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I was elated when the 2015 Bacopa Literary Review accepted this short story for publication. Now I want to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it. For more information on Bacopa, visit: http://writersalliance.org/bacopa-literary-review. You can order a copy of the 2015 issue through Amazon. It has more short stories as well as poetry and creative non-fiction. Happy reading!

Cattle Gap

Cattle Gap

Mario stepped off the school bus into the late August heat. “Remember, no TV till I get home,” Aunt Ginny, the driver, told him. “Make a sandwich and do your homework. I’ll be home in forty-five minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Aunt Ginny was his foster mother, not his aunt, but he didn’t want to call her “Mama.” He had a mother. He’d just finished the first week of sixth grade, but he felt so lost. Changing classes was a new experience, and there were so many new faces. He wore nicer clothes than he used to, but old classmates still treated him with contempt.

He should have gone to middle school last year, but he had flunked fourth grade. Not because he was stupid. He’d missed too many days. Last year, he did better. He learned to get himself up in the morning, even if his mother overslept or wasn’t home. He missed his mother.

Mario checked the mail and found a letter from his father in California. “Dear Mario,” it began. “I hope this finds you well. I am quite good, as is Cissy, and the kids. The social worker was here today to do the house check. She said she saw no problem with you coming here. It will take awhile for the paperwork to get to Florida, so we have to be patient. I’m saving money for a plane ticket to come get you.”

A joyful bark interrupted him. Aunt Ginny’s dog Skeeter bounded down the driveway and knocked the letter from his hands. Skeeter always came to greet him. Mario wondered what Skeeter would do after he left. By then, there might be new foster children to greet.

“Hey, Skeeter,” Mario stuck the letter into his backpack to read later. He paused at the cattle gap. This was a relic from the days when the old place had been a farm. The cattle gap was a grate made from railroad rails laid horizontally across a small ditch. Cows would not venture to cross, but it was no barrier for vehicles and most boys.

The ditch held a little water from yesterday’s thunderstorm. It looked like a good place for snakes to hide. Aunt Ginny had warned him to beware of snakes. What he feared even more than snakes was slipping and falling between the rails. He gripped his backpack, inhaled deeply, and balanced on the first rail.  Safely across, he let his breath out. He had never lived in the country before, and there were so many things to worry about.

Aunt Ginny’s farm now grew pine trees. Halfway up the driveway, Skeeter started barking again and dove into the palmettos that grew among the trees. Mario heard a great thrashing noise. Something big was in there. What could it be? A bobcat? A coyote? What if it was a bear?

“Skeeter! Come back!” But Skeeter was too busy to obey.  Mario set his books down and followed. A fine net settled over his face and he cringed. He brushed and sputtered to get the cobweb off. He wiped his mouth with his shirttail and brushed frantically over his head and shoulders. Could the spider be on him? It would be one of those enormous yellow ones that spun great webs between the trees. Aunt Ginny hated them and killed any she found in her yard. So they hid in the woods to ensnare unsuspecting boys.

He stepped forward. Skeeter stopped barking. Mario eyes darted around and looked down. Skeeter sniffed at a large gopher tortoise which tried to run from him. Its short legs flailed against a palmetto frond, which rattled against its neighbors, creating a noise way out of proportion to the size of the creature.

Mario let out a nervous laugh. “All this fuss over a little ole turtle!” He poked it with a stick and watched the gopher’s head and limbs draw into its shell. Maybe this would make a good pet. He carried it to the house, found an old washtub, and filled a dish with water. He’d ask Aunt Ginny what they ate. He never had a pet before.

Mario went back for his backpack and let himself into the house. He fixed a sandwich and poured a glass of iced tea before settling down at the kitchen table with his homework. Then he remembered his father’s letter. “I’m so looking forward to seeing you again. It’s been so long. You must be nearly a man by now.” His mother had called him her “little man.” He had taken care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself. After they put him in foster care, everyone treated him like a child. His first foster parents even made him go to day care. Aunt Ginny wasn’t so bad. She fussed over him, but she also gave him independence.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been more of a father to you,” the letter went on. “I didn’t know how things were with your mother.” Mario winced. He didn’t like people saying things about his mother. “You see, after we split up, every time I went to see you, we’d fight so bad, I thought it was best to just stay away. I thought sending money every month was enough.” Mario had not been aware of any money. His mother said his father was dead. He had a vague memory of a man arguing with his mother, but he was not sure if that had been his father or a stepfather.

