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Human/Animal Bond

Night of the Dogs
October 28, 2019 (published)
Art by Tamara Rees of VIN

We live far out at the end of a seldom-traveled road on the edge of deep, dense woodlands. The nearest town, Owl Hollow, is about 25 miles to the east and as a result we rarely get trick-or-treaters on Halloween. So, when my wife and I heard an odd noise at the front door that night, we didn’t quite know what to think.

No candy…no treats of any sort. My first thought was “Oh, no – we’re going to get egged for not having Skittles.”

I looked through the peephole and saw no one out in the dense, foggy night. But then, upon opening the door, I looked down and what I saw made me smile. A puzzled smile, but a smile nonetheless.

Three Golden retrievers sat on the front porch in a little puddle of moonlight, as pretty as you please, with just the tips of their tails wagging as if they were valiantly trying to contain their mirth. Clutched in each mouth was the black plastic handle of a Jack-o-lantern candy bucket. Contents of said bucket: nothing.

“Well, hello there, boys! This is a first,” I said, and turning into the front hall, I hollered: “Midge! You gotta see this!”

Slippered footsteps padded into the hall followed by a squeal of delight. “Oh, Mike! They’re adorable! Where did they come from?” she asked. Upon hearing Midge’s voice, the intensity of the communal wagging increased by about 25 percent, but they remained perfectly and prettily poised in the puddle on the porch.

“No idea, hon – the Hobsons don’t have any dogs that I know of, and I don’t see a car or anything out there.” I stepped out onto the porch and confirmed there was nary a car, wagon or any sort of canine conveyance that would have deposited this odd trio at our door on this chilly Halloween. Three pairs of brown eyes followed my every move, their eyebrows lifting and shifting in that way that attentive dogs have, their bodies otherwise staying stock-still (minus the wee tail wags, that is).

“There’s no one near us but the Hobsons for miles.” I said.

“They look like they’re waiting for something,” Midge said. “And those buckets look dreadfully empty. I might have some old Milk Bones lying around from before Bongo died.”

I could swear at the mention of “Milk Bones” I heard three stomachs growling. Something growled, anyway, and none of the dogs looked like the kind to offer up a warning of that sort.

Midge continued. “Dear – why not invite them in? We can see if they have any collars on, and maybe contact their family…if they have one.”

I thought for a moment. They seemed friendly enough, and well-mannered to be sure. I swung the door wide and ushered them into the entryway with a deep bow and sweep of my arm.

“Gentlemen, welcome to our fair home. I’m very sorry we have nothing but some stale Milk Bones to offer you on this All Hallows Eve, but please…sit a spell.”

Three fuzzy butts lifted off the porch in unison and walked happily into our home.

As I closed the door behind them, I heard the growling sound again, but this time it came from somewhere out in the endless night beyond our house.

Midge busied herself setting out a large bowl of water and digging the dog treats out of the cupboard. Bongo, a mild-mannered and sweet (if not too bright) Golden retriever himself, had died a couple of years before at the ripe old age of 15. Bongo had been like the son Midge and I could never have; we’d wanted twins, but fate had other plans, it seems. Bongo had died peacefully in his sleep – a comfort few pet owners ever get.

“Let’s see here. Looks like we have one or two in this box for each of you,” Midge said, digging around in the bottom of the box. “Might be a tad stale, but I’m guessing they’ll still go down pretty easily.”

I knelt down and let each one sniff my clenched hand. Three black, wet noses took turns and seemed to approve. After sharing a look between themselves, the last one gave me a very polite lick as if to say “You’ll do. Now, about those Milk Bones…”

Midge handed them out after she received the sniff-and-lick treatment, and they munched contentedly for a few minutes, licking up every stray crumb that fell. I looked at Midge and she gave that small shrug she always gave when faced with a perplexing situation.

Since we were all now fast friends, I took the opportunity to check their necks for any collars or ID. No go. They were clearly well cared for and well-groomed, but where they came from, we had no idea. I also confirmed that all three were, indeed, boys.

After the treats, they all took turns making a run at the water bowl, then sat back down in a line and looked up at us with expectant eyes. They then leaned down and picked up their Jack-o-lantern buckets again. I caught one of them looking over by the hearth, where we had a large sheepskin rug set before a cozy fire.

I patted the nearest one on the head and said “Oh, alright, boys, you’ll have to jockey for space, but wherever you came from, you deserve a rest. It’s probably been a long, cold journey.”

They trotted off to the living room as one and, after appropriate amounts of sniffing and circling, laid down their candy buckets and plopped onto the sheepskin.

