbang” in multiple languages.

The sisters moved past this into the viewing room, using their iPhones’ flashlights to see. The ads for boiled eggs, poutine, shaved ice, and bubble tea all seemed more ominous in the semi-dark. All the TVs screens were black, making the space feel unfamiliar. During operation hours, several large TVs broadcasted the puppies currently active in the spa from many angles on one side and Korean dramas with closed captioning on the other.

“Hey guys, look, the TVs don’t work,” T-Rex said.
Boomer shushed her away, and said “Don’t turn things on. Lights, spas, anything.”
Next was the Check-In Room. There, the puppies had to remove any outside items except simple collars. During the day, they were given the spa bandana and an ID tag. Male and female dogs then went in different halls.
The sisters all stopped at the “No Owners Past This Point” warning before the next room. Boomer reminded herself that they were already trespassing, so to feel any duty to obey this sign was just silly. She went first, then they all went together down the male dog direction.

They reached a small room where the dogs could receive an individual bath, so that they went into Puppy Spa World clean. Directions were placed there for initial cleaning of each breed, with variations for age, were posted in Korean, French and English.

The sisters then moved to the large Common Room, with different tubs shaped like dogs, bones and the like. Along the wall were dog treats and puzzles of all sorts. During the day, trainers would have been monitoring, giving massages, skin rubs and nail trimmings. Toy barrels were everywhere.

From the large central room, the dogs could go in many different specialized rooms. These were designed to have the same look and feel of traditional Korean saunas, made of petrified wood and weathered stone but this was for show since for the health of the dogs there was no exposure to extreme temperatures. An odd machine humming seemed to come from everywhere, coupled with the sound of sleeping dogs from an Overnight Room.

“Girls, start looking through these toy barrels. Turn off your iPhones. There’s enough natural light in here.”

“What are you going to do?” T-Rex asked.

“I’m going to check the specialty rooms then see if there’s a storage room.”

First, she stepped into the Joy Room where a couple of stray tennis balls sat motionless. During the day they shot around gently for the dogs to catch and jump for. Next, Boomer looked at the Dream Room where bite-toys would float during the day, but Pokémon, Superman and Hello Kitty currently sat deflated.

Between rooms, Boomer heard T-Rex talking about changing her name to T-Bone. Boomer shushed her.
She skipped the Fun Skills Room where a trainer taught simple tricks and went to The Best Stick Ever Room where, one at a time, the dogs could play fetch with “carefully selected sticks”. There, she lifted a simply polished but fine stick. She saw a second door at the end of the stick-throwing area and went towards it, looking for storage.

She opened it slowly and closed it behind her noiselessly. There, she was hit by a strong sweet putrid smell like bad onion-y breath. Before she could turn the iPhone-light back on, she heard a crash followed by swearing. Boomer gasped.

“Hello?” the voice in the dark asked, “Is someone there?” Boomer’s mind raced on what to do. She looked back and considered running versus staying silent. She split the difference by crouching down to make herself smaller. I’m going to get fired, she thought. The room flooded with light.

“Min-Song?” the voice asked, sleepy and confused, “What are you doing crouching? And in my kitchen?”
Boomer stood back up slowly and awkwardly. The room was indeed the Lee’s kitchen. Joel was wearing black pajamas covered with white dog bones.

“Joel, hi, I—”

“I was sleeping and I thought I heard Min-hee’s voice. I thought ‘This is a weird dream.’ I’m sorry about the smell. Dad was eating durian. I tell him he needs to throw out the trash right away, but— what are you doing in my kitchen? How did you even get in?”

Boomer recovered herself and stood up straight. “We came because our dog stayed here last weekend and another dog stole his favorite toy and we decided to come on a mission to retrieve it.”

“Why didn’t you just have your dad call my dad?” he asked.

“Because, we’re adults. We don’t let our fathers settle every dispute.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Okay, sure, was it the jolly-roger bandana?”

“You remembered.”

“He was just here last week, and he’s a dog named Bandit. With a jolly-roger bandana. It’s not hard.”

“I thought maybe you didn’t remember me.”

“I was at work. I needed to be professional. You acted that way too.”

“Okay,” she said and softened her expression. “The toy was one of those red rubber squeaky sea-urchin-looking things.”

She saw him trying to picture it, and when an image clicked he said, “Really, that’s Bandit’s favorite?”

“Well, not so much his favorite as, like, one he probably misses? Or has noticed is gone?”

