THE GOLDEN JOY RANCH
A dog’s mournful howl in the calm of the night is an unforgettable, ghostly sound. The long and lonely cry for help awakens people from their sleep. Dogs prick up their ears knowing the difference between a playful howl at a full moon and a distressed cry for help.
Sadly, the Wellston clan of dogs and other inhabitants on Blue Heron Lake have been hearing this dreadful howling more often than ever before. Blue Heron Lake is located in Fox Valley, a beautiful area that historically has been home to many people, including Matt Wellston and his family who live there on a ranch bordering the lake. The Golden Joy Ranch has been in the Wellston family for over 100 years since the original family members moved there after the Civil War, fleeing Atlanta southward to the countryside below Macon to start a new life in the peach and pecan country of central Georgia.
Many legends abound about the various people who have settled this region, beginning with the Creek Indians who inhabited the southeastern United States for over four thousand years before the Trail of Tears exodus. Fox Valley actually translates from the original name given by the Creeks, “Culv Pvne,” pronounced cho-la pa-nee, due to the many red foxes that live in this small valley. People living in the valley often hear the fox vixen’s wail.
It is an early spring evening, and 12-year-old Jessica plays tug-a-war with her dog in the middle of a barnyard. She holds one end of an old rope as her small dachshund pulls the other end.
“Pull, Max, pull,” she urges as he digs in to pull harder, enjoying this friendly duel. Bandit, a Jack Russell Terrier, also joins in the fray, barking and encouraging Max to pull, just as he was taught a few years before.
On the back porch of the Golden Joy Ranch house, three other dogs lazily recline as they watch this tug-a-war. They have played this game with Jessica before; now it’s Max’s turn to learn how to pull. Fireflies dance in the twilight within the barnyard that’s lit by a night light mounted high on the nearby telephone pole, revealing the old two-story barn, corrals, henhouse, grain storage bins, as well as tractor and pickup truck.
“Jessica, come on in. It’s time to eat now,” her mother yells from the porch rocking chair where she’s been snapping pole beans from their garden.
The dogs know it is their turn to eat next. While they wait for their dog chow, the dogs settle down on the back porch. They listen to the rhythmic harmony of a chorus of crickets, cicadas, katydids. Bullfrogs croak down by the lakeside, only a few dozen yards downhill from the ranch house. Occasionally, the dogs hear the hoot of a nearby owl, the cry of a fox, or the night songs from nearby whip-poor-wills, all adding to the symphony of Nature.
It is a good life on the ranch in the beautiful Georgian countryside, but it does not come without a lot of hard work. Each dog plays an important role in the care of the farm animals and the chores that need to be done. They are all quite different in ability and personality as their appearances indicate. Each breed serves a specific purpose, and all of these talents will be necessary in this story of rescue.
These dogs are inseparable friends who do everything together—eat, play, hunt, and even sleep together on a “three dog night” when it is so cold that they need to cuddle together for warmth. The smaller dogs like Bandit and Max often crawl on top of Jerry to lie down, while the larger dogs like Miss Belva and Dingo curl up next to him for warmth. The night of this adventure is such a night—cold and clear with a full moon and a sky full of bright stars.
Matt and the apple of his eye, Jessica, are finishing their dinner inside the big, white country-styled house with a traditional high-pitched roof and a wrap-around porch nestled among the tall pine trees, white dogwood trees, Southern oaks and colorful azaleas that border the barnyard. Jessica’s mother, Mary Beth, decorated the house in the traditional Southern style with potted fern plants hanging on the porch and bright yellow lantana and red geranium flowers beds all around the house. Although she loves dogs too, she only lets Max in the house because the big dogs bring in too much dirt and too many fleas.
Jessica is a classic country tom-boy who would rather muck the stalls and be outside with the animals. She loves every critter on the farm, but her favorites are the barnyard dogs who love her as much as she loves them.
Jerry, the old Golden Retriever, is sitting next to the porch steps. The gentle “general of the barnyard” is concentrating very hard; his ears are alert as he tries to sort through all the night time sounds. Somewhere across the lake he hears a faint cry, but Nature is so noisy that he is not sure whether he should say anything to the other dogs. His hearing is worse than it once was, and the other dogs are too preoccupied to notice something so faint and far away. Wondering what it means, this sound torments Jerry.
Jerry’s gray snout reveals he’s long in the tooth with age, but he’s still playful and never far from his old tennis ball in case Jessica wants to play fetch with him. His favorite game is retrieving the ball when it is thrown into the lake since swimming is his inborn passion. “Yella dogs,” as the old Southerners call retrievers like Jerry, are particularly valued by duck hunters, while some are commonly used nowadays as guide dogs or search and rescue dogs because they’re so friendly and eager to learn.
Gentle Jerry is Max’s favorite friend because Max is the littlest and the youngest in this pack of canines. Learning from a dog with a kind disposition makes Max feel accepted and loved. He loves the other dogs, but only Jerry will put up with his puppyish antics when Max nips at Jerry’s lip or pulls on his ears as puppies like to do when they are teething. Jerry patiently endures this playful if not annoying treatment until it becomes too much. Then he will growl and bare his teeth letting Max know that playtime is over. Max knows Jerry would never hurt him, and he sits close to his friend with the beautiful golden coat. Tonight he wonders why Jerry is so quiet and decides that he must be quiet, too. Max learns by watching how the older dogs behave.
An owl hoots in a nearby oak tree, and Bandit raises his head off his crossed forelegs and cocks it to one side ever alert to the owl’s location wondering if he could reach it. His strong little body is capable of jumping five feet high, impressive for such a small dog, and he can even climb fences unlike the other dogs, but the owl is perched in the top of a tree, so Bandit rests his chin back on his legs and twitches his nose hoping to detect some other nocturnal prowler in the barnyard.
Miss Belvedere the Beagle relaxes only as a hound dog can, sprawled out on one of the big cushioned chairs on the porch. She is quite an independent Southern beauty; her eyes are rimmed with what appears to be black eyeliner, and she has a beautiful coat of black and tan with white features around her neck and face. She also has white leggings and booties with a white spot at the end of her tail. She prefers her real name, Miss Belvedere, but the dogs just know her as “Miss Belva.”
She reclines in the chair to signify that she is “queen” of the porch. She acts like she is too busy to be bothered by anything. She raises her eyebrows without raising her head, as she keeps a careful eye on Bandit just in case he should scent a rabbit before she does. She’ll forget all sense of dignity and be off that soft cushion in a heartbeat if there is an animal to chase. Then she will sound the alarm by lifting her head up high and baying, which is the Beagle’s unique howl.
When Miss Belva follows a scent through the woods, everyone knows where she is by listening to her bay in the distance even when she can’t be seen. Jessica’s dad, “Papa Matt,” as he is called by all the barnyard animals, takes Miss Belva on rabbit hunts because the closer she gets to the game, the louder she bays!
Over by the corner of the porch is Dingo, the Australian Cattle dog, sitting at attention. Dingo is named after the wild dogs that live Down Under. He’s proud of this heritage and of his silvery blue coat. Since Dingo’s job is herding the cattle from pasture to pasture by barking and nipping at their heels, the common name used by Southern ranchers for this cattle dog is “Blue Heeler,” but Dingo prefers his native Australian name for the breed, “Bluey.”
Always alert with his tall ears standing upright like those of a deer, his instinctive courage makes him Papa Matt’s most valuable dog for the ranch because he also protects the herd from predators like packs of coyotes or wild dogs looking for a free meal. Dingo isn’t considered a pet like Max because he’s a working dog who earns his keep every day by herding the cattle. He refers to himself as a “jackaroo,” which is Aussie for a ranch hand, and he stays with his master in the pasture during the day rather than hanging with the other dogs in the barnyard, and often can be seen riding in the back of Papa Matt’s pickup truck around the ranch and even into town.
Dingo is as fit as a Hereford bull when it comes to brute strength. Heelers are highly intelligent and can be very bossy, and even Bandit knows not to get Dingo mad at him. While Jerry may be the general, Dingo is definitely the policeman of the barnyard. Aside from herding, Blueys even like to dive and swim, which is fitting for Dingo since he lives on Blue Heron Lake.
Tonight, Dingo wonders why Jerry has been so quiet and he can’t help but think that something is amiss. He breaks the silence and asks Jerry, “Hey, mate, not much jabbering from you lately. Hear something out there in the bush?”
Jerry shakes his head. “I don’t rightly know for sure, but there’s something stirring in the air. Can you hear it?” he asks as he again hears a distant cry. His nose twitches trying to pick up a scent, but he can’t smell anything that might give him a clue.
“Maybe it’s the bunyip,” Dingo teases, which is a mythical aboriginal bush spirit animal that lives in swamps and billabongs in the outback of Australia. “But I hear they’re scarce as hen’s teeth in this neck of the woods.”
Miss Belva offers a humorous suggestion, “That’s just Bandit’s lunch not agreeing with him again. It’s a wonder how any dog can get wind of anything around here.”
Dingo laughs at her comment and adds, “Hey, mate, if you add a bit more choke, you would have started.”
“If you ask me,” says Callie, the Calico Cat, “all dogs stink.” Too many times Callie has seen these dogs impulsively rolling in smelly things to disguise their own scent. “Why don’t you all give yourself a bath like I do,” as she licks her paw to wipe her face. Although she’s outnumbered by the dogs, she thinks of herself as the barnyard mistress. All the dogs respect Callie as a friend, but each had to learn on its own not to fool around with her—she can beat any of them to the punch with her feline reflexes—and her claws are very sharp.
Bandit doesn’t respond to Miss Belva’s silly comment and ignores Callie since he knows it’s too true. In the next moment, he suddenly catches sight of a critter moving over by the barn, and in a flash he’s off on the chase. Miss Belva flies from the chair following his lead and baying as she runs. In a split second she’s at Bandit’s heels with Dingo right beside her. Chasing critters is the standard excitement for this dog family, and the remains of an occasional dead critter can be found on the doorstep as a reminder of their hunting skills.
Although Bandit is much smaller than Jerry, he certainly is the feistiest. Bandit epitomizes the old saying, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Bandit thinks of himself as the rebel scout who never avoids a good fight; he’s the first to go on the attack whenever a feral cat or stray dog comes around. He is a big dog in a little dog’s body, and Bandit rules the roost with his aggressive personality whenever the dogs embark on any adventure. As they say in the South, Bandit’s “as quick as a dog can lick a dish,” and his speed will prove invaluable in this rescue story.
Bandit has a white coat except for a blaze of white on his snout between his eyes and one large black circle on this back. His eye markings make him appear he is wearing a mask, so it’s fitting that Jessica named him Bandit. His main job on the ranch is to keep the fox, raccoons, feral cats and ‘possum away from the henhouse; although, if the truth be known, Bandit would like to get his teeth on a few chickens, too.
Meanwhile, Jerry keeps his ears to the ground and his nose to the wind, still hoping to solve the mystery of the indistinguishable sound he thinks he hears.
However entertaining the barnyard antics may be on the Golden Joy Ranch, they will be pale in comparison for the adventure that awaits the dogs tonight. It is an incident that no one would have thought possible with an ending that is even more surprising.
THE GREAT RESCUE
On this three-dog night in early spring, Jerry now realizes this is not a bright-moon-in-the-middle-of-the-night caterwauling howl that he occasionally hears from dogs living around the lake, and he thinks it is a cry for help from an injured dog, ol’ Shep–the German Shepherd who lives across the lake in an old junkyard with his owner Clem, a hermit. Periodically in the past Shep could be heard yelping while Clem beat him. But tonight’s cry is different—it’s the sound of a dog losing his life.
“Why does he cry so often?” Miss Belva asks Jerry as he sits looking over the lake toward Shep’s junkyard home. Miss Belva sometimes returns his call with her own special beagle bay—a long and deep howl that reaches the higher octaves as it continues, unlike the short, quipping howls of most dogs.
“You hear him too?” he asks as Miss Belva simply nods her head.
“What do you think it means?” Jerry and Belva are worried as they listen to the forlorn howling from across the lake.
“I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good at all,” Belva replies.
“I’ve heard him howlin’ for years, but it seems to be worse tonight—fainter and sadder,” says Jerry, obviously upset. “We need to check on Shep before something really bad happens to him. I just hope we’re not too late.”
As a rescue dog by nature, Jerry knows it can be a dog-eat-dog world when any owner mistreats his own pets, so there’s no time to wait if Shep is to survive. It is often the plight of an abused animal to be ignored until it is too late.
“It’s about time you do something, General,” Callie, the barnyard mouser, says sarcastically. “That ol’ dog may be on his last leg.”
Jerry and Miss Belva both look at Callie without saying a word, knowing she’s right but still unsure how to rescue Shep. They look at each other, hoping for any suggestion, but none is forthcoming.
“What’s wrong: cat got your tongue?” she asks playfully. “We’ve listened to his howlin’ forever, and when he may be on death’s doorstep, you’re still waiting to do something?” she remarks as she walks away flicking her tail, leaving the dogs feeling guilty for their lack of action. “With friends like you…” she says as she stops to lick her paw and wash her face again.
“Okay, Callie, you’ve made your point. Better late than never,” Jerry says as he watches Callie parade around him with her tail pointed straight up as if to say, “I told you so.” Callie loves her canine friends, but she often gets annoyed when these hound dogs lie around as she protects the farm from mice and rats.
