My brothers and I had a lot of pets when we were growing up. Aside from the occasional tarantula or garter snake that we’d capture in the woods and keep in a mayonnaise jar, there were a handful of Ill-fated hermit crabs, a shaggy orange Guinea pig that will always hold a special place in my heart, a blue parakeet who hated each and every one of us, and a big fat black cat named Salem.
Dogs? Of course we had dogs.
I don’t think we ever bought a dog (that concept seemed pretty weird to me as a kid) because all of ours were stray mutts that we fed and they just never left, hoping that we would feed them again. Which of course we always did. There were a couple of puppies that sadly never made it to adulthood, an undernourished Dalmatian who’s ribs always showed, and a little girl with “sock-feet” that eventually went to live on a friend’s farm after about 8 years with us. (I promise she did. She really did.)
They were all special.
But the dog we loved the most was a half-German Shepard/half God-only-knew-what we named Duke. Duke was one of those strays who just found us one day. We were playing kickball in the yard and he sauntered up with a big smile wanting to play too. We weren’t really sure how old he was – I’d guess somewhere between 2 and 4. Duke was a pretty big dog too; maybe about 80 pounds. But I think that might have been mostly hair. (I’m sure that if any of us ever bothered to brush him, he was probably about half the size that he appeared.)
Most of our dogs had agendas of their own, exploring the neighborhood all day but returning in time for dinner. But not Duke, he was always close by. I don’t remember ever washing him, but he jumped into the pool with us every chance he got, always eager to join the game of Marco-Polo even if he didn’t quite understand the rules. He just wanted to play too.
It was a different time back then, and we lived “out in the country” on a few acres, so our dogs never came in the house. After all, they were just “yard dogs”. They slept outside, or the garage on an old blanket if it was freezing. Now, I have to forceably push Harley Davidson out the back door to pee if it’s drizzling, or under 55 degrees, or even slightly dewy. I’m pretty sure that our dogs back then weren’t registered with the city, or even wore collars. The few neighbors we had, just knew which dogs belonged to which house. And when they scratched, we simply slapped a white flea collar on ’em. Done. Our dogs also ate table scraps, (not that there are many leftovers in a Polish-Catholic household), off of a flat rock in the back yard. Princess Harley only eats ground lamb dog food, from a turquoise Bauer dog bowl, and occasionally, organic peanut butter dog biscuits that Jamie bakes just for her. (He makes the peanut butter too). Harley turns her nose up at anything else. I once watched Duke happily scarf down cold spaghetti and broccoli……..off the rock.
One evening there was a tremendous ruckus in the dog-sleeping garage. My mother opened the door to the garage at the exact moment that the rucks was pressed up against it. Our neighbor’s Rottweiler, Adolf, had dared to step into our yard and our Duke was having none of that. He was doing his only job: defending our house. Usually that was from squirrels and Mockingbirds, but this was his time to shine. The slobbery pair bowled my mother completely over and continued their fight on top of her/into the house. First in the laundry room, then the kitchen, to the hall, the formal living room, the foyer, the dining room, back to the kitchen, the hallway again, back to the formal living room, and the foyer ………all the while my mother beating the Rottie with her weapon of choice, a wooden kitchen spoon. The same wooden spoon that she used to threaten to paddle my brothers and I with. (Pretty sure the Rottie wasn’t any more scared of it than we ever were)
Eventually, someone opened the front door and we pushed the pair out into the yard. The Rottie went scampering back home to the Jones’s down the road with his nubbed tail between his legs.
Now don’t feel bad for anyone in this situation for one hot minute.
Duke was just fine, except for maybe a few scratches. I’m pretty sure the Rottie was fine too, possibly a bruised ego. Our house, on the other hand, was not. There was blood and dog slobber splattered everywhere – Well, mostly dog slobber – on the carpet, the walls, the kitchen cabinets, and pretty much all of the formal living room furniture. It was disgusting. Like the aftermath of a minor ritualistic slaying.
Sure, they make dog fighting look glamorous on TV, but it’s not when it’s taking place in your formal living room. The room that we only used for “company” and the Christmas tree.
The Jones’s insurance paid for all the damage to the house. The walls were repainted, furniture and rugs professionally cleaned, and my mother got to select new wallpaper. Something a little more “current”. It was like wining a mini home makeover contest from a design magazine.
Good ol’ Duke.
When I was into my third year of college at Texas Tech, my little brothers were both deep into their own high school experiences, and poor Duke wasn’t getting the attention he was used to anymore. He had gone from wrestling and playing ball with us in the front yard for hours every day to just a “Hey Duke” and a wave as each of us drove off to hang with our friends.
It’s no wonder that he started to disappear.
It was just for a few hours in the beginning. We think. (Remember, we weren’t paying much attention to him.) But soon, Duke was vanishing overnight. He’d always be back in the morning, with a big goofy grin and his normal appetite. We weren’t too panicked, because our dogs never went that far. There weren’t many busy roads for him to cross; mostly fields. Our immediate neighbors all knew him and most of the people driving on our gravel roads were used to avoiding the occasional dog, or cow, or even javelina. But my mother started to worry when Duke didn’t surface for a couple of days. Maybe he had found an inattentive driver, or a rattle snake, or possibly even a kick in the head from a horse. My brothers and I swept the neighborhood, calling his name out of the car windows, mostly expecting to find his body. But instead, we found nothing.
It was about a week into Duke’s disappearance when he resurfaced at the garage door. He looked fine. In fact, better than fine. Like he’d had a bath…and a good brushing. We looked him over for that broken leg, or snake bite, but there was nothing unusual…….except maybe for the note taped to his white plastic flea collar.
The note read:
“Is this your dog? Please call us” and a phone number.
My mother called the number and talked to a Mrs Murphy for about 20 minutes. The Murphys lived a couple blocks from us and had 3 kids in elementary school. It seemed that Duke had wandered into their yard a few months ago and started playing with their kids.
Wait a minute, MONTHS AGO?
They fed him genuine dog food and they brushed his fur. They even let him sleep inside their house, in a bed, with the kids. Duke had really scored with the Murphys.
Shocked, We were all shocked.
Duke was cheating on us with another family
The Murphy’s already had a dog; a “real” German Shepherd named Daisy. And she was expecting puppies. I’ll give y’all one guess who the father was.
You know it, our Duke.
(My brother josh will swear that the note read, “Your dog impregnated my dog”……but I’m fairly certain that we learned that tidbit of information a little later.)
Of course we’d never had Duke fixed. Who would spend that kind of money/energy on a “yard dog”?
My mother and Josh drove Duke over to the Murhpy’s that very night.
She said they were just the kind of young family that you would want to leave a dog with. Warm and friendly, and with 3 little kids who all thought that Duke was just the greatest.
Because he was.
None of us ever saw Duke again,
But I know, he’d had a really good life.
Two of them in fact…..
After all, how many stray dogs hit the doggy jackpot twice?