Herbie’s Story

Moira Sheppard – Deakin University

The numbness has become my world. The metal pole is almost a distant memory, but for the constant throbbing that radiates from the swelling. It mixes with the malignancy that is wrapping itself around my thoughts.

The frosty ground bristles as the boots near me. Soft warmth reaches underneath me as I am prised from my icy grave. My companion left, muzzle taped shut, his wounds no longer bleeding.

“He’s still alive,” says a muffled voice from above me as the freeze falls away and a coat is wrapped around me.

My world shudders and bobs as I am carried to a warmth.

“The other bait dog is dead, Doc.”

“Get photos of him before you bag him.”

The roar of an engine barely touches my world as I sink willingly into the dark.


Different temperatures tug and pull at me, drawing my limbs forward as I barely register the pricks that pierce my skin; inoffensive, foreign implements taking up residency within me. Their soft voices hold me, beseeching me to hold on as warmth begins to flow through me; lub-dub the ice begins to melt, lub-dub my veins no longer rub together, lub-dub hydration begins to feed my resolve to fight. The new found strength encourages me to open an eye. The bright lights and different colours are slightly obscured as the heat and pressure forces part of me into darkness.

The loud clangs, whirs and whooshes are no signal as to how long I have been here. I know enough to become used to the routine of who will be here today to comfort me, tuck the blankets that little bit tighter around me, place my yellow duck back under my chin or to try and encourage me to eat a little. Most of them are soft in their touch and movements; occasionally there is one who shatters my oblivion of sleep as they close the door. Most hold my body in ways which it was designed to be held; occasionally there is one who stretches a leg in a direction that it was not meant to go. I have worked out that at the sound of, “just eat a little”, there then comes the oblivion — all pain falls away — for a short period of time, then just as I see it menacing in the background the bright colours of them reappear and “just eat a little” saves me again.

The sun has gone down and as the blue legs and white hems stand in front of me, I know that the new people will take care of me; after they do their ‘handover’.

“Fractured skull, severely emaciated,” sinks towards me. “Chronic infection of a puncture wound above left eye, yellow-green purulent discharge from both eyes, q-four methadone, fentanyl patch due to be replaced tonight. Temp still thirty-nine point eight. Has just been given his eight PM meth…”


The metal pole falls to the ground with a clang, the thundering across my memories increases as I flinch, my metal bed rocks momentarily


Doc! Doc’s smell helps draw me from my dream. Instinctively I am drawn to Doc’s safety.

“Hey little Herbie.” His soft breath swirls around me. “What’s the update?” His voice seems distant.

“Still too weak to stand. Path has come back; adenocarcinoma – non-operable and non-responsive to chemo…”

Doc’s soft fingers lull me back to sleep.

I now instinctively look for the peace in everything that happens. I wet my bed, but I am cuddled as soft, new smelling blankets replace my smell. The pressure that I feel as they drain the pus from my swollen head falls away as a sad smile gets buried against me.

Eventually, with each of Doc’s visits I am able to totter towards him, before long I am tentatively at Doc’s side.

The time in the pits is obscured by the sun, and by Doc, as he lies on the grass beside me. Their teeth no longer rip at my flesh as I fight against the tape, desperate to defend myself.

“How would you like to come home with me for the weekend little Herbie?”

I don’t know what the words mean but I know they are the sounds of life. Doc’s voice and the sun warm my belly and he is my entire world for the moment.

My tongue lulls and saliva slaps against my cheek as I scratch my back along the soft grass; Doc’s paw always touching a part of me.

My paws try to keep up with the need to move as Doc takes things out of my safe haven. My nails tap nervously as I step back and forth on the spot; my yellow safety is held up, above me, away from me…what are they doing with it?

“I’ll take a pic of Herbie with his yellow blanket when he’s settled in at home,” comes his voice.

“I’ll post it on Facebook if you email it to me. His followers will love to see him snuggled up with it, and his duck,” she replies.

I repeatedly press my nose to Doc’s leg as bottles rattle above me.

“See ya on Monday Herbie.”

“Be good for Doc.”

“You hold out for the chicken.”

Chicken! I know that word. They mix it through this other stuff they want me to eat, but I always get every last piece of it.

Chicken, is that what Doc was meaning…weekend…chicken…?

I soften as his gentle hands lift me up, sighing as a noise starts and Doc becomes fuzzy.

