The vivid scarlet against the stark white of our snow covered world made my stomach turn, and I felt like I might be sick. Yet I couldn’t tear myself away from Maw and Paw’s kitchen door. I know Libby was there somewhere, but all I can remember is looking out on the most gut-wrenching scene I had ever witnessed. It was not only a gang murder but also mutilation of the body beyond recognition. Strung out for about 25 yards lay what little of Biscuit that was left. Horrified, tears ran down my face and over my lips, and I could taste the salt as I gasped for breath.
Paw never got too excited about anything, but I could see the sparkle in his eye on the day back in the spring when Daddy brought Biscuit home. Daddy had traveled almost two hours to pick him up and almost two hours back, and for us, that was a lot to go through to get a dog. ( Most of our dogs found us.) But Daddy had heard about the last and the runt of a litter of Border Collie puppies and knew that Paw would be pleased to have him.
Very intelligent, Border Collies are not difficult to train. In fact, it’s probably more difficult to train them not to herd. They are hard-wired to work a flock of sheep or even a flock of chickens. So, Paw did have a sparkle in his eye when Daddy arrived with Biscuit. Biscuit would be perfect to gather and bring the cows from the fields in the afternoon and to help with moving cattle from one field to another. Paw was right. Biscuit did not disappoint. Over the next weeks and months, Biscuit grew into an energetic and hard working farm dog. At the same time, he grew in all our hearts, too.
Biscuit played endlessly with Libby and me that summer, and once he had worn us completely out, off to the barnyard he would go. We had the best trained flock of chickens that ever was because Biscuit spent hours gathering them and moving them around. He never really chased them except to bring a stray one back to the flock, and he seemed to be able to sense when one needed to be left alone to go lay an egg.
His favorite time of day, though, was milking time when all Paw had to do was tell him, “Biscuit, bring ‘em in!”, and off he would run through the barnyard and around the side of the hill. Sometimes, when the cows had already started in on their own, Biscuit would be back with them in just a few minutes. Other times, when the days were long, and the grass was good, it would take 30 or more minutes for him to bring them around. But bring them around he did without fail, saving Paw many a labored step with his cane over uneven ground.
And so, Biscuit became a loved member of our family. He had run of the farm during the day, and at night, Paw tied him at his doghouse to keep him from running all night or maybe being killed by a car. This became Biscuit’s routine, and all was good with the world..until that Saturday morning…or, more accurately, the night before.
We had known for some time that a family not too far away had more dogs than they could care for, but they refused to give up some of them. The dogs were not restrained in any way and would often run as a pack looking for scraps of food. They looked half starved and acted the same way. We were instructed not to go anywhere near the home where they belonged unless Daddy was with us. Now, it was winter, and food was even more scarce, and I imagine you can guess what I’m leading up to, and you would be right.
The phone rang even louder than usual in the quiet of the early morning. The four of us had just finished breakfast on that Saturday morning in February, and daylight had just broken. Startled by the sound, we looked at each other with foreboding because it was much too early for the phone to ring unless something was wrong. Mom made her way over to where the phone hung on the wall, lifted the receiver off the hook and said, “Hello…hang on…Dick, your dad wants to talk to you.” And that was the beginning of how I had ended up at Maw and Paw’s kitchen door with my eyes frozen on Biscuit’s dog house and the area beyond.
Poor little Biscuit never stood a chance. He wouldn’t have stood a chance had he not been tied, but being tied made it even worse. We all knew that hungry pack of dogs that were more like wolves were the guilty ones. Sometime during the night, they had found their way to Paw’s barnyard, maybe looking for chickens. But before they had made it there, Biscuit had probably started barking, and that had most likely brought them to him. We don’t know exactly how it started, but the evidence of how it had ended was plenty clear.
As I watched Daddy and Paw attempt to clean up what they could, I cried until I had no more tears to cry. When they could do no more, they headed back to the house. I stepped back from the door and sank into the background. I knew better than to say anything right now.
“I’m going over there,” Daddy said. “Somebody’s needed to do something about those dogs for a long time now. If they’re starved enough to do this to another dog, another of their kind, the kids are not safe. Neither is the livestock.” Maw, who had not uttered a sound since we got there, wrung her hands, and Paw didn’t have to give Daddy his approval. Daddy turned, rushed back out into the barnyard, and started tracking. I watched until he was out of sight.
Now that my attention had left the barnyard, I remember Libby. After Daddy left, she and I sat on the rug in front of the TV to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Normally, I would have been pretty excited about that since Saturday morning was the only time that cartoons came on, but I couldn’t concentrate on the TV for the movie running through my brain of how the last night might have happened. And now, I was scared stiff over what might happen to Daddy when he confronted the dogs’ owners.
The hour or so before Daddy returned seemed like an eternity, but finally, he did return. Libby and I didn’t move as he strode in the kitchen door and through the living room to where Paw sat.
“They give you any trouble?” Paw asked.
“No,” Daddy replied. “They couldn’t deny it. I had tracked the dogs all the way home. They knew it had to be took care of. I took care of all of them.”
And that was the end of it. As far as I know, none of us ever spoke of the incident again, but I knew exactly what had happened to the pack of dogs, and I was glad. I was and still am soft-hearted, and it wasn’t those dogs’ fault that they were half starved, but still, I was glad they would never hurt another dog. To this day, I’m glad that Daddy “took care of all of them.”
In writing this story, I really tried to describe what the barnyard scene looked like, but I could not bring myself to form the words in my mind, much less put them on paper, even though I can still see it as if it were yesterday. My heart still beats a little faster at the thoughts of what happened to Biscuit and then what happened to the pack of dogs responsible.
As much as I loved being a child of the mountains, I never got used to the harsher parts of how life could be there. All the nostalgia in the world is not enough to change that part of me. I am thankful that those tragedies were few and far between, but still, they are a part of me. They are a part of me just as much as all the the happy times I write about are, and I owe it to myself (and in this case to the memory of little Biscuit) to record them as well.