The second dog was dead before the kids got there, which was a relief because they almost saw me put the first one out of her misery. They wouldn’t look away until I screamed NO ONE’S GONNA MAKE HER BETTER, ALL I CAN DO IS GIVE HER PEACE then they started crying, but they let their mam lead them away so I could hold Mabel down and twist her neck broke. She was squirting blood every time her heart beat, and her breathing was hell to hear. Perry, my youngest, the one that found her, he’d been screaming so much the whole family ran there but I was first, quick enough to stop Anna and Jake getting blood on their clothes, but not quick enough to stop them seeing Mabel in her death throes. Thank god they didn’t see me break her neck.
The second was different, though. Bled out already, before we found him. Bleeding for days, the vet reckoned. But that can’t be right, I only missed him Sunday afternoon, when he wasn’t bleeding, so even if whatever happened, happened right away, while I was having my roast, that’s still only thirty two hours max. Thirty two hours isn’t “days”. Thirty two hours isn’t nothing.
Two dogs, dead, in two months. The first one was old anyway, retired, so it wasn’t like I minded the cost. And it could’ve been an accident, there’s machinery everywhere, there’s the chance some barbed wire come loose somewhere, or the corrugated wall of a barn got sharp… I wasn’t worried, things happen. I made sure Perry wasn’t left alone outside, and though I couldn’t find anything out of place, I wrote it off. Told Jake and Anna to be careful, but they know to be careful anyway. Jake took a picture of Perry’s clothes covered in blood, pulled them out the rubbish, sent it to his friends. Had to ground him for that. It’s important to show respect for death, working like this. Every early death is tragic. These dogs got ten years or so work in them, sheep fully grown at two, unless they’re kept for breeding that’s all we want them for. Bit of wool, lot of meat. That’s the way it works. They die too young, we eat less. Simple as that.
Always keep two dogs working, sometimes we’ve got more about – puppies, retired, like Mabel was. Mabel had an accident in the yard, bleeding, fourteen years old, I had to break her neck. It’s unpleasant and rare, but it happens. Sometimes an animal wants to die quick because it knows it’s about to die slow.
We’ve always bred our own dogs here, for a long time. A new working dog, bred proper, is gonna cost at least a grand. Mabel, we’d made more than that grand back in pups, and she worked for ten years, then a family pet three more after that. Perfect. Never trouble. But Charlie, the second one I found dead with the same wound, he was only twenty months. He was good, strong, obedient. Jake’s old enough to do trials now, we were gonna give the young lad a young dog. Near the start of his working life, Charlie was. Bled out from a hole in his belly. Like Mabel. What this means is that somewhere on the farm there’s somewhere these dogs wanna go, under a fence or something that cuts them open.
And these are smart dogs. These are trained, thoroughbred, working dogs. They know when there’s danger, they don’t hurt themselves for no reason. Two dogs with the same injury means either some psycho is coming onto my farm, into the yard where my kids play and stabbing my dogs, or there is something close by that attracts the dogs, y’know. It can’t be a live animal, cause these dogs are trained not to see animals as food, it can’t be a bitch in heat, which would have explained Jack but not Mabel, and it’s not something the kids want, cause they’re all fine. There’s something here that calls my dogs over some spike in the ground with such power they open up their insides instead of backing off.
This is against their natures, and it’s got me scared. Cause a trespasser with a knife is not something I want to think about, and if the kids, or their mam, get that idea in their heads, we’d have to move, cause I don’t want them fearing for their lives. And I don’t want to be fearing for their lives neither.
My dad’s youngest brother, my uncle, was a soldier in Belfast, during the Troubles. Putting up walls, risking snipers, car bombs, assassinations, it was risky. He wanted real war, he said. A frontline. An enemy you can see. Because a war of attrition, in the middle of a city, is no kind of war for a soldier, he said. No rules. He lived in fear the whole time he was there. And he said to me, Chris: No matter what you do, you make sure you never live in fear, and you make sure no one you love lives in fear. When he said that I blushed, cause I was a kid myself then, but the message stuck. I don’t want to leave this farm. And I don’t want to be scared of living here. And I don’t want no one who lives here to be scared of it neither.
Them dogs, them two dogs, they were killed by something making them crawl through a narrow space. I don’t know what it was, but I am not for a second imagining there’s some psycho out there stabbing my animals. The pied piper of dogs, some ghost, something in a barn that makes a noise like a dog whistle in the full moon, I don’t fucking care. Just something that isn’t human. I’m happy to be scared of magic. But I refuse to live in fear of a man.
Scott Manley Hadley blogs at TriumphoftheNow.com and his debut poetry collection, Bad Boy Poet is published June 2018 by Open Pen.