His musings were interrupted by Skeeter’s frantic barking. Mario rushed out. There was a new noise, an intense buzzing, like that of a windup toy out of control. And there, on the ground, not two yards from Skeeter’s nose, was a coiled rattlesnake.

He dared not panic. He called Skeeter, who only kept barking and circling the snake, keeping a distance of four or five feet between them. What should he do? Call for help? But Skeeter could be dead before it arrived. His pounding heart drowned out the sounds of both snake and dog. Mario crept up behind Skeeter and grabbed his collar. He dragged him up the steps and through the front door. Skeeter was an outside dog and Aunt Ginny didn’t let him into the house, but this was an exception.

After the rattling noise ceased, Mario looked out and saw the snake crawling across the yard toward the back of the house. What if it got in the house? He ran to the shed and found a hoe. He tried to sneak up on the snake, but it turned back toward him and started to coil. Mario raised the hoe as high as he could and brought it down onto the snake’s neck with enough force to drive it into the ground. The body twisted every which way, but its neck was broken. Mario chopped with the hoe until he severed the head from the body. He trembled back to the porch and collapsed on the steps.

Then he remembered Skeeter and let him out. Skeeter immediately returned to the snake, but when it didn’t react to his barking, he began to sniff. Mario jumped to his feet. Maybe it couldn’t bite, but it still had venom on its fangs. He scooped up the head with the hoe and buried it in the garden. Only now did he examine the body. He’d never seen a real rattlesnake before and didn’t know they were so pretty. This one had diamond-shaped markings on reddish skin. He had seen belts and hat bands made from snake skins. The body was thicker than his arm and might be enough for more than one belt.

Warily, he picked it up. The skin was not slimy, but smooth and cool, like glass. Mario carried it to the back porch and got a knife from the kitchen. Although he had never skinned anything before, he’d seen it done. He cut off the rattle and put it in his pocket. Then he carefully separated the skin from the carcass, which he buried in the garden. He stretched the skin on an old board and nailed it down.

Only then did he truly appreciate his feat. The snake had been as long as he was tall. He shook the rattle in his pocket. Now he knew what a rattlesnake sounds like. The deadly creature could have killed him, but he had killed it. He marveled at how easy it was to kill. He stood up straight. Perhaps he was a man after all.

Suddenly, he heard the school bus out on the road. He put the skin and the tools in the shed and hosed off the back porch. The bus turned into the driveway. He washed the knife and put it away. He slipped into a chair and opened a book as the bus came to a stop in the yard.

A few minutes later, he heard Aunt Ginny say, “What’s this?” He had forgotten all about the turtle.

“I found him in the woods. Can I keep him for a pet? Do you know what they eat?”

She shook her head. “No, you can’t keep him. They’re an endangered species. The game warden’d throw us both in jail. You need to let him go. He’ll find food in the woods.”

Disappointed, Mario hopped off the porch. The motion jiggled the rattle in his pocket. Aunt Ginny perked up as though listening, but when she heard nothing more, she went inside. Mario carried the turtle with one arm and held his other hand over the pocket to keep the rattle quiet. After he released the gopher, he returned to the house and found Aunt Ginny brushing paw prints off the living room couch.

“What was Skeeter doin’ in the house?”

“Uh, there was a rattlesnake in the yard. I didn’t want him to get bit.”

“You left it alone, I hope.”

Mario couldn’t lie to her. His hesitation told on him.

“Empty your pockets,” she directed.

He had no choice but to show her the rattle. Her eyes bulged.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“In the shed.” He told her the whole story.

“I don’t think it’d come into the house. It was just trying to get under the house where it’s cool.” When Aunt Ginny saw the size of the skin, she clutched her chest and hollered, “Holy Jesus! Snake that big could kill you!”

“Yes ma’am.”

