Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Part 2...

By the time I met Faith and heard her story, WW was already a few days ahead of me. A fellow Catholic--but far more religious than yours truly--Faith was almost literally sick with guilt. She had her reasons--she felt this was the best course of action to safeguard her kids. I may not have agreed with her method, but I understood the motive. No matter how much I considered my dog a part of my family, the kids came first (a sentiment I have no doubt Blaze would share, were he able to articulate it). I couldn't bring myself to hate her. What was done was done. It did me no good to dwell on it.

Instead, I focused on the job ahead. Faith was certain that her ex-husband had returned to his parents' house, an isolated farm way the hell west of home. Here, "way the hell" does not mean "on the other side of town"; it means "more than 500 miles from my house."

I learned a little bit about WW. Not a lot, but anything was helpful. I learned about his temper, his love of finding petty ways to stick it to people who had wronged him. For example, he likely didn't give a shit about the dog he had coerced his ex-wife into giving to him. It was just a way to stick it to her. He never would have admitted that, of course. He would have claimed he was taking back what was rightfully his.

After all, he had given the dog to her as a puppy. A puppy plucked fresh from one of the many litters his family had on the farm. Once, the family farm had been much like the one my Dad's people lived on--a modest but honest subsistence farm. Then they made their money as unregistered breeders. Their farm, apparently, had been a puppy mill for a number of years. Mostly, they specialized in hounds and guard dogs. As the years passed, they became more careless and the result was that a lot of cute but eccentric mutts were brought into the world. Many didn't last long, but Blaze was one of the lucky ones.

Faith had no idea what WW planned to do with the dog. He was casually cruel to animals--growing up on the farm may have had something to do with that. She supposed he would just take the dog back with him--leash him up in the back of the pick-up and go. Personally, I worried that WW had already dumped him somewhere. Faith didn't think so, for some reason (she turned out to be right. She knew him better than I, anyway).

Faith also clued me in a bit on WW's recent history, especially his jail-time. She told me about this not just to warn me, but also to observe that his recent incarceration had rattled him. He was determined to stay out of jail, and who could blame him--if he was arrested again for pretty much anything, I have no doubt he'd have gone back in the clink for a lot longer than two and a half years. This made Faith think he might be more reasonable than he had been in the past. That's why he was going home, she figured. Here in Monopolis, there were too many old acquaintances that could lure him back to his thuggish, drunken, law-breaking behavior. It was this observation more than any other that made me think I could bargain for Blaze.

The rest is pretty straightforward. I got directions from Faith and followed WW all way to his family's farm. I convinced myself that, with enough of a financial inducement, WW might just hand the dog over. Let's just say I was overly optimistic on that score. But I wanted to keep this as sane and reasonable as circumstances would allow.

So, some 10 hours after I left the Magazine Mansion, I found myself parked at the bottom of a dusty turnoff that led to a 1/4-mile long winding driveway that threaded its way through several sheds and outbuildings before finally ending in front of an old, dilapidated barn and a standard-issue white farmhouse.

I walked in, going right by the sign marked "PRIVATE ROAD. NO TRESPASSING." Underneath that was a faded sign that indicated this was a place that sold dogs.

I saw Blaze almost immediately, just past the last of the sheds, closer to the house, back in the corner of a large kennel made of chain-link fence. The kennel was about 20-by-20, and Blaze had it all to himself, but he didn't have the run of it. He was tethered to a small wooden doghouse by a fairly short piece of stout chain. This kept him confined to a small area of the kennel.

Along one side of the barn, across the yard from Blaze was a larger, more rectangular kennel and from the look and sound of it, it was clear the family still had a few dogs for sale. It was hard to count, but I'd guess there were about 10 dogs, some old, some young, some lying listlessly on the concrete floor of the kennel, others baying and yipping at the approaching stranger. All of them resembled Blaze in some respect, although a few looked very beagle-like and others were clearly Rottweilers, I had no doubt that I was looking cousins or semi-siblings or possibly even parents of my dog. I was, in effect, meeting the family.

At home, Blaze normally responded to any barking, but here he sat in his corner, head down, cowed, looking frail and unwell. It was just as well that I was forcing myself not to give him too much attention as I walked in. As it was, it broke my heart to see him so unlike his usual brave, righteous self.