I want to be afraid but I know that if I am with Doc there is nothing to be afraid of. Discomfort, sometimes, but never anything like before Doc.

My excitement doesn’t translate well to the rest of my body. Every part of me is tingling and trembling, but all that I can do is stumble over the new and exciting scents…nope that one’s not chicken, but damn near good enough, it smells of Doc. His smell is everywhere.

I want to follow the newness but I do not venture too far from my Doc. Doc lies down on a softness near a warmth that comes from the wall. I curl up beside Doc; tucked up in my happiness as my dreams dance across Doc’s lap.

We lie together, our paws always touching…this must go on forever?

The light begins to fade and it is that time of the day again; very wrong tasting things hidden in chicken…If Doc only knew that I would take them without the chicken, just because he asked.

The need begins to build but I don’t want to move; what if Doc doesn’t lie back down with me? I shift slightly, trying to alleviate the pressure in my belly. I don’t want to leave my comfort but I give in and whimper.

Every few hours we go through this routine. Doc moves so softly that I barely feel his lap move from beneath my head. He leads me towards the cold, clear wall where a little opening lets in the cold. I relieve the pressure in my belly as quickly as I can, desperate to be back inside on Doc’s bed. My little yellow friend safely under a paw.

Doc is my world, he feeds me and that metal bar and the time in the pits is nowhere to be found. For three times in a row, when it has gotten cold and dark out, he sleeps beside me.

As the sun comes up after the third night of it being Doc and my world, Doc takes me back to the others. Smiles and hugs welcome me back to my home and dull the absence of Doc.

Where is Doc?

They always ask before holding a paw and placing something sharp inside of my leg.

Will I see Doc again?

They always say sorry as they press against my head; a foul smelling ooze being drawn out.

I can still smell Doc on my paws. And, they always place their faces against mine and murmur to me before leaving.

I know that I will see Doc. As the people come and go it’s only a matter of time before Doc comes to see me. The cycle of being here in my home and then being in Doc’s world becomes my constant; a sad joy radiates from them each time I return from my days with Doc.


As the sun tries to warm the air, the must-have chicken wafts above me. A sickness swirls through me. I can’t look Doc in the eyes; I turn away from him, his soft fingers holding a piece of the chicken in front of me. His sadness hurts me. His sigh is barely audible but it’s the only thing that I hear as I lay my head between my paws. It hurts but I stretch my nose forward, resting against his leg. His touch is there, but it feels distant.

The one whose feet always smelled like those who would hiss at me through the cage doors turns up sometime later. That smell has never been at Doc’s before. It used to puzzle me. It used to surround me when I was with them. But never when I was with Doc did he smell like them. I lie between them as they talk, touch me, offer me chicken…

Something sharp between my shoulders before Doc’s touch falls away…

My paws reach for the warmth, the rays spreading across my belly as a cool freshness scratches along my back. The smell of Doc wraps around me… 

He’s there with the metal pole again

…Cool liquid is drizzled over my tongue…

The cold shakes my body as it melts across me while I wait for Doc

…I don’t feel well…

He is all that I have ever known, there has never been that metal pole

…I feel his body alongside of mine…

The pits shake violently around me as I am flung against a wall

…I hear their footsteps and smell them as Doc stirs.

They are quite and soft, murmuring to me as they stick my leg again, a stickiness soothes the pain away and holds a foreignness in place. Cool liquid spurts into my leg.

“The catheter’s in,” comes their voice.

Something warm and wet falls on my head before their trembles touch me. I soften against Doc, watery sounds whisper against me.

“At least you got to know what it was like to be loved, little Herbie.”

Doc’s touch never leaves my face as one of them asks:

“You ready?”

I feel a slight movement from him.

His face is pressed against mine; soft words reassure me; a clamminess holds me to him as something stings my leg.

I fight the urge to go to sleep…the thudding in my chest can’t fight it…

Doc falls away and I see all the others that have lived my life waiting for me.


Moira Sheppard is currently finishing the Honours year of her Bachelor of Arts. She has a double major in Professional and Creative Writing and Literary Studies. Her thesis is focused on the representation of animals in literature and what it has to say about the real world treatment of them. She is interested in animal rights issues and writing literary narratives which examine themes about animals and humankind’s (mis)treatment of them.