Short story: A Man’s Best Mate

Worth 1000 words: Summer Herald will each day publish a short story competition entry. The winner will be announced on January 30. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

STUMBLING on the uneven footpath Chad kept a steady hold of the leash and encouraged his dog to “find a way”.

“Get me there boy, you can do it.Good boy Gorg.”

Gorg didn’t know every word. But he knew the meanings and emotions of his friend. He knew his role was to lead Chad through hazardous pathways.He had to negotiate uneven paths, rocky gravel roads, cross busy streets, past bushes and protruding objects.He needed to ignore startling sounds, quick movements, sudden distractions, cars and bikes, scents and smells, barking dogs through fences, even stray cats.

This wasn’t always Gorg’s job.It just happened.Almost all of his life he had been with Chad.Before Chad he tried to forget. At times, in dreams, parts flash back. His own yelp startling him awake, he would break the rules, climb onto Chad’s bed and lean his full body against Chad’s broad back.

Chad knew.“Another bad dream,boy?” he asked as tickled his belly and patted him back to sleep.

It all started with whimpering in the corner of a shed.Old Muhammad Bashir lived next to an unpainted ruin of a house rented by the local druggy. He was trying to raise cash for more meth through breeding dogs and selling them, or so he bragged once. The druggy hadn’t been home for weeks, no one knew when or if he was coming back.Muhammad had heard the crying for weeks and just couldn’t handle it any more so he peeled back loose fence palings and went searching.

The RSPCA had come and collected all the pups and dead carcases a few days ago but the old Persian could still hear scuffing and whimpering sounds.That’s how Gorg was finally found, hiding under tin.The bedraggled, mud-covered, flea-bitten whelp shook convulsively. Muhammad threw a large dirty rug over the smelly, filthy stray,scooping him up in one quick action, before sheer terror forced him to bite. After the filthy pup was hosed down it was obvious he was in too poor condition to be kept alive if taken to the dog pound. The pup’s fate was at the lowest ebb of its young life.

Muhammad was building up the courage to take the stray to its death when Chad called by.Chad was the local paper boy grown up. He got to know the Bashirs when they were the only Muslims in the street and most people wouldn’t talk with them.Chad was different.Muhammad cherished the morning paper being delivered because the shy sandy haired kid would stop to chat and chat some more,just so he could practice his English.

Muhammad brought Chad through the house almost at a drag, so excited to show the young man his new find. Although the pup had eaten until he fell asleep then ate again, he was still terrified of large two legged creatures. He had slunk into the corner of the old inverted baby crib,whimpering and growling simultaneously.

Chad knelt down and the pup yelped, jumped and tried to find more corner to wedge into.

“My God, what a little cutie, but he is so scared,” Chad offered.

Muhammad told his story. Chad laid down and kept eye contact with the whelp, making soft cooing noises to settle him. “Mr Bashir, may I keep him?”“I was hoping you’d say that” He patted the boy’s shoulder as Chad encouraged the dog to take dried liver treats.“I think it best if he is left here for now.Just so he is not more scared with new surroundings.” Chad agreed.

“He is so pure white. ot any other markings. What breed do you think? He looks like a young wolf.He remind me of wild dogs I saw in the hills of my old country.The wolves of ancient Persia.” “You must call him ‘Gorg’. It mean ‘wolf’ in my language of Farsi”

Daily, Gorg grew strong. Daily, Chad visited.They both grew very close.Gorg would sit with ears fully forward same time each day awaiting Chad.Chad never let him down.When the dog wasstrong enough, old Mr Bashir said his goodbyes and hugged Gorg. Dust flicked into his eyes so he had to wipe them.

Years passed. Chad and Gorg were virtually inseparable. Gorg proved an extremely intelligent dog, pre-empting Chad’s commands and gestures.He almost knew English Chad thought as he merely “spoke”with his dog and the animal reacted as if understanding words. What also passed, over these years, was the deterioration of Chad’s eyesight. For a young man the specialists were surprised his genetic degeneration was advancing so rapidly. He was offered the services of the Assisted Guide Dog Program This would mean having a replacement dog to help him traverse his diminishing visual world.

Replace Gorg? No way!

So, their campaign started. Chad read and interpreted every method he could find on teaching dogs to guide. Liver treats, Chad and Gorg worked well in each training program Chad devised.Even short walks around the house with Chad’s eyes closed seem to be almost perfect.

The time was fast approaching when Chad didn’t have to close his eyes.Each day Chad could be seen being lead by Gorg down the busy footpaths, across streets.Chad could hear the traffic and encourage Gorg to hold until the cars were gone. The dog even looks out for overhanging branches way above his own height, just so Chad would not be caught by them. Chad and Gorg’s favourite spot is the park with bygone gates.A gentle, verdant oasis of sound and scent, shadows softening the outside world. Gorg runs wild for a while as Chad lays under a tree. But Gorg always comes back to stand next to his friend, his master, his saviour. To be with him and make sure he is safe … as Chad always does for Gorg.

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