By Tony Sweatland
Danny loves animals. And he hates people.
Yesterday he knocked on a door and a woman wearing pj’s answered with a cup of hot chocolate in her hands. Meanwhile, not twenty feet away, a small dog shivered in a plastic igloo-style dog house inside a 10’ by 10’ cage.
He wrote her address down, along with her name. She didn’t like him coming to the door, let’s see how she felt about animal control or the police, he thought.
He always tried the proper channels first. Sometimes they would come take the animals away. He figured, even if they euthanized them, a quick painless death was better than a slow agonizing one.
He was stable enough to have bought a shitty little house with a shitty little garage out back. He shared the house with two stray dogs he’d taken in and about six or seven cats on any given day.
He used the garage for other interests.
Every day before work he would comb through this little black spiral bound notebook that he kept in a kitchen drawer. Inside were names, addresses, and notes about the condition of the people and pets that lived there. Things like, “John Smith, 123 Random St, A.C. has been called, check back in two days.” If animal control removed the pets, he checked them off the list. If not, he made plans to go get them himself.
The last entry was the woman from the other day. Mary King, 117 Mason St. A.C. called January 5th.
Check back on January 7th.
He showed up at 6:35 that night. It was dark, about 15 degrees outside. The dog was still there. He went and got him first. He opened the cage and led the dog to the warmth and comfort of his van using treats. Inside he had dog beds, food, and water. A major improvement from the harsh living conditions of the outdoor pen.
With the dog settled in, he went back to see Mary. He had on a high-vis yellow vest and he was carrying a clipboard. This is about all you need to get someone to open their door and talk to you. Ring the bell and say you’re from the utility company, you’re here to look at the gas meter. He held up the clipboard and it seemed to put her at ease. She undid the lock and swung the door open.
Then he tased her.
She woke up freezing cold on a cracked concrete floor in the Chateau Lamott, as he liked to call it. To her left was a plastic igloo-style dog house with a little bit of straw on the floor. Next to that was a water bowl with cloudy water in it and several pieces of white bread next to it on the ground.
Mary King, the newest resident of Danny Lamott’s Pet Owner’s Rehabilitation Center. She was wearing the same pajamas she wore the other day. It was about 30 degrees in the garage.
This is the part Danny liked. The rehabilitation phase. People need training just like any other wild animal. They have to learn what it’s like to be their helpless pets in order to better care for their helpless pets.
Mary sat up and looked around. She immediately started panicking. After a minute spent taking in her new surroundings, she sat back down and cried.
Good, Danny thought. He was listening in and watching from just outside the garage. He watched her for another five minutes or so and he couldn’t contain himself any longer. He flung open the door and came bopping in like a charismatic bell hop. He walked right up to Mary, terrified in her kennel.
“Hello Mary,” he said, “welcome to my rehabilitation facility. This is where I teach animal abusers the error of their ways.” He snapped a photo of her with an old Polaroid and stood there fanning the picture that came out. She looked completely helpless and absolutely horrified. Backed into a tight corner of a cold garage, on dirty straw and concrete.
“Would you like to talk about why you’re here?” he asked her.
She started yelling the same old thing they always yell. “Who are you? Where am I? Why am I here?” Blah, blah, blah. The same old frantic panicky questions.
Danny took his time. He was calm. He shook his head slowly and said, “tsk, tsk, tsk. You should try and calm down, acting all frazzled won’t help you here.” He had a gallon jug of murky water in his hands. He set the water down by the door and pulled some keys out of his coat pocket. He unlocked the padlock on the door and slid the water in with his foot. Then he pulled the door shut. He stared at Mary the whole time, shivering in the corner paralyzed in fear.
He flicked the light off as he opened the door. He stepped out and then leaned his head and shoulders back in and said, “Okay then, sleep tight,” before he slammed it shut. Mary shuddered and started quietly crying in the corner of the cage. She still couldn’t believe it, and kept telling herself it wasn’t real, it was just some terrible dream.
The pain set in slowly. It started in her fingers and toes, then across her face. Frigid pins and needles making their way up her arms and across her chest.
