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Posts Tagged ‘Dogs’

It occurs to me that I haven’t posted a story by W.L. Alden in a coon‘s age. (The lifespan of a raccoon is several years, so that estimate is about right.)

If you aren’t familiar with William Livingston Alden (1837-1908), you can correct that by reading his stories I posted in 2014 and 2015.

Alden was an interesting character from an era that, to us thoroughly modern folk today, seems decidedly quaint. As quaint, in many ways, as Alden’s humor.

———

The Explosive Dog

By W. L. Alden
Published in Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction, Christmas 1895

I had shut up my own house, and was keeping bachelor’s hall with Professor Van Wagener one summer while his wife was away on a visit to her mother. Whenever Van Wagener went in extensively for chemical experiments, Mrs. Van Wagener always went to stay with her mother.

She used to say that she never knew from one minute to another when Van Wagener would blow himself up; and to sit in her room waiting for an explosion, and wondering whether there would be enough of her husband’s remains left to satisfy the life insurance company that he was really dead, was more than a weak woman’s nerves could bear.

There was nobody in the house except the Professor and I, and his big St. Bernard dog. We used to get our own breakfast with a spirit lamp, and go to the nearest hotel for our dinners. Van Wagener was in his laboratory nearly all day, and as my room was in another part of the house I was not much disturbed by the small explosions that I heard now and then.

One evening the Professor came into my room while I was smoking my after-dinner cigar, carrying a tea-cupful of a sort of thick bluish paste. He set it down on the table, and then, dropping into a chair, informed me that he had just succeeded in perfecting the greatest invention of the age.

“I have known you to do that at least thirty-four times,” said I. “What sort of an invention is it this time?”

“I have invented,” said Van Wagener solemnly, “the most powerful explosive in the world. As compared with nitroglycerine it will explode with at least two hundred times greater violence. You see that teacup. It holds just about an ounce of my explosive. Well, sir, if that was to explode at this minute there wouldn’t be a piece of this house left large enough to submit to chemical analysis.”

“And you calmly bring the diabolical thing into my room and put it on my table!” said I. “Van Wagener, I must bid you good evening. I’ve an engagement down town, and I shall probably have to go to Chicago tonight.”

I meant what I said, for I hadn’t the least confidence in Van Wagener’s inventions, and I was expecting that his tea-cupful of the new explosive would get its work in before I could escape from the house.

“That’s all nonsense!” said the Professor. “My explosive is absolutely safe. You can set fire to it, or you can pound it with a hammer, and you can’t make it explode. The only thing you have to be careful about is not to bring it into contact with any animal fat. Drop the smallest particle of lard, or butter, or anything of that sort into that teacup, and you’ll see the most tremendous explosion that has taken place since Krakatoa blew up.”

I didn’t make any reply, but I just took that teacup and its contents and carried it out to the extreme end of the backyard, and set it down under a gooseberry bush, saying my prayers meanwhile. Then I came back to the house and told Van Wagener that if he didn’t manage to get rid of it the first thing next morning, I would not only leave him, but would have him arrested as a dangerous lunatic.

I will say this for him, that he was the sweetest tempered man in the world. He only laughed at me, and promising to dispose of the explosive in some safe way, proposed that we should walk down to the post-office, so that he could mail a letter to his wife.

We were gone about an hour, and when we returned I went with Van Wagener into the backyard to see him bury his explosive where it would be perfectly safe, and where he could dig it up after Mrs. Van Wagener had returned, and I was out of the house.

We took a tin can and a spade with us, but when we came to the gooseberry bush we were knocked all in a heap, as you might say, to find that the teacup was empty, and as clean as if it had been washed in hot water.

Van Wagener couldn’t understand it, but he was inclined to think that some rival scientific man had got wind of his invention, and had stolen the explosive in order to analyze it.

I didn’t take any stock in this theory, for I knew that if any one had stolen the explosive he would have stolen the cup as well. Even a first-class scientific man would have sense enough to do that, so I made up my mind that no man had stolen the thing.

“Has your explosive any taste?” I asked.

“It tastes very much like warm ice cream,” said Van Wagener, though where he ever saw any warm ice cream he didn’t condescend to explain.

“I suppose you mean that it is soft and sweet?” said I.

“Exactly,” he replied. “I think you’d rather like the taste of it, and it wouldn’t do you any harm to eat it — that is, if you didn’t eat any fatty substance at the same time.”

“Then I can tell you what has become of it,” said I. “That idiot of a dog of yours has eaten it up. I’ll run over to my house for a gun, and we’ll shoot him at once, before he explodes.”

“You won’t do anything of the kind,” said Van Wagener.

“Why, my wife thinks almost as much of that dog as she does of me, and I’d as soon commit murder as kill him.”

There wasn’t anything more to be said, and the Professor and I turned back towards the house. There on the front step was sitting that infamous dog, licking his chops and wagging his tail with the general air of having earned a good dinner by hard and honest labour.

Van Wagener stopped suddenly, and said:

“Come to think of it, there is a possibility that the dog may explode. If he were to get hold of a bit of butter, or a greasy bone, before he digests the explosive, he might manage to blow himself and all the rest of us into the next county.”

“If you won’t kill him,” said I, “at least chain him up as far from the house as possible.”

“You may chain him up if you can,” said the Professor, “but he doesn’t like me, and will never let me touch him.”

