Sam had made it to a trail out of sight of the main roads, but she had seen animal control officers walking these trails before. She knew she wasn’t safe yet. The path she was on was rutted and uneven — some hikers stomping through clearly carried more weight than others — making the walk longer and more difficult as she navigated around obstacles. She couldn’t imagine how much pain the dog must be in and how much every bump added to his torture. So she was slow and deliberate with each step. There was still plenty of time to get home, clean up and prepare for the Challenge. She just needed to make it home without being seen.
A strong gust of wind blew a small branch off a tree above Sam and it fell on the path in front of her. Shivering, she watched the trees around her sway in unison. She kicked the large stick out of the way and was startled when a white terrier mix darted past her from behind. The small dog grabbed the branch, which was three times her size.
“Really, Dixie? And what about your ball now? Who’s going to carry that?” Roya Kossari called out, laughing at her dog. Dixie had the middle of the branch in her mouth and was trying to return to her human with her prize but couldn’t get the long stick past the tree trunks along the sides of the trail.
“Off, Milton! Sorry there! Off!” A Golden Retriever had caught up to Sam and was busy sniffing the dog and his strange stretcher. Roya jogged to catch up with her dogs and Sam could see her face cloud with concern as she assessed the dog. “Oh my. You poor puppy! I hate mange. Dixie had it too when I rescued her. I’ve had a few rescues who came to me with it. If you need any help at all—”
A barrage of ferocious growls, barks and high-pitched screeches erupted beside them. Out of nowhere, a tiny Chihuahua had appeared and was now scurrying away from Milton.
The sound of a woman’s shriek then came from the trail ahead. “HEY! You stop your stupid dog! He’s killing my dog!” Trudy Bingham screamed.
Roya grabbed her Golden Retriever by the collar and rushed to put his leash on. The Chihuahua was all alone now but still frantically yelping. Dixie, oblivious to everything that was happening, was off in her own world, wrestling with the branch.
“Control your stupid dog!” Trudy was now beside them, but she was still shouting. Her enraged eyes bounced back and forth between Sam and Roya, unsure of which enemy to fixate on. She scooped up her tiny dog, her hands shaking as she reached for him, and kissed him repeatedly. He stopped crying and started growling and barking aggressively instead.
“Your dog startled Milton and he reacted, but I don’t think he bit him. Is your dog hurt at all?” Roya asked, clutching Milton’s leash tightly.
“Don’t you have ears? Can’t you hear him screaming?” Trudy yelled. Sam could see a pink tint around her water-filled eyes.
“Oh yes, we can hear screaming all right,” Roya said, giving Sam a sideways glance, like she and Sam were already best friends sharing an inside joke at Trudy’s expense.
“Your dog might have just been frightened,” Sam suggested, hoping the idea might calm Trudy.
Trudy ignored Roya’s comment, but she did stop yelling. “There are animal control people back there and they are coming this way. Your dogs should be on a leash.”
Sam felt a bolt of panic strike her. She looked past Trudy, trying to spot the animal control officers.
“Excuse me, but your dog was off-leash too,” Roya protested.
“Look at how small my dog is and look at how big yours is! Yours can kill somebody, but mine is like a baby!” Trudy’s voice grew louder. “Are you two coming with me to the vet clinic now to pay for my bill?”
Sam’s heart beat faster. Animal control officers would definitely be at the clinic by now.
“I’ll go with you to the clinic. Milton is my dog. But she has nothing to do with this.” Roya turned to Sam and added, “So you go on and take care of your dog.”
Sam stared back at Roya. Continuing on the path was the last thing she wanted to do now. Her heart pounded as she glanced ahead on the trail.
“Hey, you can’t leave! You are a witness to this dog attack. I need your information,” Trudy barked, grabbing Sam’s arm.
Sam looked around for an escape, but there was nowhere to go. Animal control officers were on the trail in front of her. They were probably at the clinic too. And now, she had somehow gotten herself in the middle of a fight. She was trapped.