The Greatest Dog I Knew

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By Tank Hoover

I’ve known some great dogs in my lifetime. How about you? One of my favorites as a kid was a mixed breed hound that lived on my Pap’s farm. He was dropped off as a pup, which was a common, brutal practice of the day.

Remembering those days, I recall my uncles eagerly adopt him and we name him Pupper. Pupper is a classic shepherd, collie mix with a sprinkling of Border collie. His face, neck and saddle are black and he has brown eyebrows and sox. His red collar contrasts beautifully against his neck. Cute as a button, docile as a lamb, he loves a good belly-rub. He sleeps in a steel culvert, which runs under Pap’s driveway. Grandma feeds him leftover scraps from every meal.

Risky Business

On my visits to the farm, he is my constant companion. We roam the fields and woods pretending to be a lone trapper and his wily canine. We hunt for bears, tigers and lions, but settle for groundhogs, crows and sparrows. Pupper stays in shape by practicing skillful pursuits of cars and trucks. He lies in wait, out of sight, usually in the roadside ditch, statue still. When he hears a car in the distance, his floppy ears give him away as they perk up, standing totally erect. His body tense, like a coiled spring, he’s ready to pounce after the wayward, four-tired metal beast. As the car passes, Pupper explodes, biting at the revolving tires like they are evil tormentors needing killing. He chases and bites at them for a couple hundred yards, then trots back, cockily, feeling proud for running the diabolical car out of sight, as his ears flop.

While entertaining for a 10-year-old, it is a dangerous practice. Then, it happens. I’m eating dinner with Grandma, Pap and my Uncles. We hear the screech of tires and then the most horrendous yelp and scream I have ever heard. Pupper is hit and wailing terribly. My uncles and I dash out of the house and see poor Pupper lying in the road. The elderly neighbor, who lives down the road, is visibly shaken, as Pupper shrieks and whimpers. He’s in bad shape. I won’t go into details, but it is ugly. I’m crying, and Gary yells, “Go in the house and get some bandages, sheets, anything! Hurry!”

Running to the house, scrambling like mad, ripping sheets and a blanket from my bed, I start for the door. Pupper’s sobbing wails stop with the crack of a .22 rifle. The silence is numbing. Stopping dead in my tracks, I drop the covers, realizing the worst.

Jerry had grabbed the rusty Remington .22 rifle from the corner of the garage and put poor Pupper out of his misery. The sheets and blanket were a ruse to save me from witnessing what needed doing.

I was mad at Jerry and it took me a while to understand. Jerry looked mad himself, hiding his emotion. I only had visiting privileges with Pupper; Jerry saw him everyday. Love, not cruelty, forced Jerry’s hand. He simply ended the pain for a critter he loved, who was hurt beyond any recovery.

We bury Pupper late that night, behind the tool shed. Jerry and Gary dig his grave as I hold my Pupper across my lap, stroking his cold, stiff, mussed-up fur, totally cried out, talking sweetly to him. “It’s okay Pupper. It wasn’t your fault. We love you, boy,” over and over.

I’m drained. I just lost my best friend and am in the midst of learning the toughest life lesson of all — losing a loved one, for the first time. I remove his collar as we place Pupper in a burlap bag and bury him.

My anger and hurt subside over the next few days, as I begin to understand. To this day, whenever I hear screeching tires, my head jerks in the direction as I wait for screams and yelps. Thankfully, it never happens, and I flashback to a skinny kid with big ears, roaming the fields with a .22 rifle and a floppy eared mutt named Pupper.

A Priceless Treasure

Seven years ago, while cleaning out Mom’s house after she died, I came across a ratty cardboard shoebox. Inside, I see my old wrist-rocket slingshot, some arrowheads, my Cub Scout pocketknife, and an old dried, cracked leather dog collar, flaking red flecks. I almost throw it out as I pick it up, but think, “It isn’t taking up that much room.” I return it to the box. The collar is 43 years old now and I keep the ratty shoebox in my bottom desk drawer. I should keep it in my gun safe, to secure my most precious childhood memories.

No amount of time will erase the memory of a great dog. Sometimes a horrible memory makes you remember him even more. When it’s my time to pass, don’t get sad or weepy; I know I will be reunited with some great dogs I have known — along with some new great dogs I’ll get to meet, some of which belonged to you. Thank God for dogs … and dog people.

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