“Well, that was…different,” Midge said with a smile. “Been a while since we’ve had a dog padding around here and I just realized how much I’ve missed it.”

“Me, too, Midge. But they have to belong to somebody. Golden retrievers don’t just drop out of the sky and land on our porch on Halloween. I think they were probably out trick-or-treating with their people and got lost.”

“Mayhap,” Midge said. “But for now, they’re here and I intend to take very good care of them. I’ll start looking for the owners in the morning and maybe put up some flyers in town, but we can’t just send them out into the cold night. By the looks of it,” and here she glanced out the window at the gathering clouds skittering across the full moon like a ghost’s tattered sheet “there’s a storm brewing.”

She was right. While the dogs had munched treats and got cozy by the fire, the foggy night had turned overcast and an icy drizzle tapped against the windowpanes like skeletal fingers.

“OK, love. I have to get some more firewood from the pile. Be good to get it before it gets too snotty out there. I could use a cuppa if you’re so inclined - probably catch a chill out there.”

“Sure, I’ll brew some up. Then…I think I’ll sit by our newfound friends and enjoy the fire. I might even play a little music - maybe some Three Dog Night,” Midge said with a smile.

She gave me a small peck on the cheek and said “I love you, Mike. Thanks for letting them in. I know you don’t believe in this stuff, but I think there’s a reason they’re here.”

“I love you, too, hon. I think they’re here to help us finish the Milk Bones,” I said with a grin, getting on my coat and grabbing the wood carrier. “Splash of bourbon in my tea?”

“As always,” she said.

The woodpile was about 25 feet from the door, at the edge of the lawn and abutting the vast forest known as the Witches’ Wood. The night had indeed chilled and turned nasty; a driving rain stung my eyes and had me nearly soaked on the short trip to the tarp-covered stack of cordwood.

As I loaded logs into the canvas wood carrier, I again heard the growling sound coming from the depths of the trees. It was low and mean, like a chainsaw cutting through bone. I looked into the forest but couldn’t make anything out, and I’d left my torch in the house.

As the old story goes; It was a dark and stormy night…and I didn’t know what the hell was out there.

The sound came again, nearer this time. I could also now make out a faint smell…something musty and rank, with top notes of carrion and decay. Being this far out in the country, we have our fair share of wildlife, some of it of the large and carnivorous type, so I thought it prudent to finish up quickly and make a beeline for the front door. I wiped cold rain from my eyes and made for the house.

A large shadow loomed before me and the smell of decay suddenly intensified. I caught a glimpse of something very large and very hairy, and felt the air beside me part with a whoosh as a gargantuan paw swiped at me.

I blindly swung the heavy wood carrier at it and felt it connect with a meaty thud. The sound of sharply exhaled air gave way to that same low and rough-edged growl, which then morphed into a keening howl.

I didn’t stick around to find out what made it. I grabbed the biggest log I could from the log carrier and ran for the house so quickly I felt like I was skimming over the top of the grass.

I knew it was behind me, but I’d at least slowed it down a bit with the blow from the wood. I made it to the front door, swung it closed and threw the bolt, calling out for Midge at the same time. The door was heavy and solid, with a reinforced frame – our nod to security because we lived so far out.

A monstrous thud shook the door, and that same howl of rage echoed from behind it.

Midge came into the foyer, the three dogs flanking her. All traces of good nature and mirth had been wiped from their faces and they stared at the door with an intensity I didn’t think a dog could muster.

Another blow to the door. A hinge popped loose and the pin clattered to the floor.

“Mike, what is that? What’s outside? Is it a bear? Are you OK?”

I took a deep, shaking breath. “I’m…OK. Bit shook up, but none the worse for wear. It’s no bear, at least no bear I’ve ever seen. Big…upright. Smelly.”

I’d had my back to the door, but now, as I went towards the front closet for my rifle, all three dogs took up position in front of the door and began to raise a ruckus. The dogs went crazy, scratching and pawing at the door in a fury as more blows hammered it from the outside.

Midge and I stood in the hall, rooted with terror and awe at the spectacle unfolding before us. As the dogs jumped and yelped at the door, a final booming thud sounded and the door flew into the house. The dogs narrowly missed being crushed as the door landed in the front hall in a cloud of plaster dust.

Rain poured into the house and the porchlight outlined the immense furred shape standing in the doorway. I only caught a glimpse, but it was easily 7 feet tall with massive shoulders that spanned the doorway and teeth that shone like desert bones. It threw back its huge head and let out another deafening roar, breath steaming.

And then the dogs were on it.

