But this is the first time we've seen Supernatural blend with another story. This time we see the show blend with The Wizard of Oz---and it works. It starts in 1930s flash back as we see two men move into the Men of Letter's Bunker only to have a hunter stop by. It's appropriate that these flashbacks are in black and white, calling out to the nature of the 1939 film being in black and white in Kansas and in vivid color in Oz. The visiting hunter is none other than Dorothy---yes that Dorothy. But instead of the sweet little girl we've come to know from the film, here she is tough and rough around the edges. She's a fighter and ready for action. It's a true stroke of genius to have Dorothy blend into the Winchester world as a hunter here.
Her introduction marries meta-fictional, the hunter, and the Men of Letters story into one thread. She has come to the Men of Letters with a special guest in tow: the Wicked Witch of the West herself---and she feels the Men of Letters may be the only ones that might have an idea of how to kill the witch. Dorothy, like Sam and Dean, is a meld of the two sides of the supernatural world. She is a hunter by choice and trade but a daughter of a Men of Letters.
In a reversal of Henry Winchester's introduction, we see Dorothy criticize the Men of Letters as being “pencil necks.” She chides Sam and Dean about wanting to talk, “Talk. Typical Men of Letters. Standing around having a nice little chat with your noses buried in your books while your little secretary takes notes.” She sees them as useful---but only to a point. They take too long to come to a decision about what to do. As a hunter, she would much rather just shoot first, ask questions later, and be done with it. She's too busy fighting to study the what or why.
And so in 1936, before the Men of Letters can find anything to help her, Dorothy takes action to seal herself inside a jar with the witch---telling her adversary, “It's you and me forever, bitch.” It isn't until 75 years have passed that this jar is disturbed, releasing both into the Bunker to wreak their own brands of havoc.
After Charlie comes to help with the Men of Letters computer, she helps Sam and Dean when they discover that there's something amiss in the Bunker. They find Dorothy---and discover that the Witch is somewhere lurking.
Having the magical realm of Oz be a fairy realm is also a stroke of genius. It makes the meld of Oz and Supernatural possible without really disrupting either. Their stories can go on separately---and blend when needed as they do here. In “Clap Your Hands If You Believe,” we learn that there is a fairy realm. It's just next door to our own---an alternate reality with its own rules and constructs. In “LARP and the Real Girl,” we learn there is another fairy realm or an extension. When we think of Oz and its landscape---with the Wicked Witch of the West and East, the Good Witch of the North, the Emerald City, and the Yellow Brick Road---it's not hard to imagine that Oz itself would be a fairy realm in the schematics of Supernatural. It has enough elements going on that make this avenue not only appealing but brilliant. Even the methodology of accessing this fairy realm works for both story rules. Dorothy says, “There are magical ways into Oz. Tornado. Eye of a hurricane. Whirlpool.”It would have happened alongside our own world---yet almost independently save for where it crosses with Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West.
It is when Dorothy interacts with Sam, Dean, and Charlie that we see just how well these two stories blend. There's enough of misconceptions and awkwardness at her crashing the slumber party---and yet it seems that as the episode progresses the elements weave together into a complete and vibrant fabric. The elements of Oz and Supernatural feed well off of one another, making for an intriguing amalgamation that inspires the imagination. In many ways, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch become another case for the Winchesters---and their first in the actual Bunker.
The Witch must be stopped. They must figure out what she's after and fast. She's after the key to Oz. The key itself is meta-fictional, too. We saw it in “Goodbye Stranger,” as Dean investigates various objects. The moment is completely mundane, and yet here we see its significance come to full fruition in a subtle way. What does the Wicked Witch want with this key? She wants to bring her armies here to make war on the earth. It is a frightening prospect---especially since she is powerful and immune to everything they have. Unlike other witches in the series, she's a fairy, and so her powers and abilities are also different, too. She can possess others, she can turn herself into a green vapor, and she can kill instantly with her magic.
In a heart stopping moment, we see the Witch do just that. She strikes Charlie as she jumps to block Dean, killing her instantly. It is shocking and heartbreaking. The very idea of Charlie being killed is a stunner---and yet meta-fictionally it works well. As soon as Sam comes to the room, Dean calls on Zeke, bringing the angel forward instantly.
