Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted January 23, 2015

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Dogs and Life


by bhogg

My grandparents on my mother's side were green at a time when most people just thought green was a color. They were into organic farming, recycling, and preservation of the land. Before people in mid-west, Georgia, had electricity, Grandpa generated his own current via a water powered generator. They owned property on a large creek. It is no surprise that to keep down vegetation and overgrowth on the far side of the creek, goats were used. These were not domestic goats. They were large, long haired, horned, beautiful animals. It was always a thrill to see the herds running free on the creek bank. They were truly wild, so most of the viewing was through binoculars.

A little about my grandfather; he was known to not just family, but to all as Pappy. A large man, he once played football for Oglethorpe College. In his prime, he was six foot three and weighed about two-hundred-fifty pounds. When I knew him, he might have lost an inch in height, but also gained about thirty pounds. His voice was deep and gravelly. Truth be known, he scared people. No reason at all for that, as he was both a gentle man and a gentleman. If I ever saw him dressed in anything other than blue denim overalls, I don't recall it. He was in fact, a blue clad, gentle giant.

In the summer of 1960, I was visiting my grandparents. Looking through the binoculars, I spotted two large dogs chasing the goats across the creek. Finally finding Pappy, I shouted out, "There are two big old dogs chasing the goats. I think they pulled down one of the babies." This was rural, and in those days there was a real world concern about wild dogs.

Pappy grabbed his pride and joy, a Remington, 12-gauge, Model 870, pump shotgun. He was not a hunter and didn't allow others to hunt on his thousand acre preserve. The gun was for protection. He once told me, "There's nothing scarier to anyone wishing you harm than the sound of a shell pumped in to a shotgun."

As he headed out the door, I asked, "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to solve a problem. Most likely those dogs are wild and I'll have to kill them."

"Can I go with you?"

He hesitated and looked over at my grandma. No words were spoken, but somehow she communicated her assent. "You can go, but you have to be real quiet and stay behind me at all times."

To get to where the dogs were, it was necessary to drive about one mile in his truck. We crossed the creek on the bridge, got out, crept over a ridge and walked down the hill. We heard the dogs before we saw them. The sound was not a pleasant one. It was the sound of large canine jaws crunching on bone. Sure enough, the two had pulled down one of the baby goats and were in the process of eating it. Apparently sensing our approach, they raised their heads and growled. They were defending their carcass. Probably a bad time for defense. The two explosions were fractions of a second apart. The result was two dead dogs.

My grandfather explained to me, "I hated killing those dogs, but they're wild. The goats to them are a source of food. They're acting naturally, but we can't let them kill our goat herd. You've got to have a good reason to kill an animal. Most reasons are not."

As we headed back to the truck, we stepped over a small ditch. We both heard a small, snarling sound. Hidden beneath some branches was a puppy. Pappy later told me that the puppy was no more than one month old. He was under the branches, but holding his ground. Hunched back tightly on his back legs, he was actually growling at us. Pappy raised his shotgun, but quickly put it down. "He's a feisty little booger. I reckon we ought take him home with us." It was a proud moment for me when he said,  "I want you to carry the shotgun back to the truck. Carry it pointed down like I've shown you before. The safety is on, but you know a gun is always dangerous, so be careful." Reaching down, he grabbed the puppy, getting a nip in the process. Pappy rarely cussed, but this deserved, "Damn little dog."

It was a cute little male puppy, black and gray with huge feet. I asked, "What kind a dog do you reckon he is?"

"A mixed breed for sure. I'm pretty sure it was the mama and poppa dog that I shot. They had a shepherd look to them with maybe some coon dog, so maybe he's a coon-herder."

We took the dog home, and a surprise to me was that my grandma loved him. In that day and time, country folks didn't have house dogs. The house had a screened in back porch and a couple of old blankets in the corner became his home. For the first few days he tended to hide behind the water heater. He'd sneak out and get his food. Right before I was going to leave, he'd pretty much become comfortable with his new position in life. My grandma said, "Before you leave, we should give this little boy a name. What do you think?"

I looked at the little dog, bent down on my knee and said, "Come here, dog." He came walking over to me and the name was crystal clear. The day before, my grandparents took me to see a John Wayne movie. "Look, he walks just like the Duke." He did. His little walk was confident with a side to side butt wiggle. So there it was, his name was Duke.

My parents arrived and took me home. We visited my grandparents frequently, so I was able to see Duke grow up. He wound up being a big dog. They took him to the vet once because he was experiencing extreme pain in his stomach. Checking him out, they discovered two golf balls in his colon. The vet removed them. Minus the two golf balls, Duke weighed in at one-hundred-ten pounds.

He was a great friend to my brothers and me. The creek was like a magnet to boys and Duke loved the water. He once knocked my little brother down, squeezed past him and grabbed and shook to death, a copperhead snake. It is likely the snake would have bitten my brother.

