Dale’s heart was beating louder than the seed cleaning plant motor. In full panic mode, he shouted again, but still no response. He could feel the sweat on his forehead turning his toque damp. He spun in a slow circle, looking around the yard.
No traffic was going by on the road. That at least was something good. Or was it?
Dale took a deep breath, trying to think. He had to find Flora.
Flora was the four-month-old German shepherd he had brought home before Christmas. Dale had fallen in love with her before he’d even got her home, but Dale’s wife Donna was a harder sell. Flora didn’t help things by spending her first hour in the house making messes on the floor and chewing Donna’s best boots. But after a pair of new boots and time spent petting Flora’s fluffy puppy fur, Donna came around quickly.
Dale and Donna’s grandchildren thought Flora was a great addition to the farm. Connor didn’t mind when Flora tripped him while he ran and nipped the heels of his boots. Flora got hold of seven-year-old Jenny’s blue hat, not once but three times, chewing enough holes that Jenny needed a new hat. Donna was apologetic until Jenny’s mother, Elaine, said Jenny had been asking for a new hat to match her best friend’s. It wasn’t hard to guess how Flora had managed to get her paws on the old one.
Dale’s son Jeff didn’t mind having a second dog around the farm and their farm employee, Mark, had taken to carrying dog treats in his coverall pockets. “I have to fill the pocket right up,” Mark said. “We can’t have the old collie feeling jealous, so he gets double treats every time I give Flora one.”
The truckers that came in and out of the yard may not have been quite as thrilled to meet Flora. When the trucker hauling canola bent down to pet her, Flora stole one of his mitts and ran off, hiding it somewhere Dale couldn’t find it. “I’ve got another pair in the truck, the trucker said.” He didn’t look angry, but Dale doubted he’d be volunteering to truck more canola from the Hanson’s anytime soon.
Flora played with everyone on the farm, but Dale was clearly her favourite. She followed as close behind him as possible. If Dale went to the house without letting her in, Flora would fling her body at the door. “I’m not sure the paint on the door will stand this,” Donna said one day when Dale had come in to pick up an extra sweater and left Flora waiting on the step.
“We could move the doorbell down lower, so she could reach it,” Dale suggested. Donna rolled her eyes and let the dog in, wiping Flora’s snowy feet with an old towel to keep the house floors clean.
Flora stuck close to Dale inside too. If he went to the bathroom, Flora sat in the hallway whining until he came out. Before bedtime, she followed Dale out to the garage, where she’d lay down on her dog bed and let him pull a blanket over her.
“It’s like you’ve adopted a toddler,” Donna said. “You’re spending more time with Flora than you spent with Jeff and Trina when they were small. And you’re definitely buying her more toys.”
“That’s not true,” Dale said. But then he worried that maybe Donna was right. Of course he hadn’t taken his kids outside to work on the farm with him for hours at a time. And Donna had been the one to put them to bed. And Flora needed chew toys. She was getting her adult dog teeth. None of this meant he loved the dog more than the kids, he defended himself in his mind. Donna laughed at the anxious look on his face.
On Thursday morning Dale and Flora went out to work in the yard.
Mark had the week off for some ice fishing. Last year the Hansons had sent him on an all-inclusive beach vacation as an employee perk. This year they’d helped pay for an ice fishing shack. “This virus might stop me from going back to Cuba, but it’s not keeping me away from the beach,” Mark said. “And I can save money on sunscreen.”
Dale’s son Jeff was in the shop with the door open to keep the air moving. When the Hansons’ neighbour, John Hunter, called to ask if could borrow an ice auger, Jeff made plans to catch up with John and make sure he was coping all right. COVID-19 restrictions were hard enough for everyone, let alone someone who’d struggled with depression in the past. Jeff was pretty sure the Hunters had their own ice auger, so he suspected John needed company more than he needed a tool.
“You two could talk about these great canola prices,” Dale suggested. “That should put him in a good mood.”
“He sold his canola off the combine,” Jeff said. “I’d better not bring it up.”
While Jeff and John talked, Dale went out to the cleaning plant to clean off some screens while he waited for a customer to drop off a load of lentils. Once he finished, he started to head back to the house. But something seemed strange. Dale turned to look behind himself and identified the problem. Flora wasn’t there.
Dale took his phone out of the pocket of his coveralls and phoned Donna to see if Flora was in the house.
“Why would she come here without you?” Donna asked. “She must be outside somewhere.”
Maybe she’s in the shop, Dale thought, looking around the yard as he headed that way. But no. “She hasn’t been in here,” Jeff said. “See how relaxed the cats are?”
Dale turned down Jeff’s offer of a cup of coffee. “I’ve got to find Flora.” He hesitated, then asked, “Do you think someone might have driven into the yard and stolen her?”
“The dog?” Jeff asked. “We have all these vehicles and tools sitting around, not locked up, and you think someone might take the dog?”
“Dogs are in high demand this year,” Dale said, realizing he might sound a little silly. “Especially puppies.”
Dale patrolled the yard, calling Flora’s name. He checked the storage sheds and the garage, in case she’d snuck in. He checked the shop again.
That was when panic set in. Had she run off down the road? Maybe she’d taken off into the field and gotten lost. What if she’d gone far enough to run into a coyote?
On the verge of tears, Dale took one last look around the cleaning plant. Maybe she was tangled in a belt? Desperate, he opened the door to the tiny back storage closet.
And there was Flora. Looking up and wagging her tail so violently she bashed it on the door frame when she ran out. Dale had taken a broom from the closet a couple of hours ago. She must’ve crept in around him when he put the broom away.
“You were lost!” he said, bending down to let her lick his face.
Her brown eyes were answering him. “I knew exactly where I was.”