Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Three Dog Tales

My dad had a happy way with dogs. The first dog I remember in my family came along before I did. He was a border collie mix named Bingo, and a very bright individual. Dad taught him many tricks, the usual ones like dead dog and shake hands, but others as well. Often at night Dad would tell him to “say his prayers,” and Bing would get up on a chair and put his forepaws up on the back, bow his head on them and close his eyes. You could call his name and Dad could even order him down and he wouldn’t move – until Dad said, “Amen.” There were three of us children in the family and when we were out playing and Mom wanted one of us, she’d send Bing. He’d trot out and find the one needed, grasp the child by the wrist or the seat of the pants and start pulling. He never hurt us but the only choice was for the child to say, “I gotta go now,” and let him bring us home. We lived in a tiny hamlet with a general store up the road and Mom could put some money and a note in Bing’s mouth and send him to the store. He could be trusted no matter what was wanted, even meat. And he never lost the change or spent it on candy like one of us might. Bing was crossing the road when a car struck and killed him. I remember the driver stopping and taking Bing’s body away with the comment, “Well, he’s a real dead dog now.” I was five years old.

Another dog I remember was brought home as a still-blind puppy by my sister Therese. She named him Kelly treated him like a human baby, feeding him from a bottle while holding him on his back. He grew up to a medium size mongrel with shaggy hair, brown with black trim, a friendly, funny creature. He didn’t know he was a dog – he even had a “bankie,” which he carried around and sucked on. Then, at about age four, he learned his true nature and did he go to town. He became something of an escape artist and for the next several years, puppies all over the neighborhood grew up to be shaggy creatures, brown with black trim.

I had wanted a Scottish terrier from early childhood, but I was in my middle twenties before I finally got one. I went to a kennel and, following advice, let a puppy choose me. His mother’s name was Lark, his father’s was Tangerine. I registered him with the AKC as Meadowlark Lemon – with Mr. Lemon’s permission (I had met the Harlem Globetrotters in London and maintained the relationship for some years after). His calling name was Piper. He was very typical of his breed, bright, stubborn, brave, chipper. I had heard that they can turn mean as they age, so I took him to obedience school, where he finished next to the bottom of his class. A major goal of his life was to catch a squirrel, though he never succeeded. Indeed, a squirrel took him as a pet. Every morning we went for a walk. There was a narrow passageway down beside the house bordered by a tall fence. A big tree was at the far end. Every morning the squirrel lurked in that passageway. Piper went roaring after him and the squirrel made it to the tree barely ahead of him. It took me awhile to realize the squirrel was laying for the dog, carefully gauging how close it could begin the run to the entrance to the passage. Piper never caught on that it was a game, and would hit that tree so hard he actually went up the trunk a yard or so before falling on his back. He’d come trotting jauntily back to me, satisfied he’d taught that squirrel to fear him, and I just know that squirrel was giggling up in the branches. I’ve got lots of stories about Piper, and often thought about writing a children’s book about him. I never did, though a certain cat I once owned is in my current series.

Have animals you’ve known ever made it into your work?


Linda O. Johnston said...

Oh, yes, Monica--my older dog Lexie starred in my Kendra Ballantyne Pet-Sitter Mysteries and has occasional cameo appearances in my Pet Rescue Mysteries! This post is of definite interest to me, but I'm sure you knew that. Great descriptions of those dogs!

Betty Hechtman said...

What a great post!