We all liked Duke and I know that he liked us. Pappy, he loved. If you ever wanted to find Duke, all you had to do was look for Pappy. If he was sitting at a desk, Duke would be curled at his feet. If he was walking somewhere, Duke was at his side. We all laughed one day when my grandma yelled at Pappy. Not aggressive or mean, but Duke's low growl was unmistakable.

So, Duke became a part of our lives. In 1971, I visited my grandparents during a break from college. After giving my grandma a hug and kiss, I asked, "Where are Pappy and Duke?"

She paused before replying. "They're up at the barn. Why don't you walk up and see them?"

I walked up and spotted Pappy first. He was applying an ointment to Duke's leg. I don't know what it was, but was a purple concoction I'd seen them use on animals forever. As I got closer and spoke, I noticed that Duke raised his head, but didn't get up.

Reaching a handshake out, I asked, "What's up Pappy?"

"Ah, I was just trying to put some of the purple stuff on Duke's leg. It's infected. This is the third day, and it doesn't look like it's helping. I might need your help today."

"Sure, what do you need?"

"Old Duke here is not doing well. He's eleven years old, which in dog years is seventy-seven, I believe. He's gotten to where he can hardly get up. When he does get up, he'll walk a ways, his legs will wobble and he'll fall down. He winds up peeing on himself or worse, because he can't get up."

"Have you taken him to the vet?"

"Yea, the vet actually came by a few days ago. He said that old Duke is just worn out. What I might need is for you to help me load him into the trailer. We'll hook it up to the tractor. I'd like to take Duke down to the big bottom." He handed me a shovel and his shotgun. I was pretty sure what the trip was about.

We drove down to the bottom. The land here, close to the water, was sandy soil, easy to dig. I dug a hole, about three feet deep and four feet long. Looking at me, I could see tears in Pappy's eyes. "You don't have to stay around for this. Why don't you just walk back up to the house and I'll see you later."

"You sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. I'll see you in a few minutes."

I went over and scratched Duke behind his ears, something he loved. People could tell me that Duke was just a dog, incapable of thought or feelings, but I would tell them they are wrong. To the day I die, I'll never forget the look in his eyes. It was a look of profound sadness.

I turned and began walking back toward the house. In about two minutes, I heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun. Duke was gone.


My father died on January 2, 2015. He would have been ninety-one March 18, 2015. Mom called me to come help with Dad in early September of 2014. It seems that he couldn't walk anymore. I live in North Carolina, they live in Alabama. It is a very unpleasant drive. With good traffic it takes eleven hours. Rarely have I done it that quickly.

After spending two days, I got him checked him into an emergency room and then to a rehabilitation center. He of course, didn't want to do either one. When he got back home, there was little change. He still couldn't walk. Some improvement I suppose. They did teach him how to sit up in bed and transfer into a wheel chair. Dad refused to go anywhere other than home. I helped set up some help for my mother and came back to North Carolina.

From September until Christmas, my wife and I made seven trips back to Alabama. We never knew if the trip would be our last. Mom would not get help around the clock, so only had help from six am to six pm. My dad would go to bed at six, hopefully sleep for four hours, then, on the hour, he would be calling out. On one trip, I made my mother sleep downstairs. "Mom, you need some rest. I'll get up." I remember one call at two-thirty in the morning, "Bill, Bill, are you there?"

I was in a bed close by, so scurried in. "What is it, Dad? What do you need?"

This frail figure in the bed asked, "What time is it?" There was a large clock in the room, he had on a talking wristwatch and a clock that projected time on the ceiling.

I'm embarrassed, but after three nights of little or no sleep, I hissed, "It's two fucking thirty. Why, you going somewhere?"

All of this was taking a toll on my mother. Since Dad wanted to stay at home, she accommodated to the best of her ability. My brothers and sister all pitched in, but we just couldn't be there every night. Once, when trying to help my dad go to the bathroom on a portable pot, he fell. She's not strong enough to pick him up so had to call 911.

My wife and I originally planned to spend Christmas with our grandchildren, but changed our plans. We drove once again down to Alabama to be with my dad. We agreed that it was most likely our last Christmas with him. He did pretty well. I do think he gathered some strength from having family around. The day after Christmas, we were leaving to see my mother-in-law on the way back to North Carolina. She is eighty-seven and not in great health either. I went in to say goodbye to my dad. Holding his hand, I said, "Dad, we're heading back to North Carolina. I want you to try and not call out for Mom so much. She's really tired."

"I'll try, Son, I promise." After a pause, he continued, "You know I'm not afraid of dying, I'm afraid of living."

As I turned to leave, I looked back to Dad. The look in his eyes was one I've seen before. I never saw him alive again. His final few days were horrible.



You never know what might influence you to write something. In this case, it was a marvelous post from Jeffrey Stone about a dog. If you've never read Jeffrey, you should.
Thanks to Cleo85 for her wonderful artwork!
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