As Bandit and Max listen to his cry, they just cannot understand how Shep can be so sad since their young lives are as happy as a pair of fleas in a dog house. They don’t realize all dog owners aren’t as kind as theirs.
“Is he hungry or hurt?” Bandit asks.
“Maybe both, mate. It’s seems we’re up a gum tree,” Dingo replies.
Finally Jerry breaks the silence with his own story of neglect. “I’ve never told y’all before, but I was abused when I was a puppy,” Jerry says, almost ashamed at his confession since it’s a bone of contention he’s tried to forget.
“You were?” Miss Belva asks in disbelief. “By Papa Matt?”
“Of course not,” Jerry replies. “He rescued me from the animal shelter after I was abandoned there by my first owner.”
“Well then, what happened, Jerry?” Miss Belva asks, wondering how anyone could abandon a beautiful dog. The dogs settle down and listen with interest and curiosity.
“When I was a puppy, a nice family brought me home for their two youngins. I thought it was gonna be great to live with them, but I soon found out that these kids didn’t want a dog; they wanted a toy to play with for a few minutes, then they put me in their backyard for the rest of the day and night. They played with video games and watched TV rather than spend time with me. I was very lonely out there, forgotten by that family, so I started digging holes and chewing things just to amuse myself. I had to have something to do since I was so bored. When the parents saw what I had done, they beat me badly.”
“They beat you for digging?” asks Bandit, knowing that all dogs dig, especially hunting dogs like him looking for critters that burrow in the ground. Papa Matt even placed a sign in their kennel saying, “Dig we must,” since all dogs dig. Papa Matt knows it’s part of their canine nature, so the sign reminds him not to be too mad when they dig holes in his nice lawn.
“Yes, and they never once bathed or brushed me—I was full of fleas and had matted hair behind my ears and legs. And I was terribly skinny since they never took me for a walk and fed me the cheapest dog food they could buy.”
Callie moaned when she heard how he was neglected. “Yuck,” she says, twitching her nose imaging how bad he must have smelled. “I knew dogs stink, but you musta been just awful filthy.” She can’t imagine not bathing since she meticulously grooms herself every day.
“I was rather miserable, Callie, and all I wanted to do was love them. For the next year I was left alone in the backyard mostly forgotten until they finally got tired of feeding me and took me to the animal shelter. Even though it was scary, it was a blessing in disguise for me since it led me here.”
People would never think of putting their kids up for adoption when they make mistakes, but the same people give little thought about ridding themselves of their pets if they become a burden for any reason.
Bandit and Miss Belva have heard the animal shelter is a terrifying place—the last stop for many lost or abandoned animals. While some are adopted by nice people, most are put to sleep when no one wants them. It’s a sad thought to think their best friend, Jerry, might have been left there to die.
“The most frightening part was waiting for the day when the shelter people would come to put me down. Every day other dogs would be taken away to the back room, never to return. I knew it was only a matter of time until I would be next. Luckily for me, Jessica and Papa Matt came to the shelter looking for a new dog.”
“And a new cat, too,” Callie adds. She brushes up against Jerry’s front leg purring affectionately since these two have been close friends ever since they were brought home together from the local animal shelter.
“Excuse me, Callie, you’re right. Jessica also wanted a mouser,” Jerry replies. “I remember when they looked at all the other dogs. I hoped they would pick me, so I wagged my tail, smiled as big as I could, and stood by the gate in the kennel hoping they’d notice me.”
“So, why did they pick you?” Miss Belva asks because most dogs never leave the shelter.
“Because I’m a water dog!” Jerry says proudly. “Jessica wanted a dog that would fetch the ball when she threw it in the lake. There were other Golden Retrievers and Labradors in there too, but she musta picked me because I was so good lookin’!”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t because you’re a fightin’ dog like me,” Bandit says, which is true that Golden Retrievers are too friendly to be good guard dogs.
“Good on ya, mate, but it sure wasn’t because you’re a cattle dog like me!” says Dingo with a grin.
“You were lucky because most dogs, even the purebreds like me,” Miss Belva says batting her big eyes at Jerry, “often don’t leave because most folks want a puppy, not a full grown dog.” Sad, but true, most families want a new puppy instead of an older dog, even though older dogs are just as sweet and already house-broken.
“It’s even worse for cats,” Callie adds. “I was the lucky one since most adult felines are put to sleep because everyone wants an adorable kitty instead,” she says disapprovingly.
“Who wants a silly kitty anyway when they could have a beautiful Calico like you?” Miss Belva asks.
“My sentiments exactly,” Callie replies, snapping her tail, irritated by the mere thought of this insult.
“Enough about this,” Jerry says. “It’s time now for Callie and me who’ve been rescued to help rescue ol’ Shep before something really bad happens to him.”
This adventure to help Shep sounds good to Bandit who is always interested in a new challenge. “Follow me,” says Bandit, “I’ll be the leader of this pack!” This little feisty terrier carries his head high as he turns toward the lake, like a soldier ready to march into battle.
“Wait a second, Sergeant,” Jerry orders. “Let’s not go off half-cocked without a plan.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Bandit answers in his best military voice. “So, what’s your plan, General?” Like all the dogs in the barnyard, Bandit knows that Jerry is their leader.
“The first thing we need to do is scout the situation. Let’s go across the lake and find out what’s going on before we risk our necks,” Jerry tells them with a bit of nervousness about entering another man’s yard, especially this junkyard. In the past, they’ve heard gunshots from his property, so they know they’re entering troubled waters once they leave the safety of their barnyard.
“I’d better come along just in case of trouble,” Dingo tells Bandit. This cattle dog’s protective instincts make him a self-appointed guardian to this pack of dogs, plus this muscular cattle dog isn’t afraid of anything, man or beast.
“That’s a good idea, Dingo. We may need your help if we’re to pull this off.”
“No worries,” Dingo replies. “Let’s have a crack at it. I haven’t been on a walkabout beyond the black stump for a long time.”
Miss Belva is eager to join them, so she asks Jerry what she can do. “I want to help too, General.”
“That’s fine, Miss Belva, fall in line,” Jerry says somewhat hesitantly. “Just be sure to follow my orders.”
All the dogs are eager to help; even the little Dachshund marches along in step.
“Max,” the General says, “I’m sorry but you have to go back to the house. You’re not old enough for this venture, and Jessica would never forgive us if anything bad happens to you.”
“But I want to help,” Max pleads. “I may be small, but I can fight, too,” he says as he playfully growls and barks at Jerry as he’s done many times while play fighting.
“No, I told you to go back. You must obey orders or else you’ll jeopardize this mission,” Jerry tells him with a stern voice. “You can be more help waiting here in case we need reinforcements.” Max lowers his head and with his tail tucked between his legs, he slowly walks toward the ranch house as the other dogs walk down to the lake.
“Since you can’t run with the big dogs, Joey, stay on the porch,” Dingo. “You can stay with me,” Callie tells Max. “Let’s go back to the house and I’ll show you how to take a nice cat nap. Let these stinky dogs go play rescuers.” An unlikely pair—Callie with her tail pointing up in the air in a show of feline contempt and Max with his tail between his legs—they turn and walk together back toward the ranch house.
Once they reached the lake, the dogs have to decide to either swim across or walk the long way around the South Cove on the trail initially made by the Creek Native Americans that encircles the entire lake. The name Blue Heron Lake itself comes from the original Creek name, Wvko-rakko Akhvse-rakko, pronounced wa-go-thlak-ko ak-ha-zee-thlak-ko, because of the abundance of water fowl that still inhabit this lake, including a flock of Great Blue Herons, White Egrets, Kingfishers, Canadian geese, Mallard ducks, and a pair of beautiful white Mute Swans.
Arrowheads and shards of pottery can be found around the lake where the Creeks once camped. Nowadays it is an old path mostly used by animals and fishermen.
“How do we get way over there?” asks Miss Belva, hesitant about swimming on this cold night. Although they all were familiar with their side of the lake, none has ever gone to the other side for fear of the unknown hermit and his shotgun that they often hear.
“Let’s swim for sure,” says Jerry with a smile on his face since he loves to swim like all Golden Retrievers do. From the dock, it’s over 100 yards to the other side, surely too far for anyone who isn’t a good swimmer.
“The water is ever so cold,” she replies with a whimper in her voice as she tests the water with her front paw. The hot and humid dog days of summer haven’t arrived yet to warm the lake water. “And what about King Luke? I don’t want him to attack me while I’m paddling.”
Without a doubt, Luke is a Beautiful “cob” Mute Swan and the king of this lake. He lives there with his “pen,” a female named Ariel. He will attack anything that ventures into his territory during nesting season from March to October. Although swans look peaceful and graceful gliding on the water, they are very aggressive animals when protecting their territories, nests, and brood. They will kill other waterfowl, and they’ve been known to even kill a fox with their very powerful wings. Luke will even attack fishermen in boats if they get too close to the nesting area.
“Don’t worry about Luke,” Jerry answers. “He knows us, but I’d sure hate to be a stranger swimming in the King’s lake without his approval.”
Little Bandit also has second thoughts about swimming across the cold water since he’s a terrier, not a retriever. He doesn’t like to swim anytime—spring, summer or fall, let alone in cold weather. Bandit is so timid that he can’t even put one paw in the cold water. As he says, he’s a warrior, not a swimmer.
“The water isn’t that cold, it’s just really wet!” Jerry says in jest. That is his standard joke whenever these land-loving dogs don’t want to swim. Only retrievers know how much fun it is to swim—it’s in their blood to retrieve ducks for their masters.
Although Miss Belva likes to swim when the water is warm, she hates the idea of swimming in cold water. “You may as well count me out, too” she says. “I’d much rather go around the shore so I can look for critters.”
“We are not here to hunt critters, so let’s meet in ten minutes on the other side. I’m going the short way straight across,” says Jerry. “I’m warning you, Belva! Don’t go gallivanting on a wild goose chase since we’re on a rescue mission.” He knows that Miss Belva often gets distracted when she picks up a scent. With a big grin on his face, Jerry jumps into the water—getting wet and paddling is just perfect for the ol’ general anytime of the year.
Bandit decides to go with Miss Belva. “I’ll go with you, but we’re not hunting for rabbits this time,” Bandit says as she takes off trotting along the shoreline. “I’m the lead scout on this mission, so follow me!” he says as he sprints past her.
“Fair dinkum, General, and take the short way with you, mate,” Dingo says.
All the dogs have a good time in their own way. Jerry slowly paddles with ease buoyed by his big barrel chest. Dingo jumps in behind him, but being less skilled in paddling, he splashes making a noise unlike Jerry who paddles quietly.
All this commotion stirs the curiosity of the waterfowl that live on Blue Heron Lake, including King Luke. Although quieter than other species like geese and ducks, this swan is by no means mute. Among Luke’s vocalizations are a loud snort when annoyed, shrill trumpeting when really angry, and an aggressive hiss. Standing up to three feet and weighing twenty-five pounds, Luke is a huge bird that frightens even the feistiest dogs; even Bandit backs down from a confrontation with a swan, especially King Luke.
Since nesting season has begun, Luke is very aggressive toward any intruder near the nest to protect the cygnets, his baby swans. Luke swims aggressively in his “war posture” toward the dimly lit swimmers in the lake with his wings held outward from his body and slightly bent ready to snap his wings to fight. He lunges through the water, snorting through his nose, and hisses a warning at the dogs until he recognizes Jerry and asks, “What’s going on tonight, General? I was ready to take you to task until I recognized you.”
The two have been friends for years ever since the swans were placed on the lake by Papa Matt. Given that Jerry’s a water dog who spends a lot of time near the lake, he knows all the birds that live on the lake, especially the King. As Jerry continues to paddle, he tells Luke, “We’re on a rescue mission to find out what’s wrong with Shep. We think he may need our help.”
“Good. He has been howlin’ a lot lately, and I’ve wondered what’s happening since his cry sounds different than usual. I’ll keep a lookout for you in case Vinnie the Viper comes around.”
This water moccasin has lived on the lake for years, hanging in tree limbs or lying on rocks or logs, ever ready to strike at unsuspecting prey, and Luke has chased him away from his cygnets more than once. While most viper snakes flee from other animals bigger than themselves, a moccasin will stand its ground or even attack an intruder. These snakes definitely are to be avoided at all costs.
When Jerry reaches the far side of the lake, he shakes the water off his coat, then lies down and rolls over having a great time, kicking his legs into the air while lying on his back.
Although he doesn’t swim as fast as Jerry, Dingo enjoys the swim across the lake. As a working dog always in charge of the cattle herd, the lake isn’t a part of his daily job, so any purpose to take a swim is reason enough for Dingo to have a good time. Although much stronger out of water, he’s very vulnerable while swimming, especially with a cob swan on his tail. When Luke approaches him, Dingo simply says, “G’day, mate, I’m with the general.” Luke gives him a pass this time and swims off to continue his patrol on the lake.
Meanwhile, Bandit and Miss Belva run along the edge of the lake with their noses to the ground, smelling every scent they can—waterfowl that roost along the edge at night, beavers, fox and otters that live around the lake, and the many small critters like mice, chipmunks, and snakes that live in the weeds and marshes. It’s in their blood to hunt small animals, so their tails are just awaggin’ with delight as they stroll along the lakeside.
