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The conversation with my house-sitter grabbed my attention as soon as I answered the phone.

“The dog died under the house…” I let it sink in. “…yeah, she’s wedged between two joists. We can’t pull her out.”

'try harder you idiots', I thought to myself, furious.

Three days ago, I’d been informed by the house-sitter that they heard barking coming from under the floorboards, but obviously they never did anything about it. Another wave of anger washed over me; I let them have it for letting my dog bake to death in a crawlspace during yet another “hottest summer on record”, and tell them I’m on my way with a couple friends who volunteered to help. My childhood pet: dead; my vacation: cut short.

When I got home and stepped out of my car, the smell immediately hit me. Nowhere was safe from it. I headed to my backyard, to the entrance of the open crawlspace. It never had a covering of any kind. Safe right? Hindsight is 20-20. I found myself playing the blame game, yet somehow I was in the hot seat. But then again, who hasn’t blamed themselves in the heat of the moment for a personal tragedy?

“She’s way towards the back” My house-sitter says. One of my friends pokes his head into the space and shines his phone light around for a second and then emerges, disheartened.

“Yeah, he’s right. She’s behind a pipe, and she’s…” he hesitates, choking on what he has to say next. “She’s too bloated for this to be a quick or clean job.” Those words stuck in my heart like an arrow. It seemed otherworldly, nothing like this had even crossed my mind before.

After some time and discussion of solutions, we initially decided on a rope. That ended up being impossible without making excessive physical contact with my dog’s body. Eventually, we realized the bloat was the largest factor in adding difficulty to the removal, and one friend hesitantly recommends puncturing the corpse to relieve the pressure. All the other ideas were for naught, so in the end, it was decided that was best. The friend who made the suggestion volunteers for the task.

We found a six or seven foot pole, a steak knife, and some duct tape, thus rigging a crude spear. After a second, and some mental warm-ups, he ties a t-shirt around his nose and mouth, then enters the crawlspace. We waited. He was under there for maybe two minutes, before he scrambled back out, gasping for air.

“I was able to puncture the body, but the knife broke off and got stuck.” Disgusting. “Maybe we can-“

We all grew silent and cold when we heard a tap from the crawlspace. Focused on the entrance, we stood. Gingerly at first, we saw a twisted snout appear from the shadow of the crawlspace, then eye sockets teeming with maggots, and - eventually - out trotted my dog, her fur still attached - maggots dripping from her body like water after a bath - dragging her wet entrails across the dust of my yard. The knife in her ribs bobbing loosely in its seat among her flesh.