Second revision.(must edit out 250 words before publication)
Eliot’s last day was like most days he spent at the shelter. He came to work there, partially as a favor to his friend Boston Ryan, who needed additional animal care specialists during the summer. Eliot had spent weeks wandering around the house perpetually melancholy, and Boston wanted him to get out of the house after the death of Eliot’s doomed courtship to Penelope.
It was one of those hot July days when the sweat and heat engulf you. The infinitesimal fans sat in the corners of the shelter, forcing a stir in the hot air, but offered no balm against the heat. Beads of sweat dripping, blowing off the face of one bewildered employee to another, their sense of smell unimpaired, only numbed by the repetition of this daily occurrence.
Eliot lived, breathed, and wallowed in his own odors, along with those of his fellow shelter workers, and the animals that surrounded every square inch of the ancient concrete and steel building. The mornings were always the worst, or perhaps the best, depending on how one looks at it. The long corridors swept the fresh scent of cat piss and dog shit throughout the halls, concocting an odor that could only be compared to the nightmare of listening to polka music for eternity. Eliot grew accustomed to it by the end of the first day. This is what made him happy and successful with the daily strenuous activities; this numbness, devoid of tribulation.
Eliot arrived first and switched on the lights down the long hallway of canines, stacked two crates tall. As the florescent lighting began to pop and hum in the darkness, the place erupted first with a whimper, and then a thunderous barking, whining, and squealing of hysterical animals. Going through the motions, Eliot walked down the line feeding each animal before their morning walk. By the time he finished feeding the last, the first was finished. The stream of volunteers and court-ordered community service workers would be in and assist the walking and cleanup. Eliot had hoped this early start with cleaning and preparation would help him fight off the heat of the day. Cleaning, like everything else at the shelter, was regimented, institutional, and had a standard operating procedure that involved grabbing a handful of rags and sweeping out old newspapers soaked with urine, then hosing out the kennel. Once clean, it was to be sprayed again with bleach and mopped up. A third time was added if a new dog was coming in. The biggest tragedy for an animal shelter was the spread of Bordetella. It could sweep through and kill forty dogs in the matter of a few days. The hectic environment was a temporary escape from Eliot’s memories and thoughts.
Ultimately, he loved walking the dogs in the morning. The trained dogs were great; they immediately did their business and were anxious for attention. The untrained ones, who had already deposited their business in, around, and all over the cages, were just anxious to be out. These animals eagerly showed their gratitude and were just as great to be around in their own unique ways. The saddest were the neglected, abused, and sickly dogs. So scared of abandonment or a beating, they held off their excitement, almost fearful of freedom. They preferred the safety of the cage. To Eliot, they were a salvation to him, and he loved all of the dogs just as equally as the others.
Eliot rarely had time during the day to think of the darker side to his own life. His lack of direction, his outstanding debts, and his writers block seemed to melt away as he became a witness to things much darker than his petty problems and insecurities about the world. His shelter dogs became his routine and his reason to forget his personal tragedies. To Eliot, there was nothing more heartbreaking than a dog without a friend in the world. He looked deep into those sad eyes every morning and spoke softly and honestly to them; offered acceptance, peace, and safety to the mistreated and abandoned dogs he walked and cleaned up after. On many days, Eliot would bring with him a copy of the Tao Te Ching and read aloud exerts to himself, but also to the dogs when no one was around.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
Most of the days were more about hard labor than it was about playing with the dogs. There was a reason community service was doled out to high school pot dealers. Often times the kids chose the animal shelter over roadside cleanup with the naive thought that they would be petting puppies and kittens all day. In reality, they were there to think about their mistakes and to clean up dog shit all day. Eliot was also serving his time five days a week, paying back his personal debts to society in the form of nine dollars an hour and back breaking work, while listening to Polka music. Day after day.
After all the dogs were put away for the night, Eliot looked himself and his coworkers over. Totally whipped, covered in dirt, shit, soap, bleach, blood, urine, and smelling of it all with a slight hint of tobacco from the last cigarette of the day. Just before dark, with the last hint of sunlight tickling at the mountain tops, a truck came barreling down the gravel road, swerving toward the old concrete building. Eliot met it at the gate and looked in the eyes of the frantic shirtless driver, who was clothed only in his overalls.
“Let me in! You’uns gotta help mah dog, Lenny, mah fucking neighbor shot ‘em o’er some got-damn, chickens!”
Eliot looked in the truck bed and saw a tan hound flailing around in a puddle of blood that used to be the truck bed. Eliot simply ignored the frantic man with his rambling, and quickly opened the gate and hurtled in the bed with Lenny. “Drive to the Back!” yelled Eliot through the open back window. Boston came running out the back door quickly as the truck parked and he started taking stock of the situation. Lenny had been shot at least twice by the neighbor’s shotgun over some lost chickens. Regardless of why, Lenny was on the neighbor’s property, and in the Appalachian Mountains, that is enough to get your ass shot to shit.
Boston spoke to the redneck, and he understood the situation. Lenny was suffering and his owner had brought him to the shelter to ease that pain. Meanwhile, Eliot sat holding Lenny’s head against his stomach. The blood ran down the grooved bed of the bright blue Nissan from what seemed a hundred tiny holes all over Lenny’s body. His golden fur was almost unrecognizable, now brown, save for a small unstained patch. There was nothing to do, or try, or some great medical procedure to perform to save Lenny. Everyone understood this, including Lenny.
Boston climbed into the bed of the truck with Eliot and sat long way against the side of the truck and took an undamaged back paw in his hand. “Is he ready, Eliot?” he asked. “No, he needs a minute to collect his thoughts and to relax before we do it.” Eliot stroked Lenny’s head and ears, softly looking into his eyes and began to speak.
“Good Boy, it’s OK. Good Boy. Good boy. Relax boy, the pain will stop soon.”
Boston also began to calmly talk to Lenny as he prepared to find the vein that would carry the fatal injection. Lenny looked up at Eliot for the last time, ready to take his last breath and leave this world. Eliot spoke, almost whispering to Lenny as Boston continued to prepare the vein that would deliver the fatal injection, “Go chase some rabbits and chickens Lenny. Chase those chickens forever boy”
As Boston injected the needle, a tiny drop of blood dripped from his arm and seamlessly blended with the blood flowing downhill through the grooves in the truck. The two men and dog were now all stained. Lenny calmly looked at Eliot for an instant before his whole body went limp and life left him. His eyes spoke to Eliot and would haunt him more than anything else he witnessed at the animal shelter. Lenny’s words burned in Eliot’s mind. The dark hound whispered back to Eliot apologetically saying,
“It was my first time”