At the far end of South Cove, Miss Belva picks up the fresh scent of a raccoon and immediately begins baying as she follows the trail to an old oak tree. Just as Jerry had warned, Miss Belva is off on a chase, and Bandit lets her know, “Come on, Miss Belva, we’re not here to hunt coons.”
But she ignores him and remains transfixed on the coon she just treed, baying repeatedly, “ah-roo, ah-roo,” so loudly that Jerry can hear her as well as Jessica in the barnyard. Although quite pleased with herself, Miss Belva forgets she’s on another mission to save Shep, not to tree a coon.
“What does she think she’s doing?” Jerry asks Dingo. “She’s gonna wake up the whole neighborhood and blow our cover.”
“She’s obviously on the trail of some critter by the sound of her,” Dingo replies. “I didn’t think this Sheila was a piker who gives up before the job is finished.”
Bandit continues without Miss Belva along the trail around the lake when he suddenly sees the Red Fox standing among the tall grass and cat-o’-nine-tails. His first instinct is to give chase, but duty calls for him to ignore his natural nemesis and rendezvous with Jerry and Dingo. Never before has Bandit failed to give chase after a fox, but he sticks to the trail and runs past the fox. To his own amazement, the Red Fox himself can’t believe this Jack Russell Terrier ran past him with hardly a glance.
Finally Bandit arrives alone on the far side of the lake where Jerry and Dingo are waiting. He knows Miss Belva is in trouble for not obeying Jerry’s order, and reports to him, “Miss Belva’s treed a coon and won’t leave. You know how head-strong she can be, and when she finds a scent, there’s no talkin’ to her.”
“Yes, I know how stubborn that beagle can be, but that doesn’t excuse her behavior—not only is she disobeying a direct order, now she’s blowing our cover. I only hope Shep’s owner doesn’t hear her, too.”
“No worries about that now,” Dingo says, “let’s go see what’s wrong with Shep.”
The dogs walk through the pine trees up to the chain link fence that surrounds Shep’s home. Inside the fence are old cars and junk left there by his owner. Unlike their ranch house and barnyard, this place is a dump. Then they see Shep chained to a pole in the middle of the yard.
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” says Jerry with a tear in his eye, “such a horrible place for any dog to live.”
“How could any bloke do this to his dog?” asks Dingo, angry at the mere thought of such neglect. “What kind of drongo would chain his dog to a pole?”
“I dunno,” says Bandit, “but let’s get in there to find out what’s wrong.” He starts to climb the fence until Jerry orders him to stop.
“Wait a minute, sergeant,” Jerry commands. “Let’s not go whistling past the graveyard. There’s more danger lurking in there than we might think.” Jerry knows there’s an old man who lives there who likes to shoot guns, so he wants Bandit to proceed with caution rather than jumping into a possible dangerous situation.
“You’re right, General,” Bandit responds. “But we need to figure out the situation one way or another. We can’t tell what’s wrong by staying out here behind the fence.”
“Fine, but let’s not go in there headstrong and walk into a trap,” Jerry tells his eager aide.
The dogs walk the fence line looking for a place to enter the yard. The fence has no gates that are open, so Bandit offers a suggestion to his officer. “I’ll climb over the fence and report back to you.”
“Go for it,” Jerry responds, “but be careful.”
Since Jack Russells love to climb, Bandit begins climbing the fence as the other dogs watch in disbelief. They’ve seen dogs hunt, dig, fetch, fight, herd and swim, but never have they seen any dog climb a fence as easily as Bandit does now.
When Bandit reaches the top, he simply jumps off to the ground. “Y’all stay here while I go check out Shep,” Bandit tells them with a proud grin on his face. His terrier nature is to take the bull by the horns even when he doesn’t quite know what to do afterward.
“Okay, but give us a warning bark if you run into trouble,” Jerry warns. They all know Shep’s owner is bad to the bone, but they don’t know if he might be home to cause trouble if he sees another dog in his yard.
“Don’t worry about me,” Bandit replies. “I’ve got a bone to pick with anyone who treats dogs this bad.” Bandit sneaks through the junk cars, piles of discarded lumber and old appliances that are strewn in the yard until he sees Shep. He slowly crawls up to Shep and says, “Hey there partner, are you okay?”
Shep is surprised when he sees Bandit for the first time. “Who’s there?” he asks, barely able to raise his head to talk because he’s so weak.
“I’m Bandit, and I live over yonder across the lake. We heard you cryin’ and wondered what was goin’ on over here, so we came to find out.”
“You mean there’s more than just you?”
“Yeah, Jerry and Dingo are back at the fence. They couldn’t climb over, so they’re waiting for me to report back—I’m the lead scout on this mission.”
“Well, it’s nice of y’all to help, but you best be careful not to let my owner ever see you. He’s got a shotgun and he likes to shoot animals for any reason, especially those who don’t belong in his junkyard.”
Bandit looks around to see a light in the old farm house and notices the rest of the yard is full of junk everywhere; it looks like no one cares about this place since it certainly doesn’t look like the nice ranch he lives on. He knows for some dogs who are mistreated it’s a tough life, and this junkyard is a good example of that.
Bandit lies down to avoid being seen and asks Shep again, “So, are you in trouble or what?”
“Yep. I haven’t been fed or watered for nearly a week now. I think ol’ Clem has forgotten about me. I’m afraid if I don’t get out of here soon, I may…” His voice trails off as he thinks of dying alone in a junkyard. “I know I shouldn’t howl, but I’m so cold and hungry.”
Bandit notices that Shep’s black and tan coat is dull and his skin has many hot spots that are bare and raw. He also notices Shep is covered with fleas and ticks, a bad sign for sure. Shep is very skinny, some of his teeth are broken, and his dull eyes are filled with mucous—he doesn’t look well at all. He can barely wag his tail because he’s too weak. Bandit also sees the chain around Shep’s neck has caused open sores all around.
“How long have you been chained to that pole?” he asks.
“Longer than I can remember ever since ol’ Clem got mad after I left the yard to roam in the neighborhood. He said I was a guard dog, but there’s nothing here that anyone would steal in this junkyard, that’s for sure.”
Unlike the name “Shepherd” suggests, these dogs are not bred for herding sheep like Border Collies. German Shepherds are more often found working as a guard dog, police dog, detection dog, search and rescue dog, or just a very protective family pet.
One trait of Shepherds is their instinct to “work the furrow,” meaning that they will patrol a boundary all day and restrict the animals being herded from entering or leaving the designated area. It’s this instinct that has made the breed superb guard dogs, protecting their flock or guarding an area as Shep is supposed to do.
Shep looks like he hasn’t worked the furrow for years—his legs are weak from lying around all the time while tied by the chain. Without food for days now, his energy is almost gone. He definitely is a neglected and abused dog with scars on his snout to prove it.
“How did you get those scars—were you in a fight with some critter?” Bandit asks, quite proud of his own war wounds from other dogs he’s fought and critters he’s hunted.
“A few came from dog fightin’ when I was younger and a lot stronger, but most came from beatings with a whip by Clem for barkin’ at night when he tried to sleep.” Bandit cringes when he hears that Shep’s been in illegal dog fights, but that explains why Shep has broken teeth. It’s only a matter of time before any fighter loses to a bigger, meaner dog leaving its victim disabled or dead. Shep’s fate has gone from bad to worse now that he’s tied to a pole unable work the furrow around the junkyard as Shepherds are bred to do. Without exercise, no dog can stay healthy, no matter what breed.
Bandit knows his keepers would never leave him tied to a pole without food or water. He may have been spanked when he disobeyed or put in the dog pen when he dug holes in the yard. It’s normal to be punished when dogs are being house-broken or are going through obedience training, but Shep’s condition is certainly abuse, not just punishment for howling, digging or chewing like all dogs sometimes do.
“Don’t worry ‘cause we’re gonna get you outta here,” Bandit says. “Every dog has its day, my friend, and today is yours.”
“Great idea, but how you gonna do that since I’m chained to this here pole?”
“I dunno yet, but I’ll ask my friends. You stay here ‘til I get back.”
“I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Shep replies with a grin on his face since he’s still chained to the pole and can’t stand up anyway.
Bandit runs back to the fence, darting his way through the junk yard, to speak with Jerry and Dingo, who are waiting anxiously for the news.
“So, what’s happening?” Jerry asks. “We thought you got caught.”
“No way. I’m too fast to get caught, but Shep’s in bad shape; he can’t walk and hasn’t been fed for a long time.” Bandit is shaking with anger since he’d never seen an abused dog before. “He looks as sad as a hound dog’s eye. He’s all stoved up and can’t move. We’ve gotta figure out some way to get Shep outta here before he dies from hunger or is killed by his owner.”
“It’s that bad?” Jerry asks. Now he understands the cries for help by ol’ Shep. “I knew something was really wrong by the tone of his voice.”
“You’ve got no idea,” Bandit replies. “It’s nuthin’ like we’ve ever seen. If we don’t do something soon, he’ll starve to death since he hasn’t eaten in days,” Bandit remarks. “The biggest problem right now is getting that chain off his neck if we’re gonna rescue him.”
“We can’t bite through metal,” says Jerry. “Can you dig where the chain is tied?”
“I dunno since it’s attached to a pole. Maybe we should go home and get help. Plus, how are we gonna get him back across the lake?” If there is a way to rescue Shep, they realize they might need the help from Jessica or Papa Matt.
It is getting darker and colder. Bandit knows they can’t leave Shep in the junkyard since there isn’t a dog house for him to get away from the moisture in the cold night air.
“We can’t leave Shep alone—it’s way too cold, and he looks bad. I don’t think he’ll make it through the night,” says Bandit. “He’s just too weak and hungry. He can’t even walk any longer.”
Since Jerry is the general of the barnyard, he feels obliged to solve this dilemma. “I’ve got an idea: let’s dig a big hole under this fence to crawl under, and then we all can stay with Shep so he won’t die from exposure tonight.”
Since Jack Russell Terriers are bred to find fox that live in underground dens, digging comes naturally for Bandit—it’s in his blood. He looks for the best place to dig and finds an area where the natural lay of the land creates a runoff for rain water, and there’s already a rather large hole underneath the fence. It may be the same hole that Shep used years ago to escape from the junkyard.
Bandit begins digging as if he’s just found a new fox hole. As he digs and digs, Dingo begins digging on the other side of the fence. After twenty minutes of constant digging, the hole is finally large enough for each big dog to crawl through. “Spot on,” Dingo says to Bandit.
Just as they finish digging the hole, Miss Belva finally shows up after remembering her mission to help rescue Shep. She knows she’s late from her coon hunt, so she tries to make light of her delay by asking Jerry, “Did you enjoy your swim, General?” asks Miss Belva as she looks at the big wet yella dog.
“Miss Belvedere, what took you so long?” he asks with a frown on his face noticing her legs are caked with mud. She knows she’s in trouble since the only time Jerry calls her by her proper name is when he’s mad at her. “We’ve been waiting for you for a long time—did you get stuck in the mud?”
“Well, I kinda got side-tracked by a coon,” she says apologetically.
“Yes, we all heard,” he replies with a stern voice. “You woke up the whole neighborhood, and you might have blown our cover if Shep’s owner heard you.”
Miss Belva hasn’t thought of that possible danger and realizes her negligence might cost them the mission to save Shep. “I’m sorry, I just got a fresh scent and couldn’t resist. After all, y’all know I’m a beagle—it’s in my blood,” as she bats her eyelids at Jerry, hoping he wouldn’t be mad any longer.
“You may have already jeopardized this mission, Miss Belva. We’ll talk about this later, but please realize that every moment counts from now on. You must obey my orders or else just go back home,” he said directly. “This mission is not about you actin’ the fool about your instincts; it’s about sticking to the mission to save Shep. It’s about duty, Miss Belva.”
Miss Belva has rarely seen Jerry so mad at her, and she realizes she has to obey him and hopefully make up for her wayward trek. “I know, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself,” she mumbles, rather embarrassed.
“If we’re gonna succeed on this mission, you must control yourself because it will take the combined talents of all of us. If we pull together, maybe we can save Shep and save our own hides. This isn’t a game we’re playing, Miss Belva. It’s a matter of life or death.”
“Yes, Sir,” she replies. “You can count on me from now on.”
Being properly humbled and with her tail between her legs, Miss Belva follows Jerry, Dingo and Bandit through the hole in the fence to find Shep. Then they quietly and cautiously run through the junkyard to Shep to keep him warm until they can figure out the next step in their plan of rescue.
Shep is excited to see Bandit again with his other friends. “G’ day, mate, I’m Dingo,” he says as he surveys the situation. “You’re one woofer who looks a tad wonky, but no worries, we’re here to rescue you.” Shep has no idea what Dingo just told him, but he knows Dingo is there to help. Dingo then walks around Shep’s area, posting himself as a sentry to alert the troops to any danger if ol’ Clem comes out of the house.
“I recognize the big yella dog, but I’ve not been introduced to this sweet beagle with those pretty eyes,” says Shep. Miss Belva enjoys the compliment since she’s always been treated as a Southern belle by her family. “You must be the one I hear baying from across the lake.”
