Dock: The Healing Hound

posted Apr 14, 2020, 2:29 PM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Apr 14, 2020, 2:30 PM ]

Catherine Brand graduated from the University of California, Davis with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. Her plan was to take a year off from her studies then apply for the master’s program. She was the only child of James Brand, a multi-millionaire financial manager. Her mother Christine passed away unexpectedly five years earlier from complications during a routine surgical procedure at Scripps La Jolla hospital. The death devastated the close-knit family and after a year of grieving, Catherine and James slowly began to see a light in the darkness. Seeking solace from each other, it also strengthened their father-daughter bond.

They lived in a costal mansion on the bluffs in Carlsbad, California where James conducted his international business dealings from an ocean view office. He had to resist the constant temptation to be overprotective, which would have been difficult enough under the best of circumstances. Let alone having a daughter who was independent and adventurous. Catherine was grateful for the opportunities that wealth afforded her but was also extremely careful never to feel entitled. Maybe it was God’s way of balancing the scales by giving her a boundless love for animals as her way of giving something back to the world. Catherine’s long-term plan was to work in a zoo or a wildlife preserve. Her father fully supported her aspirations. When she told him she wanted to visit Kenya’s animal parks, he quickly agreed but added, “On one condition.”

“Which is?” Catherine asked.

“I send somebody with you.”

“I’m not going to be there alone. There will be other people.”

“I’ve supported you in almost everything you’ve wanted to do. You know that, right?”

“That’s a fact. I hope you know how grateful I am.”

“You’re going to be in a foreign land and there are going to be inherent risks. In Africa there are poachers, kidnappers, traffickers, and terrorists among others, as well as everyday criminals. I have dealings in East Africa and while you might be there with people of mutual interests, they are not experts in security. I’d feel a whole lot better having a professional with you whose main purpose is your safety. Look at the bright side, if somebody is protecting you, then you can focus on what you’re there for.”

“For the record, I can take care of myself.”

“I’ve got clients who are expert marksman, martial arts artists, and other highly qualified and dangerous individuals. Even they travel with personal protection. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s just another layer of protection.”

“Okay, you made your point.” Catherine kissed her father on the cheek in gratitude.

The following morning, John made a call to Mission Excalibur, a global security company, and talked to CEO Charles Rutiger. “My daughter wants to go Kenya, so I’ll need your best man to look after her while she’s there.”

“I have somebody in mind. I’ll give him a call and see if he’s available,” said Rutiger.

Ron Yankton was the son of an American mining engineer, Frank Yankton, who worked in Kenya, searching and excavating for Niobium. The mineral is used as an alloy in pipeline construction, jet engines and heat resistant equipment. It’s a very valuable asset to the country of Kenya.

The young boy spent his pre-teen years in the East Africa nation before returning to the United States to attend high school in Oceanside, California. Frank Yankton was popular with the Kenyan government because the mining operations that he supervised brought in so much revenue to the impoverished country. The local workers were deeply appreciative because the American demanded that his company implement safety procedures, provide health care, and pay excellent wages.

The Yanktons loved Kenya—especially Mombasa—so even after Frank retired, the family kept their spacious villa in the most sought-after residential area of Kizingo. It’s home to the Mombasa Golf Club, a 36-hole course, tennis courts, and five-star dining. The area is surrounded by white sandy shores and coral reefs, with a great view of the Mombasa harbor. The Yanktons would vacation there from July to September during the country’s dry season when sun was abundant and the skies were clear blue. The government maintained and provided security for the residence as a token of gratitude for his years of service. Frank continued to donate his expertise as a consulting engineer on the country’s future projects. The family’s longtime friendships included Arabs, Asians, Europeans, and the Banta and Nilotic people.

Ron spoke Swahili fluently, the other official language of Kenya besides English. After high school, he joined the Army and became a Ranger, then a Green Beret. He would try to schedule his annual leave from the military at the same time his parents were in Mombasa.

Ron spent 15 years in the Army and was planning to retire at 20, but a mission he was leading in Afghanistan went south due to faulty intel. Sergeant First Class Yankton was falsely accused of dereliction of duty and court-martialed. The less than honorable discharge included a demotion to corporal and 60 days in the brig. Frank Yankton hired the best legal firm he could find to defend his son. It cost the family nearly one million dollars, but two years later the truth came out and Ron was fully exonerated. He was restored to full rank, given back pay, and an upgrade to honorable discharge.

