28. The animal hoarder

The next midnight move was a tough one.  Morag, the client, was a woman in her mid-forties, short and dark and with an intense gaze that reminded Jesse of a squirrel staring you down at a bird feeder. Her ‘unqualified ongoing disaster’, as she referred to the job, wasn’t a case of moving some boxes between two points, but of locating, corralling, crating and moving almost one hundred domestic and farm animals from a hoarder’s property in Langley, to be distributed at the six different drop-off points in the Lower Mainland where animal lovers were prepared to take on at least some of the evacuees.

With his normal cold efficiency, George treated the Langley hobby farm move as a logistical challenge; for Jesse it was two shifts’ worth of PTSD flashbacks, mixed with the kind of molten, angry misery that sensitive souls feel when faced with the horrid evidence of extended cruelty.

Michel came along to help deal with the scale of the task, which dwarfed anything they’d previously attempted. Jesse heard a lot of colourful Québecois slang the first night. After a while, even Michel fell silent.

Legally, Morag had no claim on any of the animals, and had been escorted off the property twice by the local RCMP. With a voice like a glass-cutter, she outlined the stupidity and laziness of the officers who had seen the hoarding situation and done nothing, not even press ten digits on a cell phone to get the BCSPCA involved.

“Why didn’t you call the SPCA?” George asked, pointedly.

“Because my sister’s name is still on the title to the property,” Morag said furiously.  “So she gets dragged into the legal crap and all the fines and what-not. And now that son of a bitch is out of town — he didn’t even get somebody to come in and put down food.”

“How many crates will we need?”

Morag said, heavily, “All of them.” George shrugged.

“A number, please,” he said.

“Fifty,” Morag said. “We can get two or three cats into each carrier, and probably some of the animals have died.” With a great sigh, she added, “I have no idea what we’re going to do about the pony, the horses and the cow. They’re pretty beat up from being in the paddock with hardly any shelter, and two of them don’t even have bridles so we have to get that sorted out, and god knows how we’ll get them into the truck.”

“I can do that,” Michel said.

Jesse said, “I’m not understanding why this move has to be at night.”

Morag made a growl of disgust. “The next door neighbour is an animal hoarder too, although her animals are in better shape. She drinks herself to sleep every night around nine so if we move fast, we’ll be history before she staggers out of bed in the morning. During the day she could see us from the window that looks onto the east side of the property. She’d call the cops fast as lightning as soon as she saw me.”

“She may call the cops anyway if she gets up to take a leak and sees the lights,” Jesse said.

“If that happens, I’ll stay and you guys can leave.”

“It’s just theft under, trespass and mischief,” George said. “I’m sure we can handle that.”

“Stealing horses is not theft under,” Morag said. “Not if you’re stealing a trailer to move them.”

“I see your point,” George said, “But unless Jesse voices an objection, it’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

Jesse said nothing. It’s hard not to see yourself as a hero when you’re rescuing critters.

“You’re going to see a place no animal should live inside and no human should ever create through negligence.  I know my brother-in-law’s crazy and not fully responsible, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is going to be really, really hard. I’m sorry, because you are going to be seeing and smelling this for a long time, at least if you’re not mentally ill or a complete fricking sociopath.”

“We’ll manage,” George said soothingly.

“I won’t,” Jesse promised. “But I’ll keep it together for the job.”

When they arrived, the gate was locked.

“Shit,” Morag said. “I didn’t bring bolt-cutters.”

“Michel,” George said.

Morag watched with astonishment as Michel hopped down from the truck, walked over to the padlock and snapped it apart like it was a breadstick, dropping it with a theatrical flourish.

“He’s very strong,” Jesse said. Jesse had not been able to establish what the upper limit of Michel’s lifting capacity was, although it was easily three times what Jesse could manage. If he could tear apart a padlock, he had stronger hands than a human being should have, so it was comforting to know he wasn’t human. During the last move, Michel had been stacking boxes six high and dancing around with them in a hilarity-provoking imitation of a beefy, working class Fred Astaire.

“No shit!” Morag replied, watching Michel with admiration as he opened the gate and Jesse drove them through.  Michel leered at her, and her frown came back.

“That man’s not quite all there,” Morag said.

George and Jesse both laughed. “The part that’s here can lift half a ton,” Jesse said. “And likely has other talents we’ll need before the dawn comes,” George added.

As wrenching to the soul as to the organs of olfaction, their first task was to locate the animals which had a chance to survive.

“Shit,” Jesse said. A couple of cats approached them out of the darkness, mewing hoarsely. Morag turned her headlamp on. They were filthy and one of them limped, dragging a mangled foot. A kitten with a crooked tail, its eyes nearly swollen shut from flea bites, trotted up to Michel, wailing. Fleas leaped off it as he picked it up.

The dogs in the kennel were too weak to get up. Jesse’s heart broke as one attempted to wag its faeces-caked tail. Fleas moved in sheeted swarms in every direction. The whole property stank, but the kennels were an order of magnitude worse.