The old hound staggered across the open field, buffeted by the gusty winds and soaked by the freezing rain that was typical of West Tennessee in December. He was so cold, hungry, and in pain that every step was agonizing. He might have simply given up and laid down on the cold ground never to rise again. The only thing driving him on was the delicious smell that teased his nose. It was the faint hope of even a mouthful of something delicious and warm that made him stagger on.
Somewhere in his memory, there was a warm soft bed, all the delicious food he could eat, and a kindly man in a big hat. The man drove him around in a car, and they spent happy hours together in a bustling, comfy room with many people coming and going. But that had been long ago, and before the years with a drunken, ignorant brute. During those awful years, he’d had no shelter except what he could find, and only sporadic food and water.
When at last he had been so starved that he could pull out of the heavy collar and chain, he tore through some trash in a desperate search for even a morsel of food. When the brute with whom he lived saw the scattered trash, he flew into a murderous rage and drove the old dog away with kicks, curses, rocks, and ultimately, a blast from a shotgun. Even though most of the shotgun blast missed him, two of the pellets were in his back leg, and his efforts to dislodge them had been unsuccessful.
He continued to struggle across the open field, his sensitive nose telling him that each step was bringing him closer to the source of the delicious smells. The night was moonless, cloud-covered, and very black. But suddenly, two dogs appeared ahead of him: a young male hound, long-legged and covered in reddish-brown spots, and a tiny little fuzzy dog. They came trotting up to him and sniffed him curiously. The old hound could do nothing but stand trembling, with his head hanging.
Turning back the way they had come, the dogs indicated that he should follow them. Then, seeing his weakness as he staggered, they took care to go slowly so that he could keep pace across the field. Arriving at the door of a brightly lit house, the young hound barked sharply. Almost instantly, the door opened. Propelled forward between the other two dogs, the old hound found himself in a warm and delicious-smelling kitchen.
He looked up into the astonished faces of an elderly couple. A man’s voice said, “Well, Jan, we let out two dogs and got three back.”
The woman answered, “And just look at him, Bill! He’s nearly starved! Get some bowls and a towel, please.”
Before the old hound could gather his wits, a bowl of warm and delicious food was set in front of him, accompanied by a bowl of fresh clean water. The other dogs and the people withdrew to allow him to eat and drink in privacy. At first, approaching the bowls timidly, the old dog was afraid to eat or drink. But he lost all hesitancy with the first bite and nearly inhaled the food. He followed up with the water.
When that was done, he was astonished to find the man approaching him with a warm towel and beginning to rub him dry. He enjoyed the miracle, but he jumped and whimpered when the towel hit the shotgun pellets in his hind leg.
The man urged him to lie down and gently examined his leg. The two elderly people discussed what needed to be done.
“I can’t get a vet tonight or tomorrow. And these have to come out. They are lead pellets and infected. They will kill him very shortly,” the man said.
The woman sighed. “Well, I do have some of the pills that I give to Pumpkin when we take her to the vet. Could you take them out and treat the wounds?”
The man looked very serious. “We’re in luck. The pellets are not very deep. I can get them out.”
The two other dogs, along with a fat little beagle, were fed and shut in the family room on their beds. Then the old hound was fed a delicious chunk of cheese. Very soon, he began to feel warm and sleepy. He was so relaxed that he hardly felt the pellets being removed or the wounds being washed and bandaged.
He slept the night in a warm house on a soft mat. Waking the next morning, he realized that the house smelled even better than it had the previous night. Snuffling at the bandage on his injured leg, he was surprised. The pain was gone, and walking was fine except for a slight bit of stiffness. He felt much better. He wished he could have more of that delicious food.
The three other dogs—Buddy, Gypsy, and Pumpkin—came rushing in and informed him that it was time to go for a morning run in the side yard. Going slowly and reluctantly out into the cold, he consoled himself with the thought that he felt better and was no longer in pain from the wounded leg. He walked slowly around the yard while the three other dogs ran and frolicked.
It was not until fifteen minutes had elapsed and they were summoned back into the house that he began to hope that he might be allowed to stay. As they were separated, each dog received a generous bowl of warm food. The elderly couple watched quietly as he licked the bowl to get every last delicious crumb. As soon as all the dogs had finished their food and a big drink of water, they were allowed to socialize, as the old man picked up the food dishes.
Slowly approaching the man, the old hound snuffled the man’s ankle and timidly wagged his tail.