Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

January 2, 2013

The dog lovers among us

Greensburg — Traditionally, at the start of each new year we make resolutions to do some things better or at least try not to screw up as often as we did during the previous year.

Obviously, this is nothing more than a tradition and carries no more credibility than promising my wife that I will not harass her to let me buy a dog this year. I’ve tried both, the resolutions and dog- begging for the past 10 years and neither have worked.

Within two days I’ve forgotten the resolutions and she seems to think that a new washer and drier are more important than a fancy dog.

I’m left with nothing more to do than remember the good old days and dogs I’ve owned — or more appropriately, the dogs that have owned me. Anyone who’s ever owned a dog, whether it be as a pet or even a hunting companion, dreams of a well-mannered, professional partner who obeys every command and is devoted to its master. In the pet category, anything goes; whereby a hunter prefers such breeds as pointers or setters for retrieval of game, beagles work for the rabbit hunter, and bluetics and redbones give their owners an excuse to leave the house on Saturday afternoon and spend the entire night sitting around a campfire, guzzling homemade brew and listening to the baying of their hounds in the distance.

In any case, a dog needs some kind of formal training, more commonly in some form of household etiquette.

Since my past dog training techniques amounted to no more than a rolled up newspaper and a piercing screech when the family pet was caught up on the kitchen table, I had to fetch my own birds and run down my own rabbits.

I remember the days when dogs played important roles in the family. Some of my earliest recollections were of energetic little fur balls equipped with needle-sharp teeth and the ability to chew a bowling ball to pieces while depositing large quantities of the two “P’s” at just the right places for parents to step in, barefoot. Most of our mutts had about as much class as a hay baler, being of mixed breeds, which is a diplomatic way of saying third generation removed of a joining of coyote and junkyard night watchman.

When asked by anyone what pedigree our pet claimed, we referred to it as part used auto parts emporium patrol specialist and part poultry acquisition expert. This normally drew a moment of blank looks and the inevitable next question: “What’s its name?” to which the reply would be, “Specs De La Montgomery Aloicius Jones The Third.”

The next inevitable question: “Uh, what do you call him?”

“Depends on the occasion. If he just chased a fox out of the chicken coop we praise him and call him Specs. If he decides to claim a pullet as his reward, he goes by the last part of his name with the “h” left out.”

During those years in the country, the dogs in our family were studies in the total lack of ability to do anything but snap at flies and show up at supper time within 10 seconds of the same time every night.

Numerous attempts were made to teach such simple tricks as rolling over, sitting up or shake-a-paw. All such attempts resulted in the dog lying on its back with four feet in the air with its tail curled between its hind legs tapping a rhythm on its stomach.

Accompanying this was a look that was a mixture of resignation to an awful fate and the bewilderment of a first grader trying to comprehend a lecture on Einsteins Unified Field Theory of Relativity. We decided to dismiss school permanently and took pride in the fact that no other dogs in the county were as adept at growing mange, scratching, or rolling in unspeakably smelly stuff. These mutts were in a class of their own.

They performed their canine duties to perfection by keeping the property clear of stray cats who attempted to use our barn as their quarterly maternity ward. We were greeted daily as we climbed from the school bus, much to the annoyance of the driver who had to wait while we yelled and whistled them from under and in the front of the vehicle.

The little female, my favorite, was of questionable ancestry, being short of stature and I.Q. She grew and shed hair at such a rate that her fleas alternated between freezing on a skin desert one minute and sweltering in a hair forest the next — and she was constantly in heat.

When asked to get her “fixed”, dad replied that he wasn’t going to pay for a $20 operation on a $2 dog. As a result, we had more than our share of small, fuzzy lumps to find homes for.

Their mom, in spite of carrying around an undercarriage that looked like a fat, 10-fingered surgical glove, would abandon them two weeks before weaning time, leaving mom with the responsibility of developing the group into responsible citizens by bottle feeding and finally, an introduction to solid food. Shortly thereafter, another suitor would show up to claim the hussy.

In spite of her undercarriage handicap, the little female wouldn’t hesitate to chase a rabbit into and through even the thickest briar patches.

Baying and running full bore, her chow wagon swinging wildly, she and the rabbit would disappear in a straight line away from us. She had no intention of circling the quarry back to us. It was her rabbit and unless we had a chance at it within the first two seconds, that was the last we’d see of it. She wouldn’t show up for an hour afterwards, winded, beat black and blue by the milk wagon on her stomach and grinning from ear to ear. Why did we take her on the hunts? Locked in the smokehouse, she would howl and wail until mom, who couldn’t stand it any more, would set her free. She always found us.

Since I gave up hunting long ago, I’ll have to find a dog with real class. One that will spend its days sitting on my lap, will be trained to fetch a cup of coffee and a donut on command and not keep the mailman at bay. NAWW! I’ll get a St. Bernard and train it to pull the lawn mower and intimidate our neighbor’s little pocket pooch. Now that’s a classy dog.

 

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