“It’s a canebrake rattler. That’s why it’s so red. They don’t usually bother anybody. They usually just run away.”

“But it was trying to bite Skeeter.”

“Only because he was harassing it.  If you see another one, you and Skeeter stay in the house till I come home. Promise?”

“Yes ma’am.” He felt like a child again. He looked down at his feet.

Aunt Ginny put an arm around his shoulders. “Was you scared?”

“No ma’am. Well, maybe. I guess. I was afraid for Skeeter.”

“You were very brave to protect Skeeter. I’m proud of you for that.” Then she turned him to face her and put a hand on each shoulder. “But from now on, leave snakes alone. I can’t have a foster child bit by a poisonous snake.”

“Yes ma’am.” When he looked into her eyes, they were twinkling.

“What do you plan to do with that?” She meant the canebrake skin.

“Can I take it to California with me?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“What do you think my dad will say?”

Aunt Ginny smiled. “I think he will be very proud of you.”

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Antique Dog

Last winter, my firewood man made a delivery when I wasn’t there. Later he remarked that no one was home but an “antique” dog. We now come to the last chapter of Teddy’s life.

As he aged, his arthritis progressed. One winter I decided he should no longer live outdoors, so I gave him a bath and let him in the house. He instinctively knew life had changed for him. The dog who’d never tried to climb on furniture took one look at my favorite chair, scrambled in, and curled up. I didn’t mind, as long as he was clean. To protect my good furniture, I’d set a basket of crochet on the seat. He knew it was off limits, and obeyed. Later, when he became incontinent, I had to keep him off all the furniture. Eventually, he became unable to climb on it anyway and could barely make it up steps. In the meantime, with Teddy indoors at night, deer and rabbits ate my vegetables and wild hogs rooted up my garden beds.

Living with Teddy was like sharing a house with a 90 year old man. He wouldn’t talk to me. He snored so loudly I could hear him through the walls and I swear he slept 23 hours a day. On nice days when he was outside, he’d crawl under the house and I could hear his snoring through the floor. He began to stink. I’d bathe him, he’d lick himself, and within hours he’d stink again. His incontinence grew worse, even with medication. I tried to diaper him but he developed diaper rash. Finally, I barricaded some rooms to keep him out and resolved to throw away the rugs in the others after he was gone. Despite all this, I loved him and (when I wasn’t mad at him) I enjoyed his companionship.

His traveling days came to an end when he couldn’t climb in or out of the van. Once when I went on a trip, a friend kept Teddy. Afterwards he told me, “He kept chasing my chickens!” Now, Teddy had never chased anything besides wild animals (or any cat who challenged him) and by now he couldn’t get around well enough to chase anything. I asked my friend what he meant. He laughed and told me how Teddy would lie in the yard and occasionally raise his head, turn towards the chickens, and bark. The chickens paid him no mind.

For three winters, I did not expect Teddy to make it another year. He was a tough old guy, but his mobility steadily decreased. He’d bark at the porch steps. When I told him barking wouldn’t make them go away, he’d glower at me. I knew he was in pain despite the medication I gave him twice a day.

Then he started to poop in the house. He’d never done anything like that before. I knew it wasn’t accidental—he just didn’t want to tackle the porch steps. My fussing and cussing must have been less trouble to him than climbing steps.

Finally, the time came. I called my vet. She had been treating Teddy for 16 years and was fond of him, but she agreed it was time. She prepped him and I stood beside the table with my arms around him when she gave him that final injection. I talked to Teddy, telling him how he would now be able to chase the rabbits and deer again, and it would no longer hurt. I felt him relax. I felt his gratitude and relief as the pain subsided. Don’t tell me dogs don’t have souls. The vet checked his heart and nodded. She was crying almost as much as I.

Wild sunflowers where Teddy rests

Wild sunflowers where Teddy rests

Afterward, it was so strange to come home and no Teddy to greet me. Or walk around the house and not see him in his usual napping places. Then I dreamed of him. Nothing significant, only a dream that he was in the house with me, doing normal, everyday things. These dreams came three nights in a row. On the fourth night, no dream. I knew then he had finally passed on to the Happy Hunting Ground, where all good dogs go.

