Midmorning, I went down to the barn and checked on the calves. Walking back to the house, I heard dogs yipping—maybe a mile away. That afternoon I heard the dogs again. About an hour before dark I went out on the porch with binoculars and saw them. They were baying a cow. I realized they’d been chasing it all day. I could see they had it down and I felt bad. She belonged to my friend, Al.
I ran to my truck, pulled the .22 from behind the seat, put it together on the run.
I was downwind. Although the dogs saw me coming, they were focused on their prize—too crazed by their triumph to register danger. Between them, a big Hereford cow lay goggle-eyed and gasping; foam hung from her torn mouth. Here ears were chewed off, her nose bloody. The dogs—housedogs, none of them weighing more than thirty pounds—took turns lying flat, tongues hanging, panting, covered in blood. As soon as one of them gathered enough energy, it would rise up barking and attack the cow’s back end.
I was still too far away to shoot all three dogs in succession. So with my rifle down next to my leg I walked a zig-zag, never directly at them, never squaring my face in their direction. Each turn I made, I turned away from them. At thirty feet I sat down, looking back over my left shoulder, and brought the gun up.
The biggest dog, a shepherd cross who was resting, jumped up, seized the back of the cow shaking his head and snarling. When he stopped I shot him through the ribs. The other two dogs froze. And in the moment it took for them to come to their senses I shot the little brown dog. The black was slim and quick. I had five bullets left. He took off like a loose scarf in high wind, barely touching the ground. The first two shots missed. The third made him jump—mid-stride, but he kept going. I missed the fourth, then settled down, led him carefully and dropped him—her, as it turned out.
The cow was in shock, her tail and vulva chewed off. She had been heavy with calf. The stress was too much, and she’d aborted. The dogs had eaten away most of the head as it was being born.
None of the dogs died instantly. All three lay where they fell, gasping and thrashing. There were plenty of hand-sized rocks around, but I wasn’t inclined to put them out of their misery. I let them bleed out, then dragged them into a gully and took off their collars.
The sun was nearly down. I checked on the cow, then I went home and brought some alfalfa, spread it around her. The herd, downwind, would follow the smell of hay, come to eat. I hoped they might hang around in the darkness sniffing the carnage, hoped that they would give some comfort to their herd mate.
I called Al, told him what had happened, told him where his cow was. He said he’d come out with electrolytes and water.
The cow lived. She stood on the second day. Al loaded her up and sent her to the butcher.
Richard C Rutherford is previously published in Conclave: A Journal of Character, upcoming in Hypertext, and Fiction Southeast. For thirty-seven years, he raised cattle at the edge of the desert and is reading Julia Whitty, Kevin Barry, DeLillo, Traci Foust. He has daughters, so he’s a feminist, and has written a collection of shorts, flashes, and micros.