Life Preservers


Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left thousands of people homeless and in desperate need of assistance. Well deserved attention was given to the humanitarian efforts by those who helped provide food, clothing, shelters and money to the victims.

The heroes who saved and sheltered thousands of animals during these tragic times deserve a round of applause, too. Thank you, wherever you are.

Here is a short story I wrote after a flood some years ago in Missouri. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Life Preservers

 

River Rats. That’s the name for people who live near the river, refusing to give in to the unpredictable vengeance of Mother Nature that sometimes makes life challenging. My master, Jessie, is a river rat. Not sure what that makes me, but I live with him along the Mississippi near a dam in Missouri. His house sits on stilts as tall as some of the nearby trees. I’m Clyde, a yellow lab who lives in a large kennel next to Jessie, but on the ground…well most of the time, anyway.

Living by the river is fun for the most part. Jessie takes me along when he hunts because I can pick up the scent of other animals faster with my keen nose. When I spot something, I chase it until it runs into a bush or a corner and can’t get out. Sometimes they get away, but most of the time Jessie takes it from there. I do other things too, like protecting Jessie by warning him if something seems out of the ordinary. One time, I even saved his life by fighting a water moccasin that snuck out of the rocks by the boat dock. Jessie gave me some extra treats after that and patted my head, which I really liked.

I’m an outside dog. Jessie doesn’t let me in his house, but in the evening as the sun goes down, I get to pounce up the stairs and sit on the porch while we watch these big boats, think they’re called barges. They shine their bright lights to the right and left as they inch forward toward the dam. Jessie doesn’t care for it when they shine the lights on us. He gets mad and yells at them, but they still do it anyway.

Winter’s ok because I get to go hunting. Spring used to be my favorite time because there are more things to sniff, like rabbits and field mice. Last year changed that. Mother Nature forgot to turn off the faucet. Once the rain started, it didn’t stop. Days turned into weeks and the continuous pelting began to irritate me. I had to eat fast or else my food would float in water and get mushy. I hate that. I also missed our special time together on the porch and the extra treat he gave me before putting me back in my kennel when it got dark.

I never shirked my duties though. I kept an eye out for strangers but no one came over the levee. Seemed all the animals had run off to higher ground, even the birds were gone. No stray cats, no deer. The only movement came from Jessie as he loaded the lawn mower and other things onto a flatbed trailer. I wondered what was up.

The next morning, Jessie filled my bowl with food and patted my head. My tail wagged as fast as my heart beat. I loved it when he petted me. Made me feel good all over. But the feeling quickly passed when he said, “Take it easy buddy.” He got in his truck and drove off, over the levee. I whined for a while, but decided it wouldn’t do any good as no one could hear me.

The rain never stopped and I watched the river’s edge creep closer and closer to my cage. I sniffed every inch of the cage trying to find an opening, then I jumped up and down trying to unlock the gate to get out. I started to panic, barking and pacing continuously, but every time I moved, the kennel weaved up and down making me lose my footing. What the heck? My whole kennel was floating, just like when Jessie takes me fishing.

 

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Just before dark, I saw some movement on the levee. I barked again hoping Jessie had come back for me. It was him and my tail wagged anxiously as he climbed into a boat. He glanced at me, but kept on paddling toward his house, then went up the stairs, dragging a long rope, one end attached to his boat and the other he tied to the porch railing, way at the top. That’s when I began to worry.

The water kept rising and so did my kennel. I tried to stay awake to keep watch but sometime during the night, I dozed off. The next morning a noise startled me awake. I barked, to warn my master just as a large tree branch smacked into my cage. I shook off my slumber and gave another yelp, hoping Jessie would come get me.

Waves tossed my cage up and down and the sudden movement made me stumble. I almost laughed (yes, dogs can laugh), thinking I looked like Jessie when he drinks too many brown bottles, but the seriousness of the situation worried me. I adjusted my footing and paced around the kennel, proud of the balancing skill I learned while riding in our boat.

Hours later, I heard a door shut and Jessie walked halfway down the stairs where the river greeted him and pulled on the rope until the boat was near enough for him to get into it. I watched anxiously as he rowed next to my kennel and unhooked the latch. I stuck my head out trying to get into the boat with him, but he blocked my path.

“Stay,” he commanded as he cleaned out some of the mess in the kennel. Lots of leaves and branches and other stuff I won’t mention covered the floor.

“Kinda scary, huh? You’ll be ok.”

