This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 805 words.
Danielle had a list of jobs ready for me once I arrived the next morning. My role was mainly to let the dogs out of their runs or cages, and clear up whatever they had deposited on the floor. Then I replenished the water in their bowls, gave them some food, and had to take them out two at time for a walk across the field at the back of the house. I had never had a pet of course, and it seemed that the dogs sensed something different about me. An old greyhound bared its teeth at me, and Danielle put a muzzle on it. Even a tiny one-eyed miniature Schnauzer was reluctant to walk with me, and kept its lead at right angles all the time.
I had little to do with the animals inside, though I did have to muck out the small horse and feed it. That animal appeared to be happy enough in my company, though probably because I was giving it extra carrots and apples. Danielle provided me with a lunch of sorts, which on that first day was three nut bars and an orange. She didn’t care for tea or coffee, so offered tap water to drink. I decided that I would bring my own refreshments in future. Over that lunch, she explained something of her life story.
The house we were in had belonged to her grandmother. Whe she died, she left a reasonable amount of cash, and the house, to Danielle. She had recently married an accountant friend of her father, a much older man. He wanted her to sell it, and for them both to continue living in his smart flat in town. But she had her dreams of an animal sanctuary, something her new husband thought was ridiculous. So the marriage was over almost as soon as it had started, and she moved into the old house, using the money to set up the sanctuary, and what was left of her own savings along with any donations she could beg. Seven years later, and she was struggling financially, as well as running out of space. Vet bills were one issue, and inspectors from the local Council also made her make constant improvements.
She was now living in one room of the large house, as every other inch of space was given over to the rescued animals.
To be honest, there wasn’t that much work. Walking the dogs took the most time, as there were seventeen of them. But the routine cage-cleaning and feeding was far from arduous, and I was convinced she could easily have coped alone. I concluded that she was lonely, and required the company of a volunteer more than the help with the work. She stayed inside most of the time, looking after the small animals and cats. Because the Vet charged to come out to her house, she now took all the animals, bar the miniature horse, to the Vet in her own car, a delapidated Peugeot. I didn’t offer the use of my van, as I didn’t want anyone to know I was working there.
When a month had gone by, we had settled into a routine on my four days there. The dogs still didn’t like to be around me, and one of them, a Lakeland Terrier, became so agitated when he saw me that I was no longer able to take him for a walk. Inside the house, the cats didn’t trust me that much either, so Danielle made sure to always handle them. She made no effort to find homes for any of her charges. She didn’t want to chance them being neglected, so continued to take in anything that someone brought to her door, or dropped off in a box outside. Knowing how low she was getting on animal food, I gave her one hundred pounds one afternoon, and told her to use it for the animals. That brought tears to her eyes, and she hugged me again.
Just as I was getting ready to leave, the doorbell sounded. She left me in the kitchen, and went to see who it was. After a long conversation with someone, I heard the door close, and she came back into the room. “It was some guy with two chameleons. He is having to move with his job, and can’t take them. He tried selling them, but no luck. I told him to try a zoo, as I can’t take them”. I asked her why she wouldn’t take them, wondering if she had some fear of lizards and reptiles.
“It’s what you have to feed them. You know, grasshopppers, bugs, grubs and the like. I cannot stand anything creepy-crawly, Paul. I am terrified of all those things, even earwigs and spiders. Funny really, considering how much I love animals”.
I drove home smiling.