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Why are we willing to spend so much money on a dumb animal? I used to think people were crazy to pay large veterinary bills for a cat or dog. I never thought I would be one of those crazy people until I had a million dollar dog of my own.

Country people don’t always take their animals to a vet. My parents never did. Teddy was my first dog to get veterinary care. Living in the woods, with the possible threat of rabies, and having children around, I took no chances. I kept his check-ups and shots up to date.

When the vet recommended he be neutered so he wouldn’t “chase the ladies,” I had it done. I felt bad for him, but Teddy didn’t seem to mind. He always liked going to the vet, despite all the indignities they inflicted on him. All I had to do was say, “Time to go to the vet,” and he’d hop in the truck.

Often I wished I could clone Teddy, because he was such a good dog. Maybe that’s why I was willing to pay a $1500 emergency clinic bill to keep him alive. Here is how it came about. On our walks I noticed he’d pee only a few drops at a time. I thought he was just marking territory. Then he started dragging around, not acting his usual self. When I found him under the porch steps totally listless, I knew I had to do something. Since my vet didn’t have emergency services, I took him to a clinic an hour away.

The young veterinarian said Teddy had kidney stones and was unable to pass water. He was near death and needed immediate surgery. Or I could choose to euthanize him. I weighed my choices—money or dog. But, really, what choice did I have? This was the dog who was willing to lay down his life for his family. (Read “Pup Dog” if you haven’t already.) I paid for the surgery with my credit card and spent the night in the waiting room. After this, I kept him in the house and nursed him to full recovery.

Even that wasn’t the end of the expense. I took Teddy to his vet for follow up and was told he needed to be kept on a special diet for the rest of his life. The food was expensive, but I didn’t want a repeat of the kidney stones episode. After I retired and could no longer afford the special food, the vet prescribed a powder to add to regular dog food. Teddy never liked the special diet and refused to eat dog food laced with powder. Finally I gave up and fed him Old Roy and watched to see if he had any trouble urinating. He never had a recurrence of kidney stones.

In his later years, Teddy developed eczema, which required many trips to the vet. We tried several treatments, all temporary fixes. Often his beautiful coat was marred with bald patches. He also suffered with arthritis and hip dysplasia, and it became increasingly difficult for him to go on long walks or climb stairs. I laid boards over my porch steps to make him a “wheel chair ramp” but he refused to walk on it, even though climbing was obviously painful. The vet put him on drugs for arthritis pain. Then he became incontinent. More drugs. More expense.

At first it was no trouble to give him pills. I just put them in his food. Then one day he caught me in the act. He looked hard at his dish and ate around the pill. After that I had to trick him by crushing pills and mixing them with leftovers or canned dog food. He was so suspicious he wouldn’t eat unmashed peas because they looked like pills.

At every setback, I’d take him to the vet and each time he was prescribed more drugs. By now I was spending more money on Teddy’s medical care than on my own! I began to call him my “Million Dollar Dog.” But he was such a good dog.

One day a visitor referred to Teddy as an “antique dog.” That phase of our life together will be the subject of the final post of this series.

 

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Travels with Teddy

When my daughter Amber lived at home, she took care of my animals when I traveled. Once she said Teddy missed me so much he wouldn’t eat when I was gone. It turned out she was feeding him twice as much as I did! He ate like a cat, nibbling his food throughout the day, not gulping it down all at once like some dogs. He’d leave what he didn’t eat.

When Amber was not available, a neighbor tended my animals. One summer, I came home to find Teddy wearing a pink flea collar. No one knew where he got it. Of course, he managed to scratch it off and lose it. One day Teddy and I took a walk on the dirt road. A neighbor I didn’t know well said, “Hello, Teddy.” I stopped to inquire how he knew Teddy and learned that while I was traveling, instead of staying home to keep the varmints out of the yard, my faithful dog was nearly living at their house! That’s where he got the flea collar.