With all the barking and baying, an older man--who I eventually determined was WW's father--came out of the house and asked in a gruff but unthreatening voice what kind of dog I was after. Instead of answering directly, I asked him about some of the friskier dogs in the kennel. I listened to his answer with half an ear, because the moment I opened my mouth, I could hear Blaze behind me, barking in a strained tone. He'd heard me. I had no doubt he was pulling at the end of his chain, trying to get my attention. I couldn't stand it. While the old man was still in the middle of talking about the rotund beagle who was almost certainly Blaze's mother, I turned and made eye contact with my dog, who was indeed at the end of his tether and alternately barking and shaking his head, as though he was very excited but bothered by something. I walked straight for him and as I got closer, I could see he had some kind of choke-chain around his neck and was practically strangling himself.

"What's up with this guy?" I asked over my shoulder as the old man trotted along to keep up with me. "Why is he isolated from the rest?"

"Oh, ah, um, that's my son's dog. He just moved home and, uh, put Blazer in there," he said.

"Blazer, huh?" I said. Hearing his name--or a close phonetic relative of it--Blaze jumped and jerked on his chain even more crazily. He seemed more panicked than excited.

"My son's favorite," the man said.

"What?" I asked, turning towards the man, thinking I'd misheard.

The man crooked a thumb over his shoulder at some vehicles parked on the other side of the farmyard. "Car. My son's favorite car," he clarified, and I saw that next to an old pick-up truck were two Chevy Blazers in different states of restoration.

I turned back, grabbed the latch on the chain-link gate, opened it and started in.

"He's really nervous around men he don't know," the old man said. "Watch you don't get bit. I don't know how up to date he is--"

But I ignored the man as I stepped into the kennel. Blaze immediately stopped barking and flopped on the hard cement floor, whining submissively. I got close and patted him down, feeling the raised welts on his side and realizing with a lump in my throat that he was wearing no ordinary choke-chain, but a prong collar. He had tugged on the chain so much, several of the prongs had punctured his skin. As I tried to loosen the collar, Blaze buried his head in my lap and I could feel him trembling all over.

"He's sick," the man said. "Threw up all over the back of my son's pick-up and every morning he's been here. Might be worms."

Might be he's freaked out from being dognapped and sent back to live on the puppy farm where he was born, I thought as I patted my dog. "It's okay, Blazey. It's okay," I whispered hoarsely, struggling with the emotion that was rising in my voice. Then I hollered over my shoulder. "He's got this collar stuck in him. Okay if I loosen it?" I'm not sure that I had any definite plan at that point. In the back of my mind, I was sort of hoping Blaze might bolt for the open gate and tear off across the meadow or down the road...or anywhere. Finding him afterwards was a secondary concern. Right then, I just wanted him away from that collar, from this cage.

As I was trying to figure out how to loosen the prong collar, I heard a voice startlingly close behind me.

"No, it's NOT okay!"

At the sound of the voice, I jumped one way and Blaze jumped the other. He retreated into his tiny doghouse and I finally found myself face-to-face with WW.

"The fuck you think you're doing?!?" he yelled at me.

"He's just looking for a house dog," I heard the old man say, adding in a sterner voice. "You don't go getting riled up, WW."

WW wasn't listening, though. His attention was focused on me, and he practically lunged forward. I backpedaled, tripping over a food and a water dish (both empty, I realized later) and found myself cornered. As WW roared at me, I tried to keep my tone low, barely above a whisper. I simply said I wanted Blaze and reached into my pocket for a small roll of bills. I flashed what cash I had, indicating I had money to pay for him. WW was unimpressed and demanded to know who I was, where I was from. I didn't want to reveal my name or where I lived, so I simply repeated myself and here, I fear, my caginess worked against me. In this case, WW convinced himself that I was some boyfriend of his ex-wife, sent to get the dog back. He went off on a rant, shaking his hand menacingly in my face.

And it was then that I realized he was holding a tire-iron.

Evidently, he had been working on one of my dog's automotive namesakes, but was willing to interrupt this to come stove my head in with a piece of metal. I tried to move out of the corner, but WW jabbed me a couple of times in the chest with the pointier end of the iron. The third time he tried to poke me with the thing, I realized rational discourse wasn't going to happen. I grabbed the end of the tire-iron. This infuriated WW. Before I could react, he pushed his hand into my face and shoved me back against the fence. My glasses, their frames bent by the shove, fell right off and landed on the concrete.

(Somewhere in here, I also lost the roll of bills I had in my hand, which I would realize later, at the ER at the little hospital in town, when I was asked to pony up my co-payment).

It was then that I remembered the FEDEX box in the back of my car, and wished I had taken a moment to equip myself with some of the items my brother had sent me when he heard what had happened and what I was planning to do.