“No, thank you!” said I. “You don’t catch me meddling with an explosive dog. I prefer one with the hydrophobia. Let’s get into the house and lock the brute out, and hope that the stuff will poison him before morning.”

It was very easy to propose to get into the house, but the dog didn’t see it in that light. There he sat on the step, and we didn’t dare to go near him, for Van Wagener kept remembering that he had seen the beast licking a greasy plate sometime in the afternoon, and even while we were talking about him he began to lick his paws, to which it was very likely that something of a fatty nature had adhered.

So we sat down to wait till the dog should get good and ready to come down off of the front-step, and permit us to go into the house.

We waited for at least an hour, and that dog made himself comfortable on the doormat, and never paid the slightest attention to our wishes. About eight o’clock, however, the idea seemed to strike him that perhaps he had not been quite as sociable as he ought to have been, and that possibly he might have hurt our feelings.

So all of a sudden he got up, and came running over to us to make his apologies. We didn’t stop to listen to him, but seized the opportunity to make a run for the house, telling the dog to “get out, you brute!” in a tone that would have convinced any sensible beast that we didn’t wish for his society.

But he was a forgiving animal, and affecting to regard our manner towards him as a mere joke, he trotted after us, and squeezed by us into the house. I didn’t care to kick him, for I wasn’t by any means sure that the Professor’s new explosive couldn’t be exploded by concussion; and as for the Professor himself, he knew that the dog would pay no more attention to his requests than would Mrs. Van Wagener herself.

We managed to get upstairs and into my room a yard or two ahead of the dog, but no sooner had we shut the door and bolted it than he sat down, began to paw the panels, and whined for us to let him in.

“How long will he stay there?” said I.

“Probably all night,” replied my friend; “that is, if the explosion doesn’t take place in the meantime.”

“We’ve got to get him downstairs and outside of the house,” said I. “He’s your dog, and you ought to brace up, and make him mind. Try him with one of those biscuits that are there on my table. Walk in front of him and show him the biscuit, and the chances are that he will follow you downstairs, especially if he thinks that you prefer to have him stay here.

“If that plan don’t work we must just let ourselves down out of the window by tying the sheets together. It would be bad enough to be blown up by an Anarchist, but to be blown up by a fool of a dog would be simply disgraceful.”

Van Wagener said he would try the biscuit game, but that he hardly thought it would be a success. It wasn’t. No sooner had he opened the door with a biscuit in his hand than the dog snatched it away from him, and then, being full of gratitude for what he supposed was an act of kindness, he jumped on the Professor, knocked him over, and sprang over his body into the room.

Van Wagener picked himself up, remarking that he hoped there was nothing of a greasy nature about that biscuit, but he rather thought that it felt as if it had been slightly in contact with butter. Then he came over to the corner of the room where I was crouching behind the sofa, and said he was most sincerely sorry for the annoyance he had inadvertently caused me.

The dog meandered around the room in a most genial frame of mind, upsetting small objects with his tail, and now and then barking in a cheerful and friendly way. Presently he caught sight of Van Wagener and myself squeezed together in the corner, and he came and sat down in front of us with his tongue hanging out, and an expression of imbecile goodness in his face that was simply sickening.

“We must get out of this house at once,” said I. “If that brute explodes here we won’t have the ghost of a chance, but an explosion in the open air might not be as certainly fatal as you say it will be. Come along, Professor! Perhaps we can manage to set the dog on a stray cat, and slink away from him while his mind is occupied.”

So we went downstairs again, and out of the house. The dog kept close to us, running around us in a circle, and trying now and then to jump up and put his paws on our shoulders. Nothing I could say could hurt his feelings and depress his spirits. When we came to a street lamp I took a newspaper out of my pocket, and read out loud part of a speech made by an Irish Congressman, showing the ease with which the American-Irish could send two hundred thousand men to England and exterminate the entire English population.

The speech would have sickened any ordinary dog, but that dog of Van Wagener’s never turned a hair. I even made Van Wagener sing a verse of a funeral hymn, but it had no sort of effect.

We walked about a mile away from the house, but we didn’t meet a cat, or anything else that might have distracted the dog’s attention. So at last we gave up all hope, and sat down by the side of the road to rest, and wait for the worst. The dog sat down close beside us, and tried to lick my face. He was the most infernally affectionate brute that I ever saw.

We had been sitting there about ten minutes when I saw the light of a bicycle coming down the road. Now if there was one thing that the dog hated more than another it was a bicycle, and he had got Van Wagener into no end of rows by chasing every bicycle that passed the front gate. I called the dog’s attention to the approaching machine, and when it was close to us, I remarked, “sic it!” in a low tone.

For the first time in his life that infamous dog looked at the bicycle in silence, and never moved a muscle. However, the man on the bicycle made up for the dog’s want of interest. He had heard me say “sic it” to the dog, and he informed Van Wagener and me that we were a couple of murderous tramps, who had tried to set a dog on him; and that he should recognize us the next time he saw us, and have us arrested for trying to upset his machine in order to rob him.

By this time it was getting pretty late, and I was getting tired and reckless. I told the Professor that I was going to my own house to get my gun, and that I would shoot that dog, no matter what he or anyone else might say. Van Wagener made no objection. He was a sensible man in some few things, and he recognized the fact that our only chance of saving ourselves and New Berlinopolisville from an explosion was to kill the dog.

