Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tears and Tales by Russ Vassallo

Tears and Tales: Stories of Animal and Human Rescue

By Russell A. Vassallo


A rainy mist blanched the darkening land as she descended

from the truck with the all too familiar “Git.” The man always spoke

harshly as he had when he commanded her into the truck. She had not wanted to leave the squirming mass of life she called her puppies for it had been warm and comfortable with them, and their tiny squealing brought happiness to her face. Now, as Git exited the truck, the wind brushing through high trees that sloped to the road, she wondered how long it would be before she saw them again. She did not know that they were already loaded into a plastic sack and tossed mewing and wriggling into a garbage pile. In time the wriggling would stop and then the mewing and the sack would lay motionless in the refuse. She did not know that.

Nor did she know why neither the man nor the boy looked back as the pickup motored away, belching its black smoke into the damp air. Dutifully, she trotted after the truck as she had so often on the farm where she was born. A failed gun dog, frightened by gunfire, run over by the man's tractor and left to heal on her own, she learned respect and fear for the man at a young age. Yet, she loved and forgave the boy who pelted her with stones and the man who kicked her out of the way. She knew there must be kind people in the world because she had seen other animals with their human friends. They were not mean or vicious. Thus she trusted the man and the boy, hoping she would one day receive the affection and praise she craved.

So when the boy ordered her away from her puppies and out the door, she surmised only that she must obey, putting her trust in those unworthy of that trust. But she did not know that then.

The truck drove slowly away. She trotted behind. Trotted without question and with the loyalty inherent in her breed. And that breed was questionable, but sported some retriever, some border collie and perhaps the remnants of beagle. She was truly beautiful when she stood with upraised front paw, motionless before a hidden bird. But now she trotted behind, picking up the pace as the truck moved more quickly away from her. Then the panic --- as it surged away, gathering speed and moving out of her life, out of the lives of her pups. Weakened by giving birth with no care or medical aid, she soon faltered, finding herself on a quiet road with only the wind-filled trees and the forbidding woods for companionship.

She lay in the road until a vehicle came. Hopefully, she snapped alert, believing the man and boy had returned. But the headlights only

illuminated a tiny white dog, with cinnamon brown patches over her face and body, teats hanging low from recent birth and a hopeful face believing that her owners had returned for her. The car passed her by and she stood wonderingly, painfully disappointed that she was alone. Her human family had abandoned her.

Off to her left ran the fields that flanked the tree line.

It was dark and the mist made it darker still. Raindrops soaked her long

white hairs, making her appear drab and disheveled. The field

stretched out before her. She waited a very long time. And in that time

cars and trucks came and went. None contained the man and the boy.

In desperation she paced into the fields and lay down to wait but when dawn streaked the eastern horizon with light horizon, she was still abandoned. Sometimes the man commanded her to stay at the edge of the field. Perhaps that was what he was doing now. He always returned and always commanded with a gravely voice to “git” in the truck, and she always complied obediently. By her nature she was docile, frequently rolling over on her back to signify surrender and friendship. For animals which are non-aggressive, this is a sign of submission and she had survived more than one battle with other dogs because of her gentle nature.

Desperation seized her. That instinct, which is inherent in all mothers and even in the things of nature, alerted her that her puppies were hungry and needed to suckle. She circled the road, picking up the truck's scent and tracked along the country road. Tracking, sniffing, gaining scent, then losing it again, she wandered along the roadway until exhausted. She ended her thirst by dawn's light, by a glittering brook that shattered the choir of tree frogs and cicadas with their whirring buzz. For the first time she realized she was hungry. For the first time she was lonely.

What crime had she committed to be left along the roadway, abandoned and without her pups? After all, what had she really asked of them? That she have a warm place in the barn, curled in her corner hay bed? That she have food and water in return for her work? She wondered as only dogs can wonder. She had never known kindness at her home, not from the man, nor from the boy nor the woman. Not even the other animals there accorded her any kindness. It was an angry home filled with angry inhabitants. But it was home. It was where she nursed her pups and felt useful. In the mornings when the barn door was opened, she sallied outside to bark at the world and announce her presence. She was watchdog, companion, cattle herder and even supplied most of her own food, so why had they removed her from her pups and brought her to this lonely place?

When she lay weary and hungry along the roadside, stillness descended over the woods, fields and highway alike. She lay there until nightfall. A somber moon rose up through dark clouds. The grass hushed before the wind and lay still. She was alone then with her thoughts, simple thoughts, of a warm, paper bed with squalling, whining pups waiting to be nursed as they stumbled blindly about until her teats were found. And others, clambering over one another in their blindness, searching for the food that is life.