“Yes, that’s me, and the pleasure is all mine, but I do declare we need to get you out of here now,” she replies.
Shep remembers Jerry from years ago when he was young and roamed on his travels around the lake. And Shep recalls when he’d often seen Jerry jogging with his master, wishing he could do the same. This isn’t the first time their paths have crossed, but it might be the last if they don’t rescue him immediately from a sure death in this junkyard.
“You’ve changed a lot,” Jerry says. He remembers a classic German Shepard with a glowing coat of a beautiful black saddle over his strong shoulders. Now he sees a mangy junkyard dog that is sick and skinny. It makes him angry to see how neglected Shep is now, and he feels guilty that something wasn’t done earlier to help him. If this is what is meant by a “junkyard dog,” Jerry doesn’t want anything to do with it.
As the cold night air descends upon the dogs, Shep begins to shiver badly because the mange infection has removed most of the hair on his back. It is a very cold for a spring night, and frost begins to form, so Bandit, Jerry, and Miss Belva curl up next to ol’ Shep to keep him warm, just as they had done themselves on many cold, three dog nights. Dingo acts as the sentry to keep an eye out for danger, just in case ol’ Clem decides to come looking for trouble.
Shortly, Shep takes a turn for the worse—moaning from hunger pains and asking for food and water, so they know they can’t wait all night until morning to act. His rescuers realize it’s time for a change in tactics if he’s to live. Time is of the essence.
At that very moment, they can hear Jessica whistling across the lake with her familiar call to dinner. Papa Matt taught her to call the dogs with a particular whistle—a long single note that goes up an octave at the end—whenever he wants them to eat or just to come home. They all hear her whistling and calling them by name, but they can’t leave their mission until they’re done.
Miss Belva comes up with the next step in their rescue plan: she begins baying only as she can do—“ah-roo, ah-roo.” Jessica will know where she is when she hears Miss Belva’s distinctive “open throat” bay of the beagle.
“What are you doing?” asks Jerry. “Do you want to tip off ol’ Clem?”
“No, but I do want to alert Jessica. Come on, y’all, let’s call for help,” she replies. “It may be our only hope.”
“I dunno,” Jerry replies. “I only hope you don’t wake him up.”
“But General, we need help and this may be our only chance to call for Jessica since she’s outside looking for us,” she pleads.
“Okay,” Jerry replies. “Dingo, keep an eye out and let me know if he comes out of the house.”
“Abso-bloody-lutely!” Dingo responds.
As Miss Belva continues baying, Bandit joins in the chorus, rather enjoying himself. Shep is too weak to howl, but listens to the dogs sing their doggy blues. All he can do is lie there, hoping help will come soon.
Ever watchful, Dingo sees the porch light come on at the house and calls to his comrades, “Crikey, mates, bite ya bum. There’s the sleeping derro, and he’s as cross as a frog in a sock.”
A big man staggers out onto the porch with a double-barrel shotgun in hand. He turns on a powerful flashlight and yells out, “What’s all that racket about?” Clem is wearing old blue denim coveralls over a stained undershirt. He has a scraggly beard and is groggy and irritable. He’s ready for a fight with the first thing that moves.
The dogs lie low and stay as quiet as they can and hope Clem will go back into his house.
“What’s going on out there? Who’s making all that noise?” he yells out. His flashlight beam scours the junkyard, looking for something to shoot. He’s mad and wants to take his anger out on something.
“Let me handle this,” Bandit tells them. “I’m gonna draw fire away from you and run back to get help.”
“No, don’t run, you might get shot,” Miss Belva pleads.
“But if he finds us all here together we’ll all be goners,” Bandit replies. “It’s better if he thinks I’m the only one, and he can’t shoot me ‘cause I’m too fast.”
Bandit bolts for the old junk cars on the other side of the junkyard to draw attention away from Jerry, Miss Belva and Shep. Dingo continues to act as the sentry and is ready to defend his friends if ol’ Clem comes close.
Suddenly Bandit jumps over old wood piles and runs around the other junk cars into the open to draw the shooter’s attention. With his mostly white coat, Bandit is an easy target in the full moonlight.
As soon as Clem sees Bandit, he takes aim and shoots, spraying buckshot all over one old junker. The other dogs’ eyes widen with fear when they hear the loud noise from the gun and the buckshot ricochet off the metal car. Bandit does not yelp, so they assume he’s still okay. His plan to draw attention away from Shep and his rescuers seems to be working. Bandit hides behind a wood pile after the shot, shaking with fear as he rests for a minute before he darts off again. “I’ve got to get back to the fence and get help,” he says to himself.
Suddenly he bolts from his hiding place twisting and turning through many other junk cars toward the hole under the fence.
Clem’s bright flashlight catches Bandit again, and he fires another shotgun blast at the dog. Bandit cries out in pain—he’s been hit! The rest of the dogs are shaking with fear, hoping the shooter won’t come looking for them and hoping Bandit isn’t hurt too badly.
“That otta teach ‘em to stay outta here,” Clem says to himself as he reloads his shotgun and beams his flashlight over the junkyard, looking for more critters to shoot. He walks around a few junkers, looking for his victim as Bandit hobbles off to hide behind a pile of lumber, trying not to be noticed now.
After the shooting stops, the other dogs remain silent as Dingo keeps an eye on Bandit and an eye on Clem, hoping he will return to his house and not find them.
“Let that be a lesson to ya,” Clem yells. “If you come back here, you can expect more lead from me!” He turns off his flashlight and goes back inside, still muttering, “Those dang ol’ critters are no good for nuthin’,” as he slams the door shut.
Fortunately, Jessica is still outside in the barnyard concerned that her dogs weren’t home at sunset for dinner when they ought to have been there; it’s not like them to be gone, especially after darkness. She continues whistling for them as she’s always done when she feeds them, but still none come. They can hear her whistle but are now too afraid to move.
Back at the ranch Jessica has heard the first gunshot, too. Since she’s heard the old guy shooting before, she doesn’t realize that he is shooting at her dogs. The gunshots have both Callie and Max frightened that the rescuers may now need help themselves.
“Come on, Max, we’ve got to get her attention,” says Callie as she rubs against Jessica’s leg, meowing loudly to be noticed. Max starts barking at Jessica to let her know that she must follow him to the lakeside to help his friends.
Max whimpers as he jumps up on her leg, trying to tell her about the mission to save Shep. He runs a few steps toward the lake, looking back at Jessica, still whimpering. Both animals try their best to entice Jessica toward the lake so she can help in the rescue.
Finally Jessica gets the hint and calls out, “Mom, I’ll be right back. I’m going down to the lake to look for the dogs. Max is with me.”
“Okay, but hurry back. I have the dogs’ dinner chow ready,” Mary Beth replies.
Jessica walks down to the lake with Max and Callie looking for the other dogs when she hears the dogs howling from across the lake, especially Miss Belva’s bay. She knows from the tone that something is wrong: this isn’t the same howlin’ they usually did when they hear an ambulance siren. She keeps whistling hoping the dogs will hear her, but still none come home.
A few moments later she hears the second gunshot and knows something is terribly wrong. She strains to see across the lake, and when the moon emerges from behind a cloud, it reveals a small white dog running toward the lake from the junkyard. “What’s Bandit doing over there?” she asks herself.
To find out what’s happening, Jessica puts Max in the boat. Without considering her own safety, Jessica begins to paddle. “You wait here, Callie,” she tells her finicky cat before paddling across the lake.
“That’s okay by me,” Callie thinks to herself. “You couldn’t get me in a boat for all the catnip in China. I’ll just wait in my catbird seat right here on this tree limb,” as she climbs up to one of her favorite perches overlooking the lake.
Jessica watches as King Luke approaches the boat, fearful he might attack her since she knows he can be very mean when he wants, but he lets her by without trouble, knowing the situation that is unfolding.
Bandit spies Jessica in the boat and he waits for her at the water’s edge, still shaking and panting heavily. When Jessica reaches the far side of the lake, she asks, “What’s going on, Bandit?” She knows something’s wrong—dogs howling, shotgun blasts, and a very scared Jack Russell Terrier. “What are you doing over here and where are the other dogs?” It wasn’t like them to be chasing a wild hare this far from home, especially across the lake in the dark and at dinnertime.
As Bandit jumps for joy seeing his mistress again, Jessica notices the fresh blood on his right rear leg. “Bandit, you’re bleeding!” Some of the buckshot found its mark, but in all the excitement, it didn’t faze Bandit at all. Max sniffs the blood, and begins licking it to help clean his friend’s wound. Like the little soldier he is, Bandit keeps on with his mission to find help to rescue Shep.
“No time for that, Max. The others are with Shep and they need our help now,” Bandit says as he anxiously whines to get Jessica’s attention to follow him back.
Bandit takes off running with Jessica and Max following him until they reach the fence. She sees the hole dug under the fence, and Bandit and Max crawl under it to follow the trail as she climbs over the fence. Max puts his nose to the ground and follows the scent just like his breed has done forever—it’s in his blood, too.
“Follow me,” Max says as he put his nose to the ground following their scent. “I’ll find ‘em.” Max follows this hot trail easily, but like dachshunds are prone to do, as he sniffs the ground, he barks the entire way, much to the dismay of Bandit.
“Be quiet!” Bandit warns Max. “There’s a crazy ol’ man in there with a shotgun.” Max looks at Bandit’s bloody leg and realizes this isn’t a game; he’s dead serious about this adventure. “Do you want us all to get shot?” The last thing Bandit wants is to be detected and shot again.
Max calms down, and the two slowly sneak through the maze of junk cars, old appliances, piles of discarded lumber and trash. Jessica follows Max and Bandit through the junkyard to find Shep surrounded by her other dogs.
After hearing the shotgun blasts, Jessica is scared, too, knowing full well she may be risking her own life. Although she’s never met Shep’s owner, her dad has told her the man is a very strange hermit, and she needs to stay away from him. He has no family and no job; to his neighbors he and his junkyard are considered a blight on their beautiful lake.
Jessica remembers when Shep was a young dog who occasionally visited her when he roamed. But now she’s shocked to see his pitiful condition—he certainly isn’t the beautiful Shepard she remembers from just a few years before.
Miss Belva and Jerry are happy to see Jessica as they jump for joy knowing help is here. Jerry wags his tail so hard that it sounds like a drum beating when it hits the metal door of one junker nearby. Max feels so proud of himself for finding them with his little tail just awaggin’ with pride, especially in front of the general himself.
“We’re here to rescue you,” Max says. Bandit, Jerry and Miss Belva just smile at him, knowing they are the real rescuers.
“Thanks for the help, little guy, but we’re not out of trouble yet if Shep’s owner hears us again,” Jerry whispers, “so keep it quiet.”
Jessica knows Shep needs to be removed from the junkyard, but she has to free him from the chain around his neck before she can get him back to her boat. “You poor dog. You look terrible,” she says when she sees his mange and emaciated condition. She looks around at the filth in the junkyard and thinks for a moment about the danger she may be in too. The dogs can sense her fear, and they watch her every move.
“We’ve got to get this chain off you. I’ll try not to hurt you, but I need to get this off so we can get out of here.” Shep instinctively knows Jessica’s trying to help him, so he doesn’t resist.
She first tries to gently pull it over his head, but the chain is too tight, so the only solution is to dig up the pole. She looks around for a shovel or something to loosen the dirt—any old piece of metal will do. In that old junkyard, there ought to be something she thinks to herself, and finally she finds an old piece of metal near a junk car to use.
Once she begins digging around the base of the pole, Bandit understands what she’s doing and joins in, spraying out dirt between his legs. “Good dog, Bandit. Keep diggin’,” Jessica urges in a low voice. She continues to look around and wants this job to be over so they can get out of this place. Miss Belva and Max also begin to dig, clawing at the dirt as fast as they can.
Jerry lies back down to keep Shep warm as the others work to free him. He isn’t a digger like those hunting dogs, but he’s a sympathetic dog who knows how to help Shep by keeping him warm as Dingo keeps his vigil as lookout just in case ol’ Clem reappears.
Jessica remembers what her Papa Matt often said when they did repetitive work in the yard like pulling weeds or raking leaves, “Little plus often makes much.” She didn’t appreciate his advice until now when she has to dig quickly to free this sick dog.
“Come on, Bandit,” she whispers. “Dig, Miss Belva. Good dog Max, good dogs dig.” She never thought she’d encourage them to dig holes because when they dig holes in her back yard, she is the one who has to fill them in again.
“Little plus often makes much, little plus often makes much,” she chants to encourage the dogs to dig faster.
Bandit digs like he’s after a fox in a den with his snout in the hole as he pushes the dirt with his front paws between his rear legs. Miss Belva digs by tossing the dirt to the side of her rather than underneath her—the feminine way to dig, of course. Little Max is having the most fun of all, digging like he’s after a badger. His nose is covered with dirt as he digs with all four paws; for his little size, he certainly is one big digging machine!
Jessica begins working the pole loose by shoving it back and forth until the dogs have dug down about a foot. She works harder than she has in a long time to free Shep, and he appreciates her help by waggin’ his tail as he lies with his tail thumping on the ground.
“Finally!” she says. At last the pole is loosened enough for her to pull it out of the ground, and she slips the chain off the bottom of the pole, freeing Shep from his years of imprisonment. She cautiously glances around, fearing the activity will alert the old man.