We walked rapidly back towards Van Wagener’s house, which we had to pass in order to reach my own house. The dog trotted along with us, keeping close to my legs, and trying to rub his nose against my hand. It did seem a little cowardly to kill an animal that was so full of affection and confidence in me, but it wasn’t the time to lavish sentiment on an explosive dog. Besides, other people’s lives were at stake as well as mine and the Professor’s; for if the dog should explode within range of the nearest houses, they would be wrecked, and their inmates would perish in the ruins.

But when I got to my house a new difficulty turned up. I had left the key of my door in my room at Van Wagener’s house, and in order to get my gun, I must first get my key. So I gave up the idea of shooting the dog, and being pretty angry with myself, and all the rest of the world, I told Van Wagener that I should go to my room and go to bed, and that if he survived the explosion, and I didn’t, he should put on my tombstone an inscription, saying that my life had been fooled away by a stupid dog and a mad scientific person.

Van Wagener said that of course he would be happy to comply with any wish that I might express, and we opened his front gate and went in without any further words.

We had hardly entered the front yard, and had not yet shut the gate, when a big black cat rushed out past us, and bolted down the road with the dog in hot chase of her. Hope sprang up once more in the bosoms of the Professor and myself. We made haste to shut the gate, and to get into the house. Thanks to that cat there was a chance that our lives would be spared!

The dog was safely outside of the yard, and the fence was so high that we knew he could not jump over it. At the worst he couldn’t explode within thirty yards of our front door, and proud as the Professor was of his new explosive, he admitted that an explosion at that distance would not be absolutely certain to destroy the house.

My own hope was that the dog would chase the cat for a mile or two, and then blow up at a safe distance from any house or person. It was what he owed to us after his idiotic conduct that night, but of course I couldn’t feel any real confidence that he would do his duty.

I sat down in my room to smoke another cigar and calm my nerves a little, and Van Wagener sat down with me, and made no end of apologies for his dog’s aggravating conduct.

I let him talk on for a while, and was on the point of telling him that I wasn’t in the least alarmed, and didn’t believe his new explosive would explode at all, when there took place the most tremendous explosion that I had ever heard — and I had heard a good many tidy explosions in my time; having once been blown up in a powder-mill; and having been quite near to Butler’s powder-ship when it blew up opposite to Fort Wilmington.

This explosion was like three powder-mills and half-a-dozen tropical thunderstorms rolled into one. It broke every pane of glass in the house, and made the whole building rock as if an earthquake had shaken it.

The Professor’s face was just beaming with delight.

“That’s the dog at last!” said he. “I do hope nobody has been killed; but you must admit that an ounce of my explosive is the only one in the world that could possibly have made such a tremendous noise.”

“We’ll go out and see what damage has been done,” said I. “If you’ll listen to me, Van Wagener, you’ll not say a word to anyone about your explosive. There won’t be dog enough left to be identified as yours, and if you keep quiet no one will suspect that you have had anything to do with the explosion.”

We opened the front gate to go out, and nearly fell over the dog, who was sitting there waiting to be let in, and looking as innocent as if no explosion had ever taken place.

“I see it all now,” said Van Wagener. “That poor dog never touched the explosive. It was a stray cat that ate it, and has paid the penalty, and we have been suspecting the dog wrongfully all night.”

That was just what had happened. That dog was as innocent as a child unhung. He was no more liable to explode than a frozen Eskimo, and yet Van Wagener and I had been living for the last eight hours in mortal terror of him.

I didn’t know whether to apologize to the animal or to kick him; I did know, however, that I should have liked to kick myself, if it had been feasible.

That explosion made a great deal of talk in New Berlinopolisville. It didn’t do any harm, for when the cat exploded she was at least a mile from any house, and she merely made a hole in the ground about as big and as deep as the cellar of a house.

The police made an investigation, and decided that the explosion was the work of Anarchists, and that in all probability the wretches had themselves fallen victims to their own dynamite.

Well, I don’t know that they weren’t right, for as a general rule a cat is about as thoroughgoing an Anarchist as can be found, with the single exception that a cat washes herself.

St. Bernard

 

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As the Dog Barks

As the Dog Barks: A Soap Opera.” That was how my son Britt described the events that unfolded recently when I began looking for another dog.

You have your dramas, I have mine.

———

Early in 2016, I lost my friend Paco, the best dog I ever saw. The loss was profound and painfully slow to diminish. Even now, if I let my guard down, tears will flow.

For a year and a half after that, my heart told me it wasn’t time to get another dog. I checked often, and the answer was always the same: not yet.

I don’t know what finally precipitated the change, but one day, I realized it was time.

My first choice was a rescue dog, a young adult, male or female. I would consider any non-aggressive pooch that I connected with and would be content as a roommate and hiking buddy.

So I spread the word. I told the people at Paco’s kennel, his vet, and other places around town to be on the lookout for me.

I began checking the local animal shelters. I found Paco at a shelter; maybe luck would be with me again. Twice, I sent applications to local canine adoption agencies. They seem to be everywhere.

Two months passed. Over that time, I inquired about and looked at an array of adoptable dogs. But I didn’t come across even one that seemed right.

At that point, I began to question my tactics. And I turned, rather reluctantly, to a resource I had been holding in abeyance.

My ex-wife Deanna has a friend in South Carolina who breeds and trains border collies for herding competition. This woman is truly connected. She knows every border collie person in the Southeast and most of their dogs.