Too late for that now. With my glasses gone, my effective visual range dropped to an area 12 inches in front of me (I have a terrible astigmatism). I couldn't see anything more than interesting blurs. But I did see a movement that made me instinctively put my hand up to protect my head. I don't know whether WW was aiming a blow at my skull or not, but an instant later, I felt a dull thonk against my wrist. There was no pain yet, so I was able to lunge forward, twisting my wrist as I moved, hoping to get a hold of the iron. I wasn't entirely successful on that score, but my lunge must have caught WW off guard because he backed up a step, tripped on the same food and water bowls that I did, and let go of the tire-iron. It clattered to the concrete and was almost instantly picked up by his dad, who was by this time in the kennel with us and hollering at his son to go away. I used this moment to spot my bent glasses, which I was only partly able to twist back into shape sufficiently for me to see what the hell was going on.

WW wouldn't leave, but with his dad between us--and holding the tire-iron--he didn't charge at me again. The old man turned to me and I expected to get yelled at next, but to my surprise, WW's dad sounded gruffly apologetic.

"You best get on out of here. My son has a bad time with his temper," he said.

I knew it was pushing it, but I couldn't leave either. "Okay. Let me just get the dog--"

WW's face, already red from his exertions, turned almost purple. "THAT'S MY DOG!" he roared. "You tell that to that cunt wife of mine!" And then, just to spite me, WW turned and kicked the side of the doghouse with the metal tip of one of his pointed cowboy boots, making the structure shake violently and causing poor Blaze inside to yelp out two short, nervous barks. They sounded exactly like the barks he uttered once when he was asleep in his kennel at home and I tripped and accidentally hit his cage. In fact, the only time he's ever growled or barked at anyone in my family has been times when he's been confined in his cage and they've tapped on the top or side. A woman who came to the house to help train Blaze had opined that perhaps he'd been trapped in a cage or kennel when he was younger and had been taunted by someone hitting or kicking the cage. Now I had no problem seeing how true that supposition was.

One other thing was true: It was time to go, although it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Still, I could barely see, my wrist was seriously throbbing, and WW was clearly not someone I could reason with. Clutching my wrist, I backed towards the gate and slunk out of there.

"You tell her, you hear me! You tell her!" WW kept shouting as I backed away across the yard, heading for the road back to my car, holding my damaged glasses to my face, and holding my damaged wrist to my chest. Thomas asked later if I had been scared at that moment and I had no problem admitting I was.

But fear wasn't the only thing I felt, especially when I finally turned around and began trotting to my car. As I went, I heard a familiar barking above the baying of all the dogs, who I realized only then had been barking during our entire encounter. I couldn't bear to look back, but I was sure it was Blaze, calling to me. Each bark sounded distinctly like he was saying, "Help! Help! Help!"

At that moment, the fear I'd felt didn't subside, but it had been overtaken by another emotion: anger.

By nature, I don't have much of a temper, but in my brief contact with WW, something must have rubbed off on me, because I was feeling a growing sense of rage like I hadn't felt in years. When WW had shouted "You tell her!" I had shouted back. "Fine! I'm going! I'll tell her!" Not the wittiest retort, I guess, but I realized now that maybe it was for the best. Maybe WW figured I was gone for good.

He would be wrong, though. I was coming back, as soon as I could. That night, if I could manage it. But clearly the reasonable and sane approach got me nowhere.

It was time to be insane and unreasonable...


Great story, MM. Suffering from a cold here which has disrupted my normal sleep schedule (fortunately, I have tomorrow off from work) but finding you had posted a new chapter made for some pleasant late-night reading. Looking forward to the next installment.
Wow. Astonishing. My pulse is racing like Eamonn Coghlan's in '83. I know that you are safe, but I am nervous none-the-less. I mean, I am there, at that farm, watching helplessly as this unfolds. Man, this is like a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Walking away from Blaze at that moment must be one of the hardest things you've ever done. My heart was breaking for him as you were describing his circumstance. I'm glad to know there is a happy ending - still difficult to read.

I'm all verklempt and I know how it ends! You sure do have a way with a story. Poor Blazey.
I'm on pins and needles and so glad you got Blazey back! I can't wait to hear how you actually managed it.
Haven't actually read part two yet, but I just had to comment on how much I like the new photo in your profile :-)
I'm so glad that I know the ending to this story but still, reading this, Blaze being so mistreated (an understatement I know) just breaks my heart. And you having to walk away at that point, Blaze barking... I'm only managing not to cry because I know how this story ends.
i must concur with most everyone else - thank heavens blaze (and you) are home safe, and i'm so glad i knew beforehand that you were both okay. walking away from blaze must have about killed you. i'm sorry it was necessary.
And now that I've read it, I can't wait for the next part. I'm extremely glad that I know the happy ending already.
I sense a heapin' helping of comeuppance about to be served.
oh my gosh....I am so glad I know the way the story ends. It must have been so heartbreaking to walk away from Blaze.
What a crazy bastard that WW is...seriously. You're a brave guy for going after him again...
I'm looking forward to the part where you kick the everloving shit out of that asshat. I'm imagining a taser gun and your own tire iron upon returning....

