The van arrived an hour after the call. It was clinical white with the words A Farm Upstate in large black lettering. Next to them, as if to add legitimacy, was a picture of a red barn and an oak tree.
Bruce got out and ran the doorbell. A harried man answered the door. “Thanks for coming so fast,” he said. “He’s not doing well.”
“No problem,” Bruce said. “What kind is it?”
“Black lab,” the man said. “Come on in.”
The dog was lying in its bed in the laundry room, breathing shallowly.
“Marcus Aurelius,” Bruce read off the side of the bed.
The man shrugged and nodded towards the girls sitting cross legged in vigil with her back against the dryer. “Her mother’s a history prof.”
Bruce knelt by the dog, checking its vitals.
“Are you a vet?” the girl asked. Her cheeks were wet.
“No, but I know a lot about animals. I’m from a farm upstate.”
The girl’s face clouded with skepticism. “Oh, yeah? What’s the name?”
“Sunny Porch Farms. It’s a great place. There’s a huge porch where dogs can lie out in the sun, lots of window sills for cats. We even import butterflies for them to chase if they want.”
“So, you’re taking Marcus Aurelius?” She sniffed and ran a hand across her eyes.
Bruce nodded. “I’m afraid so. There comes a time in every pet’s life when they need specialized care. He’ll be happy up there though. I guarantee it.”
“Can I come visit him sometime?”
“It’s best if you don’t,” Bruce said. There was no point explaining why.
The girl said good bye, hugging the poor dog so tightly Bruce was afraid she was going to kill it right there. Then he picked it up and carried it out to the back of the van.
“Thanks again for doing this,” the man said, handing Bruce a check. “That’s a great marketing idea, by the way. Just to make sure, there won’t be any pain, right?”
“None at all,” Bruce said, pocketing the check. “I’ll give him a quick shot and he’ll be good to go.” They shook hands and Bruce got in and drove off.
“Hang on back there, Marcus, okay?” he said as they got on the highway. “We’ll be there in a few hours.”
Two hours later, Bruce arrived back home. The dog was motionless and Bruce was afraid he’d died until he opened his eyes and licked Bruce’s hand. Bruce carried him in to the treatment room and put him on the table.
“A retriever, I see,” his wife Jane said, walking in. She got a syringe from a drawer and filled it with amber liquid. Marcus Aurelius was quivering with fear and Bruce held him still while Jane stuck the needle into the dog’s leg, pushing the plunger down slowly.
“How was the traffic?” she asked.
“Not that bad for a Saturday,” Bruce said. They watched the dog. He shook his head several times and then took a deep breath. A minute later, he jumped off the table and barked.
“There, he’s doing fine now,” Jane said. “Go show him around and I’ll go get supper ready.”
Bruce opened a door in the far wall and Marcus Aurelius bounded after him. He seemed to have all the energy of a puppy now.
The door led to the wide yard that echoed with the barks of dozens of dogs. There was a porch a hundred feet long, facing south with rows of comfortable pillows.
“This is a popular spot, Marcus,” Bruce said, leading the dog around. “Find yourself a pillow and soak up some sun, if you want. The cardboard box room is over there, although you’ll have to share it with the cats if you want to go play. The toys and bones are wherever you can find them, so feel free to bury them. The elementary kids come on Tuesdays for playtime and belly rubs, so I’d pencil that into your schedule, if I were you.”
A bell rang and feeding stations all over the farm deposited food. The air exploding into barking as the dogs ran here and there.
An hour later, Jane and Bruce sat down for their own supper on the second floor balcony, overlooking the farm. A parrot perched nearby.
“You realize that Marcus Aurelius was the one hundredth animal we’ve taken in,” Jane said. “How many more can we afford?”
“You think we should sell the serum,” Bruce said. “It still only works on animals, though.”
“But it could still do a lot of good. Plus we could make a ton of money.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Bruce said. He watched Marcus Aurelius cross the yard, nose to the ground as he intently followed some invisible scent trail. “I got an idea: let’s expand to goldfish.”
“Everyone has toilets. No one’s going to pay you to take their goldfish away.”
“They might. We could call it A Pond Upstate.”
“You just want the animals, don’t you?”
“Do you mind?”
She shook her head and with a smile, squeezed his hand.