SHORT STORIES

SAVING BORU

     On a cold and wet fall day in November, knowing it might be one of our last walks outdoors for the year and facing a weather induced quarantine to the indoors, we tread the well-worn path and pipe dream towards weight loss once more. Large, multi-colored oak leaves stuck to my shoes and the damp wind had the scent of chilly days hanging on its edges.

     I was taking Vincent for a walk, even though most folks say cats don’t “go for walks.” But you have to know Vincent. Cat or not, there are no parameters too broad, for Vincent walks her own line. She likes to stroll along the neighborhood’s busier streets with me, looking around and making sure all is well, with me and with the world. Vincent seems to worry that I don’t exercise enough and is always demanding to take me for a walk. We weave the same old course, forwards or back, a big square around the main streets of our WestPark, Ohio neighborhood.

     That day, at the spot where we usually walk right on past Lucille Avenue, Vincent made a left. She took a short burst of steps and vaulted onto the braces of a six - foot high fence. Such a serious privacy fence, on the corner lot. Vincent took a look and waited for me to do the same. I knew something was wrong. I could taste something foreboding in the air, and in Vincent’s raised hackling back. I am tall, so seeing over the fortress wall was not too hard. I wished that day, for the first time in my life, to be a vertically challenged man.

     The yard was a household’s junkyard. Dirty old blankets, broken furniture, pieces from cars and lots of dried and lumpy mud covered the area from the back porch to the back fence. The only green came from several large trees, used to hold up more garbage. Not a blade of grass anywhere - just hard packed earth and dried out muddy lanes. I didn’t see any way to get into the yard, nor a reason to do so. But Vincent did.

     Over the fence, silently leaped the blue- black shadow, almost disappearing in the garbage piled high. The long and so straight tail was the only antennae to her location. Leaping on top of a propped up gas tank, Vincent turned, looked back at me, sat back and then covered her nose with one curving paw. I couldn’t smell it but Vincent was giving me fair warning. There were dead things back there.




I waited, knowing full well she would show me what needed to be seen, and sadly, I wasn’t wrong. Laid full out on the ground was what was left of what must once have been a most magnificent animal. It was a huge, albeit soulless carcass of an Irish wolfhound. The hot rock that was my heart went from its usual resting place below my ribs to drop into my stomach and it lurched and sank among the new acid located there. What Vincent had found was a dead dog. Magnificent in life, horrid in death. His long harried coat, normally dark grey and white, looked more like matted black seaweed, discarded in a corner - wet, clotted, stuck together by dirt and who knows what, and crawling with bugs and flies.

     Vincent went toward the dog, stepped through the mess like an Indian scout, a wind, stepping silently, disturbing nothing, until she reached the hound’s side and called into his ear. That Vincent would approach a dog was, in and of itself, not surprising. Vincent loved dogs of all kinds and would often lay down beside a few of her favorites to catch a well deserved nap while they kept an eye on things. But not a dead one. That should have been my first inkling that maybe the great hound wasn’t dead after all. I couldn’t see any reaction to Vincent’s approach but I moved over to the corner of the lot to get a better look. The hound must have heard me, for suddenly it raised its great shaggy head, looked at me looking at him, and then flopped back down hard, not a drop of strength left. My heart leapt in fright, from my stomach to the top of my skull, then back down again.

     The hound may not have had any strength in its body but in a sliver of recognition within my fright, I had seen the hurt in its great big sorrowful black eyes. That dog had been abused, often and intentionally. Vincent whispered once more, into the hound’s ear. The ear twitched once and the wasted hound seemed to relax. But its eyes did not open again. I feared it was gone, but now that I was closer, I was able to see an occasional, oh-so-faint and highly irregular rise in the Wolfhound’s chest. I also saw the look of anger, hopelessness and despair in Vincent eyes too.





I leaned against the fence and Vincent hopped back up onto the beam, so we could consult. What to do? I knew of the Irish Wolfhound Rescue group that would take hounds and find them a good home. It was usually meant for owners who could no longer care for a hound and called for help. This was far different. Calling the APL might help, I didn’t know much about them. But calling the cops was certainly in order. So I did. And I waited, speaking softly to the grand dog as Vincent rubbed her furry black face across the dogs muzzle repeatedly, encouraging with the thought that help was on the way.

      I pulled a beef jerky out of my pocket, unpeeled it and held it out. Vincent came and got it, then brought it over to the hound and waited. Achingly slow, the hound caught scent of it, then raised its head and opened its mouth, accepting the gift from my cat. The pain seemed more than the poor hound - or I, could bear.

     A squad car came by soon enough and I waved the officer over. He took one look and made a call himself. Westpark is the last great neighborhood in Cleveland and the Residency Rule is in force here. City government employees must live in the city. A lot of cops lived in Westpark and, via the radio traffic, a lot of cops heard what was going on in their neighborhood. Soon there were all kinds of people tripping over themselves to find a way into the yard. No way had been built, except for from the house. Vincent and I stayed out of the way. I was learning to watch just like my cat.

