Hope - A Will Starr Short Story
Maude Silvers looked up at her husband anxiously. In their twenty seven years of marriage, she had only heard him swear once, and that was when the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
He was gazing intently out the window .
“Damn a man who’ll do that!” Tom Silvers grabbed his coat and ran out the kitchen door. “Someone just dumped a dog, Maudie!”
As a girl, she’d always hated the name ‘Maude’, and she hated it even more when someone called her ‘Maudie’, but when her best friend introduced her to Tom Silvers all those years ago, and he replied, “Hi-ya, Maudie!” with his dazzling smile, it became the most beautiful sound in the world. Tom Silvers could pour more love into her nickname than a Robert Browning poem.
Maude rose quickly from the breakfast table and ran to the window, just in time to see the dust of a car disappearing down the narrow country road. The thermometer attached to the window casing read in the low twenties, and there were a few flakes of snow lazily drifting down. The forecast was for up to two feet by tomorrow morning. It was a typical Wyoming winter.
Tom was standing in the road looking off to the south, but Maude saw no dog. Finally, Tom headed back to the house.
“It ran off into the fields behind the barn. It looked like maybe a female border collie mix, but in awful shape. Just skin and bones, poor thing.”
Tom took off his hat and absent-mindedly ran his fingers through his shock of graying hair.
“I’ll put some food out in the barn, Maudie. Maybe she’ll smell it and take shelter there.”
She was sick, cold, and scared. The only man she had ever known was gone, and so was the space under the porch where she had her litters and hungrily ate the rotten scraps the man occasionally tossed to her. Now even that was gone, and she was in a strange place.
The man who came out of the house was a stranger but he was still a man, so she ran into the field and hid in the tall grass. Men meant a beating, and she did not want another beating.
She was desperately hungry despite her sickness, so when she smelled food after the sun went down, her ears perked up. The odor was mixed with the scent of ranch animals, but there was no fresh man scent, so she decided to take the risk. Painfully, she came to her feet and headed to the dim shadow of the barn in the darkness.
The food was good and far better than anything she had ever eaten in her four short years, but she was far too sick to eat much of it. Beside the food was a pan of clean water, and she lapped at it thirstily. Then she curled up on the straw and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
“Good Lord! You poor little thing. What have they done to you?”
At the sound of the man’s voice, she tried to get up and run away, but her legs were too weak, so she just gave up and waited for her beating. When the man’s hand came close to her head, she tried to raise it and growl a warning, but to her shock, his hand offered her a small piece of meat. But she was too sick to take it, so her head settled back on the straw.
Then she felt something she had never known. The man’s hand was gently stroking her head. She stiffened at first, but then relaxed and allowed him to continue. At the same time, his deep and gentle voice somehow assured her that she was safe, although she recognized none of the strange words.
She felt a strap being placed around her neck, and fastened, but she did not resist because she had worn such a strap all her life. But the man who beat her took it off before he drove away.
The new man slid his hands under her body and gently lifted her. She did not resist, although it pained her. He placed her in a strange box on a soft, clean blanket, and shut the door to the box. Then he placed the box on the floor of his warm, idling pickup truck and left. Outside, the snow whispered against the windows, and she slept.
“I got her Maudie, and she’s in an awful shape. She’s just skin and bones, and she’s dripping some sort of fluid out from under her tail. I’ve put her in the truck, and I’m taking her in to Doc Pritchard.”
Maude nodded. “Maybe it would be best to just put her down, Tom. No sense in letting her suffer.”
“We’ll see. As bad as she looks, I don’t think she’s an old dog. I’d guess no more than five years, if that.”
She was frightened. The last time she was taken for a ride, she was abandoned, so although this man was gentle, she was afraid that she would once again be rejected. She was also so sick she felt like giving up. But at least she was warm in the snug cabin of the gently swaying truck. The man was making a soothing noise, but she had never heard singing before. She waited
There were two Doc Pritchard’s in town. One was old Doc Ray Pritchard, the general practitioner. The other was his daughter-in-law, Doctor Janice Pritchard, DVM. The result was confusion among the various patients seeking treatment, a situation that both doctors enjoyed immensely.
The ranchers and farmers were skeptical at first that a female vet could handle their big animals like horses and cattle, but Doc Pritchard knew her stuff, so she soon earned their respect and then some.
“She’s a border collie mix, Tom, and she’s had more than one litter, poor thing. Her uterus is badly infected, and needs to come out. I’m guessing that someone used her as a breeder, probably claiming the pups were purebreds.”
Her hands gently pushed and probed.
“She’s taken more than one beating, and bad ones at that. I can feel some healed ribs.”
She petted the dog’s head and wiped her damp brow with the back of her arm.
“Cold logic says she should be put down, Tom. On top of the beatings and who knows how many litters, she has been starved almost to the point of death. In fact, that alone may kill her. But it’s your call.”
Tom Silvers did not hesitate.
“You do whatever you can to save her, Doc. Let’s at least give her a fair shot. It looks she’s never had one.” His voice was firm and determined.
