Monday, March 31, 2014

"A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down."  ~ Robert Benchley

I just read an article that admonished women against marrying any man who doesn't like children or dogs. Sounds about right to me. Of course, if you're a woman who doesn't like children or dogs, go right ahead... knock yourself out! 

I, on the other hand, LOVE dogs. I'm a sucker for all Old English Sheepdogs... and any other haired variety. In fact, my next-door neighbor just gave me the best compliment last week. She said I was the "Morningview Drive Dog Whisperer!" 

Now, Clancy, our second Old English was the smartest dog we ever raised. He was big and beautiful and was a natural-born herder. In fact, he seemed to think that all the kids in our neighborhood were sheep! The boys across the street would come over and knock on our door every day in summer, saying, "Can Clancy come out to play?" Of course, we'd both come out to the front yard so Clancy could roust them into a running circle of laughing, screaming kidlets. 

When Clancy and the kids were finally laying on the lawn, laughing hysterically in their perfect circle, one boy would always say, "Does Clancy have eyes?"

"Yes, he does... I showed you them yesterday!"

"Show us again, pullleeezzz..." And I'd lift up that big old head with its long pink tongue hanging down to the ground, and I'd lift back that mop of white hair so they could see HIS laughing brown eyes.

One day, when I was taking Clancy on his morning walk around the big strawberry field near our house, I felt eyes on me... Weird... There was no one staring at us. There was just Clancy, me, and the strawberry pickers hustling to carry those large, heavy crates to the back of the truck. I looked up at the telephone pole we were walking toward, and there HE was! A golden eagle... perched on the pole's crossbar, staring... just staring down hard at us both from on high.

I'd just finished reading my umpteenth book about Kenya the day before (LOVE reading about that mystic, magical place... the highlands of Kenya, especially), and it had talked about people who hunted lions with EAGLES! I'd only ever seen one bald eagle in person, and they were big, but NOT like this Golden Eagle staring down on us.

He was huge, aristocratic and regal... and, did I say HUUUUGE! He looked right through my eyes into the back of my head, crinckled his eyebrows, and then, with the utmost look of boredom I've ever seen on any face, he looked away towards the field. We were beneath his contempt... thank God!

Clancy, like all dogs, never saw him at all. Dogs seem to always look straight ahead or downwards or around behind. But upwards is usually just not of much interest to them, it seems to me. That eagle, though, could have taken him out... me, too, for that matter. But he was just too lordly for a morning tussle, I guess.

When I was young, we had a wonderful dog named Copper. He was mostly a boxer, but he must have had a tinge of Great Dane or something in him, because his black muzzle was squared, not mashed into his face like the usual boxer dog. He was a love, like all boxers. His family was everything to him, and he was so eager to please us.

I'm ashamed to admit that I trained him, lickety-split, to hold a dog treat on top of his nose and not eat it until I said, "OK." There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But I wondered how long he would wait, holding it on his nose until I said the magic words... It never occurred to me that this was cruel. But it WAS! Our Copper held that treat on his nose one time for over 10 minutes. I know, because I'd just received a watch for my birthday. The slobber on the ground was proof, too.

Copper stayed in the backyard every day until my brother and I came home from school. Then he'd be in for the night with us. In the evenings down in the den Dad would relax in his Laz-Boy Lounger (even though my father looked an awful lot like Don Draper, and Don Draper would never have lounged in a Laz-Boy!), my brother and I would be spread out on the couch, and my Mom would be sitting in her rocking chair, as we all watched TV.

When Copper came to live with us, he found his place in the family den, too. He jumped up on my Mom's lap and sat straight up on his haunches and watched TV as she rocked. So what, you say... There was only ONE person in that room who was afraid of dogs, and, you guessed it... It was Mom! Why did Copper choose Mom? When Mom was upstairs fixing dinner, and Jack and I were downstairs fighting over the TV, I'd get into the rocker and put Copper on MY lap. He'd promply jump off my lap to sit on the floor, straight up in front of the TV so he wouldn't miss a thing. That dog loved TV as much as we did!

Now my Dad, an early riser, always opened the kitchen door in the morning to let Copper out to do his "business," as Dad called it. We didn't have a fenced yard. We lived in Connecticut! In those days, at least, it was the law there that when a house was going to be built, only 1/3 of the trees could be removed from the lot. Our backyard was grassy, but, at its edge, it was actually a forest covered with pines and rocks, gently rolling down the hill to the neighbor's backyard below. I loved that foresty place.

But that meant that Copper would have free-range to roam all over the neighborhood until he decided to come home. I never liked that, but I wasn't in charge. Dad was. When Copper would return, he'd just scratch at the door until someone opened it for him. Usually, that "someone" was me! Sometimes, I did wonder where he went, but it was his secret, and he was always so happy that I knew it must have been all gooood!

Until one day... Copper was out that morning for longer than usual. I was in the kitchen stewing about something or other, and suddenly I heard ferocious barking... and I didn't recognize any of those barks! Then something was thrown against the kitchen door, it seemed. Then there was Copper's bark. It said, "LET ME IN! THEY'RE GONNA KILL ME!"

I ran to the kitchen door's window, and there was Copper, cowering against that door! A pack of at least 6 dogs wanted at him, seemingly to bite his head off! But, standing sideways, between Copper and that gang of dogs, I saw Mike! Mike was a huge, long-haired white dog, a Great Pyrenesse, who lived in the neighborhood. He was never playful like Copper. He was stately, quiet, but firm in his ways. In fact, if Mike had been a human, he would have played right guard for the Packers. No talk, no lip, just "I'm gonna take you OUT! Count on it!"

Mike was shielding Copper from what would have been a terrible dog fight with my sweet Copper, the loser!

Of course, I yanked the door open for him to run in, and then slammed that door shut. I think that if he could have, Copper would have jumped right up into my arms!

It was Mike who was the hero of that episode. I've never seen that before or since. With Copper safely inside the house, I kept peeking out the window to watch Mike as he guarded our kitchen door for another half an hour before he ambled on homeward.

You'd think that this story would end with Copper and Mike being best friends, but that's not what happened. Mike stayed as aloof as he'd always been with everyone, dogs included. Copper still went out in the mornings to do his "business." But no dogs ever chased him home again. My question still is, though, what in the world did our sweet boxer do to get himself in that kind of a jam... It must have been about a girl... don't you think...? 


  1. This was a great story, Terry. The way you spin a yarn is most captivating.

  2. Boy, that's sooo exciting to hear, Linda! I used to teach writing in high school, and I was a Fellow in the UCI Writing Project, too. Thanks sooo much for your kind words. It makes this lady very, very happy! :}

  3. By the way, Linda... that wasn't an April Fool's joke, was it?????