After this, I took him with me. Teddy loved to travel. If I went somewhere in my van and didn’t take him, he’d pout. On the road, he was well- behaved and even tolerated a leash once I explained that city dogs had to wear them. He accompanied me as far north as West Virginia and as far west as Arkansas. On hot days, I couldn’t leave him in the van and tour a museum or antebellum house, but we stopped at parks and walked the trails. Here are Teddy and Tristan, both dog tired after a long walk through a North Carolina swamp:

2011 pics 391

One summer we spent several days on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at every cabin and walking every trail that wasn’t too steep for him to climb. I’d go sightseeing and Teddy’d go smell-sniffing. He delighted in new and unusual smells. Here he is checking out something that looks disgusting to a human:

Copy of 10-15 131

He seemed to understand that the van was our home away from home. If a park ranger stopped by our campsite, Teddy would bark until I told him it was ok. One year we went to Arkansas. From there my mother and I flew to Washington to visit my sister Sue. I left Teddy and my van at Mom’s house, under the care of my nephew. Teddy made himself at home and didn’t leave the farm as long as my van was there.

But things were different in the city. One summer when we visited Amber in Virginia Beach, I tied Teddy in the back yard at night and slept in the house. The next morning he was gone. I hiked all over the neighborhood but no one had seen him. We called the pound but he wasn’t there. I was afraid I’d lost him forever.

That afternoon, Amber’s father-in-law returned home and said, “Get your damn dog out of my car.” He’d found Teddy! On a whim, he’d decided to take a different route home, spotted an Animal Control truck, and Teddy being led toward it. Randy convinced the officer he knew whose dog it was, and Teddy was released without bail. Apparently, Teddy had gone as far as a house on a lake and hung out in the backyard all day. When the owners got home from work, they called the pound. After this, I slept out in the hot van with Teddy so he wouldn’t escape again.

Teddy got along with most dogs but my sister Bonnie’s dog is jealously territorial. He wouldn’t let Teddy out of my van. Brutus sees me only once or twice a year but always greets me with wagging tail, even if no one’s home. He doesn’t even object when I use their hidden key to get into the house. Some watchdog! Bonnie said he senses I belong there. But Teddy was not welcome. Brutus had to be distracted so Teddy could get out to relieve himself. Then Brutus got curious about my van and wanted to check it out, but that was Teddy’s territory. He wouldn’t let Brutus near.

As he aged, Teddy had trouble climbing into the van. He could get his front paws in, but I’d have to pick up his hind quarters and shove. Sadly, his traveling days were over. I always felt safe when he was with me, and I missed his company when he wasn’t.

Next time I’ll tell you how Teddy became known as my Million Dollar Dog.

.

 

 

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In the spring of 1999, Amber and my niece Arianne found a puppy on the side of the road. They brought him in the house wrapped in a towel and all I could see was a friendly little brown head. Then she took the towel off—there was not a hair on the rest of his body. He was covered with mange. The girls promised to find a home for him.

Teddy

They named him Teddy and took him to the vet. He responded well to treatment and before long, he was covered with a beautiful brindle coat. But before they found another home, I had grown attached. Teddy was a big a name for such a little puppy, so I called him Pup, and later Pup Dog. For the remainder of his life, he was known to the rest of the world as Teddy, but to me he was Pup Dog. If I called him Teddy, he knew I was mad at him.

At first I kept him on the front porch and cleaned up behind him, but I didn’t mind. What I did mind was when he ate the potted plants on the porch. If they were in plastic pots, he ate the pots, too. He even ate a bag of potting soil! I’d never seen a dog go through a worse puppy-chewing stage. Of course he’d also eat any shoes or other objects within reach.

I don’t think he ate anyone’s homework, but he did eat my beeper. One night when I was on-call, coming home late and tired, I must have dropped it in the driveway. I found it the next day, too badly chewed to function. I had a good excuse for work—my dog ate my beeper! He never got sick, so the diet must have agreed with him. In fact, he thrived. He grew to full size within a year.

I could not keep a collar on him. I bought a nice collar with his name on it, only to find its mangled remains in the bushes months later. Afterwards, I kept his dog tags with his vet records.

Teddy was an outside dog most of his life. He did a good job keeping varmints out of the yard. He’d sleep all day and patrol at night. I could hear him on one side of the house, then another, barking a brief warning to any intruders that infringed on his turf. His barking was never a problem. If someone drove into the yard, he’d bark once to let me know they were there. I never had any unfriendly visitors, but if I did, I believe Teddy would have kept them at bay.