But the angel has a choice for Dean. Either he saves Charlie or he helps them stop the witch. Dean chooses saving Charlie. After Charlie is revived, she and Dorothy chat about what happened, and Dorothy tells her that it's happened to her, too.
Death has worked drastically differently in the world of Supernatural than other shows since at least season 2. The idea that someone is killed and brought back is a calling card of the series. Having both Dorothy and Charlie be part of the revived club seems to fit just right. After all, Dorothy says tells a bemused Charlie, “You're not a real hunter until you've died and come back again.”
The Wizard of Oz and Supernatural also have another thing in common: the idea of the road. The Yellow Brick Road is one of the most iconic and memorable images. It is the path that Dorothy must follow to find her way back home. On Supernatural, it is asphalt. Dorothy tells Sam, “Yellow bricks or not, give me the open road any day.” The road imagery is a great meeting point for the two verses to make a seam. They are both stories about being on the road, of following it to a destination, and exploring the forks in it along the way.
Meta-fiction runs like an undercurrent in “Slumber Party.” Its fingerprints are clear and present---and yet fade back enough to sink under the surface and allow us to immerse into the story. Having The Wizard of Oz be the meld of choice also gives us the opportunity to explore so much more. We see themes used from the series and movies---such as the lust for adventure and that of quests.
Charlie is especially interested in this---and largely has been since “Pac Man Fever.” She has become a bit obsessive about hunting, and admits to Sam and Dean, “I took down a teenage vampire and a ghost which sounds like a Y.A. novel if you say it out loud, ” and that it was “intense.” The hunting bug has bit her---and now that she no longer has a job, she has nothing to tie her down. She has no reason not to go into hunting or to pursue adventure. She told Dean that she doesn’t see herself as a hero the same way they are. She wants to do something bigger than herself, save something, be someone more than the IT girl that chugs coffee. Hunting can do that for her---and yet she tells Sam that it's not as “magical” as she wishes. She dreams of a Tolkien-style quest.
The Wicked Witch must be dealt with, and since she cannot harm Dorothy thanks to the spell the hunter cast, she will have to find another method of attack. She will have to find some way to kill her enemy---and so she chooses to possess Sam and Dean. They are, after all, the strongest of the four standing against her. Both are proficient fighters, strong and able bodied, and can easily overpower Dorothy and Charlie without effort. The Wicked Witch knows this, too, and so she unleashes them to do her bidding. With them under her control, she can go about unleashing her witch army without interference.
The clues to stop her, however, are in the books Dorothy’s father, L. Frank Baum, left behind. The slippers are the key, and as Dorothy holds off the deadly and dangerously possessed Winchesters, Charlie must stop the Wicked Witch from bringing the fairy realm of Oz into the Bunker. Meta-fictionally, the use of the poppy bullets---and the sharp point of the legendary ruby slippers is a stroke of genius.
It makes absolute sense that nothing here can really harm the Wicked Witch. This world lacks the type of magic it would take to harm her. She is of another realm, another place with different rules and magics. If she can't be hurt from something here, she can most certainly be hurt by something that originates from over there. It also makes sense meta-fictionally because the Supernatural world and the Oz world operate on different rules. While they've been adapted---mostly Dorothy here---to fit Supernatural, the Witch is largely of Oz, and so Oz rules must apply to her. If any of the Supernatural methods were to work on her, it would break that chord of meta-fiction being woven here. That even includes the famous “melting” scene where a bucket of water causes the demise of the Witch.
What really makes the slippers the perfect meta-fictional twist is their origin. The Wicked Witch of the East is crushed by Dorothy's house, killing her. All that's left is her shriveled legs and a pair of slippers. It is also the reason that the Wicked Witch of the West is after Dorothy in the first place. She wants revenge for her sister's murder. To have the slippers be the death blow for the Wicked Witch here is ironic. The very reason for her ire with Dorothy is her demise.
Once it's done, the rules of Supernatural take their rightful place again, and Oz is locked away. Dorothy invites Charlie , “Yeah, you said you were looking for adventure. And well here it is, Red. Come help me find my damn dog.” We're treated to the conclusion of the adventure aspect of the circle as Charlie eagerly wishes to go with. Dean tells her, “You have no idea what's in Oz. There's flying monkeys, armies of witches, all kinds of things.” and Charlie says enthusiastically, “Promise?”