Just as she fears, the porch light comes on, and Shep’s owner staggers out with his shotgun and flashlight.
“Oh, no,” Jessica whispers and draws in a breath. She kneels behind a junker, fearing for her life if the gunman decides to start shooting again. As a 12-year old, she’s never been in such danger, even when working the cattle on horseback. Although she’s keeping a stiff upper lip, she’s scared to the bone now.
“Who’s making that dang noise again?” Clem yells into the darkness. Sometimes raccoons or ‘possums make a racket when they get into the garbage, and he likes shooting them too, evident by the many coon skins he has tacked on his porch.
Hearing Clem yell makes Jessica and the dogs freeze with fright. “Shh…” she whispers to them. She can see the shotgun in his hand and knows he’s mean enough to use it.
Although Jessica wants to rescue Shep, she’s having second thoughts about this adventure. Now she wishes she had told her mother what was happening, but it’s too late for that. At this instant she has to figure out how to help Shep and how to help herself and her dogs. It never occurs to her cut bait and run, leaving Shep alone to suffer.
Bandit looks at Jerry and knows something has to be done if they’re to escape. “General,” Bandit says, “I’d like permission to draw his fire again so you all can escape.”
“Are you sure, Bandit? Can you run with that wound in your leg?” Jerry asks in his military voice.
“It’s only a superficial skin wound,” he replies. Actually, the wound is much worse than a graze, but Bandit would never back down from a good fight.
“What do you have in mind, Sergeant?”
“I’ll create a diversionary tactic by quickly zigzagging through this junkyard soothe old man will see me but won’t ever be able to hit me with that buckshot. Once I have his attention focused on the other side of the yard, y’all can run to the hole in the fence.”
“Be careful, Bandit, you know he’s already hit you once.”
Bandit looks at Jerry with a sneer, knowing he’s already been shot. “You don’t have to remind me, sir. Besides, it was a lucky shot.”
“Just rub a little mud in the wound, mate, that’ll stop the bleeding,” Dingo tells him, making light of what soldiers might do when wounded during battle.
“If you make it, we’ll meet you at the boat.” Jerry says. “Good luck, Bandit.”
Suddenly Bandit takes off running across the junkyard with a noticeable limp, directly into view of the man on the porch. Bandit makes sure he’s noticed by bumping into old metal junk, making a lot of noise to draw attention.
“Why does he risk his life for a dog he doesn’t even know?” Miss Belva asks.
“Because he cares,” Jerry replies. “Bandit may not be the sweetest dog in our family or the prettiest like you, but he does love us and wants to help anyway he can.”
Miss Belva nods in agreement. Although Bandit often seems a bit crude and often too feisty for her, she understands now that he’s risking his life to save another dog and the rescuers, too. Her admiration for Bandit grows by leaps and bounds when she sees him continuing to battle despite being wounded. She’s proud to call him her friend.
The light beam from Clem’s flashlight soon finds its target, a nearly white dog running through the yard. “Bang!” rings out one barrel of buckshot. The buckshot makes a terrible noise bouncing off the metal junk, clanking like hail on a metal roof in a bad storm, and the smell of gunpowder fills the air.
Jessica cringes and the other dogs stay quiet and lay low, hearing the gun blast and the pellets ricocheting everywhere, hoping Bandit is okay as he runs through the lot as a decoy.
Another shotgun blast rings out from the porch. Bandit cries out in pain with a big yelp—the buckshot has grazed his stomach, and he goes down in the yard, rolling over in pain until he comes to a halt, lying still on his side in a small pool of blood. Jessica and the dogs see Bandit go down, thinking he’s been fatally hit this time.
The old man looks quite pleased with his marksmanship. “That’ll teach ‘em,” Clem mutters to himself as he walks over to take a look at his kill and to see what type of varmint it is.
Bandit lies dead still like a ‘possum as Clem stands over him. The old man has never seen any critter like this before with a mask over his face and a nearly white coat. He isn’t sure if it’s a raccoon or a dog. He uses his shotgun to poke at his victim to see if it’s dead or alive. Bandit just lies still, not moving or flinching.
As Clem reaches down with his hand to the small critter to give it a better look, suddenly Bandit bites Clem’s right hand, making him drop his shotgun and yell out in pain!
“Why, you good for nuthin’!” As Clem reaches for his shotgun with his left hand, Bandit lunges again at him, jumping high up in the air only as a Jack Russell Terrier can do, surprising the old man as he bites Clem on the nose!
“Dagumitt!” the Clem cries out as he grabs his nose. Now both his right hand and nose are bleeding as he reaches again for his shotgun. Bandit turns and limps away very slowly as the shooter aims and pulls the trigger. Instead of a blast, the hammer on the shotgun only clicks since both barrels are empty, luckily for Bandit who would have been a dead dog if the gun had been loaded.
Clem reaches into his pocket for more gunshot cartridges, but before he can reload and get off another shot, Dingo runs away from his sentry position with his teeth bared and the hair on his neck bristled ready for a fight, just as he would if a coyote were running after his cattle herd. Just as he nips at the legs of cattle, Dingo bites Clem in the back of his leg, hoping to slow him down.
“Holy doley! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size, ratbag?” Dingo says as he jumps at Clem and locks his strong jaws onto his leg, making Clem drop his shotgun again.
“Run for it, Bandit,” Dingo yells through his teeth as Bandit limps through the junkyard to make his getaway. “Let me give this drongo the what for.” As Dingo packs a wallop to Clem, he notices Clem’s so ugly he would scare a dog out of a butcher shop.
When she hears the old man screaming out in pain, Jessica gathers her courage, and she and the dogs know this distraction is the chance they need to make their escape. They only have a few minutes at the most while Clem is fighting with Dingo.
Jessica tries to pick up ol’ Shep, but his dead weight is just too heavy for her. Her only alternative is to drag him by the chain, but that will hurt his neck, so she wraps the chain around his belly so all the pressure will not be only on his neck. Knowing she needs help, she ties the loose end of the chain to Jerry’s collar to help pull Shep. “Come here, Jerry, and help me pull him,” she whispers as she ties the chain to his collar.
She find an old rope nearby and puts it around Shep’s belly then ties each end to Miss Belva’s and Max’s collars. “Pull, dogs, pull,” she says. Since they’ll all played tug-a-war with Jessica in the barnyard, they know exactly what she wants them to do now.
He’s a big retriever, and he pulls unlike ever before in his life. He’s bound and determined to get Shep out of that old junkyard, just as the two other dogs dig in their paws to pull Shep.
“Come on, dogs, pull, pull, pull. Good dogs pull,” Jessica says repeatedly to urge them on.
They finally drag Shep back to the hole in the fence. He’s so heavy and Jessica knows she can’t lift him over the tall fence, so she slips him into the hole, climbs over the fence herself, and then pulls him out on the other side. She and the dogs are able to drag him to her boat in order to take him back across the lake to her home. The other dogs watch their mistress helping Shep and are proud to call her their own. She has no reason to help him other than for her love of dogs—it’s in her blood, too.
In the meantime, Bandit runs behind an old junker to hide. Dingo keeps one eye on Clem as he fights with him and the other eye on Jessica and his friends pulling Shep to the hole in the fence. The longer Dingo fights with Clem, the more time Jessica has to rescue ol’ Shep. When he sees Jessica near the fence, Dingo finally lets go of Clem’s leg and runs for the fence, too.
“Sorry, mate, but it’s time to rack off!” Dingo says as he runs away.
Clem reloads his shotgun and picks up his flashlight, feeling madder than a hornet, and is looking for something to shoot. He follows Dingo’s path, but he can’t keep pace with him.
Bandit can see Clem with his flashlight getting closer and closer to his hideout. He knows he has to wait until the last moment before he makes a break for his escape. He can see the flashlight scouring the area in search of him and Dingo, so he runs to the opposite side of the junkyard from where Jessica is. The shooter catches a glimpse of Bandit’s white coat and shoots again. Buckshot bounces off the junk, missing Bandit but scaring Jessica and the other dogs. They don’t know if the shot is aimed at them, Dingo, or Bandit.
Bandit finally sees Jessica jump the fence and the dogs make their escape through the pine trees toward the boat. Suddenly he jumps up and makes a dash toward the hole, limping on his wounded leg and gritting his teeth in pain. Bandit rounds one junk car through the maze of old debris when suddenly the hunter finds Bandit in his cross-hairs once again and shoots. “Bang!” rings out the shotgun, this time hitting its mark as Bandit goes down with a big yelp crying out in the night air.
Jessica and the dogs hear Bandit’s yelp, wondering if he is dead or alive as they continue their escape. “I don’t want to leave him! He could be suffering, but I know we’ve got to get out of there before we’re shot, too,” Jessica tells the others.
Dingo returns to the boat covered with dirt and blood. “I gave that old bloke a taste of his own medicine,” Dingo tells them, rather cheesed off. “That old guy has a few Kangaroos loose in the top paddock. He was ready to shoot Bandit point blank, so I grabbed hold of his leg until Bandit could make his escape. That outta put a damper on his plans.”
“But where is Bandit?” Miss Belva asks. “We heard another shot.”
“I dunno. I thought he would be back here by now with his mates,” Dingo explains.
Jessica tells Max and Miss Belva to jump into the boat with her and Shep while Jerry stays on shore, waiting for Bandit. She knows that Bandit is still in the junkyard somewhere, but she didn’t know if he is dead or alive. Regretfully, she decides to push off and paddle back to the other side of the lake before they are spotted by Clem.
Jerry instructs the dogs, “Y’all go ahead. I’ll wait here for Bandit.” Like good Marines who never leave without their dead or wounded, Jerry won’t leave his best sergeant and friend lying wounded or dead in that junkyard.
“Y’all get Shep to safety, but I’m going back to help Bandit,” the General tells Max and Miss Belva. His innate search and rescue nature compels Jerry to help his lost and injured comrade in arms.
“Dingo, you make sure they get home safely.”
“Fair dinkum, mate,” Dingo says as he jumps into the water, taking the bowline in his mouth to pull the boat to the other shore as Jessica paddles with all of her might.
King Luke is still monitoring the lake and watches Jessica and her crew make paddle and pull the boat. He escorts the boat to the other side of the lake then continues his patrol of the area knowing that Jerry and Bandit still need to return. Curious by nature, swans are attracted to people and noise, and this adventure with gunshots, whistling, yelping is quite entertaining for Luke.
Belva can see Jerry and barks, “Be careful, Jerry!” as he runs on the trail through the pine forest. She knows Golden Retrievers are man’s best friend because of their rescue and guide dog nature, but now she knows Jerry is a dog’s best friend too. She only hopes that he isn’t loyal to a fault.
From her side of the lake, Jessica sees Jerry running back toward the fence, but she knows she has to get help as soon as possible. She wonders what to do with Shep since he’s cold, shivering, and obviously very weak and sick. She can’t drag him all the way to her yard, so she runs up to her house, rushes in and tells her dad and mom, “Y’all have to come help us. Something’s really wrong with the German Sheppard who lives across the lake. And Bandit’s been shot!”
“Jessica, where have you been?” her mother asks. “You’re not supposed to be on the lake at night, anyway.”
“It’s a long story, Mom. I’ll tell you about it later, but right now we need to help the dogs.”
They all run out of the house down to the lake to see a pitiful dog lying in the bottom of the boat. Papa Matt knew ol’ Shep from years ago when he went jogging around the lake early in the mornings. He also knew something wasn’t right about Shep’s owner—not only in the way he lived in a junkyard, but something else wasn’t quite normal about that man—he was very unfriendly and a bad neighbor with his junkyard clutter. Matt isn’t all that surprised when he sees how disabled and sickly the dog is now. And he isn’t surprised by the shooting, either.
“Let’s get him some food and water first, and then take him to the vet immediately. If he has some infection like mange or parvo, we need to find out before he infects our dogs. This ol’ dog has a lot of problems,” he says as he gently pats Shep on this head. All their dogs see his kindness for this poor ol’ dog and are thrilled Shep will finally get some help.
“And Bandit’s gonna need some help too, if he’s still alive. He’s been shot by that crazy ol’ man,” Jessica says with tears swelling in her eyes. “I think Jerry went back to help him. He ran back to the junkyard instead of swimming back here with us. I didn’t know it was going to turn into this big mess!”
“You mean that old hermit is shootin’ at my dogs? Jessica, you know you should’ve come back to the house and asked me to go with you!” Papa Matt yells. He knows the junkyard fellow is strange, but shooting at his pets is another story. He notices that Dingo’s head is covered with dirt and blood, and he’s been in a good fight with something. “Did you get a piece of him, Dingo?” he asks as he pats Dingo on his head to clean the dirt off. Dingo wags his tail, showing his delight about the fray with ol’ Clem.
“He sure did,” Jessica said with pride. “If it weren’t for Dingo and Bandit, we couldn’t have made our escape.”
When Jerry gets back to the fence, he can see Clem leaving in his old pickup truck with its headlights flashing through the junkyard as he turns around then heads down the old dirt driveway. He knows it’s safe to look for his lost buddy.
Jerry calls out with his familiar low, quiet barking, “Ruff, ruff, ruff,” calling to Bandit and to let him know the coast is clear of danger. There is no response at first, and Jerry believes that Bandit may be dead. He barks again, hoping for a return call, but still, no response comes from his friend.