As Deanna explained, when people in the business identify a dog that doesn’t have a strong enough herding instinct, or simply lacks the skills, they don’t waste time trying to train it. They re-home the dog as a pet. And Deanna’s friend always knows when such dogs are available.

Why was I reluctant to contact the friend? Because I would prefer to save a shelter dog. This time, that didn’t seem to be happening, so I emailed the woman and told her my story.

Within 30 minutes, she replied with the name of a possible adoptee.

The timeline of events tells the story…

— Saturday 10:30 AM. I email the trainer.

— Saturday 11:00 AM. The trainer gives me the name of a local man who owns Trace, a 5-year-old male border collie. Trace suffered a hip injury that hasn’t responded to treatment. He is no longer suitable for herding competition. The owner wants to find Trace a new home.

— Saturday 2:15 PM. I email the owner to inquire about Trace.

— Saturday 7:30 PM. I call the owner’s home phone. No answer.

— No response from the owner on Sunday. I am puzzled.

— Monday 11:45 AM. Owner answers my email and provides details about Trace. Owner says he brought in a new male border collie to train, and Trace resents it. “Instant fight.”

— Monday 2:00 PM. I reply and ask owner when I can see Trace.

— No word from owner for several days. I am perplexed.

— Friday 8:00 PM. Email arrives from owner. He provides contact information and asks when I would like to see Trace. I am baffled.

— Friday 8:30 PM. I reply and suggest Monday morning.

— Saturday 11:00 AM. Owner replies that he prefers Sunday afternoon.

— Sunday 10:30 AM. Owner calls. He apologizes and says he has changed his mind. He is too fond of Trace to let him go. I tell him I understand and wish him luck. I am bewildered.

— Sunday 7:15 PM. Owner emails me to apologize again, this time for “letting emotions block good sense.” He has re-reconsidered. He suggests that I keep Trace for a week as a trial. I accept. I am mystified.

Until the trial period began the following Friday, I had not seen any photos of Trace. He turned out to be a striking, classic black-and-white border collie with a velvety coat and hypnotic eyes that would give pause to any sheep.

Trace-1

At first, he was uncertain and uneasy, having been abandoned in a strange place with a strange human. But he soon adjusted and warmed to me. He was friendly and affectionate.

I gave him plenty of attention and ample time to run in the back yard. When I drove to town on errands, he rode with me. Twice, we went walking around Jefferson. At night, he slept beside me. A daily routine took shape.

By the third day, I tried leaving him at home alone while I went to lunch. When I returned, he was extra happy to see me, but nothing in the house had been disturbed.

On the morning of day four, when I let him outside, he and a squirrel surprised each other. The squirrel quickly escaped up a tree. Trace appeared shocked.

He circled and paced in hound mode, looking up, seemingly fascinated that creatures ran freely in the treetops. Maybe he had no experience with squirrels. Are sheep pastures normal habitat for them? Beats me.

From then on, his first act when he went outside was to look skyward and check for movement in the canopy.

Having a dog around the house again felt right. Trace was good company.

But finally, reluctantly, I had to admit that he was not The One.

I came to that conclusion because Trace is all border collie — an exuberant, high-energy, dynamo of a dog. And the more comfortable he became, the more his border collie nature surfaced.

My neighborhood is secluded, but kids, dogs, cats, and squirrels are everywhere. Even deer are common.

It’s quiet here, but the silence is often broken by the sounds of children, passing cars, delivery vehicles, school buses, the mail truck, and more.

Trace was aware of every sight and sound, eyes ablaze, ears at attention. Sometimes he reacted silently, sometimes he barked or growled.

It’s fair, too, to call him high-maintenance. Briefly, he would be content to watch me do chores, putter around the house, or sit and read. Before long, however, he would appear with a tennis ball, ready to play.

Or he would bark to go outside, only to decide that nothing of interest was there, and he was ready to come back in.

The reality: Trace is a trained herding dog who would be out of a job in my world. Worse, considering my routine and habits, he would spend a fair amount of time at home alone. I couldn’t always take him with me. That was worrisome.

All in all, I was compelled to conclude that I wasn’t right for Trace, and he wasn’t right for me.

In retrospect, I had been fooling myself. My previous two border collies were mellow and low-key, but they were not typical of the breed. Finding another border collie like them would defy the odds. I simply made a mistake.

The decision made, I turned to the task of breaking the news to Trace’s owner. Composing the email wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sure I explained my reasons properly.

But it didn’t matter.

This is proof there is a God,” the owner replied. “I was trying to compose a letter that would convince you to let me have my dog back.”

Trace is gone now, back with his owner. After they left, I put away the food and water bowls, the treats, and the toys. The house is quiet again.

Dogwise, I am back in search mode. No telling what will happen next.

Hasta la vista, Trace. You’re a very good boy. I’m glad we crossed paths.

Trace-2

You have your dramas, I have mine.

 

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I am the oldest of the Smith children, and when we were growing up, I was hard-wired — compelled from deep within — to pick on my younger brother Lee for sport. That’s the way of things with siblings in their youth.

Today, that same scenario is playing out with my granddaughter Maddie, 12, who gleefully needles her nine-year-old sister Sarah.

I’ve tried to convince Maddie that she is simply instructing Sarah in the art of taunting — that Sarah will become highly skilled at cunning and trickery and ultimately will have her revenge.