Sam and Dorothy share a powerful meta-fictional moment, illustrating yet another intersection of Supernatural and The Wizard Oz. She tells Sam, “You have no how odd it is having a series of books written about you.” He tells her that he does, and then makes the statement, “At the end of the day, it's our story, so we get to write it.”
Dorothy and Charlie's exit into Oz, though, is treated to the true melding of Supernatural and Oz. We see the beautiful Emerald City in the distance and the famous yellow brick road calling to Charlie and Dorothy. Overlaid that is a staple of Supernatural: classic rock. AC/DC's “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” sends them forth on their own Oz adventure, leaving Sam and Dean behind.
But there's one more meta-fictional element that makes this merger much deeper than that.
“There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home.” We all know this famous quote from The Wizard of Oz---but it most certainly applied on nearly every level to the episode “Slumber Party.” For a show that's on the road each week, this was the first episode to take place exclusively in the Men of Letter's Bunker---or the Winchester's new home. The setting lent itself to the literal and metaphorical discussions of home throughout, making us think long and hard about what that word really means. Home is everything---especially to those that are homeless. For much of the series, the Winchesters have been homeless. It has shaped them and left its mark on how they approach what home means. We're left with a question, then. Is home a place or something more?
The Winchester home was brutally ripped away from them by Azazel---and that has rippled through the brothers ever since. By killing their mother and driving them out onto the open road to hunt down everything that has gone bump in the night, it has left Sam and Dean essentially homeless. They were ripped away from the comfort and the sanctuary that home provides. It has had a profound effect on each of them---in different ways.
They've had places they could call home---but they were borrowed. Bobby's was home, but it was Bobby's. They might have had a place to sleep and to eat and someone that cared about them, but in the end it wasn't theirs. It was his. It's clear in how they would reference the place. They looked upon his home as a sanctuary---but never as their home. And Rufus's cabin is no different. It had become a bit of a sanctuary, a place to retreat to and rebuild. While Rufus was no longer alive and they were using it during various hunting expeditions, it was always considered to still be his cabin---not theirs. It was borrowed. They were comfortable but never at home. It was not the term they would use for it.
Much like Bobby's and Rufus's, the motels were all borrowed and rented. Even worse, they were all interchangeable and forgettable mostly. If you've been to one low grade motel room, you've been to them all. They all have the same scents and strange stains and cheap bedding. So, these were not home to Sam and Dean, either. They were simply a matter of necessity. They needed a place to store their weapons and a place to catch a few brief hours of sleep in order to complete the hunt in their current location of the week.
Home is such a strong thread in the Supernatural story. It is brought up in the “Pilot” by the Woman in White, begging to be taken home only to declare later that, “I can never go home.” For Sam and Dean, that has been true. They may have visited their house in Lawrence---where it all began so gruesomely---but it was just a house. It was a former home to Dean---and never home to Sam. This thread has haunted the brothers ever since. Home is something they've sacrificed so others may have it in their place. Home is that elusive dream, the place they seek but never quite find.
Until the Bunker. The Bunker affords them a home, an actual place they can call their very own. The former occupants are so far removed from Sam and Dean that they can't even refer to it by someone's name instead. As they learned from Henry, their grandfather, they are legacies. They were to be Men of Letters---and as they are the sole descendents of that society, they have now inherited the Bunker. It is theirs. They are the rightful owners and they can finally call it “home.”
But their experiences with home have shaped them differently. To Dean, the Bunker is a sanctuary, a comfort, a place to call his very own. He takes pride in its wonders and its amenities. He takes careful consideration in making his room his very own. He decorates it and stores his treasured possessions in it. He cares about its appearance. He buys memory foam in which to sleep on so that he is not only getting necessary rest but luxurious rest. Dean sees the Bunker as having what was stolen from him as a four year old boy being restored. It may not be the house in Lawrence, but this is irrefutably his. The Men of Letters Bunker is his home---free and clear.
To Sam, however, he sees it differently. Sam has no recollection of their home. He tells Dean, “I never had what you had with Mom and Dad. I don't have any memories of home.” It's heartbreaking to hear him say it---but it is the truth. Sam has spent his entire life as a transient. He has moved from motel to motel to Bobby's to Rufus's to college and back onto the road. He has settled briefly in Kermit and Palo Alto---only to pick up and move onto the road and the next adventure that follows. He has been forever on the current of an ever flowing river that pushes him along the way since before he can remember.
