Farmers in the deep south are pretty unforgiving when it comes to stray dogs and they shoot them on sight, the second the innocent and unknowing paws trespass onto their land.
Not all strays are sweet natured and innocuous, that's true. We've encountered a few predatory packs on our travels but the 'shoot first' mentality that's pervasive down there is a special kind of ignorance and absurdity that often ends in tragic and unnecessary consequences.
I just didn't know it at the time.
We were spending the weekend at the Ranchito in Somerville, Texas. Eric and I were thoroughly involved in a crazy project of some great momentary importance that I can't recall while in the near distance, Lily and Malcolm were mixing it up, playing slap and tickle, rolling in dead Armadillo carcasses or whatever the two of them did when we weren't watching.
By that time, I had grown comfortable enough leaving him off leash so long as he remained within earshot, but like a bat using echolocation, it was a range I tested every ten minutes or so just to be sure. Kinda like an out of water version of Marco Polo.
I must have lost track of time because when I stopped for a sec to call out to him there was no response. Again. And again. No hide nor hair nor fuzzybutt tail after repeatedly calling out to Malcolm.
There are minutes that defy physics and logic and somehow condense down into microseconds and this was one of them. I stopped the construction job I was working on at the time and started walking in the direction I last spotted him.
My pace became hurried, the pitch of my voice increasingly excited and desperate, I ran to his usual haunts but he was nowhere to be found. Frantic and half-crazed now, I scoured as much ground as I could and still nothing but I was the limiting factor. By then Malcolm was missing for at least half an hour which meant he could have been 5 miles from us.
Eric had a beat up work truck that we jumped in and tore ass along the perimeter of his property, across adjacent country roads, up down, back, again and again searching for Malcolm. I remember at some point I heard gunfire in the distance and my heart sank.
Plummeted actually, down to a deep dread and desolate darkness and that day I experienced two emotions I'd never felt so singularly affecting and utterly consuming: fear and hate.
If indeed that was the gunshot that killed my boy I would turn it on whoever fired it. I'd take their life with as little consideration and hesitation. Even the simplest minded person could have seen Malcolm's smile had no ferocity in it and in spending a split second with him, sensed his gentle nature. I had all but given up on that possibility and was hell bent on avenging him.
After several hours, our search was unsuccessful and as the twilight wasn't too far off, we returned to Eric's house. And although the ending had already been wrought in my mind, I called to check my voicemail messages at our home in Castroville in the off chance Malcolm had been found and they called the number on his collar.
I remember hearing the voice of a woman, an angel she seemed. Malcolm had wandered onto her property, a few farms down, and she'd lured him up to her house with some treats. He was safe she said and.... I didn't listen to the rest... and within minutes, Eric and I were there and Malcolm and I together again.
I wept quietly, privately and though I was eternally grateful to the gods for his safe return and the Angel of Somerville, still a silent rage seethed within me.
A Note from the Author to Malcolm
Today marks the fifth anniversary that Hudson, Murphy, and I left Austin Texas on a cross country walk in memory of you. Miss you, mate, and you're still in my every thought and adventure.
A Note from the Author to Farmers
I understand that you have to protect your livestock from predators but the safest way is through better fencing. A lot of you have inadequate, antiquated, and dilapidated ones that provide no protection at all and just because a shotgun shell is less expensive than a length of fencing, it doesn't give you the right to use it instead. You must value all life, not just the ones on your property.
A Note from the Author to the Author's Previous Idiot Self (and Others Like Him)
Read this book and learn from it because even the simplest mistake made in a fraction of a second can cost the life of your companion.
A Note from the Author to Everyone Else, or at Least the Irish Amongst Us
Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Erin Go Bragh!