Iain didn’t know which one to treat first—the woman or the dog. Both were huddled in the driving rain on the front step of his veterinary clinic. Bloody, filthy, and soaked to the skin. He raised his hands in a futile, oddly gentle motion, reaching first to the dog and then to the woman. Both had the same look in their eyes—the same hope—the same hopelessness.
“Please help her!” said the woman through her tears.
The dog whimpered, undeniably in pain. After unlocking the door, Iain guided the woman, the dog still clutched in her arms, inside and to a chair. Once they were seated, he tenderly unfolded her icy cold fingers and took the dog from her.
“Let’s see what we have here,” Iain said soothingly to both of them.
The dog struggled in his arms as he tried to carry it to the examination table. To his dismay, it began a fearful, heart-rending keening. The sound cut through him, shattering his carefully constructed defenses. For personal reasons, Iain always kept his distance emotionally from the animals he treated. This time, in the space of a heartbeat, the dog had affected him deeply. In his two years as a small animal vet, Iain had never seen a dog so badly mangled. His experience mostly ran to routine shots and worming. He took a deep breath to steady himself, calling upon his training and limited past experience to cope with the situation. The dog and its owner needed him to be confident, needed him to take charge of the situation.
“Here, let me take her,” said the woman as she wrapped her arms gently around the dog. “She’s afraid.” When she spoke, her voice had a soft, lilting quality.
Iain opened his mouth to protest, but shut it quickly when he realized that, at her touch, the dog had miraculously stopped its fierce keening.
Once they settled the dog onto the table, still in the sheltering circle of the woman’s arms, Iain began his examination. Mud-matted fur hid all but the most obvious wounds. Blood oozed unchecked over his hands and those of the woman. The dog was going to require some serious work to stitch it back together again. Looking up, he surveyed the woman’s bedraggled appearance from her wet hair and tear-stained cheeks to her torn clothes and muddy shoes. Without thinking, he pulled a few of the leaves out of her tangled hair. It was a tender, intimate gesture he had never thought of performing on anyone, let alone a complete stranger. Something about the dog and the woman made him want to enfold them in his arms and protect them. Iain struggled to maintain a professional distance.
“Right, let’s have a look then,” he said gruffly.