However, he was not given back his military career. Ron swore to repay the million dollars, even though his father never asked for a cent. He had a certain set of skills he learned in the Army and decided to use them in the civilian world. Ron let it be known to friends and his father’s business acquaintances that he was available for highly sensitive work. He didn’t need to elaborate; they knew what he meant.

Ron looked at his cellphone and answered, “Hey Charlie.”

“How are you?” Charles Rutiger inquired.

“Good”

“Are you available?”

“What do you have?”

“Africa?”

“I was just there six months ago.”

“This is in Kenya, your old stomping grounds,” Rutiger said. “It pays well for a short-term assignment.”

“It doesn’t matter where I go, it depends on the money. I’ve almost got my dad halfway paid back.”

“I’ve got a client whose daughter wants to go to some of the wild animal parks.”

“I’ll pass.”

“I thought you’d jumped at this opportunity. You take everything else I send your way.”

“I don’t have very good luck with rich spoiled kids. They don’t like to listen and think I’m there as a valet instead of their protection. I don’t have the patience to deal with them. Find somebody else.”

“Catherine Brand is not like that,” Rutiger said. “She’s studying wildlife biology. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll e-mail you some intel on her. Look it over and if you still think she’s an entitled millennial, I won’t push the issue. I promised her father I would try to get the best… and that’s you.”

Ron laughed. “The best. What do you think the former Navy SEALs and Marines who work for you would say if they knew you told me that?”

“Let me rephrase that, you’re the best that I have in East Africa…I’ll swear to that.”

“Send me the intel and I’ll get back to you. That’s all I’m promising.”

*  *  *

Catherine landed at Moi International Airport in Mombasa. When she reached for her large nylon travel bag at baggage claim, another hand reached out. “I’ll get that for you, Catherine Brand.”

The young American woman turned around to see a handsome man in his mid-thirties. “Are you?”

“I’m Ron Yankton, your personal escort.”

Ron and Catherine walked to the front of the terminal where a Land Rover was parked. Ron opened the passenger door. “I can open my own door,” said Catherine.

“Humor me,” Ron replied.

As they drove, Catherine said, “I have a reservation at the Funzi Keys Resort.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Ron drove to his parents’ home instead. “This doesn’t look like a hotel.”

“I thought you might like this place better,” said Yankton.

Catherine was visibly angry. “I don’t like it when people change my plans, especially when I don’t know what their motive is.”

Ron replied, “No motive. Just take a look. If you don’t like it, I’ll take you directly to the hotel.”

When Ron and Catherine entered through the front door, a staff of four Kenyans, two men and two women were there to greet them. They conversed in Swahili.

“I didn’t know you spoke Swahili,” Catherine said.

“Fluently.Let me show around.” Ron led Catherine through the spacious villa until they came to the beautiful guest suite with a panoramic view of the city. “This would be your accommodations. It has everything that the hotel provides, but the most important thing is that I can provide better security here.”

“Absolutely beautiful. Whose place is this?”

“My family’s.”

“I’m surprised and impressed, I seldom use those words in the same sentence.” Catherine smiled.

“Well, are we staying or going?”

“Staying.”

“I’ll send Dorothy to show you to how to operate everything,” Ron said. “Are you an early riser or a late sleeper?”

“My dad says if the sun rises before you do then you’ve overslept.”

“One of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see is the sunrise over the harbor. Breakfast at zero six thirty,” Ron said.

Catherine never slept better as the scent of vanilla and jasmine filled the air. The king-sized bed was plush and the sheets were extremely soft. When she walked out of her room the next morning, she followed the scent of food down the marble hallway to the large patio. Ron was waiting for her. There was a large bowl of fruits and several types of juices to choose from. She sat down across from her host and protector and marveled at the view. “You weren’t lying about the scenery.”

“How’d you sleep?” Ron asked.

“Great. I don’t think I’ve ever felt sheets like that.”

“My mother knows a master linen maker in Cairo who takes the best Egyptian cotton and uses a special technique of weaving to make them softer and stronger than regular cotton.”

Robert, the family cook approached. “May I get you something to eat, Miss Brand?”

Catherine looked at Ron. “What do you recommend?”

“Everything Robert makes is delicious, but for you, I’d highly recommend the vegetarian omelet.”

When Catherine finished her breakfast, she turned to Robert. “That was exceptionally delicious.”

Robert smiled. “Thank you, Miss Brand. I am pleased that you enjoyed it.”

*  *  *

While driving into town, Catherine said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a bodyguard who provided these kinds of services.”