But, just as Cassandra was cursed so that no one would believe her prophesies, I am ignored. Maddie’s continues to tease and torment her sister at every opportunity.

But then, I didn’t listen when I was Maddie’s age, either. Call it irony. Call it destiny. Karma. What goes around, comes around.

And, based on how things are progressing, Retribution Day is not far off.

——————

Last Tuesday, I was on kid-sitting duty for the afternoon. When I arrived, a steady rain was falling. Maddie and Sarah would be housebound, cooped up with me and the dogs, left to pass the time with music, television, and laptops.

Before long, tired of those options, they decided to get out some blankets and make tents in the living room. This is a regular rainy-day thing.

Tents

The girls soon were inside their tents, Maddie with her laptop, Sarah with Leroy, their new Black and Tan Coonhound puppy.

Sarah and Leroy

The TV was off. The living room was silent. I settled back to check the news on my tablet.

Moments later, Maddie’s arm reached out from under the blanket and felt around for her water bottle. She found it and brought it inside the tent.

Moments after that, the arm reappeared to return the water bottle from whence it came. As Maddie probed for the spot, the hard plastic bottle dinged against the hardwood floor, making a loud bonk that interrupted the silence.

“What was that?” said Sarah from inside her tent.

“What was what?” Maddie replied.

“That loud noise. That knocking sound.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Maddie, sensing an opportunity to exploit the situation.

“There was a loud noise! I heard it!”

“Sarah, you’re hallucinating. Leave me alone. I’m trying to rest.”

The room grew silent.

After a brief pause, Maddie reached out from under her tent, held the water bottle a few inches above the floor, and rapped it against the floor. Another bonk ensued.

“There it is again!” Sarah exclaimed from beneath her blanket. “What is it?”

“What is what?” said Maddie.

“That knocking sound! I heard it again!”

“I didn’t hear anything! Hey, Rocky! Did you hear anything?”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth. “Me? No, I didn’t hear anything.”

“Well, I heard it, and I know I heard it!” said Sarah. “Y’all are just playin’ with me!”

“You’re demented, Sarah,” said Maddie.

The room got quiet again. For the next few minutes, there were periodic bonks, followed by the same conversation of inquiry and denial.

Finally, after what turned out to be the last bonk, Maddie slipped up.

“Sarah, something is wrong with you! That sound you hear, it’s just in your head!”

Suddenly, Sarah popped up from beneath her blanket.

“‘That sound you hear’? ‘That sound you hear’?” she bellowed, pointing a finger at Maddie’s tent. “So, you admit it! I’m hearing a sound!”

Quietly, Maddie came out from under the blanket, her hands covering her face. She was busted, and she knew it.

Simultaneously, the three of us began laughing.

The sudden noise frightened Leroy, who wiggled out from under the blanket and scampered off to seek the protection of the other dogs.

Leroy 7-16

 

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My beloved Paco, my best friend, the kindest and gentlest soul I’ve ever known, died Friday. I am reeling with grief. I have cried a hundred times.

Paco was 15, more or less. I don’t know for sure. He was a rescue dog, a stray found wandering along a county road, wearing a purple nylon collar with no identification.

He was a charmer, and I adopted him, and he had a long, eventful life. He was happy, healthy, comfortable, and content. Then, a few mornings ago, he was too weak to stand. The vet never determined why.

Death came to my precious boy in a calm, gentle way. For two days, he was kept on an IV. He was lucid, and he responded to me and others with his usual affection, although it was muted.

But he couldn’t get up. Several times a day, the staff carried him outside on a blanket. He ate only once.

Although he didn’t bounce back, he was never in pain or distress. When the time came to let him go, he passed away peacefully. I kissed his cheek and stroked his fur, and we were looking into each other’s eyes when the moment came.

For 13 years, Paco and I were a team. It was just the two of us, and I did my best to treat him well. I tried to make sure he lacked for nothing.

I probably raised my voice a few times, but I never struck him or punished him. I treated him with kindness and respect, because he deserved it; he never misbehaved or caused the slightest trouble. He was just a devoted friend. I was soothed and uplifted by his calm demeanor and quiet presence.

During the last year of his life, Paco slowed down considerably. For a long time, we were trail buddies, and we logged many miles hiking in the North Georgia mountains. But age and arthritis finally made the hills and the distances more than he could handle.

So, instead of driving north for a day of hiking, we settled for Sunday morning walks in town, around the elementary school or the high school. He could go off-leash there, wander at his own pace, and investigate all the wonderful smells.

It may be selfish of me to say, but suddenly, my life is abruptly changed. Paco isn’t there to greet me when I come home. The food and water bowls have been put away. The treat canisters are gone from the kitchen counter.

The familiar rituals — taking him outside for potty breaks, saving a few choice morsels for him on my dinner plate, making sure the toilet seat is up and the bowl is full, helping him onto the bed at night — all have ended.

Paco was a border collie, but an especially calm and quiet one. He rarely barked or vocalized. Perhaps to compensate, I talked to him quite a bit.

I had a long list of affectionate names for him. I called him “Sweetness.” That was the nickname of Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears running back of the 1970s.

I called him “my handsome friend” and “my bat-eared buddy” and “old flop-eared mutt” as often as “Paco.”

“You silly pooch,” I would say, or “What a knucklehead,” or “Look at that beautiful tail.” He answered with a head tilt.

