"THIS one will be our last dog!", is the LIE we always tell ourselves (my wife and I) - but then there is always another. The present one is a good example. THIS time we had gone over 10 years with no pets whatsoever, and were beginning to enjoy the loss, when a neighbor from the next street happened to our door one evening before Thanksgiving, 2004. He was carrying a "lost" little dog, which had "appeared in his yard" by pure chance. They had fed it for a few days, but decided they couldn't keep it.
He had carried the dog around, up and down his street and no one knew a thing about him. The gentleman posted notices at a neighborhood supermarket, and on telephone posts to no avail, but the result was that my wife and I became the owners of a cute little "Chihuahua Mix" on that Thanksgiving Day. The vet later told us that, judging from the tartar on his teeth, that he was definitely at least one - possibly two - years old. Anyway, we still have him, and he is part of the family. Many children on Planet Earth have not had the care and medical attention that "Pokey" has received. (Two little girls from next door gave him that name). Pokey was a very late replacement for the friendly dog of my daughter's childhood, "Goober" - a purebred Caninus Non-descriptus!
By simple arithmetic, then, our "Mr. Poke" should now be either 12 or 13 years old - slightly old for a dog, but still healthy and lively even though now turned almost completely white from his original rich sienna-brown color. Be assured that HE is not counting either the years OR the gray hairs!
Pokey is the last of a number of dogs we have kept. He is a good one, but not necessarily so beloved as Goober, the one he replaces, or Brownie from my junior high and high school years, nor Mike, who was my first dog, going back to childhood.
Mike had acquired a long record by the time he died: his ear had been torn in a horrendous dogfight which my mother witnessed, and in another fight he was wounded so badly he was confined to bed for a very long while, and kept in our basement. My mother and grandmother knew some old-fashioned remedies which actually worked. These remedies involved wrapping the wounds with cloths that had been soaked in turpentine, plus some other disagreeable concoction. Anyway, one day my mom heard dog toenails clicking on the wooden basement steps, and Mike presented himself in the kitchen - apparently totally mended. Once, before I was born, I am told that Mike had disappeared from our home on Elinor Street in North Chattanooga. And if you have even heard of that street you know it is high on a hill and rather distant from the river. My dad got in his A-Model Ford and hunted through all the nearby neighborhoods without turning up any dog resembling our Mike. Then, months later, when Mike-dog was almost forgotten, and while on his mail collection route downtown - over on Georgia Avenue near Patten Parkway, dad noticed a scruffy little stray dog digging about in the gutters. The dog looked vaguely familiar, and my dad yelled, "Mike"!
Mike leapt into dad's mail truck - the happiest dog in the world - and dad made him a bed among the mailbags in the compartment behind the driver. Fortunately, dad had driven to work that day instead of taking the bus, so was able to get Mike returned home on his lunch hour. All parties were very happy about that.
Louis Mosier, my dad's long-time work partner at the downtown Post Office, had given us Mike - and when Mike died (of old age) about 1945, the Mosiers gave us another dog. Mike had been mainly Fox Terrier, a breed my dad really liked, but the new dog, Brownie, although perhaps with fox terrier blood, was nothing like old Mike. Brownie was a very gentle - almost "meek" dog, and we loved him for that quality. He was gentle with children, and was never prone to fight with other dogs. But, after a number of years he started running with those other neighborhood dogs and would not come home when called. This was alarming to us, as we liked to know where our animals were at all times; we had no idea where he went. Following a very long absence he finally came home one day - so sick he could hardly walk. He just lay on the ground completely listless. My dad had never been known to take a dog to the vet, but did so in this case. We took him to a Dr. Hunter, south of LaFayette Road in Rossville, where we left him and waited for a call. We got sad news very soon, and the doctor said Mike died of "glass poisoning", the thought of which makes me shiver when I think about it to this day. Someone had deliberately set out some kind of meat, laced with ground or broken glass. A horrible thought.
That event happened before the days of leash-laws, or of restraining domestic animals in any way. I heartily endorse those laws or ordinances, but it was actually fun to peer out your window and see dogs (and cats) roaming about through the various yards, perhaps chasing a squirrel. We had a lot of "dog friends" who would pay us a daily visit - NOT looking for free hand-outs, but for just simple social calls like your friends used to do before we sealed ourselves in air-conditioned houses, collapsed on our couches in front of the "boob-tube". With windows wide open we could hear distant dogs barking, hear the songs of birds, and even hear the scratching noise of tiny squirrels' feet as they pierced the bark of the persimmon tree by the window...
Some of the very sociable dogs of our old Brainerd neighborhood were Toper, Juke (a large friendly boxer), Hotrod (a cocker spaniel), Butch (see below), Pickles (a purebred dalmatian), and Prissy (a wire-haired terrier). I am smiling about all those names as I sit here typing this. Each one was distinct and had his or her own story. Butch, for example, was a large, black German Police dog - very friendly and gentle - owned by Jacksons across the street from us. Butch loved to get hose-baths and we loved to give them. Butch would stand atop a wall which supported some higher ground, and we would stand on the lower level to soap him and keep the water flowing all over his body. His tail would never stop wagging as we did this, and is the only dog I have ever known that seemed to really love a bath! We kept him well-lathered and he seemed to enjoy it.
Yes, we had more than the two dogs described above, but these two were the most significant: Mike and Brownie. We also had Mack, and a dog we called Shakey, named in honor of Shakespeare, whose 400th birth year it was when we got the dog (1964). We got him as a puppy - and from my uncle who lived in the country. Shakey soon got too big for his city home, so we returned him to the country. Two or three years later I stopped for a visit as I knew where he was then living - calling him from the side of the road. He remembered my voice and happily came tearing around the house. He recognized me and looked happy about it while panting away, but made no effort to get in the car. He was now a "country dog" for sure.
Country dogs - usually hunting hounds of one class or another - were always quite friendly, and I remember how when we would drive up to a farmhouse that several hound-dogs could be expected to emerge from under the house.(Much cooler under the house than in it). They might bark for a moment or two, but were so glad to see you that they soon forgot what they were barking about.
I had an assortment of other little animals as a kid - and I loved them all. Everything from dime-store turtles to Easter ducks and chickens. I even had a white rabbit for a time, and a small non-talking parrot, but never a cat. My mother did not care for cats!
(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at email@example.com )