“When I agreed to accept this assignment, I contacted your father to discuss a few things,” Ron said. “It makes it easier for me if I know what you like and how to anticipate your needs.”

“Really? I hope my dad didn’t tell you all my secrets.”

“He went into reasonable and appropriate detail about your preferences and strongly emphasized that he wanted you to be safe, but also to have a good time. Like I told him, a happy client is usually a cooperative one.”

Ron drove to Old Town Mombasa, an area that reflected the history of the town with Asian, Portuguese, and Arab shops abounding. It seemed that almost everyone in the area knew Ron by name and extended a cheerful greeting when they saw him.

“You’re a very popular person.”

“My dad is the popular one. Most of these people just know me through him.” Ron noticed a family of European tourists walking down the street and not far behind them was a gang of young Kenyan thugs. He turned to Catherine. “You don’t mind if we make a slight detour?”

“I don’t know where we’re at or where we’re going, so I wouldn’t know a detour from a direct route,” Catherine said. “You lead and I’ll follow.”

“Appreciate your cooperation.”

The European family had several bags of expensive souvenirs and were flashing their money to local vendors. When they turned down a narrow street, the thugs confronted them with their knives drawn. Ron turned to Catherine. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Catherine voiced her concern, “There’s four of them. Shouldn’t you call the police?”

“I’ll call them later.”

Ron called out to the thugs in Swahili and walked toward them. The European family was cowering in fear. The first man came at Ron brandishing his large-bladed knife. Ron feigned a punch, when the thug instinctively moved in that direction, he kicked him in the knee and the man fell to the ground. Ron grabbed the thug by the wrist and twisted it until it snapped and took the knife. Ron punched him in the face and knocked him unconscious. He approached the other three men who also had their knives drawn. Ron looked back at Catherine and realized he was still on duty and her protection was his first priority.

“I don’t really have time to play,” he said to the approaching thugs.

Pulling out his Glock 19, he fired three shots into the ground, missing the men’s feet by inches. They dropped their knives and raised their hands to surrender. Ron called the police and they arrived in less than three minutes to make the arrest. Ron explained what happened to the officers then warned the European family. “You need to be more aware of your surroundings.”

When he got back to Catherine, she sighed. “You’re very good.”

“They were just amateurs looking for targets of opportunity,” Ron responded calmly.

Ron and Catherine walked along the beach boardwalk. It was a clear day except for one singular cloud. There was a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning. Some local fishermen were knocked from their boats into the water. When the smoke cleared, there was a dog sitting calmly on the dock. Some of the locals nervously approached the animal with clubs and grappling hooks. Ron rushed over, said a few words and pulled up his shirt to expose his holstered weapon and they backed off. Ron bent down on one knee. “Come here boy.”

The dog rushed over and began licking his face. Catherine approached. “What was that all about?”

“The fishermen are Cushitic—highly superstitious individuals. Their first instinct was to look at the dog as some kind of bad omen. I can’t remember a lightning strike during the dry season. They probably thought the same thing. You can’t reason with fear, so I found something more fearful for them to deal with.”

Catherine bent down and the dog affectionately nuzzled up against her. “We can’t leave him behind.”

“C’mon Dock,” Ron said.

“You already named him?” Catherine smiled.

“We found him on a dock…seems appropriate.”

Dock fell in step with Ron and Catherine as they continued down the boardwalk. “I don’t think you’re as tough as you make out to be,” Catherine commented. “You’re just a big softie.”

“Only when it comes to animals.”

*  *  *

Ron and Catherine were having dinner at the villa and Dock was sitting in a chair just like a human. He intently listened to their conversation. “I’ve rescued a couple of dogs in my lifetime and there’s usually a period of time before the animal adapts to his surroundings. Look at Dock, it’s like this is his house and he rescued us,” said Catherine.

“Strange things are happening, that’s for sure. This may be one of those rare situations in life where it’s wiser to just be ‘in the moment’ and worry about explanations later.”

“I’ll go for that.”

“Bark! Bark! Bark!” Dock verbalized his agreement.

“It’s unanimous.” Ron reached over and petted Dock’s head.

Ron, Catherine and Dock left early the next morning for the Masai Mara National Reserve, They spent two days there, then drove to Lake Nakuru National Park. Ron knew officials from both places and was able to obtain some special tours for Catherine.

“Thank you so much,” she said at the end of the day.

“No problem. I do some volunteer work whenever I’m in country, so they don’t mind doing me a favor now and then.”

“What do you do for them?”