As retrievers do, Jerry puts his nose to the ground and begins searching for Bandit’s scent, but it’s difficult to follow since Bandit’s trail zigzags through the junkyard, and his scent is nearly all over the place. Still, Jerry keeps looking for his friend under lumber piles, behind old junk cars and in every nook and cranny he can find.
He barks again in hopes of hearing a response from Bandit. Finally he hears a slight whimper from behind a pile of wood. Jerry is excited to hear him, and he finally finds Bandit lying in a hideout wedged between an old car and a large rock, licking his wounds from buckshot in his rear end, stomach, and right rear leg.
“You look like you’re between a rock and a hard place,” Jerry tells him lightheartedly. Without a doubt, Bandit is in trouble, wounded and immobile. Being the fighter that he is, he doesn’t seem to be bothered, but he certainly isn’t his normal, feisty self.
“Reporting for de-briefing, sir,” he says to Jerry, ever-ready to remain in military character despite his obvious wounds.
“Forget about that for now, Bandit. Let’s retreat before that madman comes back. Can you walk?”
“I don’t think so.” Obviously Bandit is in a lot of pain and his backside is covered with blood. He tries to stand up, but his hind legs won’t support his weight. The only solution for Jerry is to rely upon his retriever instincts and lift Bandit up by his harness collar and take him back just as he would retrieve a duck.
“Let me help you,” Jerry says as he picks Bandit up by his harness. Although Bandit weighs more than any duck Jerry has retrieved, Jerry is strong and carries him to the fence where he puts Bandit down so he can use his front legs to crawl under the fence. Once on the other side, Jerry again picks up Bandit and carries him down the trail to the lake. It’s a heavy load even for this big retriever, but it’s a task worth bearing for Jerry to save his friend from bleeding to death.
When they get back to the shoreline, Jerry knows Bandit can’t make the long walk around the lake edge as he did before, so he asks him, “Do you think you can swim across the lake.”
“But, Jerry, I’m not a water dog like you,” he says, rather tentative about swimming the entire breadth of the lake even when he isn’t wounded. “I don’t think I can make it.”
“Just get on my back, hang onto my collar and I’ll get you there safely,” Jerry tells him with authority as he lies down so Bandit can crawl on his back, just as he’s done many times on cold nights to stay warm. Bandit obeys his order and drags himself by his two front paws onto Jerry’s back and grabs hold of the collar with his mouth as Jerry begins to swim away from the shore and danger.
As Jerry swims home with Bandit on his back, suddenly a big water moccasin emerges from lying on a log along the grassy shore and swims directly for his prey—the two dogs. With the scent of blood in the water, this viper is ready to find the injured victim. With his head held about six inches above the water like a periscope, this aggressive 5-foot long viper is ready to strike at Jerry and Bandit until Luke appears out of the darkness, hissing at the snake and snorting to warn the dogs.
“Jerry, watch out. There’s a moccasin approaching from your starboard side,” Luke warns.
Jerry and Bandit look to their right to see Vinnie the Viper swimming directly at them with its mouth opened, fangs bared. Jerry paddles as fast as he can, but the snake is gaining on them. Bandit sees the viper is ready to strike, so he moves his body down between Jerry and the viper. The viper lunges at the pair and bites Bandit on the shoulder.
“I’ve been hit,” Bandit cries out to Jerry. The fangs cut into his muscle, causing incredible pain as the venom releases. Bandit can’t fight back for fear of losing his grip on Jerry’s collar. Like a true warrior, Bandit can only endure the pain and hope they can make it back before he strikes again.
“Hang on, we’re almost to the shoreline,” Jerry replies as he paddles as fast as he can.
Jessica, her parents, and the dogs hear Luke’s shrill trumpeting and know there must be a battle on the lake. Luke finally comes between the dogs and the snake, hissing and spreading his wings outward to block Vinnie’s view of the two dogs. The viper continues swimming toward the dogs, though, so Luke lashes out with his powerful wing and snaps him in the face. The pit viper strikes back at Luke but only gets a mouthful of feathers—just one drop of its venom will kill Luke within minutes.
“So, you want to play rough, Vinnie?” Luke snorts.
“Bring it on,” Vinnie hisses, coiling again for another strike. “It’ssss time we sssssettle who’sssss the king of thissss lake, once and for all.”
Just as Vinnie lunges to strike again, Luke snaps his wing like a powerful karate chop and hits Vinnie the Viper squarely on the side of his head. With his large feet and sharp toenails, Luke grabs the snake and holds him underwater. The viper squirms free and escapes Luke’s clutches. He’s ready to resume the battle.
Vinnie coils to strike back at Luke and, while in a mid-air lunge toward the swan, Luke unleashes another karate chop to Vinnie’s head, this time knocking him unconscious. With his beak, Luke picks up the viper and tosses it by slinging his long neck like a bullwhip and throws the water moccasin onto the shore. In only a few seconds, Luke ends the threat by this pit viper.
“That otta take care of him,” King Luke says triumphantly as he rises up from the water with his head held high by paddling his feet, reaching for the sky with his beak, and his wings stretched to the fullest—a span of seven feet—in a grand display of victory. No one enters Luke’s territory without his permission!
“You’re safe now, general. You won’t be having any more trouble from that viper.”
“Thanks, Luke, you’re still the king,” Jerry answers as he continues to paddle. Luke snorts again as he swims back to his pen’s nest, wagging his tail feathers back and forth, ever vigilant for the next intruder.
When Jerry and Bandit reach the other side, they’re too tired to even shake off the cold lake water. Bandit’s legs have become more swollen and numb; he certainly can’t walk. His internal bleeding from the gunshot to his belly is worsening, and the venom from Vinnie the Viper is settling into his system.
Jerry knows something’s terribly wrong with Bandit since he’s never seen him in this much pain. Bandit struggles to stand and walk, but he falls down repeatedly. Finally, Bandit lies down as if to accept his fate.
“General, I can’t be like this,” Bandit says, frightened by his inability to walk. “I’ve got to get back to guard the henhouse. I saw the Red Fox on the trail. I gotta get back.” Duty-bound to protect the henhouse, Bandit’s frustrated by his injuries.
“Don’t worry about the henhouse now,” Jerry tells him. “I’ll guard it for you until you get well.” Bandit is struggling to breathe slow and labored breaths.
“Jerry, you gotta help me,” Bandit whispers, feeling weaker by the moment. “I don’t think I can make it anymore.”
“Sure you can, sergeant. I’ll get you up to the ranch house and you’ll be okay once Papa Matt gets you to the vet.”
“I don’t think so, sir. This may be the end of the line for me. I can’t feel my legs anymore and I’m getting very sleepy.” Bandit can feel his loss of vitality as the poison moves into this body.
Jerry knows Bandit is on his last leg. He gently licks the water off Bandit’s face as he thinks of losing his best friend.
“Thanks for taking the bullet for me,” Jerry says about the snake bite.
“I was doing my duty, sir. I only hope Shep will be okay.”
“He will, thanks to you.” Jerry tells him, possibly for the last time. “You’re the best sergeant and the best friend I’ve ever had. Your bravery will be your legacy. I love you, Bandit.”
“I love you, too,” Bandit says as he falls into unconsciousness.
Jerry again picks Bandit up by his harness and carries him up to the ranch house. Still a little frightened from the ordeal, his labored walk to the barnyard resembles an old, wounded warrior returning from a hard-fought battle.
Meeting halfway between the house and the lake, the other dogs are overjoyed to see Jerry alive, but they are stunned to see a lifeless Bandit. Papa Matt had seen Jerry retrieve ducks, but he’s never seen a dog retrieve another dog.
“Good dog, Jerry,” Papa Matt praised him as he patted him on his head, “What happened to Bandit?”
Jessica takes Bandit from Jerry and begins crying when she sees his bloody shotgun wounds. Mary Beth consoles Jessica as she tries to clean the blood off his white coat. “I think he’s still breathing,” she says as she feels his heartbeat with her hand.
Jessica sits on grass with Bandit and cries, and all the Wellston dog clan sits at her feet and watch with tears in their eyes too. Never have they had such a sad experience together as a family.
“You poor thing,” Jessica says with tears in her eyes as she holds him close. The other dogs encircle Jessica as they watch her cry, wondering how they might comfort her.
“Mom, please see about Shep; we have to get him some water and a little bit of food. He’s bad off, too.” Jessica takes Bandit to the house to find an old blanket to wrap him in.
“What happened to Bandit?” Miss Belva whispers to Jerry. She still feels guilty for her wild coon chase during the Great Rescue, wondering if she had not strayed, Bandit might still be alive.
The other dogs can see the blood on his backside, still wondering what happened to him. They heard the gunshots and the commotion on the lake by Luke, but had no idea about the viper.
“The viper bit him in the shoulder,” Jerry replies with a lump in his throat. “He was badly wounded by the gunshots, but he was still alive when we started paddling back. If it hadn’t been for Vinnie the Viper, he would have made it.”
“I don’t understand you dogs,” Callie quips. “You act like it’s just a game you’ve been playing.” She turns around in a show of contempt and frustration, and she walks away with her tail flicking. Actually, Callie is heartbroken since Bandit is a good friend, even if he is a stinky dog. She can’t imagine life on the ranch without a Jack Russell Terrier.
All the dogs look at her in disbelief. Although this rescue started out on a playful note, it certainly has ended on a tragic one. “Callie, it wasn’t a game,” Jerry replies. “We’re all sorry about Bandit, but he did what he’s bred to do and fought gamely like the Jack Russell Terrier that he is. Instead of being mad, let’s be proud of him doing his duty.”
Callie understands now that Bandit’s injury was all in the line of duty, but it still doesn’t overcome her grief for possibly losing a dear friend, even if he is a dog.
“Let’s just say that Bandit was willing to give his life so the mission would succeed,” Jerry explains. “He didn’t have to go back after being shot the first time, but he did it to save the mission. And he saved my life too.”
All the dogs are stunned by the tragedy. Jerry’s kind words about Bandit’s heroism may soften the blow, but Bandit’s demise has left them all in a state of shock.
“Get those dogs in the truck quickly,” Matt tells Jessica. Mary Beth has already fed and watered Shep before Papa Matt drives them to the local vet who they’ve used for years with their own dogs and ranch animals. All the dogs jump into the truck bed except for Max who stays home. “I just phoned the vet to tell him you’re coming. He was actually there tending to some other emergency,” Mary Beth explains.
Jessica sits in the cab holding Bandit, who lies wrapped in a blanket. Mary Beth gives Bandit a kiss on the head before they leave to the vet’s office. “You’re a brave little dog, Bandit.”
She then places her hand on Jessica, leans into the truck cab and gives Jessica a kiss on the cheek, saying, “I would tell you to be brave, but you’ve already shown all of us your courage tonight. Even though you just about scared the daylights out of me, I’m proud of you more than you’ll ever know.”
Jessica takes a deep breath to gather her thoughts, and then turns toward her mother. “No, Mom. It wasn’t me. Bandit’s the real hero.”
As the truck heads to the vet’s office, Jessica is mad as well as sad. After a long silence driving down the dirt country road, she cries out to her dad, “Life’s not fair.”
“Who ever told you life is supposed to be fair?” he asks her, knowing that’s an unrealistic principle to live by.
“I mean one moment we’re playing in the barnyard, then a few hours later we’re rushing to the vet,” she explains.
“I understand your anger, Jessica, but I don’t want you to be mad when it’s just one of many tough times you’ll face in your life. Everything that’s born will eventually die, especially if you live out in the country. What’s really important is how you react to it.”
Jessica still strokes Bandit’s head as he lies unconscious in her lap. His breathing is getting slower and fainter as the snake’s venom reaches his heart. Bandit suddenly raises his head, opens his eyes, and gives Jessica a lick on her hand, much to her surprise.
Matt sees Bandit lick Jessica, knowing it’s his final farewell to his mistress.
Then Bandit rests his head on her lap, lets out one last gasp, and closes his eyes for the last time. Jessica feels his entire body go limp as his life slips away.
“I think he’s gone,” she whispers. He glances at her and sees the sorrow on her face. In her entire life, he’s never seen her so sad.
She looks at her father with tears swelling in her eyes, not wanting to break down but unable to hold back her tears, she asks, “Do you think all dogs go to Heaven?”
“Only the nice ones like Bandit,” he replies as he pats her on her head and strokes her neck. “At least he’s out of pain now,” Papa Matt says, biting his lip to hold back his own tears.
“Just remember what my granddaddy once said, ‘Tough times never last, but tough people do,’ and I know you’re one tough girl, Jessica. You’ve proven that tonight.”
Jessica smiles at the compliment from her dad, but deep inside, her heart is broken unlike ever before in her life.
“But it wasn’t me; it was Bandit,” she says as she continues to pet Bandit’s head for the last time. “I was scared to death; he was the brave one.” She breaks down and begins to cry.
Papa Matt knows this is another life lesson for Jessica to learn. More than winning a game or getting good grades in school, dangerous adventures like this are the flames that harden the mettle of one’s character, so he wants Jessica to understand the real importance of this Great Rescue as they drive along the dark road.