Some people have problems with deer or rabbits eating their gardens. I never had such a problem when Teddy was in his prime. He also kept coyotes away. The only creatures he cowed to were wild hogs. A herd of them lived in the woods behind me and would come to my yard to eat acorns and earthworms. Teddy knew they were bigger and meaner, so he stayed out of their way. The only time he stood up to them was to protect Amber. One evening, she walked to the neighbor’s and when she came home, the hogs were in the yard. Teddy drove them off.

Then there was the cottonmouth. For a day or two, Teddy had fits, barking frantically at something in the yard. When we discovered the cottonmouth, Amber decided to kill it with a hoe. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring Teddy inside out of harm’s way. Amber chopped at the snake with the hoe and missed. She squealed and jumped back. Teddy thought the snake bit her. He immediately went after the snake, and the snake bit him. I took the hoe and finished off the cottonmouth, then took Teddy to the vet. Dogs often survive such snakebites because the snake is frightened and doesn’t always inject a full dose of venom, but I took no chances. What else could I do when the dog was willing to lay down his life for my child’s?

Teddy was good company. He’d follow me around the yard. He was so curious he’d get between me and whatever I was doing, which could be aggravating. When I went for walks, he always accompanied me. That is, until a rabbit or deer crossed his path. Then off he’d go, paying me no mind. Hours later, he’d trot home. I never worried about him getting lost. Sometimes he’d go off on his own excursions and bring home a dead animal. Farmers disposed of dead livestock in the woods. Teddy would find them and drag home part of a cow or some other unidentifiable beast. Cow skulls and bones littered my yard, and of course, Teddy would smell just as bad as the rotting carcasses.

I’d bathe him before taking him to the vet, and even then he’d manage to get smelly before we left the house. His veterinarian appreciated that he was a free-range country dog and said, “He sure leads a dog’s life.”

Next week I will write about my travels with Teddy.

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I was sixteen when we settled in our house in Scrambletown, Florida, and probably in college by the time my family acquired another dog. They owned a series of them, including Rattler, Dammit, and some whose names I have forgotten. My little sisters (I won’t mention any names, but you know who you are) immortalized three dogs in a little skit they’d perform for the family. The girls would march onto the stage on all fours and chant:

We’re three dogs. Ruff, ruff, ruff.

My name is Speckles.

My name is Blackie.

My name is Jake.

We’re three dogs. Ruff, ruff, ruff.

After this, they would exit on all fours, keeping in step.

Speckles was white with black spots and Blackie was, of course, a white dog.

I finished college, moved on with life, and became a mere visitor to the homestead. Whenever I arrived, my family’s dogs never greeted me with hostility. They might bark to let everyone else know someone was there, but they seemed to sense that I was not an intruder, that I somehow belonged.

Duke was Dad’s special dog, his companion. Duke was a black Labrador, very intelligent and talented. He could climb trees–can you imagine a large black dog halfway up a live oak tree? Although Dad was not a biker, he had a motorcycle that he’d ride around for fun and into the woods to check his beehives. Duke would ride behind him on the bike. Somehow, he could balance and hold on. That was a sight to see.

Duke on a ladder

I couldn’t find a picture of Duke on the motorcycle or in the tree, but here he is climbing a ladder. He could climb down, too.

Dad’s last dog was a Rottweiler named Bee Bear. Actually she was half Lab, but she looked full Rottweiler. My only previous experience with a Rottweiler was brief and unpleasant. One day as I returned to my car in a parking lot and started to open the door, I heard a vicious snarling that made me recoil with alarm. A Rottweiler sat in the passenger seat of the car beside me.  He was probably only protecting his owner’s property, but if not restrained by that closed door, I think he would have attacked me. Upon reflection, I sure the poor dog had been mistreated because his reaction to me was brutal, not a mere territorial barking.