It was before dawn when she moved, motivated by hunger. She drank again from the stream, then searched for food. Her early experience taught her to feed herself because food was hard to come by with the man and boy. Sometimes, though, the woman fed her table scraps. Not often, but sometimes.

There was no woman now, nor any table scraps. She scented the air. Something familiar wafted on the currents. Perhaps it was a fire, and fire could mean food. She trotted toward the scent, stopping every so often to check her direction. Then there it was, off in a small unfenced field, just a shanty hastily thrown together out of fresh-hewn logs and aging along with the land. A wisp of smoke puffed up from the chimney and with it came the smell of cooking food. Perhaps there would be a kind person to give her food.

“Lard a mercy,” she heard the woman say. “Y'all look like a bandit with that brown patch over one eye. Half starved too. I dare not feed ya' though. Pa won't like it. He shoots dogs. So scat.”

She stood her ground cautiously, sensing something in the woman that made her unafraid. As dogs went she was not especially brave nor was she powerful enough to stand against other dogs except when her very existence was threatened. She gazed quietly at the woman, hoping for some small morsel of food, anything to placate her growing hunger.

Snap! Crack! She felt the lash of the man's rope as he scourged her from behind. She shot off the porch, racing for the protection of the woods, waiting for the boom to come, for she had heard gunfire before. But there were no gunshots. She slunk down into the grass and crawled away, taking no time to lick the welts. Finding the road again she trailed along the ditches on either side. Cover was her only asset. By her wits she had survived. By her wits she might survive again. Hunger forgotten, she took up the scent again but the traffic that had passed all but obliterated the one scent she sought. She plodded along the rural road. She understood then that she would never find her home or her pups. Yet she would never stop searching. As animals can think, she wondered whether there was any kindness in her cold world. Was there someone who might praise her, offer affection, comfort, a secure place? She was not cynical enough to lose hope. Somewhere there was someone who would treat her kindly.

She wondered why the man had struck her. What had she done? The other man had struck and kicked her too, often for no reason at all. Were all men like that? Surely she must have wondered if this were so. If so, she'd be less trusting in the future.

She stopped to survey each home she passed. None looked familiar. Nor did the landscape. She was a young dog, sixteen months or so, and she had seen only what she could see when they took her in the truck. She loved to travel, loved to sit in the center seat, intent on the roadway, each new thing an object of excitement.

The sky clouded over and the misting rain began again. Nearer the creeks the mist turned to fog, but she traipsed steadily along almost as if she knew where she was going. But she did not. She had never seen this landscape before. It was a lonely, deserted road, spotted with old houses that were weathered and gray with age. People built only what space they needed, added on as need dictated and abandoned the building when it could not be expanded. Shutters hung down and slanted at odd angles while roofs sagged and bent under the weight of age. When they leaned so precariously they were apt to tumble over, they were then abandoned and a newer home built. In time, the newer home looked almost as forlorn as the old one. Time moved on again until weed and growth overtook them all. Then the houses stood alone, cheerless, even though occupied and, in the end, it was as if they had never been inhabited at all.

She slaked her thirst in a nearby puddle but it did not slake her hunger and that was on her again. When had she eaten last? she wondered. Perhaps two or three days. It seemed the food had stopped right after the birth of her pups when she needed it most. And now there was a savage ache in her stomach that demanded sustenance.

All day she had circled and wandered, picking up one scent, then another, pressing her long, narrow snout to the ground and fending off the heavier rainfall by hiding under trees. Then, nightfall again. Her hunger was desperate. She'd chased some field mice but was too feeble to catch them. Her only choice was to steal.

She gaited along the road, searching for a source of food. A place with other animals would have food, but it would also be dangerous. Other animals defended their food and sounded alarms, and she'd no desire to be shot at again or struck with rope. She spotted a likely place

and stalked off into the high grass. It was an old house, with an old basset hound, an animal that showed as little enthusiasm for life as did the dwelling. Beside him lay a full bowl of gruelish food. There were humans there too. Perhaps they were friendly. Perhaps she might find a comfortable place to stay and they would be kind to her.

Should she casually walk up and test the old dog? Or should she wait and see if it was an inside dog? There was little enough activity. The people put on the lights, for darkness came early these days; but no one came out.

Patiently she waited, the hunger chewing at her insides like a fire fighting to be free. But she'd learned patience because impatience brought her the man's boot if she dared approach any food. The night turned cool and the hound lay so very still that she thought it dead.

Just when she resolved to approach, it rose, circled and lay down again.

Restless. In a fair fight she could easily have beaten the animal but she was not inclined to fight. Her retriever lineage made her docile and tractable and she fought only for protection of herself or her food.

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