“Jessica, courage isn’t feeling free from fear; courage is facing the fears you feel. When that old guy starting shooting at you, I’m sure all of you were terrified, but the purpose of your mission kept you going. Something deep inside motivated you to risk your own life to save another. That’s what I’m most proud of—not that you saved an old dog, but that you faced fear and conquered it. And believe me, there will be plenty more fears to face in your life. Just consider this a stepping stone to maturity.”
Jessica understands what her father is telling her and she appreciates his kind words, but it still doesn’t take away the pain of Bandit’s passing. She continues to stroke his head as they drive to the vet’s office and thinks of the many pleasant things from the past about Bandit—playing tug-a-war, play-fighting with the other dogs, chasing critters in the barnyard, and just being the feisty terrier that he was—good memories of a good dog that she’ll never forget. She tries to smile, but it’s too hard, so she lets the tears stream down her cheeks.
Dr. Hodges is both a large and small animal veterinarian whose office was only a few miles from the ranch. His regular office hours were long over, so Mary Beth phoned ahead telling him of the emergency. They drive up in their pickup truck to meet Dr. Hodges in his parking lot as he’s almost ready to go home.
“Good, I’m glad you’re still here,” Matt tells Dr. Hodges as they shake hands. “What’s keeping you here so late?”
“Just helping to whelp a litter of puppies,” the vet answers. “What brings you here this time of the night? Mary Beth said you had an emergency.”
“Come take a look,” Matt says, motioning to his pickup truck bed.
When he sees Shep in the back of Matt’s truck, he’s stunned and asks, “What happened to this ol’ guy? He looks like he’s on his last leg.”
“I think he may be,” Matt answers, “and this one has already passed on, I’m afraid,” motioning to the bundle in Jessica’s lap.
“Take a look at our Jack Russell,” Matt says. “It looks like he caught up with the wrong end of a shotgun.” His lifeless body is wrapped in a blanket with a noticeable blood stain.
“I’m sorry for y’all,” says the kind-hearted vet. Dr. Hodges knew there was more here than meets the eye as he inspects the buckshot wounds in Bandit’s rear end, leg, and stomach. He also notices red and swollen small holes on Bandit’s shoulder, guessing they’re from a snake bite.
“Looks like this little fighter bit off more than he could chew between the gunshots and this snake bite,” Dr. Hodges tells the mourning Wellston family. “Too bad we’ll never learn the whole story about what happened.” Neither Jessica nor Matt knew that Bandit had been bitten by a snake, but it explains why he died unexpectedly since the gunshot wounds didn’t appear life-threatening.
As he examines Shep, he realizes this ol’ dog is not only loaded with fleas and ticks, but has mange, a terribly contagious skin disease. “He’s got it bad, and he probably has intestinal parasites and heart worms from the look in his eyes. This ol’ guy is in bad shape, that’s for sure. Let’s get ’em into my office.”
He also notes the scars on Shep’s snout and head, wondering what other abuse this dog has endured. “Why does he have a chain around his neck?”
“I don’t know, but I had a hard time getting it off the pole in the junkyard,” Jessica tells him. The chain had rubbed his neck raw, and the mere thought of chaining a dog to a pole makes Dr. Hodges mad. Since it’s so inhumane, there’s a new law in Georgia to stop illegal dog fight owners from chaining their fighters to poles near each other to encourage meanness.
Jessica looks at Dr. Hodges with tears in her eyes, grieving over Bandit and knowing how bad Shep must feel from the abuse and all his assorted health problems. She can’t imagine her own dogs being so mistreated to cause this many problems. Abuse is not kind to the victim or to those who love animals, even to those who are not their own.
“You know I have to report this abuse to the animal control officer, Sgt. Murphy. I haven’t seen a case this bad in a long, long time,” Dr. Hodges says. “Someone needs to be held responsible for the mistreatment of this dog.”
“The man who did this to him is the same guy who shot Bandit,” Matt says. “Jessica told me the guy across the lake took a few shots at the dogs when they rescued this Shepherd in the junkyard. If he’d known Jessica was in the junkyard too, I could have him arrested for attempted manslaughter.”
“But what about helping him now?” Jessica asks. “He can’t even stand up or walk. We had to drag him to safety.”
“Who helped you with that?” Dr. Hodges asks since ol’ Shep is nearly as big as she is.
“The dogs helped me—Miss Belva, Dingo, and Jerry pulled him with me while Bandit was off fighting the shooter,” she explains. Dr. Hodges and Matt look in disbelief, wondering what actually happened in this rescue.
“Do you really want me to treat him since he’s not your dog?” Dr. Hodges asks. “Plus, it’s gonna be expensive since he has so many problems. Or should I just put him to sleep and end his misery now?”
Jessica flinches when Dr. Hodges suggests euthanasia for Shep. She’s never put any of her own pets to sleep—they all died at home from old age where all her old dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and birds were buried in her back yard pet cemetery—the same place Bandit will now be buried, too. She even buries her goldfish there instead of flushing them down the toilet like most folks do.
It just isn’t in her nature to put any animal to sleep. She was the sort of child that brought home injured animals all the time—baby birds that had fallen out of trees, stray cats, and even box turtles she found in the fields. The only critters she didn’t like were spiders and snakes!
“Can’t we take him to the animal shelter instead?” she asks.
“No, the animal shelter isn’t for sick dogs. Besides, his mange is too infectious, and no one would adopt an old dog like him anyway. Sending him to the shelter is just a matter of time before he’s put down anyway,” explains the vet.
“Most people don’t know that 3 out of 4 animals brought to the shelter never leave. The kill rate is extremely high since there are too many unwanted cats and dogs that are taken to the shelter and terminated after a week, even sooner for those like him who are impaired or sick,” he adds.
Within a few minutes of his call to the Sheriff’s office, Sgt. Murphy comes through the door. “That was quick,” Dr. Hodges says, happy to see his comrade in arms. Sgt. Murphy is a deputy sheriff who also acts as the animal control officer and has seen many cases of abuse in his career from sheer neglect by indifferent families to fighting dogs like Pit Bulls used by underworld gamblers.
“Yeah, I was just around the corner at a police road block when your call came in. What’s the trouble this time?” he asks as his saw ol’ Shep lying on the examination table.
“It looks like a case of abuse,” Dr. Hodges says. “Look at this poor ol’ guy—scars on his head and nose, an open wound around his neck from being chained to a pole, he’s dehydrated, emaciated, has mange and probably heart worms and intestinal parasites too. Jessica here can tell you more since she rescued him.”
“Where did you find him?” Sgt. Murphy asks.
“In that old junkyard just across the lake from where we live,” Jessica replies, “on Blue Heron Lake down near the South Cove.”
“I know exactly who you mean—ol’ Clem the hermit. He’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. I’ve dealt with that guy before a few times when other neighbors complained of him firing off his shotgun. We also think he’s been involved in runnin’ dog fights there in the past. I warned him to take better care of this dog or else I’d write him up for cruelty to animals. Apparently he didn’t take me very seriously by looks of this poor ol’ guy.”
“And this little one took a few buckshot wounds from the same guy,” says Matt.
“You’re gonna arrest him, aren’t you? I even saw him shoot our Jack Russell Terrier,” she says. “He deserves to pay for these hospital bills and spend some time in jail with a chain around his neck too.” Obviously Jessica was mad at anyone who would shoot her Bandit and treat a nice dog like Shep so badly.
“We’ll press charges, you can be sure about that, young lady,” Sgt. Murphy says with a smile on this face. “And you’ll be happy to know that he’s already in custody for a DUI arrest just a few minutes ago out on Hwy. 96 at the road block I was working. He was swerving all over the road, drunk as a skunk. It seems that he’s bleeding pretty bad from some dog bites on his hand, nose, and leg, and was racing to the hospital. I don’t think he’ll enjoy the stitches or the rabies shots they’ll have to give him, that’s for sure.”
Everyone laughs, knowing the irony behind the bites—a little payback for the misery he’s caused everyone else. “Too bad, huh?” Jessica says as she pats Shep on his head. Dingo nods in agreement, knowing he’s left ol’ Clem with a few souvenirs too.
“Do you think it was a case of biting the hand that feeds you for Clem?” Matt says jokingly. “Or should I say biting the hand that didn’t feed him?” Both Sgt. Murphy and Dr. Hodges laugh, knowing the old cliché is probably true in this case.
“He kept telling us that a half-breed white raccoon bit him and a Tasmanian devil dog attacked him. We thought he was just drunk, but from the looks of these two dogs here, he may have been right,” Sgt. Murphy says, looking at Bandit and Dingo.
“Plus, the arresting officers also found a shotgun along with a big stash of cash in his truck, so Clem’s gonna be gone for a long time to lick his wounds. Apparently he kept to himself for bad reasons—to hold dog fights. And if he’s been stashing drugs at this home, the sheriff can confiscate all his property.
“In other words,” Dr. Hodges adds, “his home and entire junkyard can be leveled which means Fox Valley may lose ol’ Clem and all his junkyard stuff. Good riddance to bad news!”
Sgt. Murphy excuses himself from the room to go to his truck to get a chain cutter that he carries to cut locks or chains on gates, or for incidents just like this one. “Let me cut this chain off of his neck,” he says as he clips the chain. “That otta help him feel better.” As he carefully cuts off the heavy chain around Shep’s neck, everyone in the room could feel a sense of relief when it finally fell off. Even Shep seems to sigh in relief from years of bondage.
“This cruelty charge will certainly add fuel to his fire ‘cause Judge Brownlee is a dog lover, and when he gets wind of this case, he’ll throw the book at him.”
“Good, and I hope they throw away the key. But what about Shep? What are we gonna do with him now that his owner is in jail?” asks Jessica.
Jessica’s dad speaks up and tells her, “We either put him down or we spend the money to fix him up. How much do you think it’ll cost, doc?”
“It’s going to take quite a bit of treatment. Why not just put him out of his misery and let his owner spend some time in jail, chained to the door of his cell like she said—that’d be suitable justice, don’t you think, Jessica?” asks Dr. Hodges.
“It might be justice for him, but it won’t be justice for this ol’ dog, that’s for sure,” says Matt. “Let me explain my history with this ol’ guy.”
Jessica’s dad recalled when he had a terrifying encounter with a pack of wild dogs.
“About ten years ago I was joggin’ around the lake on the old Indian trail when I came across a pack of wild dogs. They had killed a deer and were like a pack of wolves devouring it when I ran into them. They were surprised as much as I was by this sudden encounter, and that pack didn’t like it at all. They forgot all about their kill and began circling me with their teeth bared and their snouts snarled. Maybe they thought I was after their kill, but my yellin’ certainly didn’t scare them off one bit.”
Jessica’s shocked listening to her dad’s story, one she’d never heard before.
“One dog in particular that I clearly remember was a big Doberman mix with a bad attitude. He musta been the leader. I tried to scare him off by yellin’ at first, but he wasn’t scared of me at all. I swung at him with the big stick I found and called for help until a big German Shepherd came to my rescue—the same dog now lying on this treatment table.”
“I was surprised by my rescuer and didn’t know where he came from, but was sure glad he showed up. It was the last time I’d seen him up close until now.” He strokes Shep’s head as if to give thanks for his good deed to save him from that dog pack.
“He was much stronger in those days and it took a while, but he finally chased off those wild dogs. He had a big fight with that Doberman, took a few licks and gave out more of the same. I owe him a big favor that I think I’ll pay back now.”
The conversation came to a turning point when an answer was needed: to put Shep to sleep or not. “So, what are we gonna do with him?” asks Dr. Hodges.
“Like I said, I owe this ol’ dog a big favor, so go ahead and fix him up,” Matt tells Dr. Hodges. “You know, my granddaddy once said, ‘Sometimes the value of something far exceeds the cost.’ I think this may be one of those occasions.”
Jessica doesn’t quite know what he means, but she is proud and happy he’s come to that decision. The vet never likes putting pets down, even in the worst cases, but he knows sometimes it’s necessary. Jessica’s glad because she has a big soft spot for all animals—just like her dad.
Shep knows what’s happening and asks Jerry, “How can I thank all these kind people?” as he lies on the table, still too weak to stand.
“Just wag your tail, Shep. That’ll be enough for now.” Shep takes his advice and begins to wag his tail on the table. “Maybe when you’re stronger after a good night’s sleep, you can even give them a wet lick of appreciation.”
Dr. Hodges notices ol’ Shep trying to be happy despite his emaciated health. Like many injured animals he cares for, Dr. Hodges recognizes the effort Shep shows for his appreciation of their help. Even though dogs can’t talk to people, they certainly can show their love of mankind.
Dr. Hodges suddenly gets another bright idea to help with Jessica’s grief. “Wait a minute,” he tells them. “Let me take a look at Bandit again,” as he pulls back the blanket covering Bandit’s face.
“Remember the litter that I helped whelped earlier? Well, you’ll never believe it, but she’s a Jack Russell, and I think one of her puppies looks just like Bandit with that mask and those unusual circles around the eyes.” He leaves the treatment room and comes back with a new-born puppy that looks very much like Bandit.
Jessica’s eyes widen unlike ever before. She can’t believe what she’s seeing—a miniature Bandit. The only difference in their coats is that the puppy has two small brown circles on her back rather than one black one like Bandit’s and has white ears, but their eyes are identical.