Home is almost a foreign concept to him. He sees the Bunker as an extension of his life as a hunter. He's right---considering the vast resources and library in its walls. But as Charlie points out to him about his bed being hard, he has not taken to the Bunker the same way his brother has. How can he? He is so afraid to accept it as his home for fear that it will be taken away from him.
It's easy to see how this troubles him as they explore the vast and newly uncovered reaches of the Bunker. They discover an ancient computer and a garage. They skirt through the kitchen. They show his room---in all its utilitarian glory. Sam sees this place at the beginning of “Slumber Party,” as a vast tool in their work. He sees it as a way to find the other angels that fell to help Castiel. He sees it as a vast library to study creatures and histories and strange cases. He sees it as a place to store the King of Hell. The Men of Letters Bunker is his office.
We see the brothers views of the Bunker juxtaposed with the former occupants from 1935. One sees the place as nothing more than a “dump,” and the other sees it as a “beacon of light in a world gone topsy-turvy.” It is a great example of symmetry here to show just how the brothers are on opposing sides of their view of home and the Bunker as being home.
It also affords us the opportunity to think about what home means to us and to those around us. What is it? What makes a home “home?” Is it merely that place we call our residence where our bills are sent and we sleep at night? Is it an investment? Or is it something more? Is it what Dean sees the Bunker as---a sanctuary, a place to be himself, safe? Or is it an extension of all our hard work done at our jobs as Sam sees it?
Home is a special word with a lot of meaning. It may be a place in this episode---and the setting clearly explores that concept in the physical realm completely. We are afforded a look into the brother's personalities and tastes. Sam is the tech brother, fascinated by the computer. Dean is thrilled by the garage that he can finally house Baby in. The car getting a home is another example of the physical home speaking to the metaphorical.
In many ways, what makes a house a home is not the structure itself. It's what's inside. It's who is inside. If we are surrounded by those we love, we're surrounded by home. It matters not where that home is. It could be a motel. It could be borrowed as Bobby's was. It could be the Bunker. Home is with loved ones doing things as a family.
Family equals home. “Slumber Party,” showed us that element clearly, too. The brothers, stumped by the magical computer, call in Charlie to help take a look. What starts as an IT problem turns into a family gathering. It's significant that it takes place in Sam's room, too. Sam's room lacks warmth---the mattress is hard, the walls are bare, and it would seem the younger Winchester is still living as he always has---in a suitcase ready to split at a moment's notice.
But add his brother and Charlie into the mix as they sit down and share the show Game of Thrones and there is warmth colored in warm hues through out the room. Charlie teases him about the bed. Dean quips about Joffery being a jerk. They almost spoil Sam, causing him to call them out and tell them he hasn't finished reading the books yet. It takes his room from being stark to comforting instantly. What makes Sam's room a home here isn't what he puts in it---rather who he puts in it.
As the brothers must deal with the Wicked Witch of the West threatening the Bunker, we see the thread of home lace through this, too. She threatens what they've fought so hard to win. If she should succeed in bringing the fairy realm she comes from here, she could take away what they've earned.
But they're not alone on this. It is an example of how this season has grown the Winchester world so that it is not so insular. The episode may have taken place in a single location that is never left---which is odd for this road trip heavy show---but we are afforded new allies and new realms. While they are under siege, they have Dorothy and Charlie to help them, too. And surprisingly, Crowley!
After Charlie kills the Wicked Witch---Dorothy gives her the chance to go with her to Oz. She needs help with the rebel cause over there and thinks that Charlie would be a great addition to this. And so, Charlie agrees. As they turn the key and open the door to Oz, Sam and Dean watch her go down the Yellow Brick road, and Dean asks if she'll come back. Sam replies, “'course. There's no place like home.”
He had been so adamant about the Bunker, declaring“My brother calls it home. Me? I haven't had that much luck with homes,” but it would seem as he's spent time with his family in it, even if it did deal with the fairy realm trying to invade, that perhaps Sam is starting to come around to seeing the Bunker as home. He may not update his room décor or his mattress, but he may begin to realize the sanctuary the Bunker truly is. It isn't simply a place where they work. It's theirs to do with as they wish, theirs to keep, theirs to turn into a home.
