"Prodigal" by Sellar
Prodigal was originally published in Analog Magazine, December 2016 issue. It was then published in the "The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Vol. 2" edited by Neil Clarke.
As a dog lover I really enjoyed this story. The premise of the story is actually something that I think about quite often, in fact I think most people who have had a dog have had these thoughts. What if a dog could talk? This story attempted to answer that question.
A couple, Tim and Jennifer, who were having trouble conceiving a child decided to have a procedure done to their dog, Benji. The procedure added vocal chords and changed the way Benji's brain was wired. The procedure allowed Benji's brain to create neural pathways to think in more human terms and speak in human terms.
The procedure wasn't instant and took time for the pathways in Benji's brain to be created and connected to the proper channels. During this time Benji was learning how to speak and getting better with passing time as the pathways were created. However, even with the procedure Benji's dog vocal chords made it hard to pronounce certain words so it would be hard to understand him sometimes.
Eventually Benji started speaking, so much, sometimes Tim wished he could shut him up. Just like a dog might, he would ask question after question and never fully understand the answer because he lacked the human experience. Then Benji asked why dogs get euthanized for not having homes or families, but humans do not. Tim couldn't come up with a good answer. It wouldn't matter anyways because Benji was very much by the euthanizing of dogs. Benji's question raised an alarm for Tim though and he wondered were Benji was getting all these ideas from.
The answer came one day when Tim walked into the room while Benji was watching TV. There was a channel specifically for dogs, hosted by other sentient dogs. They were talking about the politics of vs humans. How humans treat dogs like second class citizens when they were given intelligence just like humans. Tim now knew where Benji was getting some of his ideas. There was something else that bothered Tim as well.
Benji was learning to read and speak much better than he ever should have been able. He was rapidly progressing and Tim wasn't sure how that was possible. Only really expensive procedures were supposed to give dogs the extra abilities. Tim and Jennifer did not pick the expensive option so therefore Benji should not be smart enough to do some of the things he was doing.
Benji was getting more and more agitated about the vs human dilemma. Tim wasn't sure what to do. Soon Tim had other problems on his hands, bigger problems. Benji ran away. Tim searched everywhere for Benji, but could not find him. Where could he have gone?
This was a great animal story. It brought into focus how animals are treated and how humans think about animals. It also gave an idea of what might happen if dogs ever were given human intelligence. The ability to speak and think as humans do.
I think dog lover will love this story. It will give them a pause to think about that age-old question every dog owner has wondered about. What would life be like with a dog that could speak to you. That could sense your emotions, hear a pin drop from 3 rooms away, where nothing you do is really a secret.
what would the dogs do? How would dogs take to the fact that they were in a house all day, or left in the backyard? What if they started to vocalize their discontent at living a life?
This story overall is entertaining yet sobering. The animal rights are at the forefront of this story. It's not a pretty picture, but the author does a great job of making an entertaining story out of serious topic.