All three leapt and hung on by their teeth, trying to get at its great, thick neck. It swept at them with its huge paws, but as soon as it had knocked one off, the other two dogs would set on it. I could see it was almost toppling over from the weight of three attacking dogs, and it took a step backwards to steady itself.

The dogs sensed the change in posture and must have taken it to mean they had the upper hand and the tide was changing in their favor. They leapt with renewed fervor, swerving to avoid muscular forearms and sharp claws, jaws clamping on befouled fur.

Whatever capacity this beast had for rational thought I didn’t know, but it must have done some internal calculus and decided it was outgunned. With a final swipe of a hairy paw and a thunderous howl, it knocked one of the dogs halfway across the lawn and turned, loping for the trees of the Witches’ Wood in great strides. The dog that was knocked to the lawn got up and his mates joined him.

The three dogs set out together into the night after the werewolf.

After the howling and barking and thrashing of the door, the silence in the house was profound. My ears were still ringing and my heart was jackhammering in my chest.

I sat down on the bench in the hallway and rested the log next to me.

Midge sat beside me, her face white. “Did that…did that just happen?”

“Yes, honey. Three strange dogs just showed up at our door on Halloween and chased an honest-to-god werewolf away from our home, saving our lives in the process. And we had no Skittles.”

“OK,” was all she said.

There’s no real protocol for what exactly to do when one is saved from near-certain death at the fangs of a previously fictitious creature by mysterious stray dogs. So, we decided to have tea: a splash of bourbon in Midge’s, extra double splash in mine.

“Do you think they’re OK, Mike?” she asked, cupping the mug in her hands.

“Well, I sure hope so, Midge. That thing was so damn big. They seemed like they were giving it a heckuva run for its money, though. They are good, good boys.”

“I don’t suppose we should go…” she trailed off

“Midge, we’re lucky to be alive. I’m lucky to be alive after being blindsided by that…thing…out on the lawn. Much as I appreciate what they did, I can’t see exposing us to more danger in going after them.”

“Oh, Mike, they were so brave! Who’d think those sweet faces would go along with an instinct to protect us like that? Against that beastly…beast. Oh, I hope they aren’t hurt. Should we phone the police?”

“I can’t think of a way to tell them what happened without making us look like a couple of loonies, can you?”

“No. No, I can’t.”

For a while the only sound was the crackling of the fire, the storm whipping around the corners of the house and Three Dog Night singing about being Out In The Country.

Whenever I need to leave it all behind

Or feel the need to get away-ay-ay

I find a quiet place, far from the human race

Out in the country…

I can’t say as they were helping much.

Midge and I decided to sit by the fire for a bit and nurse our drinks while we waited for…well, we didn’t know what.

I managed to prop the door back into place (though it was bent totally out of shape) and more or less secure it with duct tape. For some reason, I didn’t think our 7-foot hairy and smelly guest would make a reappearance that night. In any case, I kept the rifle close at hand, though my supply of silver bullets was at exactly zilch.

The warmth of the fire and the whisky eventually had their way with us and we nodded off, curled together on the sheepskin like the three dogs were hours before. Midge just smelled better.

We were awoken by scratching and whining at what was left of the front door. A paw (thankfully, a normal-sized dog paw and not the least bit werewolf-y) managed to poke between the door and the bent and twisted doorframe, as if beckoning us.

There was blood on it.

The clock read 2:58 a.m. and the fire was down to embers. The storm still raged on outside. I threw a log on the fire and clutched the rifle as I looked out the living room window towards the remains of the front door.

Only two dogs sat there. Same position as before, minus the Jack-o-lantern buckets. No wagging.

I tore down the front door and let them into the house. One had a good-sized gash over his haunches with a dangling flap of skin, the other had a series of four shallow cuts that raked along his flank and patches of missing fur on his forearms. Both of their muzzles were stained with blood and gore and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the spark of mirth and merriment that danced in their eyes previously had been extinguished, replaced by a look of loss and sorrow that was almost human. They were exhausted and bone-tired, as if they had just crossed a thousand storming seas and battled Medusa herself. Which maybe wasn’t all that far from the truth.

The two remaining dogs limped into the house and sat down in front of us. Two sets of brown eyes looked up at me.

“Boys, I – I don’t know what to say.” I stammered. “Thank you. I’m sorry about your friend.”

I got down on my haunches and hugged them both, burying my face in their warm fur. Midge came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Oh, Mike. Oh…Mike. That poor dog. He saved us.”

“They all saved us, Midge. All three of them.”

The four of us, me and Midge and the two twin dogs, curled up on the sheepskin together in front of the fire and slept hard through the remains of the night.



 
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