There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home---for the Winchesters they can truly say that and mean it. They have a home, a place where they can go to when they need to rest or to recoup. They can go there to learn about various things. They can eat real food. They can do what we all do in our own homes. They can gather family around to watch TV or have a home cooked meal or sleep in.
Most of all, they can feel its solace when they are not inside its walls. They know they can go back to it anytime. It'll be there when they need it most.
While Sam and Dean may have seen this differently at the beginning, there was a nice fusion of them coming together at the end, realizing that they do share something special in the Bunker. And to think they didn't even need to click their heels together to get there!
Besides, after all they've done, don't Sam and Dean deserve a real home of their own---one full of love and family? Isn't that what they've been fighting for all along?
Maya Massar brings the Wicked Witch of the West to brilliant life. While she doesn't have any lines, she doesn't need them. She tells the story through body language, appearance, and sheer presence. She looms large over the Bunker. Massar makes the Witch imposing, even when she's merely sitting in the chair facing the Men of Letters and Dorothy. When she enters the room to face Crowley, Massar has a spark of chemistry with Sheppard's Crowley---and while they're both evil characters meeting, we sense a comic relief between them. Massar shows the Witch's anger well, too, especially when she attacks Dean and Charlie to find her lost key. But where she shines best is when she casts the spell to bring Oz to the Bunker. There is no need for words. Massar conveys the sheer joy and exultation the Wicked Witch feels as she is so close to triumph. Her plan is almost coming to fruition and she has nearly won. Of course that turns to shock as Charlie spikes her with a slipper, and we see the Witch meet her ultimate defeat. Massar made us fear the Wicked Witch in a way unexpected, making her a fresh villain again, too.
Tiio Horn brings the iconic Dorothy Baum to vivid life. She has a powerful presence on screen. Horn makes Dorothy not only fleshed out and well rounded in her performance, she makes the character human. She's strong and yet we can sense a vulnerability in the way she talks about her father and her adventures with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. Horn makes us sympathetic to Dorothy for those reasons, too. She makes the character fun and modern, yet timeless and classic. It's a brilliant portrayal of an icon of popular culture, known to every generation. Horn's Dorothy is drastically different than Garland's, and yet we don't find ourselves making comparisons in their performances. Horn sells us on this different tomboyish Dorothy. She's a strong female presence and a delight to watch. It's a wonder if we'll see Dorothy blow through Sam and Dean's world again---and yet it wouldn't be entirely unwelcome, either!
Mark Sheppard's Crowley appears briefly in this episode, and yet he makes each second count. There's a lot of comedy in his performance---from his disgruntled reaction to Sam slamming down a crayon and paper to his praise of the Wicked Witch to his best moment---telling Sam and Dean what she said with a hiss. Under all his wit and charm, though, Sheppard shows us that Crowley's not entirely the evil demon of the past---not yet. Prior to the near cure, it's possible that Crowley would have simply sat back and watched the Bunker get destroyed by the Witch. He didn't have to tell the brothers about the key---and he could have lied to misdirect them, too. But he didn't. These gestures translate well from the page into Sheppard's acting, and we pick up that undercurrent just in by how he carries himself and how he speaks. How long he'll stay “cured” is anyone's guess. We also see Sheppard sell us well on how agonized Crowley is by being left alone in the dark after Sam chains him in again and leaves him alone. A crushed expression settles over his face and his soft utterance of “Bollocks” is full of resigned sadness. Sheppard may not have been in this episode a ton, but he really made us want to see just where Crowley will go next!
Once again Felicia Day returns to Supernatural as Charlie Bradbury. She's quirky, nerdy, and fun. Day makes her fit in well with Sam and Dean---and their chemistry makes the story come to life well here. Charlie has come a long way from not wanting to be involved in a monster hunt, and we see that evolution transform here in Day's performance well. She conveys Charlie's eagerness to be like Sam and Dean when she talks about her hunts---although she thinks they weren't as exciting as those the Winchesters partake on. Day has excellent chemistry with Horn's Dorothy, and we see these two characters meld together well, one from each universe. Her sweetness is a nice contrast to Dorothy's tough exterior. We can sense a great exuberance in her performance as she interacts with another of her childhood icons. Day makes this fun but not over the top---and it works well in the story being told. With Charlie going off into Oz with Dorothy, it be interesting to see when she comes back to visit Sam and Dean.