Ron humbly shrugged off his efforts. “Anti-poaching patrols. I like protecting the animals and I’m pretty good at tracking people so it seemed liked a natural thing for me to do.”

Their next stop was Mount Kenya National Park and the trio decided to climb the peak. Upon their return to the Safari Club, Chief Park Ranger Adamu Otieno approached Ron and Catherine in the lobby, “I know you are on assignment, but we have a report of poachers. We can use your help.”

It was obvious that Ron wanted to go, but declined because of his responsibility to Catherine, “I’m going to have to pass this time.”

Catherine interjected, “I’m here to learn about wildlife protection. Stopping poachers is part of that education.”

Ron, Catherine, and Dock joined two park rangers and were in the truck heading down the trail when they arrived at the entrance to a canyon. Dock started barking and Ron tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Stop here.”

“What’s wrong?” Catherine asked.

“This is a perfect place for an ambush. Ron opened the door and stepped out with his high-powered sniper rifle. He scanned the area with the scope. He let Dock out. The dog stood there quietly and sniffed the air. “I’ll be back…I need you to stay right here,” he said to Catherine.

Catherine didn’t answer.

“I need your word.”

“You got it. Where are you going?”

“On a scouting patrol. Let’s go Dock.” The man and dog disappeared into the tall savannah grass.

Fifteen minutes passed and Catherine was so nervous she couldn’t sit still in the truck any longer. She got out and began pacing while looking out in the distance. A dozen shots echoed from inside the canyon. A few minutes later, Ron and Dock appeared. Catherine and two park rangers ran up to them.

A Black Mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa. A huge one was hidden from view in the tall grass. Catherine didn’t see it and stepped on its tail. The Mamba can strike his prey 12 times in less than a half second and deliver enough neuro and cardio- toxic venom to kill a dozen men within an hour. The six foot-long snake only had a chance to bite Catherine twice in the calf before Dock grabbed it in his teeth and flung it six feet away. Ron shot the head off the snake with a shot from his rifle. The park ranger ran over and grabbed the snake for its anti-venom properties. It would help in treating the bite.

Ron performed emergency first-aid then carried Catherine back to the truck. The ranger notified the station to be prepared for a snakebite victim. The mortality rate for a Black Mamba bite is 100 percent without quick and proper treatment. Ron sat in the back seat with Catherine’s head on his lap, “Slow your breathing.”

Catherine was lapsing into unconsciousness. Her breathing was shallow and she was perspiring heavily. Ron was bitten once by a Black Mamba and he barely survived even though he was much closer to medical treatment. The prospects for Catherine’s survival were slim at best considering how far away they were from the ranger station. Dock laid across Catherine’s injured leg and she rested her right hand on his back. The ranger drove as fast as he could while Ron prayed for the young woman’s survival.

*  *  *

The doctor came out of the room where he’d treated Catherine, shaking his head in amazement. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Try,” Ron said.

“I saw the bite marks on her leg with my own eyes and the snake that you shot. I was ready to administer the anti-venom, hoping I was in time. All of sudden she wakes up with no symptoms. I took a sample of her blood and examined it under the microscope.”

“And?”

“There is no trace of venom in her body. I’ve treated dozens of victims with snakebites and I’ve never seen this kind of reaction before. Whatever you did out there, I wish you’d tell me what it was.”

“If I find out, you’ll be the first to know. Can I see her?” Ron asked.

“I don’t see why not.”

When Ron entered the room, Catherine was wide awake and lying on the examining table. “Did the doctor tell you anything?”

“Just that you’re alright and he doesn’t know how.”

Ron and Catherine both looked over at the dog sitting quietly in the corner of the room. “Did you bring Dock in with you?” Catherine asked.

“No.”

At that moment, they both realized this was a very special dog. 

After returning to Southern California, Ron and Catherine couldn’t agree on who should have custody of Dock.

Catherine joked. “I guess we don’t any other choice, but to move in together.“

“We gotta’ do what we gotta’ do.” Ron kissed Catherine to seal the deal.

Catherine obtained her master’s degree by taking classes online instead of going back to U.C. Davis. Ron accepted occasional security assignments although he declined all long-term commitments. Dock was certified as a therapy dog and the couple made it a point to visit local hospitals several times a week. Many of the patients that Dock came in contact with made full recoveries.

Ron and Catherine spent several months a year in Kenya too, working at the animal parks and visiting hospitals there. Whether Ron and Catherine were in America or East Africa, Dock the healing hound was right by their side.


Read this story and many more from Thomas Calabrese at The Vista Press.

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