It was at least half an hour of frantic shivering and checking the locks and looking around, desperately searching for something, a way out, or a sign, before she ever thought about why she was there.
Pluto. She finally thought about her dog. It was the admission to herself that she was locked in a cage like a dog, that finally did it. She compared herself to Pluto before she wondered where we was or whether he was ok. She thought about herself, and this guy, and why he locked her in a damn cage. He didn’t come back that night. He found her curled up, shivering in the corner the next morning. He kicked her cage and startled her awake and said, “Good Morning, how’d you sleep? I slept like a baby.
Pluto even curled up with me and my dogs. He’s a good boy, when you treat him right. I think he just doesn’t like you.”
She looked up at him still shivering, her lips turning a shade of greyish blue. He walked over to the back corner of the garage. There was a giant plastic chest with big doors that opened on the top. He reached in and grabbed at something. Mary was watching him but she couldn’t see what he was reaching for. He stood up straight and she winced as he turned to face her. He had a big armful of straw and he made his way over to the pen and set it down in front of the door. Then he unlocked it and slid it in with his foot and said, “Pack it in the hut and lay in there. You won’t be so cold. It retains heat and evaporates moisture.” Then he left again.
Mary composed herself enough to take his advice and crawl into the hut with the straw to get warm. Or warm-er at least. It was still only 25 degrees in there.
When she finally realized how hungry she really was, she crawled over to the bread laying on the other side of the pen. Some mice had started working on the corner of one piece, but she gathered up the few others and slowly ate them with tears streaming down her face.
She still hadn’t accepted the severity of the situation. Yesterday, she was warm and comfy in her living room and now she was freezing in a cage, left to die like a dog.
Depressed and frigid, she crawled back into the hut and sobbed. She said, “I’m sorry Pluto, I’m so sorry,” over and over and over again until she was on the verge of passing out.
Danny was watching all of this through the window of the garage ten feet away. He knew his point had dawned on her and his work here was almost done.
He let another 24 hours go by before he returned to the garage. He had the taser in his hand. Mary shuddered and started begging and pleading. She backed into the corner as far as it would let her and shrieked as Danny got closer and closer with that crackling nightmare.
And that was it. She woke up in her front hallway, with Pluto barking loudly at the front door. He had pissed on the floor and she put her hand in it as she rose to her feet. The doorbell rang and it scared her so much she almost fell back to the floor.
No way in hell she was answering the door, Danny thought, but that didn’t matter. On the porch he left a full-sized dog bed, a bag of dog food (the good stuff, none of that cardboard shit), and two different kinds of treats. He had put Mary King through two days of his pet owners compassion course and now he was releasing her back into the wild so-to-speak.
Once Mary got a hold of herself, she called the police. She made a report, recounted details, gave a description; she gave them everything she could. It even made the news. The cops talked about working the case and how they were gonna catch the guy, the way cops always do, but they never did.
Life went on. Mary took better care of Pluto and Danny watched from a distance. He watched as the kennel was torn down and the old igloo hut was thrown out to the road. He watched them as the weather changed and he was delighted to see Mary taking Pluto for walks almost every day. She had changed alright. She had grown to genuinely love that dog, the way it should be.
Still, it paid to be thorough. Danny watched Mary and Pluto turn the corner, heading back towards the house. She paused at the step and looked around as she grabbed the envelope off the door. Inside was a “Thinking of you” card with a little cartoon dog on the cover. He was watching her, feeling proud from a block away as her shaky hands opened it and looked at the Polaroid taped inside. He could tell she gasped when she seen it, the way her chest heaved and her shoulders sunk.
It was a picture of her huddled into a dark corner of a homemade pen. It said ‘good girl’ across the bottom of the photo. She looked up as Danny wheeled the big windowless van by her house. He had his arm resting on the open window and he smiled and waved as he went by.
She stood paralyzed in fear, hands still shaking, until he was a few blocks away. Then she scurried into the house with Pluto trotting happily behind her.
Bio: Tony Sweatland is a writer from Saginaw Michigan. He enjoys the company of his wife, their small army of pets, and making jokes about Uranus. He has previously published the stories “Water Tower” and “Dead Short” with The Yard: Crime Blog.