     I liked these cops, my neighbors, they didn’t mess around. When no one answered the front door, they took it down. It only took four or five seconds for them to all come back out, holding anything they could find over their noses and quickly shutting the door to keep something inside. There were more dead things in there, I feared. More calls, more arrivals, and the cops started talking to the neighbors too.

     Somehow, no one knew that this abomination existed, right next door. Soon technicians in white protective suits, like poncho pantsuits with oxygen, started making forays into the house, removing all kinds of dogs - only dogs. Almost all seemed alive, none as bad as the hound tossed into the backyard graveyard. All wore muzzles and were nearly as gaunt as the hound. Hate and distrust radiated from their eyes but the gentle touch, warmth and caring of the technicians did seem to help, at least a little. Then they started removing the dead ones. I had to turn away.

     Light bulb flashes turned the fading sun into daylight again and the news stations got a hold of the story. The news and the police photographers competed to document all that I wished I could not see.

      After an hour or so, the house was cleared of animals enough to allow passage into the backyard. Vincent nudged me, to take a look, as the back door swung open. Technician #1 went directly to where we were standing, with me leaning on the other side of the fence and Vincent overseeing both me and the hound. The tech called for help but his words were drowned out by other calls from the yard. “I’ve got one over here,” or “there’s another one over here.” Over and over. The chills that ran through me would not have been lessened by the hottest summer day, let alone this soggy precursor to the bitter cold on the way.

     Dead compatriots in the yard. I gagged. The smell of dead bodies didn’t reach me, the overwhelming release of massive amounts of lime did. The intent must have been for the lime to eat all the evidence and kill the decaying smell. There was no grass in the graveyard.

     But then the two techs oh-so-tenderly hoisted the hound up, looked toward the house and the long carry. The arrival of Fire Station No. 1, and three axes, gave the technicians a much closer exit. These guys were seriously pissed now. I was just sick. I held Vincent in my arms, stroking her and feeling the anger coursing through her too.

     The techs carried the hound to a waiting SUV and laid him gently on a few blankets arranged into a bed. The poor creature still didn’t open its eyes and I knew it couldn’t last too much longer. A stream of vehicles headed for the nearby Warren Village Animal Hospital, and Vincent and I headed there ourselves too, once we told the police of our very brief involvement. We left the most silent bedlam I had ever seen.




The animal hospital was not much better but it smelled clean, a scent I was wondering if I would ever experience again. I needed a mental and emotional shower. Dogs were lying and sitting everywhere, but not a bark was heard. I saw lots of trembling though. People were shaking my hand and nodding as Vincent made his rounds. I just numbly looked around at the eerily silent chaos.

     I was told volunteers had been arriving at the hospital since the first reports were aired on Live at Five News and every one of them was needed. When the hound went into the back for surgery, I saw Vincent slip out an open door, stop to nod to me, and head for home. I put on a pair of gloves, doing whatever I was told. Mostly it involved holding, stroking and trying to fuse love back into these hollow lives as doctors and assistants looked them over. Realistically though, after love, food and water were the medicine they needed most.

 




After a few hours, I woke up a friend at the hound rescue group with a call and gave him a heads up. He said he’d take care of it. Over the next few weeks, we moved dogs from critical to just plain lonely and their health changed tremendously in a very short time. Amazing resilience. Over a two dozen dead dogs had been found in and around the house on Lucille, four more died that week. But thirteen didn’t. Vincent had gotten to them in time.

     The owner was eventually found, in Death Valley, of all places, where he had run after getting a heads up by the reports on the radio. He ran, the police chased, and hell hath no fury like a neighborhood embarrassed by its own daze. The neighborhood watch hunted down every clue and forced their findings and ideas on anyone who would listen. The man was caught, tried and convicted, - to three years in jail. He had no explanation. All thirteen dogs found a new home, and love.





Now, two years after that fall walk, Boru, the hound, is nuzzling me, a leash in its mouth. Comparatively tiny Vincent is not jealous, only watching out for the dog that is a good seven feet tall when standing on its hind legs, thick and strong. Boru is healthy, affectionate. Seems to be happy, and barks once in a while too. Boru thinks I don’t get enough exercise either. That darn cat has been talking in his ear again.


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From Tommy's Song

Freedom’s Sons are singing;
singing sad songs,
to their love, songs.
Pretty Maggie O’, Sally O’,
Pretty Saro and Rosie.

for some,
a Song For The Children.

In The Time Of Scented Roses,
let they be not black,
The Long Woman’s Grave.
Rather Sing Me The Old Songs;
of Rambling Rivers
in The Rambles of Spring,
Clear Blue Hills
or Grey October Clouds,
among Long Winter Nights.

If I should return,
If You Should Ask Me,
I’m Going Home To Mary,
Smiling Mary
I can see her, as she holds
our Gentle Annie in her arms,
listening to
The Listowel Blackbird sing;
Music In The Twilight,
In Newry Town

I will return again.

                  ~ John O'Brien, Jr.

John O’Brien, Jr.
14615 Triskett Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44111-3123
P 216.647.1144    John@songsandstories.net

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