Yes, I know — everyone’s dog is the best dog in the world. But Paco truly was a special creature, a special soul. Everyone who knew him acknowledged that.

It’s hard to say what made him so. Probably many factors. He was deeply intelligent. He had a quiet dignity, a noble character — almost an air of Zen, if “just a dog” could display such a thing. Whatever it was, it was impressive. It was admirable.

A long time ago, I ran across the adage that “most dogs are better people than most people.” Paco certainly was that. He was a better man than I am.

He was a calm, serene, delightful spirit. I loved, admired, and respected him more than I can express.

People have said Paco was lucky I found him. I suppose that’s true. But I was the lucky one. That silly pooch, he was a treasure. He enriched my life.

If there is a next realm, if there is a God, then God has the duty to take care of my wonderful Paco now.

There. I’ve said what I wanted to say about my dear, delightful friend. If you’ll excuse me, it’s Sunday morning, and I feel like walking for a while at the elementary school.

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This Just In

LACY TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY — While its owners were away, a dog apparently turned on a stovetop burner and started a fire.

Although investigators can’t explain how, they said the dog turned on a burner, which set fire to a laptop computer the homeowners had left on top of the stove.

Neighbors called the fire department when they saw black smoke billowing from the residence. Except for destroying the laptop, the blaze caused no damage and was quickly extinguished.

The dog was unharmed.

Dog & stove

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — A Connecticut man, who was charged with stealing a taxi cab and then released on bail, left a Boston police station and crawled into a patrol car parked at the curb to take a nap.

According to police, the 33-year-man was found asleep in the front seat of an empty police car outside the station where he had been booked earlier.

When awakened, the man told officers he just needed a place to rest. He faces an additional charge of breaking and entering.

Nap

JUNEAU, ALASKA — Police in Juneau took a call last month to investigate a suspicious device abandoned on the side of a road.

According to a news report, the responding officer wasn’t sure what to make of the object, so the dispatcher sent a second officer who was trained in defusing bombs.

The second officer identified the device as a plastic Star Wars light saber, the preferred weapons of Jedi knights.

The second officer said the confusion probably occurred because the light saber, which expands to reveal a long plastic “blade,” was in the closed position.

Wise in the ways of Star Wars toys is he.

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I live in the little town of Jefferson, north of Atlanta, well up onto the Piedmont Plateau. Up here, we are spared the worst of the heat, humidity, gnats, and mosquitoes you find down on the coastal plain. The North Georgia seasons are downright moderate.

But this is the South, and I live in the foothills, not the mountains, and summer is still summer. Which is why, when I find myself retreating indoors by noon and turning on the air conditioning, it’s time for a restorative road trip.

One of those times was the last week in June. Daytime temps were creeping into the 90s, so I packed a bag, loaded up the dog, and set out to spend a few days at some higher, cooler elevation.

My plan was to drive into North Carolina, head up the Blue Ridge Parkway, and take side trips as the spirit moved me. It would be a qué será, será sort of thing.

For the record, I was traveling in my trusty RV, “Old Blue” — so named because the interior is upholstered in velour of a jarring cerulean blue. It was a 90s thing.

So, this would be a camping trip. But camping, I assure you, of a civilized nature.

The kind of camping where you stay at an RV park, plug into AC power, fish a cold beer out of the refrigerator, and crank up the hot water heater for your shower.

The kind of camping where, after sitting outside and watching a beautiful sunset in the invigorating mountain air, you retire to the RV to listen to some tunes, or maybe watch television, while the dog snoozes at your side.

To me, the appeal of RV camping is the adventure of it all. When you stop for the night, you’re in new surroundings, meeting new people, having new experiences. It’s invigorating.

On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that the experience will be positive. You never know how the conditions, the surroundings, or the people will turn out. It’s always a roll of the dice.

—————–

It was late afternoon of my first day on the road. Paco and I had traveled 150 miles up the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it was time to find a campground for the night. I exited the Parkway in the small mountain town of Spruce Pine.

Signs advertising RV campgrounds were everywhere, so I picked one at random. It seemed on arrival to be a good choice. The sites were nicely shaded, and the mountain views were impressive.

I stopped in front of the office, and a smiling man emerged. “Howdy, friend!” he said. “Welcome to [name redacted] RV Park! I like your rig!”

I thanked him, and we chatted agreeably for a minute before getting down to business. Yes, he had vacancies with hookups.

“I’ll put you down there next to my friends Joan and Bob,” he said, pointing down the row of sites. “They’re regulars, here all summer. Real nice, friendly folks.”

I nodded, mumbled more pleasantries, and paid him for one night. The man set off toward the campsite, and I followed in the RV.

As I backed into the site, my new neighbors Joan and Bob waved at me from a carpeted screen house behind their RV. I turned off the engine and got out.

“Hello, neighbor! Welcome!” said Joan in a loud and gratingly high-pitched voice. “I’m Joan, and this is my husband Bob!”

Joan was a seriously obese woman of about 60 with a jolly face and a bright yellow pixie haircut. She sat slumped in a large deck chair like a miniature version of Jabba the Hutt.

Instead of Carrie Fisher in chains, she held a tiny brown mongrel-looking dog that was yowling and straining to get at me. In a friendly way.

“This precious little fella is our baby, Dusty!” said Joan. “He is six months old and a rescue pup. We love him SO much!”

I introduced myself and expressed admiration for young Dusty.

