It was Christmas Eve, and I was baking sugar cookies and cooking a pot of wild rice soup for dinner. Longboarder was by the fire texting friends. The dogs needed the outdoor snow bank to make yellow snow. Longboarder offered the escort.
Grenny ran off, loping past the barn, the pond and disappeared in the forest behind our place. When Longboarder reported the escape, I wasn’t concerned. Our neighbor told us they were going to Utah for the holidays, and I saw the other two neighbors leave earlier. With no neighborhood dogs to harass and snow falling lightly, Grenny would return.
I heard the first gun shot when I pulled the last sheet of cookies from the warm oven.
Hustling outside, wiping my hands on my holiday apron I froze on the porch. The fear that compelled me outside to find my dog now had an old familiar grip on me. One of my struggles with PTSD is dissociation. The emotional fear trips a danger switch and my emotions numb. Unfortunately, so does my body. I have not experienced a full-body freeze in decades. In fact, I thought I would never do this again after years of therapy, learning to recognize triggers, understand responses and find alternatives.
Stepping outside only to hear the second gun shot split my connection and I could not move.
Longboarder, unaware of my state, stepped outside and asked if Grenny came back. I didn’t answer and she shrugged and went back inside. How could she know my struggle? I envied the ease of her ability to walk in and out the door. I hated being frozen, feeling the accusation of an old mental enemy that what happens is my fault — normal people scream, move, do something. I felt a wash of shame.
After a third shot and much coaxing from my mind that continued to process what was happening, Grenny came running down the snow clogged dirt road from behind our place. My knees buckled and the spell broke. He was alive and I could move. He ran to me, all wiggles and we walked inside. Longboarder was happy to see him and apologized for letting him run off. I assured her it wasn’t her fault, but told her about the gun shots. She shook her head and asked why would anyone shoot at him?
Often the very neighbors behind us let their dogs run free. And they visit, barking at our dogs, chasing the barn cat and lifting a leg on my snapdragons. We’ve even had dogs from across the train tracks and highway visit. Fearing for their own safety, we’ve secured the dogs and called neighbors until we found the owners. After all, that’s what neighbors do. But shoot a trespassing dog?
Evidently this is a serious problem in our area. After the Hub confronted our neighbors over the incident, taking my response to it seriously, we were left puzzled. As I had thought, all three neighbors were gone that day. None saw — or shot at — Grenny. So who was in the forest with a high powered rifle (I recognized the retort) and shooting at dogs when he or she was the trespasser? We didn’t think much more about it until I read a disturbing article in our local newspaper.
North of us, a grisly dumping site was found — dogs, all shot with a high powered rifle. And these dogs include ones that have gone missing from where we live. Someone is killing dogs. For a writer, such stories can make for curious and dark explorations for fiction. Personally, it unnerves me. My dogs are such a vital part of my feeling connected to my body.
This brings me not to horror, but to redemption.
I may not understand autism, but I understand what it is to have something that cuts me off from myself and others. I understand the impact it has on loved ones. I understand the saving grace of a dog. Dogs have a way of cutting through terrific binding barriers. In fact, notice that it was upon seeing my dog that the dissociation state broke. My dog, though the source of my initial shock, was also my comfort. Grenny may not be a trained service dog, but this link between humans and canines is why dogs are used in service.
Which is why we have an important contest happening at Carrot Ranch — 4 Paws for Noah. Blogger, writer and friend, Shawna Ayoub Ainslie, supports writers through her #LinkYourLife blog share, workshops and posts at The Honeyed Quill. And she supports her family with love and compassion, including her nine-year old son, a boy with autism. And a boy with a dog. Noah’s dog is a service-trained dog, linking Noah to the world. Training is costly but worthwhile. The contest is a fundraiser to help offset those costs. It’s only $15 to submit a flash fiction (100 to 500 words) and the first place prize is a generous $250. Second and third place (along with first) will all be featured in the newly launched e-newsletter, Roundup.
Not only can you make a real difference in a boy’s life through his connection to his service dog, you can write about it this week. Maybe your story will inspire others. Perhaps it will encourage understanding the value dogs can bring to our lives. And hopefully, it can be a balm to my community shocked by the atrocities against dogs.
January 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a boy and his dog, showing the value or benefit of such a relationship. Be creative, uplifting and demonstrate that such a relationship has merit. If the prompt takes you somewhere darker, know that writing into the dark often retrieves the light. Let it have a purpose.
Respond by January 26, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Those Left Behind by Charli Mills
Sarah coaxed the terrier out of his hiding place beneath the barn. Sarah felt numb, disbelieving Cobb was gone. Ever the backbone of the McCanles family, Cobb’s loss was crippling.
The terrier poked his head out, recognized Sarah and snuggled into her arms, darting his tongue at her face. Despite her despair, she smiled. She lifted the dog and walked toward where Mary sat erect in the wagon, stone-faced. Her children were disheveled, an unusual oversight. Monroe ignored Sarah as she approached.
“Monroe, he’s yours now. Take care of him.” And silently, she meant the last for the dog.
NOTE: My internet connectivity problems are linked to failed satellite equipment. I’ll continue to be intermittent, but I will be here!