rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Dog Days

No moon at all. Well, there was no moon until after 03:00, but even then, only a thin little slice shone among the clouds which have reappeared in the east. It's up there right now, a few degrees from bright Venus. But still, the night is very dark. There was a song called No Moon at All. I could probably find the lyric on the Internet, but don't feel like it. I remember a couple of lines, though:
No moon at all, it's so dark
Even Fido is afraid to bark.
I can tell you, the dog who has moved in on the next block to the west is not Fido. I've been hearing barks all night, probably provoked by raccoons and deer and stray cats. The dog must be unaccustomed to wildlife. Probably a Chico dog. I hope it adjusts soon.

I've only ever lived with two dogs for any length of time. There was a third dog, but that one only stayed with us for two weeks while her owners were on vacation. She was a nervous little chihuahua-- well, I guess "nervous" is redundant when one is discussing a chihuahua-- named Mitzi. At first, I thought (as would any eight or nine year old boy) that she was a miserable excuse for a dog, but she turned out to be so friendly and playful that she soon won me over. She was a house dog, but not accustomed to linoleum. She soon discovered that she could slide on our well-waxed kitchen floor by getting a running start from the living room and taking a leap into the kitchen. Once she hit the linoleum, she could slide ten or twelve feet before coming to a stop, whereupon she would trot back to the living room and get another start. I grew quite fond of that little dog, in spite of the fact that, like all her breed, she looked utterly ridiculous-- more like an over-sized rat with big ears than like any respectable canine. Two days after her owners returned and took her home, she got out of their house and was killed by a car. I was very sad about it. I always thought that she was trying to get back to our house, where she had gotten so much attention, and had so much fun sliding on the polished linoleum.

Of the other two dogs who lived with us, the first was a small, light brown mongrel stray we called Pal. He was very unhealthy when he first showed up, in the spring of the year I turned seven. He was scrawny, and his coat was patchy, and he was crawling with fleas. My parents wanted to call the pound to take him away, but I managed (to my surprise) to talk them into letting him stay. With regular feeding and brushing and baths, his condition improved considerably. I think he must have been an old dog, because he was never very lively. He would fetch sticks, if they weren't thrown too far, and would trot after a ball if it were rolled slowly, but that was about the extent of his play. Mostly, he liked to curl up and watch me as I did various things, and always appreciated a scratch behind the ears, which would set his tail wagging. He seldom barked, and then, not very loudly. In spite of the improvement in his condition after his arrival at out house, he was only with us a few months. Late that fall, he went to sleep on his favorite rug on the back porch, and died in his sleep. We buried him in a spot near the side gate where he had first shown up. Many years later, the house was sold and demolished, and a new street was cut through that part of the property. I have sometimes wondered if Pal's grave was disturbed by the construction, or if his bones still lie under the pavement laid down over the yard where he used to fetch sticks.

The third dog was named Sparky. He, too, was fully grown when we got him. He had belonged to one of my older brother's biker friends, who was going off to ride around the country for a year or two, and couldn't take the dog with him, and couldn't find anyone else to take the energetic little beast. Sparky was very well named. He was a small dog with a wavy coat of thick hair, white on his chest and some of his paws, and black everywhere else. He had short legs, but could get around on them at great speed. We were never sure what breed Sparky was, though our water man, a dog fancier, said that he was probably part Sussex Spaniel. Whatever he may have been, he had a strong instinct for herding. During the time he lived with us, my brother and sister both started families, and whenever the growing children came over to visit and were allowed out into the back yard, Sparky would keep them from leaving it. When they tried to go around the sides of the house, he would chase them back. He was probably the most reliable, and most tireless baby sitter we had.

