This is the first photo I took as a kid in 1979; I was eight years old. Mom had bought a new fancy camera and gave me her old Kodak 110 camera. I ran right out on to the deck, saw the kittens all piled up together in the unused flower pot and snapped the picture.
Today's story though is about the kittens and their untimely demise. If you're easily upset, you might want to skip this post.
When I was a kid we lived in the middle of nowhere. When I say we lived in the country, I mean country; I had to walk a long gravel lane each morning to catch the school bus. Our house sat on acres of land and, as you've probably learned from this series, critters were often my closest friends.
While we had a dog, the outside cats ruled the yard. They hunted in the fields, lived in the shed, and we rarely gave them away. Instead, the cat population just kept growing. By the time this photo was taken there were four or five adult cats and over a dozen kittens roaming in the alfalfa and strawberry plants planted on the property.
All of our neighbors had their own pets or farm animals too. One neighbor raised rabbits to sell for fur and meat. Another had scads of chickens running around with a peacock or two for good measure. But almost every house had a dog or three. While there weren't many altercations between the various denizens of the critter community, occasionally there'd be a dustup. Most often it involved one specific dog from further down the lane; it was a large white shaggy mutt with a bad temper.
Carnage & the Aftermath
One Sunday we went to church in town and returned home to blood and destruction. As we got out of the car, we could see several kittens laying dead on the porch and around the yard. A horrific cacophony of barks, growls, and whines was coming from the back yard.
The neighbor's dog had gone nuts and killed every single kitten and all but one adult cat. It was attacking our dog, Honey, (who was chained to her house in the yard) and had already severely wounded her. The white dog was covered in blood and gore when we showed up. He ran into the backyard, grabbed a stick and started beating the beast on the back while screaming "Get! Go on! Get out of here!" As the dog lit out for its home, Dad turned into a drill seargant.
"Jean, go call the vet and tell him it's an emergency and we'll be there soon. Bil, go get some blankets to wrap Honey up for the trip and then check and see if any of the cats are still alive." He walked into the house and he did something I'd never seen him do before. He got the rifle out of the closet and he loaded it.
Mom called the vet and I got the blankets and made sure all of the kittens were beyond help. We wrapped Honey up, put her in the backseat with me, and took off. Once we hit the end of the lane though, we turned left instead of right towards the vet's office. We drove about a half mile down the country road and turned in at the neighbor's house.
The man was out on his front porch looking at his dog which had, of course, shown up more red than white. When we screeched to a halt in his driveway, I knew trouble was about to happen. The guy wasn't known in the neighborhood for his pleasant demeanor; in fact, he was about as grouchy as his dog. In later years I wondered if he'd abused the poor beast to turn it into a killing machine.
Dad got out of the car after instructing us to stay put. My father is like me; he's slow to anger and usually goes quiet when he's upset. If you get him (or me!) to the point where he's yelling, all hell is about to bust loose and Dad got out of the car screaming at the man about what his dog had done to our pets.
They came face-to-face close to our car and Dad showed him our dog laying in the backseat with bite marks all over her and one ear almost torn off. He told him about the dozen or so dead kittens and the handful of adult cats. The man seemed unconcerned and just said, "I'm not paying any vet bills. They're your animals."
Dad asked him, "So you're not willing to take responsibility for your dog?"
The man said back, "No. I wasn't there and I didn't see it so how do I know he did it?" The fact that his dog was covered in fresh blood apparently wasn't enough evidence to convince Mr. Responsibility. By this point the dog had come to stand next to his owner and was growling menacingly.
"If you're not willing to deal with this appropriately, then I guess it's up to me," Dad bellowed and reached inside the car. He pulled the rifle out of the backseat window, cocked it, and as the neighbor stepped back making calming gestures with his hands, Dad shot the white dog in the head - killing it instantly.
As the neighbor sputtered and got angrier, Dad simply said, "Take me to court. When you take responsibility for what your dog did, I'll take responsibility for my actions today," and got back in the car.
We took Honey to the vet and she spent the next few days recuperating but managed to make it through the ordeal with only a few scars. Since it was the first time I'd seen death up close - with all the blood and anguish and trauma that only a violent attack can bring - I ended up with a few scars too I suppose.
But I always take responsibility for my animal friends.