On the contrary, Bee Bear was a sweet, gentle dog. Only her appearance was fierce. I was never afraid of her. Dad took Bee Bear everywhere with him. She rode on the back of his truck on trips to Arkansas and other places. No one would bother his truck as long as Bee Bear sat there! Dad was not a cat person. He’d tell Bee Bear that a cat was a bear, and she would chase the cat, but I don’t think she ever harmed one.

Bee Bear and girls

This is Bee Bear with some of my nieces. These are not the girls who performed “We’re Three Dogs,” but are the offspring of one of them. (I still won’t mention any names.)

I remember when Bee Bear passed away. She was quite an old dog. It was Dad’s 80th birthday. Every one of his children surprised him by showing up at the farm in Arkansas. Even my sister Lorraine flew in from Djibouti. But Bee Bear was dying that day. Sadly, she died on his birthday, but at least he had family around. We buried Bee Bear in the back yard and my bother Ed, who is a preacher, gave a brief service over her grave. Surrounded by all his children, I think Dad had a good day despite his grief.

The last dog my parents owned was Valerie, a tiny part-hound who was terrified of thunderstorms. She would whimper and hide under the desk, and no one could comfort her. After my father died, Valerie was caught harassing the neighbor’s livestock, and she had to go. My mother is not a dog person.

Next week I will write about dogs I owned in my adult life.

(PS If you look for Scrambletown on a map of Florida, you won’t find it. It’s one of those places with no legal designation, but it has a colorful history. Google “Scrambletown” and you can find out how it earned its curious name.)

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Dogs I Have Known

This summer, after sixteen years of companionship, I laid my good dog Teddy to rest. In saying goodbye, I thought back to other dogs I’ve known through the years.

When I was a child and we lived with Grandma and Grandpa Rogers, two dogs lived in the house with us, Grandma’s beagle Tinker and Aunt Hazel’s cocker spaniel Curly. In my memory they were big dogs, but at the time I was small. Curly had curly black hair. Tinker’s dog tags would tinkle whenever he moved, so I always associated his name with the sound. I remember them scurrying through the house, always together, it seemed, often underfoot. Grandma would call them to go out, or come in, “Curly and Tinker!” or “Tinker and Curly!” as though they were a single entity.

I recall one other dog on the farm, a German shepherd named Lady, who was kept chained up in the cellar. I felt sorry for her. We didn’t play with her like we did Tinker and Curly, but I don’t remember her being anything but docile. German shepherds were popular at the time and for awhile Grandma raised them. Lady had a litter of pups but we didn’t keep any. Mom said she disliked the breed because one of Grandma’s was mean and attacked her. Grandma probably kept Lady chained out of caution for her grandchildren.

I developed a dislike for German shepherds when I was older and we lived across the road from my grandparents. Our next door neighbor had a mean one he kept in a pen. Sometimes the dog would get out and come over to our yard. We were scared of him and would run inside if he got loose. Once when Mom was hanging out clothes, he chased her into the house. I never understood why my father didn’t shoot that dog.

Grandpa Masters had a hunting dog named Skeeter. He was a nice dog but had to be kept tied so he wouldn’t chase game out of season. His leash was attached to a clothesline so he could run back and forth. He lived in a cozy doghouse summer and winter.

My first dog was a small hound I named Poochie. I don’t remember where I got her, but I loved her very much. Unfortunately, she learned the bad habit of chasing cars from other dogs in the neighborhood. One day she chased the school bus. She ran into the wheel and died instantly. The bus driver was distressed, but it wasn’t his fault. I was inconsolable. Dad handled my grief by grumbling that I wouldn’t cry so much for him if he died. How unfair—I was thirteen and had probably told Dad many times that I hated him, but he knew better. I buried Poochie in my flower garden “with her tail to the North and her head to the South” as I wrote in a poem about her. After this, I tried not to let myself get so attached to a dog.

Before we moved to Florida, we had a nice little Scotch collie named Topsy. Since we couldn’t take her with us, we left her with Grandma and Grandpa Rogers. They grew to like her and kept her the rest of her life.

Next week I will write about dogs I knew in Florida, including Dad’s He had one who climbed trees and rode behind him on his motorcycle.

For another story about dogs, read:

https://marieqrogers.com/?s=Joe+and+Sally

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