Life of a dog is just right in my book

Published 1:43 pm Sunday, June 9, 2024

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By Lloyd Albritton


I think it was Herbert Hoover who said, “The dog is man’s best friend.”  Or, maybe it was Davy Crockett who said that; I don’t really know.  I know Herbert Hoover said something.  What did Herbert Hoover say?  Well, whatever!  Somebody said it and I believe it’s true.

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It is also true that dogs stink, no matter how many baths you give them, and that a dog will always find a way to slobber or rub his or her dirty paws on your best dress slacks, and that a dog will chew up whatever pair of shoes you leave on the floor without any regard for what you paid for them.  And they do all these distasteful things out of nothing but pure love.  By golly, every time I pull into my driveway my dog comes a’running and wagging her tail and smiling with delight.  I can’t get my wife to do all that and I feed her a whole lot better than I do my dog!  Which, once again, makes dogs a real good value.

On par with human intelligence, there is no doubt that dogs are very dumb.  I used to have an old dog named Gus, a big beautiful male Golden Retriever.  Gus reminded me of Lennie in the 1937 John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men.  Like Lennie, Gus did a lot of things, which landed me in a lot of trouble.  Like George, Lennie’s friend and caretaker, who finally had to shoot Lennie to keep him from being hanged, I considering shooting old Gus more than once.  For example, I concealed evidence for him when he stole my neighbor’s shoes off his patio and dragged them home all chewed up.  He killed my daughter-in-law’s favorite cat on Christmas Eve one year and she still hates me for that. And whenever I let Gus run loose he would always find a mud hole to wallow in, preferably one with a dead possum in it.

But, you know what?  When I laid down at night to go to sleep, Old Gus would lick my feet.  When I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, Old Gus would get up with me and lie by the door until I came out.  When I worked at my computer, Old Gus would lie on my feet (not at my feet; on top of them!).  When I moved from one chair to another, a distance of only a few feet, Old Gus would patiently follow me, lay his big head in my lap, slobber on my leg, and wait for a stroke from my hand.  Then he would plop down right-smack-dab on top of my feet again and wait for my next request, which was usually, “DADBURNIT GUS, GET OFF MY FEET!”  So, how could I not have loved old Gus when he loved me so much?  However useless, Old Gus was my best friend.

I grew up in the rural South at a time when dogs were not treated as humanely as most folks treat their dogs nowadays.  I don’t think Old Gus would have survived that era.  In those days, dogs were expected to be useful.  A hunting dog was expected to hunt.  A hog dog had to catch hogs.  A stock dog rounded up the cows.  In their spare time, dogs were family pets, but like everybody else, a dog had to pull his own weight.

My grandfather purely hated dogs.  With eight children to care for, Papa considered dogs nothing more than a nuisance and an extra mouth to feed.  Papa would grab a big stick or a handful of rocks and chase a dog off his property at the mere sight of him.  My father, however, loved dogs, but he never put them in the same category as humans.  Daddy had rules around his house about various things, you see, but he did not have various punishments to “fit the crime.”  He only had one punishment for every crime a dog might commit.  That punishment was death by a one-man firing squad!

For example, the dog better not kill a chicken or suck eggs.  The dog better not growl at a human (especially Daddy) or, Lord Forbid, bite someone (especially a young’un).  The dog better not bark at night and wake Daddy up and the dog had better come whenever Daddy called him.  Daddy would not bide a disobedient dog.  Yes, Daddy had lots of rules for his dogs; and for his children too!  Though, in the end, all six of us Albritton children made it to adulthood, I must confess that I was never altogether sure of my chances.  Our dogs were not so lucky.  In fact, I don’t recollect that we ever had a family dog who lived a normal doggie lifetime without violating one or the other of Daddy’s rules for dogs.  Every dog I ever had as a boy was executed at a relatively young age.

In the post World War II years, when I was growing up, dogs and children had “their place.”  The dog’s place was outside in the yard, not in the house.  Under Daddy’s rules, a dog might actually be shot for coming into the house.  I clung to these rules for many years.  It was my second wife who changed me.  She wanted a baby, so I got her a dog instead, a little Miniature Schnauzer who we named Buster, after a favorite boyhood dog of mine who Daddy had executed for breaking into the henhouse and eating eggs.  Buster, The Latter, was a cute, smart little dog, but he had that typical terrier attitude and he and I did not get along too well.  Buster quickly determined that his place was inside the house, not outside.  For his nightly bedtime story, I used to carefully explain to Little Buster about what happened to his namesake, Buster Senior, hoping he would get the message that I was not yet totally converted to the code of modern animal rights.  “I don’t have a gun,” I told Little Buster, “but I can get one!”

My adult son came to visit me soon after we got Little Buster and expressed amazement that I would allow a dog of any kind in my house.  “Dad, I just never thought I’d see the day when you would have a little foo-foo dog at all, much less keep him the house.  You couldn’t find a good hound dog?”

“Well now, Son,” I replied wisely, “what you have to understand is that these little Schnauzer dogs are not like regular dogs.  They don’t shed hair and they don’t stink.  And not only that, but they are real smart.  Why, this little dog right here is perfectly house trained.  When he needs to go outside to use the bathroom, he always lets me know.  He would never, ever mess up in the house.”

My son suddenly started grinning and pointing down where little Buster was standing at my feet.  “Daddy!” he exclaimed, “He’s pooping in the floor right now.”

I looked down, and sure enough, little Buster was squatting and taking a poop right on the carpet at my feet.  I lost it!  I grabbed that little devil up by the nap of his neck, jerked my belt out of my britches and went to whipping him mercilessly.

“DADDY!” my son hollered between guffaws of laughter, “YOU’RE GONNA KILL HIM!”

“You’re danged right I’m gonna kill him,” I replied.  “I would have killed you too if you’d ever took a poop on the floor in front of me.”  Fortunately, for little Buster, my wife heard all the commotion and came running to save him.  She said she would have me arrested if I ever whipped her dog like that again.

In the end, that marriage didn’t work out, but as with so many things in life, we often learn the most from our failures.  Before she and Buster left, I took the time to look into my inner psyche for answers about both women and dogs.  I didn’t learn much about women in there, but I did discover a deeper understanding for the doggie mentality.

Once I understood the dog’s mind, I became a more compassionate and effective dog owner.  Old Gus should have felt lucky that he had been the beneficiary of all the soul searching I did to save my marriage.  Still, if Gus had ever pooped on the floor right in front of me, I just can’t say what I might have done.