Roy Exum: The Cocker Spaniel Story

Friday, July 19, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Back during the spring, I got word about a book entitled “The White House Boys” and was urged to read it. A friend told me she felt like author Roger Dean Kiser and I shared a similar style in the way we both painted with words. Since then I have happened across several articles penned by Mr. Kiser and I can’t imagine being more humbled or grateful that our names have appeared in the same paragraph.

Roger grew up as an orphan who no family would adopt. At the age 12 he was driven to the now-infamous Dozier Home for Boys in Marianna, Fla., where the most heinous tortures, beatings, and rapes came to light just recently when the property of the since-abandoned 100-plus acres was sold to developers. What the earth-moving equipment revealed boggles the mind.

As men on their heavy-duty machines began the pre-site work, dozens of graves were unearthed and it was in a small, white building discretely behind the dormitories – called “The White House” -- where hundreds of boys were regularly subjected to whatever the sadistic management could think up next.

Roger Dean Kiser survived the years he spent in Marianna and, in a journey that has taken years in renewing his sanity and ‘complete’ forgiveness, you can identify his ability to overcome his monsters and warm with a gentle heart his redemption. Some years ago in a beautiful story about when his family’s cocker spaniel had pups, it melted my heart and I’ve saved a copy to share on a day such as this.

Whether it be a reformatory cesspool in Florida or when a dog delivers the last of a litter, the good in this world still overcomes the evil …

* * *

“THE PRETTY ONE”

Written by Roger Dean Kiser

It had been a very long night. Our black cocker spaniel 'Precious' was having a difficult delivery. I lay on the floor beside her large four-foot square cage, watching her every movement. Watching and waiting, just in case I had to rush her to the veterinarian.

After six hours the puppies started to appear. The first-born was black and white. The second and third puppies were tan and brown in color. The fourth and fifth were also spotted black and white. "One, two, three, four, five," I counted to myself as I walked down the hallway to wake my wife, Judy, and tell her that everything was fine.

As we walked back down the hallway and into the spare bedroom, I noticed a sixth puppy had been born and was now laying all by itself over to the side of the cage. I picked up the small puppy and laid it on top of the large pile of puppies, who were whining and trying to nurse on the mother. Precious immediately pushed the small puppy away from rest of the group. She refused to recognize it as a member of her family.

"Something's wrong," said Judy.

I reached over and picked up the puppy. My heart sank inside my chest when I saw the little puppy had a cleft lip and palate and could not close its little mouth. I decided right there and then that if there was any way to save this animal, I was going to give it my best shot.

I took the puppy to the vet and was told nothing could be done unless we were willing to spend about a thousand dollars to try and correct the defect. He told us that the puppy would die mainly because it could not suckle. After returning home, Judy and I decided that we could not afford to spend that kind of money without getting some type of assurance from the vet that the puppy had a chance to live.

However, that did not stop me from purchasing a syringe and feeding the puppy by hand. Which I did every day and night, every two hours, for more than ten days. The little puppy survived and learned to eat on his own as long as it was soft canned food.

The fifth week I placed an ad in the newspaper, and within a week we had people interested in all of the pups, except the one with the deformity. Late one afternoon I went to the store to pick up a few groceries. Upon returning I happened to see the old retired schoolteacher, who lived across the street from us, waving at me.

She had read in the paper that we had puppies and was wondering if she might get one from us for her grandson and his family. I told her all the puppies had found homes, but I would keep my eyes open for anyone else who might have an available cocker spaniel. I also mentioned that if someone should change their mind, I would let her know.

Within days, all but one of the puppies had been picked up by their new families. This left me with one brown and tan cocker as well as the smaller puppy with the cleft lip and palate.

Two days passed without me hearing anything from the gentleman who had been promised the tan and brown pup. I telephoned the schoolteacher and told her I had one puppy left and that she was welcome to come and look at it. She advised me that she was going to pick up her grandson and would come over at about eight o'clock that evening.

That night at around seven-thirty, Judy and I were eating supper when we heard a knock on the front door. When I opened the door, the man who had wanted the tan and brown pup was standing there. We walked inside, took care of the adoption details and I handed him the puppy.

Judy and I did not know what we would do or say when the teacher showed up with her grandson. At exactly eight o'clock the doorbell rang. I opened the door, and there was the schoolteacher with her grandson standing behind her. I explained to her the man had come for the puppy after all, and there were no puppies left. "I'm sorry, Jeffery. They found homes for all the puppies," she told her grandson.

Just at that moment, the small puppy left in the bedroom began to yelp.

"My puppy! My puppy!" yelled the little boy as he ran out from behind his grandmother.

I just about fell over when I saw that the small child also had a cleft lip and palate. The boy ran past me as fast as he could, down the hallway to where the puppy was still yelping. When the three of us made it to the bedroom, the small boy was holding the puppy in his arms. He looked up at his grandmother and said, "Look, Grandma. They found homes for all the puppies except the pretty one, and he looks just like me.”

The schoolteacher turned to us, "Is this puppy available?"

“Yes,” I answered. “That puppy is available.”

The little boy, who was now hugging the puppy, chimed in, "My grandma told me these kind of puppies are real expensive and that I have to take real good care of it."

The grandmother reached into her purse but I gently pushed her hand back down into her purse so that she would not pull her wallet out. "How much do you think this puppy is worth?" I asked the boy. "About a dollar?"

"No. This puppy is very, very expensive," he replied.

"More than a dollar?" I asked.

"I'm afraid so," said his grandmother.

The boy stood there pressing the small puppy against his cheek. "We could not possibly take less than two dollars for this puppy," Judy said, squeezing my hand. "Like you said, it's the pretty one."

The schoolteacher took out two dollars and handed it to the young boy.

"It's your dog now, Jeffery. You pay the man."

Still holding the puppy tightly, the boy proudly handed me the money. Any worries I’d had about the puppy’s future were gone.

The image of the little boy and his matching pup stays with me still. I think it must be a wonderful feeling for any young person to look at themselves in the mirror and see nothing, except "the pretty one."

* * *

"This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind... let it be something good." – When Alabama’s legendary football coach Bear Bryant died on January 26, 1983, a copy of this poem was among the contents in his wallet.

royexum@aol.com


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