I cannot imagine how tough it must have been to walk away from Blaze, when he was within your arms only moments before. This, of course, will be the part in the movie when I am balling my eyes out, Blaze shouting "Help! Help!"......
Wowowowow, like everyone else I'm antsy with overwhelming desire to read the third part and see how it all wraps up. And Blazey definitely has that unconditional family love radiating out of him.

Oh, and nice 'About Me' pic there :-D
I am so hoping that WW is rotting in a jail cell and that that puppy mill has been closed for good and all the puppies have fabulous hmes like Blazey --- yes, the sky is indeed purple in my world. In all seriousness, I can only read this because I know that both you and Blaze are home, safe and relatively sound.
Snoopy the Peanuts dog is a Beagle who came fomr the "Daisy Hill Puppy Farm" I suggest this as your name for the W. family's property.
My blood is boiling with rage at the way you were treated. It tore my poor heart out to feel your pain and sorrow at having to leave Blaze with that animal. The only thing keeping me in my seat is the knowledge that all worked out well in the end.

Keep 'em coming, even if it hurts to read.
Thank you for sharing with us how it all turned out. I pondered today what it would mean if you couldn't tell us all what transpired -- if you felt unsafe, your anonymous identity threatened, the repercussions would have been too great, etc. -- and I'm sure I felt what many others would have felt: you are a friend, albeit one I've never met and who wouldn't know me from a hole in the ground. But I would have despaired nonetheless.

Ah, the internet and how oddly it's changed our connections with other human beings.

Thank you again, and looking forward to hearing the resolution.
Part 2 of the Blaze saga compels me to make some points:

1. Just to be succinct: fucking hell. As if it wasn't self-evident before why you were having a bit of difficulty recounting the details of this chapter of the tale in order to commit it to e-paper, it is now. The pervasive sense of danger, of being in a horrible, uncontrollable, wretched environment -- in which a loved one is chained -- is hard enough to read, let alone to have to personally experience. And then be forced to remember in detail.

2. Reading about animals in pain or in distress is very, very hard for me. I love them dearly, but -- especially with wild animals -- I have tremendous grief about what we as a human race have wrought on them. Most of the time, the pain they suffer at our hands is unwarranted; they are innocents. When one of these animals in distress is actually a family member ... it must have taken extraordinary restraint on your part not to put a bullet in WW's pathetic swollen head.

3. Having to walk away while Blaze called for you -- it's almost unendurable.
Riveting. Absolutely riveting.
So glad you told this tale backwards instead of in sequence. We all adore Blaze too much to have to wait to find out what happened, not knowing if he was rescued or not. I can enjoy your brilliant storytelling much better knowing in the end Blaze was brought back safe.
Poor Blaze...I'm so glad he has you to save him from that.
This is all too much. Like everyone has said, thankfully we read ths in hindsight with you and Blaze at home, safe, with your family.

Not have that happiness waiting for us at the end of this tale, and I don't think I'd be able to read it. I can only imagine what it must have been like to live it.

Thank you, as always, for sharing.
it occurs to me, on a re-read, what a limp-wristed asshat the dad was (is/ will probably always be). with no provocation, that jackass comes at you with a tire iron and his response is that his son has temper issues?!? oh, i don't think so. *snort* your dad may have wacked you with the tire iron if you had tried that, and IMHO it would have been deserved.
OK, nothing to do with the actual story. I'm just tickled that "asshat" appears to have become the official derogatory appelation of Somewhere On The Masthead :-)
I spent the good portion of the day after reading the story of Blaze's disappearance sulking around my apartment and thinking about what had happened--I really thought this story would have an unhappy ending. I am so, so, so glad your sleuthing skills have stuck with you ever since the case of the missing stuffed animal or whatever it was when you were a kid. Mostly, it's so good to hear that Blaze got home safely.
OMG my heart was pounding reading this.....I can't wait for part 4!
i find the story interesting. mayeb next time you can post soemthing about online dating. i heard about webdate*com and it sounds quite interesting as what my friends tell me. how a bout a twisting and mind-wrecking love story?
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