Bob, a tall, lean man with a shaved head, thick moustache, and a face pocked with acne scars, chimed in. “We fell in love with Dusty because of his teeth — those silly snaggle teeth!”

Indeed, Dusty had a severe bulldog-like overbite. The splayed teeth looked terribly uncomfortable. Not that Dusty would know that.

“Well, come on in and have a seat!” Joan screeched. “We’ve got plenty of room and lots to talk about!”

I protested that they would have to excuse me for a minute, because I had a dog, too, and I needed to get him out of the RV.

Joan and Bob were thrilled to hear that I had a dog. They peppered me with excited questions, which I tried to answer as I inched backward toward my van.

Finally, I reached the sanctity of the far side of the RV. I got Paco out, hooked him up on his rope, and set out his food and water.

When my new neighbors saw Paco, they went bonkers. Joan and Bob, as apparently was their nature, were delirious with joy. Little Dusty began wailing in terror, probably convinced that 45-pound Paco was coming to kill him.

Paco ignored them all and calmly ate his supper.

Dusty’s wailing continued unabated, and the campground manager soon appeared. He joined Joan and Bob in trying to get Dusty to calm down.

“Dusty! Dusty! Take it easy, buddy!” said the manager. “The nice dog won’t hurt you! See? He’s a friendly dog!” He patted Paco on the head.

Dusty whimpered from the safety of Joan’s armpit. Ten feet away, outside the screen room, Paco stood next to me, benignly wagging his tail.

Slowly, Dusty got a grip, and the noise level subsided.

“Dusty is my god-dog, you know,” said the manager. “If anything happens to Joan and Bob, Dusty will come live with me!”

“Not that anything’s gonna happen!” Joan bellowed. “I outlived two husbands before I met Bob! I’m here for the long haul!”

“Ever since we got married,” she said with glee, “Bob has been a real light sleeper, if you know what I mean!”

Bob chuckled like a good husband, scooped up Dusty, and cooed soothingly in the dogs’ ear.

The manager drifted away to other duties, and Bob ushered me to a seat inside the screen room. Paco and Dusty ended up sprawled next to each other on the carpet.

For the next half hour, we sat and chatted in a neighborly fashion. Joan did most of the talking.

I learned that they are from Ocala, Florida, and they stay at [name redacted] RV Park every year from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

I also learned that Joan’s second husband left her a boatload of money, and Bob worked at a hardware store before he met Joan.

I probably should explain that I am not, by nature, a gregarious person. I have a limited tolerance for socializing. I get restless. It wasn’t easy to listen politely as Joan and Bob waxed eloquent about subjects of little interest to me.

Some people would have excused themselves on a pretext and retreated to the privacy of their RV. But I’m a polite, conflict-averse guy, so I sat there, enduring it.

Ultimately, it was Bob who broke up the confab.

“Joanie, honey, it’s almost six,” he said. “Why don’t we invite Rocky to go to supper with us?”

“Thanks,” I said quickly, “but I’m not going out tonight. I have some leftovers in the fridge. If you folks need to get going, please — don’t let me hold you up.” I stood up expectantly.

“Aw, come with us!” said Joan. “This town has lots of good restaurants! It’ll be fun!”

Somehow, I managed to beg off, and we said our goodbyes. With great effort, Joan struggled out of her chair. While Bob put Dusty in the camper and locked up, Joan plodded in laborious slow motion toward their car, teetering on a cane.

After they were gone, I put Paco in the RV and drove into town to find a quiet supper.

I know, I’m a terrible person.

Ten minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of a small restaurant that advertised the best home cookin’ in North Carolina. When I walked through the front door — oh, the irony — a familiar voice greeted me.

“So, you changed your mind!” said Joan in her familiar shriek. “How did you find us?”

“I, uh, spotted your car as I was driving by.”

The meal turned out to be pretty good. To my surprise, Joan ate like a bird, Bob like a ravenous beast. Joan talked continuously and effortlessly.

By the time we got back to the RV park, they were ready for bed. Joan said they were early-risers.

The next morning, I was up early, too. I ate breakfast, fed Paco, got showered and dressed, packed up, and was on the road by 6 AM.

Lest they think me rude, I left a goodbye note on their windshield.

Paco and Old Blue at [name redacted] RV Park. That's Joan and Bob's campsite on the far side of my van.

Paco and Old Blue at [name redacted] RV Park. That’s Joan and Bob’s campsite on the far side of my van.

The pastoral mountain view from the RV park. Joan and Bob said they spend their evenings watching the corn grow.

The pastoral mountain view from the RV park. Joan and Bob said they spend their evenings watching the corn grow.

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In March 2007, I hiked the dusty eight-mile trail to the village of Supai, Arizona, located in western Grand Canyon, truly in the middle of nowhere.

Supai is the home of the Havasupai tribe. The village is located in Havasu Canyon, which leads down to the Colorado River and is famous for the spectacular waterfalls along Havasu Creek.

It’s also famous for being isolated and  remote. No roads lead to Supai. You get there by foot, mule, or helicopter. You visit by reservation only.

The trailhead and the helipad are at Hualapai Hilltop, a desolate parking area 60 miles from the nearest town. No services are at the trailhead — only a few trailers and a couple of tribal officials who check permits.

For a fee of $85, you can helicopter down to Supai. For another $85, you can helicopter back out. Otherwise, you hit the trail, which winds down to the village on the floor of the canyon. Park Service campgrounds are located two miles beyond Supai along Havasu Creek.