“Scary as hell” I wanted to shout, but could only whimper in reply. He rubbed my ears and then gave me some more food from the large tin can in the corner of the cage.

“This should hold you ‘till I can get back. Gonna be a long ride. Hang in there.”

I had no idea what he meant by that, but I tried again to get past him and into the boat. Surely he’d take me with him. It wasn’t fun being out here all by myself.

“Sorry, Clyde. You have to stay here.”

That didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t have much choice as he closed the door, then paddled toward the levee. My eyes blurred as I watched my best friend fade from sight.

Later that day, the rain slowed to a drizzle and I walked around the cage trying to work out some of the aching in my legs. I noticed the pads on my paws were getting sore too, so I went into my house and rested. Darkness crept in and my cage continued to rise.

It’d been a long time since I’d seen Jessie or any other creature. Something must have happened to Jessie or he would have come back for me. Hunger made my belly grumble and I remembered the food in the can. Pushing the lid with my nose didn’t work, so I jumped on the can and it fell over, popping the lid off. The food spilled all over. Thankful to be able to eat, I scarfed down as much as I could because I knew the rain water would turn the rest into mush soon.

My body twitched and ached more every day. It got harder to stand up and walk around. I hated the musty smells, even myself. Yuck. I forced myself to sniff around the cage for something to eat. Everything was gone, even the mushy stuff and still no Jessie. Maybe he was hurt. Maybe he needed me.

The water level no longer rose, but it wasn’t going down either. I stared at the levee and decided I might be able to paddle to it, if only I could get out of the kennel. Maybe Jessie was on the other side waiting for me.

The next few hours, I jumped and nudged my nose and teeth at the latch with no success. Worn out from trying to get the gate open, I laid down and fell asleep. Another large branch slammed into my kennel and startled me awake. As I walked around inspecting the damage, I saw a break in the metal links and with renewed spirits, I chewed and pawed until the hole was big enough to escape.

Without food, I wouldn’t last much longer. The decision was made and with one last look around my kennel, I squeezed my body through the opening and made my way into the water. The cold, swift current grabbed me and dragged me away from the levee and the safety of my kennel. Oh, no! What did I do? I paddled furiously trying to get back but within seconds, my doghouse faded from view. I wondered if I’d ever see dry land again, or my buddy.

Exhausted from trying to fight the current, I held my head high, trying to stay above water, and floated with the current. The cold water made my legs stiffen and cramp. My head kept going under and the river threatened to take my last breath, but I fought back with everything I had left. Just then, a large branch floated close enough for me to snag it with my mouth and I managed to get one paw over it, then the other.

After a while, the current slowed and the branch, with me still hanging on it, moved toward the bank and became lodged near a boat dock. I decided I’d had enough of the water ride and managed to pull myself up onto the platform. Tired, but determined to get back home, I climbed one concrete step, legs wobbling, then a second. Near the top, I collapsed, completely spent, but happy to be out of the water. I closed my eyes, trying to slow my breathing as my chest heaved up and down.

***

“Oh my, you poor thing. Where’d you come from?”

The unfamiliar voice stirred me from my sleep. I opened my eyes, yet couldn’t find the strength to lift my head.

“Harold! Come help.”

“What’s wrong Gladys?” a male voice called in the distance.

“It’s a dog. Bring a blanket and help me get him into the house.”

Into the house? Are they’re going to take me into their house?

Harold appeared with a large blanket and wrapped it around my wet fur. I tried to lick his hand in appreciation.

“I think it’s Clyde, Jessie’s dog. I bet that fool left him in his kennel all this time.”

“Oh Harold, do you think so? With all the rain and flooding for weeks on end? How could he do that to a dog?”

“I asked him about Clyde two weeks ago when I saw him in town getting groceries. He told me he was doing fine in his kennel and to mind my own business. Harold reached in the pocket of his bibbed overalls and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping his eyes and dabbing his nose. “I should have gone to check on him myself, but that fool might have shot me for trespassing.”

“That’s horrible, just horrible. You poor dog. You deserve better than that.”

“You’re safe now buddy. Let’s get you in the house and dry you off. We’ll find something good for you to eat and you’ll be up and about in no time.”

Harold grunted as he lifted me and then carried me into his living room, placing me on the warm, soft rug. Gladys appeared with a bowl of water some scraps of meat in her hand.

“Sorry, Clyde. You’ll have to eat table food until we can get into town.”

My eyes widened when I saw what was in her hand. Bacon!

This must be Heaven. I think I’m going to like it here.

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