Jensen Ackles often shows us a Dean waiting for the other shoe to drop, the realist, the pessimist---but he shows us here that a lot of that is hiding the truth at the core of Dean Winchester. He shows that well here in his body language and facial expressions. There's a comfortable feel about Dean in this episode---all based on how Ackles carries himself. For much of it, there's a happiness and contentedness about being in the Bunker and viewing it as home. After all, Dean has his brother, Charlie, and the comfort of knowing this is his home hard won and earned. But that doesn't mean there's nothing rocking the boat. With the Wicked Witch threatening this balance, we see some powerfully emotional moments for Dean. After the Witch has killed Charlie, Ackles doesn't have to say anything. He conveys it with the crumbling expression on his face and the deep sadness and agony in his eyes. Ackles makes us feel that gut wrenching moment with body language, too. His shoulders sag, his stature seems to shrink, and we can sense the helplessness Dean feels acutely. And as he begs for Zeke to help Charlie, Ackles makes us feel Dean's desperation. Ackles also shows us that Dean's struggling to keep Zeke secret more and more and that the lying is wearing very heavily on him now---all while falling back on the clipped responses that are sure to raise more red flags for Sam. After the Wicked Witch possesses Sam and Dean, we see Ackles shift his portrayal, making Dean like a puppet and no longer in control. He's cold, creepy, and frightening here. It almost seems, as he stands next to Padalecki's Sam, that Dean is bigger, too. Ackles makes all his motions stiff, too, which adds to the effect. As we see Charlie leave with Dorothy, we can see worry etched in his face. As the season continues to progress, it'll be interesting to see how Ackles continues to tell us Dean's story.
Jared Padalecki continues to shine in this early portion of season 9. In “Slumber Party,” he pulls on both his comedic chops and his dramatic subtle performances. He's funny when he dodges Charlie's questions about Becky---a beautiful mix of awkward and uncomfortable blended into hilarious just by how he delivers the stuttered lines, “There are no bells---no.” He shows us Sam's inner pain and sadness about home, too when we see him talk with Charlie and Dean. It tugs on our hearts to hear that type of resigned sorrow in his voice. As much as we've seen Ackles show Dean waiting for that other shoe to drop, we see here that Sam's just waiting for the rug to be pulled out form underneath him---all in how Padalecki carries himself here. There's a tension in his body language that conveys this well. What is most remarkable about Padalecki's performance is how he can flip a switch instantly from Sam to Zeke in one motion as Dean calls for the angel in his time of need. It's startling and a mesmerizing thing to watch. We also were afforded seeing Padalecki have to perform as a possessed Sam, the stiff carriage and cold expression showing him like a puppet here. It was a creepy performance and unsettling in its delivery along side Ackles and the also possessed Dean. Even without the added voice special effects, the way he delivers the lines for the Witch is off putting and frightening. We also saw Sam's suspicion of Zeke and what Dean is hiding, too, and he conveyed that he's starting to hear the alarm bells in how he glances at Dean or asks about the situation. He can tell his brother's dancing around something. But Padalecki's best line by far has to be when Sam tells Dean, “'course. There's no place like home.” It's delivered with a sincerity and warmth---telling us that while Sam may not be all the way on board with the Bunker as home, he's working on it. Going deeper into the season, it'll be interesting to see how much further Padalecki stretches his acting muscles. Best Lines of the Week:
Charlie: A top-secret place I call Amazon.
Crowley: What, Cowardly Lion got your tongue?
Peter Jenkins: This -- this dump is the last true beacon of light in a world gone topsy-turvy. This dump is the epicenter of -- of the ultimate chess match between good and evil.
Charlie: Turns out the company I work for was outsourcing to child labor, so I took a big Wikileak all over that.
Sam: Woah woah woah. Spoilers. I haven't read all the books yet!
Dean: Pace yourself, Toto.
Dean: Yeah, but a lifetime of abandoned buildings and crappy motel rooms? I mean, this is about as close to home as we're gonna get, and it's ours.
And it looks like next week as if Dean will have to learn to understand our canine friends!