Early April brought the warmth of spring to Mill Creek. Snow remained in the higher elevations, but the valley had come alive with color from an abundance of wildflowers. Many said the warm temperatures this early in the season were unusual. Some blamed it on global warming, but the old timers scoffed at their concerns.
“Happens every few years,” some said.
Whatever the case, residents agreed it was nice to have a break from the cold and snow. Ranchers welcomed an abundance of newborn calves, outdoor enthusiasts took to the hiking trails, and everyone celebrated the passing of winter.
Allison breathed a sigh of relief when her receptionist locked the clinic doors on Friday afternoon. She looked forward to Saturday—her first true weekend off since moving to Mill Creek. Even though she closed the clinic on weekends, she remained available for emergencies. Invariably she would receive a call about an animal in distress. It seemed that cattle and horses picked the most inopportune times to calve or foal—especially if the birth was a difficult one.
Recently Dr. Steven Hargrove, the veterinarian from the nearby town of Deerfield, approached her about the idea of rotating weekends. “Doc Witherspoon and I talked such an arrangement, but we never got around to it before he retired. With the nearest emergency clinic more than an hour away, it’s imperative for one of us to be available. If we take every other weekend, it gives both of us a time to rest or even socialize.”
Allison wanted to say her social life had been non-existent since moving to Mill Creek, but she didn’t know him well enough to disclose that information. Her “socializing” consisted of breakfast with Jonah Reeves the morning she helped his mare deliver a new foal.
“I have one request,” Dr. Hargrove said. “And that is to have the second and fourth weekends off. My kids come to visit then. Kind of hard to take and eight and six year old along while attending to a birth. They get bored easily.”
“Working those weekends is fine with me.”
Now she knew how the handsome vet spent his free time. However, she didn’t have a clue what to do on her first free weekend until her assistant Wendy suggested going for a hike in the nearby national forest.
“If you enjoy the outdoors, they have a lot of nice hiking trails.”
“I do enjoy hiking when I have the time. Thanks for the suggestion.”
Maggie, the longtime receptionist and bookkeeper asked, “Do you carry?”
Allison frowned “Do I what?”
“You know, do you carry a gun?”
“No Maggie, I don’t carry a gun. I don’t even own a gun. Why would I need one just to go hiking?”
“Could be dangerous out there—animals and such—even people.”
“Maggie you worry too much,” Wendy said. She turned back to Allison. “I don’t think you have anything to be concerned over. There will be plenty of other hikers around.”
“I’m not afraid. Besides, I might was well take big boy along. He’ll probably enjoy the exercise.”
Two months had passed since the German Shepherd showed up on her doorstep. Allison hadn’t been successful at finding his owner. He wasn’t micro chipped and no one had responded to the flyers she’d placed around town.
“If you’re going to keep that dog,” Maggie said, “I think you should at least give him a name.”
“I guess I should. Just didn’t want to become too attached and then have the owner show up to claim him.”
“You’re already attached,” Maggie said.
“I guess I am.” Allison looked at the dog. “Okay, boy. It’s time you had a name. You look like a Cooper to me.”
“Woof, woof.” The dog reached out with his front paw.
Allison laughed. “Looks like you’re pleased. Cooper it is.”
“Cooper. What kind of name is that for a dog?” Maggie frowned—clearly not pleased with Allison’s choice.
Allison awoke early on Saturday morning and cooked a quick breakfast. She prepared a small backpack—bottled water, granola bars, a small first aid kit, and some treats for Cooper. She had no idea if he was leash broke, but she had brought one home the evening before. Couldn’t take a chance on a dog running free on public use lands.
She loaded her things in her pick-up truck and Cooper hopped in the front seat. By nine o’clock, she was on the road. Morning sunlight peaked above the mountains and cast its rays on the valley below. It would be a beautiful day for a hike.
Henry Odom laid the binoculars aside and reached for his journal. He’d seen the eagle again today—the third sighting in as many weeks. If his guess was correct, a pair was nesting nearby. He hoped the majestic birds were making a comeback to this area.
After recording the sighting, he placed the journal in his backpack and took a few minutes to scan the valley for other wildlife. A small herd of elk grazed on the far edge of the meadow and a lone moose drank from a small lake.
He inhaled the fresh mountain air. What he referred to as “the smell of spring” caused by the earth warming and coming alive after the long, cold winter filled his nostrils. Today promised to be a lovely day, which meant people would flock to the hiking trails and picnic areas of the forest. While most of them had respect for nature, there were always those few whose actions spoiled the beautiful scenery.
Often he’d picked up litter along the trails—left there by careless and uncaring individuals. Time for him to return home.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t like people.It’s just that he considered the animals of the forest and birds of the air more as his friends. They didn’t judge you or make false accusations. They lived their lives in peace—the occasional violent acts being a necessary part of survival.
There were times when Henry longed for a pet—something to be a companion. The last one had come into his life suddenly and unexpectedly. It left in the same manner.
Henry sighed, picked up his backpack, and headed toward his solitary cabin
Cooper took naturally to the leash. He “heeled” on command and walked beside Alison at the pace she chose—never tugging or trying to get ahead of her. This added to the mystery. He was well behaved and well trained.
Although it was impossible to know whether he was AKC registered, Allison could tell he had a strong bloodline. A registered dog of his breed could cost between $300.00 and $900.00. A championship bloodline would cost in the thousands. Why would anyone go to so much trouble to purchase such a dog and not microchip him or at the very least have identifying tags on his collar?
She’d walked about a mile along the trail when she spotted a man walking toward her. He looked to be in his mid-to-late sixties, wore jeans and a flannel shirt. His long hair was gray and pulled back into a ponytail.
Cooper wagged his tail as the main drew nearer. Allison paused to speak to him. “Good morning, sir. Nice day for being on the trail isn’t it?”
The man looked at Cooper, then at her. “So you’re the one who took my dog.”
This is part three in a series. To read the first two installments, visit the Friday Fiction menu.