February- If Baron were alive, he'd be twelve now. But he's not; he's dead and incinerated with a million others of his kind. That incinerator never stops burning. From my bedroom window, I can see the smoke.
I never wanted a dog in the first place. Pets weren't even allowed in my apartment building, but when Alex moved in, Baron came with him. Alex was a pre- med student, like me, and he when he came to live with me, so did all the hopes and dreams he had for us. He talked about them at least ten times a day, about our jobs, our children, our life together- but within six months they were gone. It was all gone, Alex, our dreams, my car, most of my valuables. I knew something was wrong when I came home that day to a too-quiet apartment and a confused Akita.
"Baron, where's Alex?" He swished his tail a few times, as he nudged my hand. And when I sat crying on the couch that night, he sat by my feet, resting his head in my lap. He was a dog; he didn't know why his master had left him, but then, neither did I. And when I buried my face in his fur and cried, he sat calmly. That was how it went for the next year. Baron wasn't like Alex; Baron never let me down.
Looking back, I can't believe I kept him as long as I did. For a year, he slept in the apartment during the day, and we snuck out for walks at night. Then, just before Christmas, we almost got caught. Everything went downhill from there. Eventually someone would find out about Baron, and I would risk losing the apartment. Besides, I was pre-med; I didn't have time to look after a dog. In the last few days, I sometimes caught him looking at me, like we shared some terrible secret, like he knew.
None of my friends would take a dog, and I wasn't prepared to face the embarrassment of taking him to a shelter. As we drove out past the city limits, I glanced over at him, gazing calmly out the window, the perpetual stoic. It was night when I turned off the road, and the snow was piling up in the woods. He walked beside me through the trees for almost a mile. I stopped and he sat next to me.
"Baron, stay." He made no protest, but turned his face towards mine, and I could see that the sparkle was gone from his eyes. He turned and licked my hand quickly, before I jerked it away, turned and left. Walking back through the woods, I thought, almost hoped, that he would come running after me, but I knew he wouldn't. I didn't look back at the path in the snow, where two sets of footprints lead away but only one returned.
Years came and went. I forgot about Alex and Baron and the rest of my past. I lived for the present, and I had my own set of dreams now. I was going to be a doctor; I was going to be famous; I was going to find the cure for cancer. I thought all that and more, back when I thought science was supreme and the medical field was untouchable. When I was asked to work on a neurological study, I thought it was a dream come true. I arrived at the lab that first day ready show that they had been right to choose me from all the other research students.
After I'd met the doctors, one of the lab technicians took me to see the research subjects. The dogs cowered as we walked past their runs. They were unfortunate beasts, who had struggled through life without the luxury of an owner and had ended up here. But I stopped dead in front of the third run from the end, in front of a dog who didn't cringe away, but who sat placidly at the front of his run, who looked me straight in the eye and showed me the suffering I'd caused.
That was the last time I saw Baron, and that is how I always remember him. The image is burned onto my memory forever: his eyes, dull and listless from taking whatever humanity could throw at him, his emaciated frame, his once-beautiful coat now matted with blood and vomit, the way he held his head high, despite the metal box bolted to his skull where the electricity flowed from one terminal to the other. And I remember the complete indifference on his face as I walked away.
I remember him now, years after I have left the laboratory and the medical research field. I decided at that moment that I could not be a part of anything that causes that much pain. Even if they do find a cure for cancer, it will be tainted with the blood of those who perished. A stronger person would have taken Baron that day, but a stronger person wouldn't have abandoned him in the first place. I'll never have another dog; I don't particularly like them. But when the smoke from the incinerator drifts towards my window and I smell the burning flesh and fur, I have to hold back tears. Baron may have died in the name of science, but he died.
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