“I can give you a toy like that. Maybe not be the same one. I think we sell them for like four or five dollars, I’ll get you one.”

“It has to be used.”

He looked at her, confused.

“It’s a principle thing,” she said. “We came to get ours back, not beg. It has to be ours or, at least, plausibly ours.”

He smiled. “Okay,” he said. “Stay here.”

He came back with three toys minutes later. “That one,” Boomer said. “Definitely that one. Thanks, Joel.”

“No one really calls me Joel anymore. I’ve gone back to Jae-Ho.” He tapped the toy against his hand. “This is the beloved dog toy? The one worth a home invasion?” He handed it to her. “You know if you were anyone else I’d call the police, right?”

“Missy’s here too, if you want to talk to her. She’s a real estate broker now.”

“Who’s Missy?”

“Sorry. Jenny. We came up with dog code names,” she lowered her voice, “since we were going on a mission to a Puppy Spa.”
He laughed, but not in a mean way. “That’s pretty cool,” he said. “What’s yours?”


“After Battlestar Galactica?”


“And the actress who plays her, her last name’s Park. You know you kind of look alike. That’s several levels of nerd. I think I want to marry you.”

“Marry me? Look at you, aren’t you like, lead guitar in a band?”

“The Steve Buscemi Fan Club? We broke up years ago. Artistic differences.” He leaned back against the wall. “It’s not a big deal. Sean and Belle broke up, so we lost our practice space, and Evan went to law school. Anyway, no big loss. I could never get my head around how he collaborated with Adam Sandler so much. It was a while ago.”

“So what do you do now?”

“Helping the family business. Spa Mafia. For life.”

“Oh Jae, why did you give Bandit low marks?”
“Song, this is what you want to talk about now?” He sighed. “You watched the video, right? He doesn’t do anything he’s told. He just walked around being happy whenever we called him. And he peed in the stone sauna when we trying to trim his nails.”

“Yeah, he’s a puppy. That’s what they’re supposed to do. And it’s a stupid dog school. Everyone should get five Paw Prints. Or you call it a spa, not a school, so why give marks at all?”

“I know, I know. I’ve told my father we should get rid of grades, but he thinks rich Canadians love to measure themselves against each other. And you know old Korean men. Once there are rules, they must be obeyed.”

“Okay. Maybe this was an overreaction.”

“No, I’m glad you broke in. Break in anytime. Or come at a prescheduled time, if you don’t want to see me dressed like this.”

“Song, Son— uh Boomer! Boomer!” T-Rex said from the common room. Boomer rolled her eyes.

“Look, when I go out there could you like, put on the alarm to scare them?”

“I can’t risk waking my parents or the puppies in the overnight room, but I could turn on some of lights and equipment from here, and the sprinklers when you get outside.”

“Perfect.” She turned to go.

“Hey,” he said.

“Yeah?” she asked.

“You’re amazing.” He seemed surprised by this fact, which she didn’t like. Then she considered that, in fairness, she’d assumed he was a tool.

Boomer didn’t move but, rather, kept looking at him even though there wasn’t much runway left for words or to escape Puppy Spa World without consorting with the enemy. He approached slowly. She turned her face when he got close.

“I’m sorry, sorry,” he said. “I’ll turn on the lights in two minutes, okay? Just try not to wake the overnighters.”

“No. I’m sorry to be awkward. I just – this isn’t where we have our first kiss – just – I’m not ready. Tell me more about something else. Tell me about yourself. Do you have dogs? Is that a dumb question?”

“Two. Kim-Chee and Kim-Bob. What about Saturday? Are you busy Saturday?”


“I volunteer at a dog shelter. Maybe could do that, then a picnic. Bandit can meet Kim-Chee and Kim-Bob.”

“Oh brother, you’re around dogs in your free time too?” she asked, shifting. She looked down and noticed he’d been squeezing her wrist. She looked at it so he looked too, but she let his hand stay there. “Okay,” she said. “That sounds good.”


“Saturday.” She nodded.

A scream came from outside the room, startling them.

“Ugghhh gross. I got kissed by a dog!” Shadow shouted, followed by her other sisters’ laughter. “Right on the face! No guys, stop laughing. It’s not funny. It was right on the face.”

Timothy DeLizza currently lives in Washington, DC, where he works as an energy attorney for the government. A list of his prior publications may be found here: http://www.timothy-delizza.com/list-of-works/

Featured Image via Shutterstock


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