There is never a good time for a move, especially across the country, and especially during one of the worst back-to-back ice storms in the history of Maine, but it had to be done. I was moving from my long-time homestead of Orange, California to a small two bedroom house on the outskirts of Benign, Maine. Why I chose Maine, as I swept my gaze at the barren wasteland of ice and snow from my new bedroom window I’d never understand. Something just compelled me. Plus I was a simple girl – a simple, down home meat-and-potatoes life seemed best for me.
I was a fourth year, somewhat-established veterinarian with a passion for shelter work and after years of saving up from six jobs (all on the sidelines from school – mind you) and was ready, I felt, to open a low cost spay/neuter/treatment center for those in the country.
My first night was dull – the ice tapped on the window and the wind rustled the single great maple in my front yard. Among the boxes, packing tape, and furniture I had yet to unpack, with no internet or phones lines established, it seemed I was in for a dreary first night.
It was around midnight when I first heard it – a pathetic scratching at the front door (I had camped out in the living room since I had designated my soon to be master bedroom a box holding area). I shrugged it off as merely the ice storm striking the door, or perhaps the house settling into its new owner. Yet it continued. Hour after hour, a feeble scratching continued until I finally relented that not even an ice storm could repeat a sound so meticulously monotone time and time again. Peeking out the window – and through the pale, yellow sheen of my frozen porch light – I saw the most horrid site I could imagine: a fluffy, dark coloured dog, so emaciated it looked practically dead.
Vet instincts on high, I sped to the door and opened it in one fell swoop – letting in a blast of cold air. According to the moonlight, apparently the storm had subsided much earlier that night, which surprised me at this dog’s amount of insistence. “Inside, come here, inside,” I cooed to half-frozen dog obviously asking for help – which I noticed was solid black and Labrador height. It was filthy, covered in dirt and snow from head to tail. If it had enough sense to stick to the door and scratch this long I figured it was at least a tame dog, if not someone’s beloved pet that got out in the night – ironically one like this.
One leg so stiff from cold and scratching, the dog slowly but surely placed paw after paw inside until I was able to shut the door. Bleary, cold eyes flashed up at me, an unspoken threat. A tattered, old blue collar with a single tag reading “Skip” gave me more reason to believe this was someone’s pet. I was never one to rush an animal into things – particularly not stranger animals – I broke my “Let them come to you rule” as I scooped the dog in my arms and marveled at how frigid and ice-like his skin was. He was so light, as if nothing was inside him. The animal tensed, and I could feel the grumblings of a growl almost emitting from his throat, but he was so cold he didn't make good on his complaining. He was filthy and stinking of wet dog, mud, and ice, but nevertheless I placed him in my fort of sheets, pillows, and blankets and rushed into one of my packing boxes for two bowls, a bit of canned dog food (hey, you never know when you’ll need it), and rushed to my kitchen.
As I was awaiting my new pilot light to get the move on and heat up some water, I absentmindedly reached into the drawer to the left of the sink – silly me thinking I was in my old house where I normally keep my can opener. A chuckle escaped my throat at my actions, when I noticed a lime-green folder that had been placed inside. I recognized it immediately as a veterinary health record, one that was filled almost to capacity. “Must have been the old owner’s….” I muttered. Noting the name, “Skip Henderson” and “Lab-mix” on the file only confirmed my suspicions. The old owners of my house, the Hendersons, never mentioned owning a dog. Probably abandoned him when they had to move, my mind put together. I glanced back to “Skip” whom I suspected was just loyally trying to return home after probably being dumped on some old country road. My own anger flared up a bit at the selfishness of humans.
To my surprise he had the strength to have gotten up and move, silent as a ninja, to the edge of the kitchen. He was watching me with that same, cold expression he had when he came in. “Hungry, food, dinner, eats?” I cooed to him, knowing that a dog in a kitchen meant only one thing. The dog gave no clear indication he heard a word he recognized – no ear twitches or tail wags. How bizarre, a large dog not interested in food…
I decided to get some info on Mr. Skip before I fed him anything (you never know when a dog has a food allergy). I was ready through normal puppy papers, shots, neutered, yearly checkups, when something came up that sent a shiver down my spine.
The Hendersons had taken Skip to the doctor about a month ago – he was exhibiting strange behavior. My eyes skirted along the doctor’s handwriting: “Skip has recently refused to eat anything – his normal dog food, people food, and has begun showing increasing amounts of aggression towards all members of the family. Skip was treated with anti-depressants and was looked over for signs of Rabies; nothing found. Cancer suspected in brain as cause of symptoms.”
Another page continued: “No change in Skip. Aggression getting worse. Surgery opted to look for signs of metastasis – abdominal organs all normal in size and shape. No cancer found. Most of liver, one kidney, gallbladder removed at owner’s request "just in case you can't find the cancer". Skip continues to lose large quantities of weight. Due to severe increase in aggression and weight loss: suggest euthanasia. Owners wish to continue to try. Patient returned home but was brought back nights later due to refusal to take oral medication and destructive behaviour. The little Henderson girl cried that Skip was "acting possessed like I saw on TV". Pressed for euthanasia again. Owners still insist that Skip just needs more medicine. Owners and patient sent home with strong doses of injectable sedatives and will return in one week for chemotherapy."
That was the last entry. Dated two weeks ago.
I heard the click of nails on marble, I flicked my gaze at Skip. He was standing right beside me, cold glare fixated on me. "Are you warmed up now?" I whispered, trying to coax some response. Nothing, not ever a tail wag. Something was obviously wrong with Skip, which doesn't sound anything like cancer. He sounded like an abused animal, increased aggression, not eating... Perhaps the Hendersons were not the good people they seemed to be.
As I crouched down to the level of Skip, to show him I was not a threat to his well being, a single sheet of white paper etched in shades of gold slipped out from the back of the file. A paper I associated with sheer amounts of dread.
I knew before I touched it. The paper seemingly felt too cold in my hands. I swallowed hard as I read, in clear typed black letters: “To the Hendersons: We are sorry for the loss of Skip. We know you tried everything, but after his vicious unprovoked attacks on your youngest and your other animals, it was the kindest thing to do. We know you loved Skip, and we want you to know we’re here to help if you need anything. Sincerely: West Heights Veterinary Clinic Staff.”
The date read: December 14, 2012.
My mind clicked. December 14… My moving down. First day in my new house. Today. Skip was put down today – the last day the Hendersons lived in this home.
Skip was dead. A growl emitted through the room. Skip stood level with me - dark, haunted eyes piercing into mine. A feeling of darkness clouded my senses. Maybe my mind glitched in terror - but I swore I saw a flash of red in those eyes. He peeled back his lips, showing his teeth, ice white to match his ice white gums.
I didn’t even get to scream.