Monday, October 8, 2012

Going To The Dogs

Growing up, my family had a dog until I was in my teens, of which I only remember two. The first was the family patriarch that died when I was about 6. He was a hound dog named Brownspots. Like all our family pets, Brownspots was a mutt, untrained, and left free to roam when and where he wanted. As I remember, he was named for the spots on his coat, but knowing my father’s wry sense of humor, I suspect the name also was a not so subtle reference to the messes he would leave. We all loved that dog, although I only have vague recollections of him. Sadly, my memory of him now mostly consists of where we buried him. That is not surprising as his loss was my first encounter with death.

The second dog we got quite a bit later and at my behest, a beagle named (I think) Pete. By that time, Memphis required dogs to be locked up and the neighborhood we lived in began to fill up with houses (and cars). Our yard was not fenced and my parents were loath to allow a dog in the house. Therefore, the poor thing ended up chained to a kennel. Eventually, he was given away to someone who could give him a better life. The third dog of my life was one we got about a year after we were married and had purchased our first home (condo). He was an ill disciplined beast when chewed incessantly on things. We of course were overwhelmed with life and kids, and not at all prepared for the relationship that a dog demands, so we ended giving him away.

This raises an interesting point. Being a dog owner is different than being a cat owner. Dogs draw you into their world, making you acknowledge them as a dependent in a way a cat will not. Once you accept the role as their ‘Alfa’, you must respond to that role. That’s not to say cats are superior to a dog, they just establish the relationship in a different manner.

There was one other dog during that period that had a great effect on my life. When I was about 10, I got my first job. There was a weekly ‘free ad’ paper that that paid about two cents a paper for us to deliver throughout the neighborhood. I guess you could call it the ‘Craigslist’ of that era. The rule was that the paper had to be thrown either on the porch or upper driveway. My parents were, by today’s standards, extremely lax. Imagine letting your kid bike around the neighborhood, as far out as a mile or so, going up perfect stranger's driveways or walks, and throwing papers. Not to mention allowing your child to work for what amounted to slave wages! It actually wasn't as bad as it sounds. We could deliver around 150 in a couple of hours, earning about $3 a week. At that time that was enough to keep flush in sodas and comic books. Not to mention it laid the foundation for a solid work ethic.

I still don’t remember all the details, but over the years I have been able to reconstruct what happened. The owners of this particular dog, a Great Dane (whose name I never learned), had chained him in their open garage, which was blocked by a cars filling their relatively short driveway. Being a conscientious delivery boy, I determined that the best way to deliver the paper to the porch, was to thread past the cars, across the open garage (and the unseen dog), to get the paper on the porch. As I pulled in front of the garage, I was greeted with the site of the largest dog in the world going from panting relaxation to full alert at the intrusion of a deadly stranger on his turf. I on the other hand offered a friendly “Hi Doggy!” It is at this point things get a little fuzzy. I think the owners responded to my cries pretty quickly and pulled the dog off of me. Most of me was under my bike, so only my leg was used as a chew toy. Apparently I had the presence of mind to give them my phone number and my parents came to take me to the emergency room where they stitched me up, albeit except for a small sliver which apparently was eaten by the dog. From that point on I remained afraid of dogs until my parents shipped me off for the summer to work in my uncle’s vet hospital. I suspect this was an attempt at therapy to get me over the fear. Regardless of the reason, working with sick and vulnerable dogs cured me. For that I thank my parents and my uncle.

My current dog is a Great Pyrenees mix. He has a kind face and a gentle disposition, making him an almost perfect dog that every kid wants to pet. Unfortunately, he has that breed’s independent disposition, which is to say he is submissive and obeys, as long as there is not something more interesting for him to do or eat. Of course this makes it imperative to keep him well leashed when walking in the woods where there are too many small (and large) furry creatures to chase.  Coming from a herd dog breed, he had moves that would put most NFL running backs to shame while dodging and running. Thus, when he was young, catching him was a difficult feat. He has slowed down quite a bit as he has aged, and currently has a chronic limp that shows no sign of getting better. Fortunately, when he is out for a neighborhood patrol, the years fall away, and you can’t see the limp. That is the eternal innocence of dogs in a big fuzzy package.

No comments:

Post a Comment