Janice Pritchard nodded at the tall rancher and patted his arm.
“I'll do my best, Tom. I hope she makes it too. Have you given her a name, yet?”
“You just did.”
At the doctor’s puzzled frown, Tom grinned.
“You said you hope she’s makes it, so let’s call her Hope”.
While Doc Pritchard made the arrangements, Tom bent over the small frightened dog, and spoke to her in soothing tones.
“You work on getting well, Hope, and I’ll take care of the rest. We lost our Randy last year, and I just haven’t had the heart to get another dog, but here you are and here you’ll stay.”
She didn’t know why she was no longer scared, but she wasn’t. Maybe it was the way the man murmured softly before he left. Maybe it was the gentle hands of the woman, putting a tube in her leg, and pricking her with antibiotics. Yes, there was some pain, but it was not delivered with angry shouts. She could sense that it was due to an act of love and compassion, so she endured it silently.
Later, she went into a deep, dreamless sleep, and when she woke, her belly hurt strangely and she had something around her neck which prevented her from licking herself, but she didn’t feel so sick anymore. The next day, she felt truly hungry for the first time in weeks, and she was given small bites throughout the day.
“She’s tough, I’ll say that. Frankly, I didn’t think she would make it, but she fooled all of us. We hydrated and stabilized her, and then took out her female organs. I’m amazed at her recovery in just two weeks. Are you ready to see her? She’s in the exercise yard.”
Tom and Maude Silvers followed Doc Pritchard outside, where several dogs were playing, but he did not see Hope. He turned to Janice Pritchard.
“Where is she?”
“She’s right there looking at you.”
The transformation was astounding. Her filthy coat had been shampooed, and her ribs were no longer showing. She was watching Tom intently.
She was uncertain. She thought she heard her new man’s voice but with the breeze blowing the wrong way, she could not detect his scent. She saw a man standing there, but she was not sure he was the one. They all look alike until they become familiar.
Most of the pain was gone, and she was no longer sick. The rest of the pack accepted her once she submitted to the leader. She was at peace, but she remembered the gentle man and his kind voice. She sensed that he wanted her, so was in her nature to want to be with him.
She saw the man kneel in the grass and hold his arms out to her, but still she hesitated. Then he spoke softly to her and she abandoned all doubts. It was the right voice. It was him, and her heart soared as she ran to him.
“What’s wrong with her Tom?”
Hope refused to step through the kitchen door, and resisted Tom’s gentle pull on her leash. Finally he picked her up and carried her to her place in the corner. She looked wildly about, and began shaking, so Tom sat on the floor and stroked her, all the while talking to her in his easy, soothing way. Finally, she circled the folded blanket placed there for her, and plopped down. Then she licked Tom’s hand, and relaxed.
Tom glanced up at Maude.
“She probably was not allowed to come in the house by her former owner. I'm guessing she got a beating when she tried.”
Tom rose and retrieved Randy’s old water and food dishes from the closet, placing them near Hope. Randy was fourteen when he died, and Tom missed him terribly. Randy was always by his side when he saddled up and rode out to check the stock and fences. They were friends the way only a man and his dog can be friends.
She had only been inside a man’s house once before, and the man had almost beaten her to death for her trespass. She thought he was gone, and she was desperately trying to steal some food from the garbage in the wastebasket, when he caught her. After that, she was terrified of going inside a house.
Now she was warm and comfortable, nesting on a soft bed with her belly full of delicious food. Her pains were almost gone now, and for the first time in her short life, she was content and happy.
She watched the man and his woman as they went about their mysterious human business, and gradually, her eyes grew heavy. Finally, she dozed off.
Tom Silvers accepted the lunch from Maude and put it in his saddle bags. He also had a small bag of Hope’s dog food, should she decide to go with him this time. Six months after he took her to Doc Pritchard, she was completely healed, but sometimes, she seemed oddly reluctant to follow him. He kissed Maude and mounted Mike, his big gelding.
Tom glanced back at Hope sitting on the porch, and called to her. Her ears perked up, but as always, she did not come to him once he was astride a horse. He shrugged his shoulders and set off at a slow walk.
She was afraid of the big animal he was on. One had kicked her as a pup, so she was wary. But her man had called her, and as always, she wanted desperately to go with him. Finally, her desire to be with the man overcame her fear, and she dashed off the porch and ran to catch up with him. The woman made a pleasant sound as she ran by her. She didn't know what human laughter was, but she knew she liked it when they did it.
The man and the big animal were just a dot in the distance when she finally made up her mind, but she could run like the wind, and soon, she was beside Tom and his horse, panting a little, but happy. She was with her man. He looked down at her and smiled. He told her she was a good dog, and although she did not understand the soft words, she still knew what he meant.
Old Randy loved to go on these rides, and he kept out of the way as Tom cut out the cattle he wanted, but Tom wasn’t sure how Hope would react. If she took to chasing the steers for fun, he would have to ride back home and come back without her. Then he spotted one of those he wanted to cull out, and he went to work.
