The storm gathered strength as huge raindrops, driven horizontally by the gale-force wind, battered the stone walls of the old house. The torrential rain was accompanied by flashes of lightning, and deafening claps of thunder concentrated directly overhead. In the noise and confusion created by the squall, two puppies burst through a badly damaged barn door that had been all but blown off its hinges.
Other dogs remained, cowering within the structure, terrified by the fury of the storm raging outside. Undeterred and desperate to escape, the two young animals made for a wooden gate that was swinging violently back and forth. As the pair approached this dangerously unstable barrier, it slammed shut, almost in their faces, and they both veered off in another direction.
Moving on at speed, they searched for a gap in the fence that would afford them an exit to the fields beyond the compound. Suddenly, Milo, the leading dog, lurched to the right and sped through a gaping hole, followed closely by his injured friend. Both puppies had jet black fur, which happened to be the only similarity between the two.
Dima, the second escapee, was much bigger than his companion and three times as strong, even though the pair were more or less the same age. Milo, the smaller dog, had lived and suffered with Dima and the other dogs in the most appalling conditions for almost twelve months. Together, the pair had formed an unbreakable bond, always promising each other that they would stay together forever, regardless of the circumstances.
Once clear of the fence, they hurtled across the fields, slipping in and out of the shadows, making identification difficult for any would-be pursuers. At this stage, however, there were none. Earlier in the day, Dima had been provoked into attacking one of the thugs supposedly responsible for his care and wellbeing. This action, although not without justification, had earned the young puppy a vicious and sustained beating.
His subsequent injuries were severe and painful and considerably hindered his progress across the wet grass. Milo was very concerned for his friend and allowed him all the time he needed to reach the trees on the far side of the field. He remained calm and in control, employing all his senses to seek a path away from their wretched place of confinement.
Now travelling more slowly, it took a while to reach cover but, eventually, the forest enveloped them both and provided a safe haven, at least for the time being. Relieved but exhausted, Milo sniffed the air, breathing in the sweet scent of freedom. The storm had arrived unexpectedly and was unusually destructive.
As a result, it required an urgent response from the three men tasked with the security of the site and all the buildings within the property’s perimeter. Although it was already dark, these men acted very quickly, yelling instructions to each other and doing such repairs as were necessary to secure the barn and the wooden gate beyond.
At first, they had no idea that two dogs had escaped and just busied themselves with their work. It wasn’t long, however, before they realised that a pair of disruptive puppies were missing. Two of the men became very agitated by this sudden disappearance and wanted to organise a search immediately, fearing serious repercussions from their employer.
Nevertheless, the man in charge decided to delay the pursuit until early the following morning. He felt confident that two young dogs with absolutely no experience of the outside world would not get very far at night, particularly in the middle of a terrifying storm.
In addition, he knew only too well that one of the dogs was carrying a debilitating injury. Quietly standing within the comparative safety of the forest, the two fugitives considered their options, which appeared to be extremely limited. Milo was intelligent and already aware of the dangers of staying too long in one place. His injured friend, on the other hand, desperately needed to rest.
Reluctantly, he resolved to seek out a secure hiding place where they could wait out the storm and then prepare for the inevitable pursuit. Although Milo knew for certain that the humans would come, running was no longer a viable option. After discussing the situation with his friend, it was agreed that both dogs should concentrate on finding a place of safety.
The teeming rain had flooded the earth, creating a treacherous surface that severely hampered their progress through the forest. Nonetheless, the two companions finally arrived at a place deemed suitable by the smaller puppy. Here, the trees and thick undergrowth afforded them both numerous places capable of concealment.
Each dog chose a safe hiding place and then settled down to wait, confident that they had until morning to rest and then prepare themselves for what may lie ahead. Early the following day, in slightly more favourable weather, the search for the missing dogs began.
The foreman determined that the nearby forest would be the most obvious place to start looking, and so three men and an experienced tracking dog set off in that direction. The leader calculated that the pair were likely to remain together, which would dramatically reduce their chances of escape.
In normal circumstances, and considering the waterlogged terrain, the hunters would have expected a couple of healthy animals to give their trackers a good run for their money. On this occasion, however, they knew that one of the puppies was badly injured and would struggle to cover the ground quickly. Every now and then, they found paw prints in the still sodden earth, boosting their confidence that both dogs would be caught very quickly.
They were only partially right, however, because, in less than an hour, the men had located the first hiding place and secured the larger dog. Dima had been easy to find but far more difficult to restrain and, given his injuries, did well to resist their attempts to bring him under control.
It took longer than it should have but, finally, Dima just dropped to the ground and was recaptured. He was completely exhausted. The pursuers were jubilant and felt certain that the remaining puppy would also be recaptured without further delay.
After resuming the search, however, the team discovered paw prints all around the undergrowth — hundreds of them going in every direction. Even the dog was confused and unable to pick up a scent.
The men already knew that the missing puppy was very capable and perhaps cunning enough to stay one step ahead of them. Despite their misgivings, they were unwilling to concede defeat and continued their fruitless efforts for hours until it finally dawned on them that they had been outwitted.
They began to realise that their very capable quarry could well be miles away. Rather than admit to their boss that they had been hoodwinked by a puppy, they decided to tell him that Milo had drowned in the storm. The men knew that repercussions might follow the loss of this dog but hoped that their cover story would protect them to some extent.
After the hunters had left the area and silence returned to the forest, a small black dog, covered in thick grey mud, slowly emerged from a deep puddle close to the bushes that had concealed his companion.
Milo looked around and realised he was completely alone for the first time in his short life. Although free, he was desperately unhappy because his liberty had come at a terrible cost.
Dima, his closest friend, had been recaptured by these criminal humans, and it was entirely Milo’s fault. The solemn pledge that the two of them would always stay together had been broken.
As Dima was forcibly dragged away, the last words that his friend had called out he would never forget. “Milo, my friend, what have you done?”
Armstrong, Eric. A Dangerous Time for Dogs: The long journey home (pp. 7-11). Keith Beck. Kindle Edition.
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