Although Sparky was very good at keeping the kids in the part of the yard they were supposed to be in, he himself was impossible to keep fenced up. He always managed to dig his way under the fences, and could wriggle through surprisingly small openings. In those days when neutering of pets was not the standard, he became the most prolific breeder in the neighborhood. Within a year of his arrival, I was seeing little black pups with short legs for blocks around. Like him, many of them were very territorial, and in that neighborhood with unenforced leash laws, I had my heels nipped at by dogs who were probably his offspring on more than one occasion. When this would happen as I was on my way home, and I found him, as always, waiting for me by the front gate, I would scowl at him and say "You have to quit going out and having puppies!" Doubtlessly clueless about why he was being scolded instead of greeted with petting, he would lower his head and look up at me with big, brown eyes and wag his tail slowly. The look was so comically endearing that I would relent and pet him, and he would roll over on his back to have his chest scratched.

Sparky certainly had bad habits other than his constant escapes. He loved to lie in the oil spot under the car. Then, he would go out and roll in the dirt. He almost constantly had an oily, dirty cowlick on his back. He also had the habit of wolfing his food, then throwing it up, then re-eating it. I usually avoided him for a while after he had been fed, as this was a rather disgusting sight. He would also on occasion yank the low-hanging pieces of laundry off the clothesline. Tug-of-war was one of his favorite games, and if nobody was around to play it with him, he was happy to play with a wind-blown bed sheet. We learned to keep him in the garage when there was laundry on the lines. Unlike Pal, he had plenty of energy for chasing a ball. Not only would he chase it in a straight line, but I found that I could toss the ball over the roof of the house and he would race around to the other side to fetch it. I once had a friend toss the ball over the house while I watched the other side, to see how fast Sparky could get there. He managed to get all the way around the house and catch the ball on its third bounce. It was amazing how fast that short-legged dog could move.

It was his territoriality that was finally his downfall. Not everyone who came in the yard aroused his suspicion. He was always fond of the man who delivered bottled water, and he didn't mind the boy who sold flowers from a home-made cart. He also liked Phil, who drove the Helms Bakery truck, and never bothered the milkman. But he had an eye for salesmen. No sooner would they open the gate than Sparky would be charging them, barking wildly. Most of them beat a hasty retreat, but those with appointments, such as the insurance man, had to be rescued from him. He would be put in the garage until they left. One day, our insurance agent showed up unexpectedly, and didn't retreat behind the gate when the dog came at him. Sparky got to him before I got to Sparky. The insurance agent got some ripped pant cuffs, and some bite marks, and a fat commission for the sale of a new liability policy. Sparky got sent to the pound.

My parents didn't tell me this was going to happen. It was a couple of weeks after the incident with the insurance agent, and I thought the thing had blown over. One day I came home from school and Sparky was not waiting for me. I went in the house and asked where he was. My mother looked quite embarrassed, and admitted that he was in the garage, waiting for the dog catcher to come and pick him up. He was supposed to have been gone by the time I got home, but the truck was late. I went out to the garage, and just as I got there, the truck arrived. In spite of my protests, Sparky was taken away. The last look he gave me was that head-lowered gaze with slow tail wag that he always gave me when he didn't know why I was scolding him. This time, there were no reconciling pets.

I was angry with my parents, not only for their having sent my dog to the pound, but for the fact that they intended to have him taken away without my knowing, so that I couldn't even say goodbye to him. It was the first time I was fully aware of their capacity for callousness. Eventually, I did forgive them for it. I know that, in spite of common stories about how good things used to be, my parents are in fact the products of an age when casual cruelty was considered less shocking. It isn't surprising when people who were children in an age when lynchings were still often tacitly approved aren't that concerned about the fate of animals. Dogs sent to the pound when Sparky was were seldom adopted. Most of them ended up with a large group of dogs in a small chamber from which the air was removed, suffocating them. It usually happened within a couple of days of their being picked up. I knew that there wasn't much chance that my dog survived and found another home.

For a few days I displayed my anger with a bit of passive-aggressive politeness and by picking flowers from the yard and placing them on Pal's grave. I'm sure my parents got the point, but they never said anything about it. After a while, I was able to go to sleep at night without always remembering how Sparky looked at me when he was being dragged off to a cage in that truck which was full of other unfortunate dogs, all of them whimpering and whining. It was a long time before I had another animal to live with me, and when I did, it was a cat. And, although I have forgiven my parents for what they did, I also know the exact moment when they lost my trust.

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