Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The Fourth of July is over, and once again I survived a night of blasting bombs and popping firecrackers in the company of a shivering, quivering dog who doesn't give a bark about celebrating this country's birth, but thinks she has been suddenly transplanted onto a battlefield with a battalion of enemies facing her and shooting at her.

I can't remember too many Fourth of July celebrations in my youth. I am not even sure they were popular back then, but even if they were, I missed them. Our way of celebrating in the summertime was to take a blanket out into the yard and lay there, looking up at the stars, trying to see a falling star, trying to locate the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. The Dippers were the only stars we could name, since our education in astrology was rather limited.

Chop, my sister Hilda's husband, had hounds. The hounds would run the coons, baying and howling as they raced through the woods behind the house. I don't think anyone ever caught a coon, but Chop used to consider the howling to be like a musical concert to his ears and would listen to the dog's baying as the hours passed by. If they were silent, he would become disturbed, and wonder what was happening. They would always start in again, loping along, a pack of hounds, chasing a coon that was probably terrified through the woods.

We lay sprawled on the blanket, myself and my neices and nephews, uninterested in the coons, but very interested in the streaking beauty of a falling star. We were amazed by the number of stars we could see on these clear nights, millions of little diamonds in the sky, blinking and winking, except for one, which had a steady glow and hung in the sky like a jewel in a priceless necklace.

The dogs would lay on the blanket with us...Duke, who was Ronald's dog and who chased cars. Duke was a police dog, not interested in coons, but who considered every car to be a danger to be chased away and defeated. He was so knowledgeable about cars that, if I walked down the street with him, he leaned against me, pushing me into the ditch, as though trying to protect me from any vehicle that might pass by.

Then, too, there was Jake, Hubert's dog. Jake was a thief. He would leave at a certain time every night and not return until the next morning, always carrying his bounty with him. He brought home loaves of bread and canned goods. Once, he brought home a huge tarp and left it in our yard. Later that day, a neighbor stopped by and claimed that we had taken his boat cover. My mother tried to explain that Jake was a known burglar, prone to rifle boatyards and grocery stores, but the neighbor didn't believe her and said if it happened again, he was calling the law.

When Helma and I were quite small, Helen won a little miniature Spitz female on a punchboard. Punchboards used to be quite popular and were similar to today's lottery. You would punch out a number and, if you selected the right number, you would win a prize. Helen punched the right number and won Fluffy, whom she gave to Helma and me. We were delighted. Fluffy was a little, smart, loving ball of white fluff. We babied her and loved her and hid with her under the bed when the dogcatcher came. Mom would go to the door and vow that we did not have a dog, the only time I have ever heard her lie. We must have had three or four dogs at the time, two or three that laid under the house in the daytime, and our one housedog, Fluffy.

A few years later, Fluffy was hit by a car out in the street in front of the house. I heard the wheels squeal as the driver tried to avoid hitting her and I ran out of the house. Fluffy lay motionless in the road. The driver of the car never stopped, but drove onward, disappearing in the distance. Fluffy was still alive, but badly hurt. I sat down in the street and tried to comfort her. Mom started screaming at me, but I couldn't make out her words. Then another car came to a screeching halt, nearly hitting me and the little dog. I carried Fluffy into the house and we kept her alive for several days. There was no money for a veterinarian. We could only give her water and pray for her life. The courageous little ball of fluff tried so hard to please us, licking our hands, clinging to life. She lost that battle and nothing has ever affected me as much as this tiny, brave little dog laying lifeless in a box in our kitchen.

The parade of dogs in our lives was constant. They came and they went. They ate leftovers, corncobs and potato peels. They were never licensed, never saw a vet. However, they were healthy and happy, some of them living many years. When I compare them to Jedi today, with her yearly bevy of shots, her flea medication, her dental exam, her heartworm medication...I wonder how on earth we managed to have so many robust dogs without all of this. Jedi gets better medical care than I do. Her vet said, "Her liver enzyme is a little high. Nothing to worry about, but we should check it in a few weeks!" I am not sure the dogs on the farm even HAD liver enzymes, or if they did, those enzymes were on their own.

My neice, Sis, says that my love of dogs surpasses my love of people. She may be right. There is something about dogs that grabs the heart and hangs on tight. I think it is their eyes. Their eyes shine with loyalty. A dog will love you even if you mistreat it, and there are people who do neglect and mistreat their dogs. There is a special hell for them, I think.

During Katrina, the rescuers in the boats refused to allow pets to be taken to safety with their owners. Thus, they left behind thousands of abandoned and frightened dogs and cats. Cats are pretty good at supporting themselves, killing mice and birds, probably fish, too. But dogs are different. If they have been domesticated, they will just hang around, waiting for their owners to feed them. Television programs showed pictures of the dogs left behind during Katrina, dogs perched on porches, on logs, even in trees, their thin bodies shivering, their eyes desolate! It was pathetic and should never happen again. I would never leave Jedi behind! I should abandon this little dog who sleeps at my feet, shares my food, and is my only hope of waking up if the alarm clock rings? Never!

My husband was always afraid of big dogs, although he didn't like to admit it. One day, my older son had gone with a friend to Church Camp. They were very late getting home and, when they hadn't returned by late afternoon, we decided to drive over to the friend's house to see if they were back. We pulled into the driveway of the house and my husband got out of the car to go up to the door. At this moment, a huge black mastiff appeared from the back of the house, snarling and growling. My husband, glimpsing the dog, decided to run back to our car. Halfway there, it seemed that he could not outrun the huge dog, so he turned and ran back to the porch, which was screened in. Luckily, it was not locked. The mastiff took a position outside the screened porch, waiting for my husband to emerge. Somehow, the entire episode struck me as funny, and I laughed, which enraged my husband, who glared at me, his dignity left laying in the sand. I had to get out of the car, get a firm hold on the big dog and hold him tight until my husband got safely back in our car. I always thought this tale was funny, even though my husband didn't.

The thing is, you can't be afraid of dogs. You have to convince them you are their friend, would fight the world for them, and protect them within an inch of your life. When I told my husband this, he always scoffed and rolled his eyes, but I believe it to be true.