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?
i find your childhood an awesome one… lots of space, brothers, and stray dogs… How they can win a kid’s heart, right? I myself recall of a short-haired female gray fatty. 5-year-old me and my friends, we found her on a small train station. Of course, we named her “Princess”. Hail to you, Princesses and Dukes!
Vera, Sounds like we both had “Royal” strays…
Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! Our family LOVES our dogs, so I really enjoyed this post + plan to share said same with my sisters. xo xo
I’ve been working on this story while I’ve been sitting on airplanes over the past year….thought it was about time I shared it….Glad you liked it.
Such a sweet sweet story! i love happy endings!
Thanks Barbara, Glad I could share one of my family’s favorite stories with all y’all.
Mom didn’t use the wooden spoon that time, it was a rolling pin.
Yes, but telling people that she hit US with a rolling pin doesn’t have quite the same “feeling”. No one wants to read that on a Sunday.
Wonderful story…..particularly for an old dog lover like myself! Sweet old Duke! Bless his heart!
He was a good guy, Vickie…..I think of him often.
We had German shepherds when my kids were young. They too were yard dogs. They barked at anyone driving in the yard and never were chained. Never, ever had a problem with thieves. They ate all my son’s veggies for years and dog food if they had to. I waited until the,last old fella died until I moved to town. Now I have a Doxie, whom I love, but every time I see a shepherd I remember my farm dogs.
Glad that you get it Ann. They were just that, yard dogs. Most of them came and went……but Duke will always have a special place in my/our hearts.
This is such a lovely memory shared. Thank you!
Mel, It’s a story I’ve been telling for 30 years…..Glad that I can share it…… and you enjoyed it.
Feel like I know Duke, and happy that he knew when it was time to move on.
Pretty sure that he was happy most of his life, Carole….And so glad that he shared some of that with us
Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!
So glad that you liked it Janet…..
Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and beautiful story. Our pup who passed on six months ago was very special member of our family. We adopted her from the shelter at 12 weeks and had her for nearly 16 years. Like you, we will long remember her and share loving memories of our shared lives together.
Loosing a dog a few years ago was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But I’d never miss that opportunity to share my life with a dog again…….always will.
My sunday morning started as most do…sitting down with a large cup of coffee in my paper reading chair to read the sunday paper. After reading about the violence in the world and the political circus here at home it was so wonderful to read about Duke. The timing was perfect and I thank you! You made my day!
Awww thanks Debra, I think we’re cut from the same cloth. I’m always so excited to read something positive that a friend has facebooked. So glad that you liked my little memory….
What a great story!! LOVED this!!
Awwwww thanks Jennifer, glad that I could share it with you.
Next to “Where the Red Fern Grows”‘ that is the sweetest dog story I’ve ever read. It made me cry and I don’t even like dogs. Duke was a lucky boy to have two families.
Candice, if “where the red fern grows” makes you cry…….don’t ever read “Old Yeller”. (One if my favorite book as a kid) Sometimes I’ll cry just thinking about it….
What a wonderful essay! Loved every bit of it, and the photo makes it obvious why Duke was so beloved! Who’s a good boy!! It’s also interesting to read about ‘yard dogs.” I remember that in my town, people in the 70’s let their dogs roam around the neighborhoods at will. Probably a more ‘natural’ life for a dog – my late dogs used to love to break out of our yard and run around until we could catch them. Our current dog doesn’t do that, and I joke that she has Stockholm Syndrome! Thanks for sharing this truly sweet, uplifting story. This is why your blog is my absolute favorite!!
Elise, you are too sweet. I’m never sure if anyone even cares to read my “stories”, (my friends have heard them all dozens of times.) and I’m really just writing them down so I won’t forget them. Glad that I could brighten your day . 😀
I LOVE your blog; your stories, your sidewalk, your style. I lived on a farm until I was 18 and our dogs roamed everywhere. Chased deer, skunks, rabbits, coyotes, porcupines and one unfortunate incident with the neighbour’s cows (no harm done, but boy was my dad mad). The mini home makeover part of your story was very funny! Don’t stop blogging!
Awwww, Thanks Pat. So glad that you could relate to that story. It was a different world back then with all the loose dogs. Am I right? No plans to stop blogging just yet…..but I have been slowing down lately. I’m writing a book, and it’s taken all my energy to meet this deadline. As soon as that’s out of the way……my heart will be back into the blog. Unless they ask me to write a second one…..(fingers crossed)
A book! Very exciting. And you teased us with a peek of your deck in the sidewalk post. Any chance you’ll slip in a post about that stylin’ deck?