“Do you want her? In fact, this is again a prime example of irresponsible pet owners changing their minds about keeping their dog. When I arrived at work a couple of weeks ago, I found this pup’s mother inside the fence. People dump their pets here all the time.” Dr. Hodges asks Jessica. “I know this pup won’t replace Bandit in your heart, but she might take out some of the hurt. Plus, you’ll be doing me a favor by adopting her.”
Jessica is too shocked to say anything other than “Thank you.” She takes the tiny puppy in her hands and rubs it on her face to feel the soft new-born coat and to smell the distinct, but pleasant, odor of puppy breath. She cries some more from her mixed emotions as she loves on the newest addition to the Wellston family.
“What should we name her?” her dad asks.
“How about Panda since her eyes make her look just like a panda bear?” Jessica replies.
“That sounds good to me,” her father says, “but let’s give Panda back to her mom now and let her grow up a bit before we take her home.”
“Good idea,” the vet says. “Jessica, bring Panda and put her back with the other puppies.”
Dr. Hodges then takes Shep into his rear treatment room to begin by giving him a medicated bath to treat his skin disease, shots of antibiotics, and worming medicine. “Why don’t you take him to your ranch and let him recuperate there?” Dr. Hodges mentions. “I think he’ll do a lot better in a home with people who will love him.”
For ol’ Shep, it will take weeks of medication to kill the heart worms, to put his weight back on, and to heal from the physical abuse he’s endured, but he may never heal from his emotional abuse. But for now, his future looks a lot better than his past, so he’s happy to be a new family member.
Papa Matt carries Shep back to the truck and gently places him in the truck bed with the other dogs before they drive back to the Golden Joy Ranch. Jessica carries Bandit’s body still wrapped in a blanket to take home to bury. It’s been an exciting adventure with a tragic ending for the Wellston family, and everyone looks forward to finally going home to rest, including the dogs. Their only regret is that they are returning home without Bandit alive.
The sun is rising over the eastern horizon of the lake, and the Wellston family is preparing a funeral for Bandit. Usually the morning time is active with breakfast being prepared by Mary Beth, dogs anxious to work, and Papa Matt readying his equipment for the day. But this morning, somberness embraces the Golden Joy Ranch as everyone prepares to say farewell to Bandit.
The “Thotful Spot” is located on a nearby bluff overlooking Blue Heron Lake. Mary Beth and Matt developed this beautiful area years before Jessica was born to be a haven from the work on the ranch and in the home. They built a gazebo and sat on the swing to watch the birds on the lake, to listen to the many songbirds and the bullfrogs, and to relax as they talked about their day’s activities.
Beside the “Thotful Spot” is their family pet cemetery where Jessica, her parents, and all the dogs will soon gather to bury Bandit. Jessica is alone in her bedroom for a moment, deciding what to use to bury Bandit in. He’s too big for a shoe box, and the only box his size contains her rock collection. She wants to use the perfect box as his coffin, so she dumps all her favorite rocks onto her bed and reluctantly goes back downstairs knowing Bandit’s death is real.
They all look at his peaceful face for the last time before gently placing him inside the box Jessica brought down from her room. He is still wrapped in the blanket they used for his last trip to the vet’s office. When they close the lid, all of them realize he is not coming back. Sadly, it’s time for family closure on this tragic event.
As they walk to the “Thotful Spot” on a path leading to the lake, they glance at the beautiful flowers and shrubs in the garden as they look for the right spot in the pet cemetery for Bandit’s final resting place. They briefly reminisce how he loved to lie in the cool monkey grass, and how he would flush out squirrels from the bed of elephant ears only to watch the critters scamper up the oak trees near the swing.
“Let’s bury him near the Magnolia tree by the gazebo,” Jessica suggests. “It’s cooler there under the shade. He’ll like that.”
Jessica and Papa Matt dig a deep hole to bury Bandit. It is located near other family pets that had died from old age; Bandit is the first who died in such a dramatic manner.
With broken hearts and tears in their eyes, they place Bandit’s makeshift coffin into the grave, choked up unlike ever before since the Wellston family has never so tragically lost a family member. After the box is put into the grave, Mary Beth asks if anyone would like to pay tribute to Bandit. Since Jessica and Papa Matt are gently weeping, she decides to begin herself.
“Dear Lord, today we give You our little but brave Jack Russell Terrier named Bandit. He comes to You as a hero who helped to save many lives. He’s a well-trained dog who will bring you much pleasure, just as he did for us. He’s a good, sweet dog who You will love, just as we still do.”
Mary Beth looks at Jessica and sees tears streaming down her face, so she asks Papa Matt to say a few words.
“Okay, but let me get myself together first,” he says as he wipes his own tears away and blows his nose with a handkerchief. Neither Jessica nor Mary Beth has ever seen him so emotional since cowboys are men of steel, or so it appeared before. Apparently this little dog meant more to him than anyone realizes.
“Dear Lord, Bandit is a hero like she said and, if I may, I ask that You let him sit by your Pearly Gates just as he guarded our home. Bandit may be feisty, but he’s one of the best little dogs we’ve ever had. For what he did here, he deserves a seat at Your feet.”
Papa Matt then takes a handful of dirt and tosses it onto the box containing Bandit.
“Jessica, would you like to say goodbye to Bandit?” her mother asks.
Jessica is terribly choked up and is crying by now. She’s a tough girl who never cries, even when she is hurt playing sports or falling off horses, but she can’t contain herself now. Finally, she wipes away her tears, takes a deep breath and steps toward the grave to look at Bandit for the last time.
“I really don’t know what to say, Mom,” Jessica admits.
“Just tell us what you’re feeling; anything you say will be fine,” she replies.
“I just want to say I love you, Bandit, and I’ll never forget you.” She begins to cry again and Mary Beth and Papa Matt both embrace her. After a few minutes consoling Jessica, Papa Matt grabs a handful of dirt and places it in her hand. Jessica sucks up her tears and looks at her father with her sad eyes, knowing this is the final act of farewell.
She tosses the dirt onto the coffin and, after a moment of quiet, she says, “All dogs go to Heaven, and you’re a good dog, Bandit.”
The other dogs are sitting graveside watching this ceremony. After Jessica is done, Jerry steps up to the grave and with his nose he pushes some dirt into the grave too. Everyone knows that Bandit is his best friend and the look of sorrow can be seen in his big ol’ eyes. Never before have they seen Jerry so sad.
Taking his cue, Miss Belva also walks up to the grave and does the same, as do Dingo and Max who push some dirt into the grave as a show of respect for their fallen friend. None of them has ever buried one of their family members before, and they know that Bandit is a hero that none of them will ever forget.
To everyone’s amazement, ol’ Shep slowly walks up to the grave, pauses a moment to give thanks to his rescuer It’s a small gesture for his daring feat and a thank you that can never be totally repaid.
Finally, the finicky Calico cat, Callie, walks up to the graveside and jumps down into the hole on top of the coffin. To the amazement of all, she licks the burial box as a sign of love, and then lies down purring for a moment as a farewell to her feisty friend.
This sweet sign of affection by Callie makes Jessica laugh softly underneath her tears. “Come on, Callie, you can’t stay there,” she says, knowing it is her way of saying farewell.
Callie jumps out onto the edge of the grave and pushes with her paw one last bit of dirt as all the others had done. Never before has anyone, especially the dogs, seen this cat show such affection for a dog. Jessica picks her up and holds her tightly in a loving embrace.
“Well, I guess it’s time,” Papa Matt says as he begins to shovel dirt into the grave. Jessica, Mary Beth and the dogs all watch sadly as Bandit’s coffin is covered. From the lake, they suddenly hear King Luke snorting loudly and see him waving his wings full spread as if to say goodbye too. Other lake fowl start sounding off as well—the Canadian geese begin honking, the Mallards begin quacking, and the Blue Herons start to call their salutatory “ar,ar.” Even the local pair of Red Tail Hawks flying overhead call out their cry—a two to three second hoarse, rasping scream, “kree-eee.”
To the amazement of the Wellston clan, it seems all the animals who live on Blue Heron Lake are paying tribute to Bandit as they watch his funeral. Even the local red fox vixen, Bandit’s natural nemesis, sits hidden among the tall grass along the shoreline as if to honor her fallen opponent. She may also think no one is guarding the henhouse now, but little does she know that soon Panda will be old enough to keep him away with help from Max, just as Bandit had always done.
When Papa Matt finishes filling the grave with dirt, he places a stone at the head of the grave and says, “Bandit, the bravest and feistiest little dog ever,” a fitting description for his little hero.
“I feel like a part of me was buried with him,” Jessica tells her folks.
“You’re right, Jessica,” Mary Beth says, “a part of your spirit will go to Heaven with Bandit and a part of his spirit will always remain with you.”
After a slight pause, Papa Matt turns from the gravesite and says, “It’s time to go back and give thanks for our blessings.” The three of them hold hands as they walk back to the house, still grieving but thankful for the short time they had with Bandit.
As they slowly walk through the garden surrounding the “Thotful Spot,” Jessica looks back at Bandit’s grave and says, “I’ll come back later, Bandit, and tell you about what happens today.” Although he may be gone in body, his spirit will always be alive in Jessica’s heart.
As Jessica and her parents walk back to the house, all the dogs stay behind at Bandit’s gravesite, still grieving too at the loss of their feisty friend. Jessica notices the dogs aren’t walking back to the barnyard with her and her parents, so she turns back and sees the four dogs sitting at Bandit’s grave. Even Callie is still lying down near his tombstone as if she’s waiting for Bandit to return.
Jessica suddenly realizes in her sorrow, she’s forgotten about the grief her dogs are going through as well. She runs back to be with her dogs. “I’m so sorry,” she tells them. “I forgot all about your heartache too.”
The dogs encircle her as she pets and hugs them all. She kneels down to their level as they wag their tails despite their own sorrow. Certainly they need a hug from Jessica as much as she needed one from her own parents. Jessica feels their pain as she continues to pet them.
Jessica begins to weep again as she thinks of the hurt these dogs must feel from the loss of their best friend. As her tears stream down her cheeks, Jerry and Miss Belva lick them off to console her. Dingo and Max also look at her and whine as if to tell her that they love her too. Shep watches in awe since he’s never seen such love before. Their comforting of Jessica helps them all feel better. What a lucky girl Jessica is to have both her human family and her canine family to comfort her in this tragedy!
Even Callie comes over to Jessica, purring and brushing herself on Jessica’s leg. All the dogs have encircled Jessica and Callie as she gently weeps with them. It’s probably the first and last time Callie allows the all the dogs to be that close to her. After a few minutes consoling Jessica, Callie bolts from the group hug with one final quip, “You dogs stink.”
Back at the ranch, the red fox sees the absence of the dogs guarding the henhouse. Like the clever fox that she is, the vixen finds a small hole underneath the fence caused by water erosion and slips into the henhouse to kill a chicken.
When the Wellston clan returns to the ranch, the dogs pick up the fox’s scent and immediately jump from the pickup truck. Miss Belva begins baying as she and the rest run to the henhouse in search of the fox. Feathers are strewn everywhere for Papa Matt and Jessica to see. They all know that if Bandit was alive, this never would have happened.
After surveying the situation, Papa Matt turns to Jessica who’s still holding little Panda and says, “It’s time for Panda to earn her keep.”
But the sad fact remains: there are too many unwanted dogs and cats that live a tortured life like ol’ Shep. The shelters are over-crowded, under-funded and, in many cases, under-staffed. If it weren’t for volunteers and dedicated animal control officers, more pets would suffer from neglect and abuse.
So count your blessings to have a healthy dog or cat who you can love. Take good care of them and they’ll reward you with the unconditional love only a pet can give its owner. And be sure to tell people to adopt from shelters when they want another pet. You’d be surprised how many good pets are available every day in every shelter. Spay and neuter your pets so they don’t mistakenly have a litter that might suffer the same plight as other homeless animals do today.
And most of all, give your pets the respect and care they need. Abuse is illegal and neglect is too, so don’t let it happen to any animal—report any case of abuse you may see in your neighborhood so they don’t end up like ol’ Shep or even worse.
Will Love for Shelter
A poem for every adopted dog
The barks, the howls, and the growls at the shelter made him shy,
and the mournful expression on his face made me want to cry.
That some owners would abandon their pets who honestly try;
it’s just too hard to understand and makes me wonder why?
But adoption will give him a second chance,
I am determined to care for him without taking a backward glance.
This ol’ pitiful dog has become my new-found friend,
and we’ll be together until his natural life’s end.
Our first days together were quite nervous and shaky,
but we’ll have time to build a lasting trust.
His dreams probably remind him of past heartaches,
a life that had been so terribly unjust.
I soon learned his habits as I taught him new feats,
and I rewarded him with my special tasty treats.
Together we found this old dog could learn new tricks
and he gladly rewarded me with his loving, wet licks!
Now when I grasp his leash he knows it’s time to go jog.
The wag of his tail and his eager, high-pitch yelp
shows me the renewed life in my new ol’ dog.
Sadly, there remain too many more that need our kind help.
Thousands still live afraid in a cold shelter pen;
any day their lives may come to a quick and lonely end.
They all promise to love you for warm shelter and food,
So, please, won’t you and your family adopt a new friend too?