For my trip in 2007, in order to avoid the weight of camping gear, I made reservations at the tribal motel in the village. The motel is a small, bare-bones place, but clean and adequate.

The trip was a blast. The weather was ideal, the scenery astounding. I got plenty of good photos — although I discovered that the season was wrong for photography; in the spring, when you face the waterfalls, you’re facing the sun.

In 2009, I twice wrote about that trip on this blog.

One story was about the tribe’s long struggle to maintain its homeland and identity.

The other focused on something I didn’t expect to find down there: a healthy population of mongrel dogs living at large in the village.

But neither story got around to documenting one of the most indelible memories of that trip: the harrowing finale, when a sobering realization brought everything to a proverbial screeching halt.

Let me begin at the beginning.

After flying into Las Vegas, I picked up my rental car at the Budget office, drove east into Arizona, and stopped for the night in Kingman. The next morning, I got up early and drove the 100-odd miles to Hualapai Hilltop.

Bird's-eye view of Hualapai Hilltop. The trail to Supai drops into the canyon in the upper left.

Bird’s-eye view of Hualapai Hilltop. The trail to Supai drops into the canyon in the upper left.

The state-of-the-art helipad at Hualapai Hilltop.

The state-of-the-art helipad at Hualapai Hilltop.

On arrival, I parked, got out my gear, locked the car, obtained my entry permit from the tribal guy, and set off down the trail.

For the next two days, I explored the village and the waterfalls at my leisure. Meals were at the Supai Cafe, the only place in town that serves hot food.

How was the food? Expensive and awful. The cheeseburgers were served on sandwich bread. The lettuce was wilted, the tomatoes overripe. Tater tots came with everything. The breakfast burritos were frozen.

Some of the tourists were unhappy and vocal about it. My attitude: you shouldn’t go to a place like Supai expecting an Outback Steakhouse.

On the third morning, in a heartbeat, my trip unraveled.

I awoke, showered, and dressed. My plan was to grab a bad breakfast and hike down to the waterfalls for more photos.

Then, as I puttered around the motel room, a strange sensation came over me. A voice inside my head spoke to me.

It asked if I had seen the keys to my rental car lately.

Hmmm… Let me think… After I locked the car, I undoubtedly put the keys in my waist pack. Actually, I haven’t seen the keys lately, but what of it?

Well, you carry all your personal stuff in the waist pack — wallet, loose change, penknife. You empty the contents onto the dresser every night. Where are the keys?

Where, indeed. After calmly checking the waist pack, I calmly searched the motel room. Then I calmly went through all my clothes and possessions thoroughly. Twice. The keys were not there.

My blood ran cold as I realized the implications of that turn of events.

The keys could be anywhere. I could have dropped them during the initial hike. Or at the waterfalls. Or somewhere in the village. At that very moment, one of the town mutts could be gnawing on the transponder.

Fighting back the panic, I methodically covered all the appropriate bases. I asked the motel manager if anyone had turned in a set of car keys. I did the same at the restaurant, the general store, the post office, and the tribal office. No luck.

Back at the motel, I made the decision to call the car rental office in Las Vegas. Surely, they would know what to do about lost car keys.

Supai had no cell phone service then, and probably still doesn’t. But several places had land-line phones. They’re for official use, of course, but the motel manager graciously allowed me to call the Budget office in Las Vegas.

The Budget lady seemed a bit surprised about my situation, but was quite sympathetic. She gave me the phone number of a locksmith in Kingman and said to call him. He could meet me at Hualapai Hilltop and set me up with a duplicate key.

I asked what sort of spectacular bill his service call might incur. She couldn’t say.

I sat there for a few minutes, weighing my options and bemoaning my situation. Just as I was concluding that calling the locksmith was my only solution, the motel manager spoke up.

“Did anyone call Hualapai Hilltop?” she asked. “Somebody could have turned in the keys up there.”

I was incredulous. Call Hualapai Hilltop? Hualapai Hilltop has phone service?

Well, sort of. As the manager explained, the people on duty at Hualapai Hilltop carry two-way radios.

The manager called the tribal office. Minutes later, the tribal office called back. Yes, my keys had been turned in at Hualapai Hilltop.

I was so delirious with joy, I nearly swooned.

To celebrate, and to get my hands on those keys as soon as possible, I promptly checked out of the motel, gave the manager a lavish tip, and treated myself to an $85 helicopter ride out of Supai.

When I climbed out of the helicopter at the trailhead, a Havasupai man was standing nearby, smiling and dangling my keys.

Two hikers, a man and a woman, had turned in the keys earlier that morning. They found them on the ground next to my locked car. Apparently, when I dropped the keys into the zipper pocket of my waist pack, I missed.

“You were lucky those two were honest,” the man told me. “They could have taken your car. Some folks would do that.”

So, my trip ended happily, not in utter disaster. I drove back to civilization and spent the next week at Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, slowly calming down from the experience.

How sweet it is to dodge a bullet thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Incomparable Havasu Falls.

Incomparable Havasu Falls.

 

The village of Supai.

The village of Supai.

 

The mail arrives by mule, not helicopter.

The mail arrives by mule, not helicopter.

 

Village mutts lounging outside the cafe.

Village mutts lounging outside the cafe.

 

Havasupai Lodge.

Havasupai Lodge.

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