She watched curiously as the man on the horse began to cut one of the steers out of the small group, but it kept dodging and heading back. Suddenly, her breeding kicked in, and she instinctively realized what her man was trying to do. Joyously, she ran to the errant steer and soon had it headed in the direction her man seemed to want it to go.
Tom was dumbfounded. At first Hope simply watched him curiously, but then she seemed to grasp what he was doing, and she was everywhere, keeping the steer moving in the right direction. Soon, he added another and then another, but it didn't seem to confuse Hope, who happily kept them all together and moving. By the time noon rolled around, he had twenty steers and Hope seemed to be able to herd them with ease.
He stopped for lunch, wondering what Hope would do. To his amazement, she kept them in a tight bunch, lying in the grass when they stayed put, and dashing off if one dared try to leave. He brought her some food, but she ignored it. She was working. She would eat later.
She had never been happier. She and her man brought the steers all the way back home and into the corral. Then he got off the horse and picked her up in his arms, ruffling her fur and telling her ‘Good dog!’, a phrase that she realized meant he was pleased with her. She licked his face in a dog's expression of love.
She was famished by the long day and by her own self denial of food while working, so she gulped down the offered dish and plopped down on her blanket, listening to the man talking enthusiastically to his woman.
“You should have seen her Maudie! After a few minutes of watching me, she just jumped right in there like she’d done it all her life, but I’d wager that she’s never herded in her life! She’s a natural, and I’m blessed to have her!
Maudie smiled at her man. “Sometimes, I think you love that dog more than me, Tom Silvers!”
Tom grinned at his wife. “Well, she can’t cook, and she was never a homecoming queen, so I’d say your place in my heart is secure, Maudie Silvers.” He gently picked up her hand and kissed the back of it, with a familiar promise in his eyes. It was going to be a good night.
She saw the car pull up outside the barn and she was instantly alert. Her man was working with a grinder, noisily sharpening some tools, so he was not aware of the big stranger who opened the door and got out, looking all around. Suddenly, the fur on the back of her neck stood up as she recognized his hated man scent. It was him, the man who beat her. For a moment, she was terrified, but that quickly gave way to a burning hatred and anger. Her lips rolled back, exposing her fangs, and she growled menacingly.
The moving shadow on the wall alerted Tom Silvers, so he shut off the grinder and turned around. He didn't know the stranger now standing in his barn, but it was obvious that Hope did not like him at all. He spoke to her quietly, but for the first time, she ignored him and kept up her low and menacing growl.
“See you found my pup. I seen her a week or so back when I went by the place, so I come back to fetch her up and take her home.”
Tom Silvers stared at him. “You dumped her off to die and now you want her back?”
The stranger grinned without humor. “You say I dumped her, and I say she run off. She’s my breed dog, and I mean to have her back.”
Tom took a step forward.
“She’s been spayed, so she’s no longer of any use to you. You mistreated her, so you just climb back in your car and get off my land. Be quick about it.”
The big man's grin turned into a sneer. He was used to menacing men smaller than himself.
“Hell if I will! I’m taking my pup!” He bent to pick up Hope, and she sank her teeth deep into his hand. He jerked it back and stared at the blood. Then he pulled back his leg to kick her and Tom Silvers hit him in the mouth with his big, work-hardened hand. The stranger went down, out cold.
When he regained consciousness, he was back in his car, and his hand was still bleeding freely. He was also missing two teeth, and two more were barely hanging on. Tom Silvers was staring at him through the driver’s window.
“Like I said, you get on down the road and don’t you ever come back. If I ever see you again around my ranch, I’ll fetch my rifle and we’ll find a pleasant spot to plant you, because we have all kinds of room out here.”
To Tom's astonishment, the big man began to weep and then whine.
“You assaulted me, and that dog bit me. I’m going to find the Sheriff and press charges.”
Tom Silvers grinned at him. “You go right ahead. If you do, I’ll be pressing trespassing charges plus animal abandonment and cruelty.”
“We’ll see what the Sheriff has to say about that.”
“You do that mister, and while you’re at it, you tell him Tom said ‘Howdy’.”
“He knows you?”
“You could say that. He’s my brother.”
She did not understand the ways of man, but she understood the ways of the pack, and her man was the leader of the pack. She knew instinctively that the man who beat her was gone forever, and she nestled deeper into her blankets. She could hear the murmurs of her man and his woman as she drifted off to a peaceful sleep. Her legs moved slightly as she dreamed happy dreams of herding her man’s cattle.
My good friend Mike Blue made an excellent suggestion in the comment section, so I'm reposting it here:
I would like to remind all of your loyal fans that there is a "Hope" dog available for adoption at most every animal shelter in the country.
If they have room in their hearts and their homes for one of these unfortunate animals they will never regret adopting.
I have three rescue dogs and I swear that somehow they know they were spared from death. They will be the most loyal friends you have ever had.
I agree wholeheartedly, Mike! We need to empty the shelters and fill our hearts with these loving animals! Thanks for that superb comment!