2 Comments to 'Memories of Joe and His Grave, Decades Later'
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March 10, 2014
Joe looked like he was sleeping. We didn’t know Joe’s age when we rescued him years earlier from the animal shelter, but he had aged gracefully. He was handsome and friendly, and he barked only when strangers approached our home.
There were no marks on his body from the truck’s impact. The absence of blood made me assume death came instantly.
A large truck braking suddenly makes a distinctive sound. Mom heard it. She looked out the window. It was summer and the roadside weeds were high, so she was puzzled why the truck was stopped in the road. Until the driver reached down and picked up Joe’s limp body.
The driver carried Joe carefully off the two-lane highway. Slowly, he placed Joe on the thick grass and weeds in the ditch.
The feelings generated by a dog’s loyalty and friendship over several years are difficult to describe. (Photo “labeled for reuse” in Google images, March 2014.)
I’m very sorry, Mom said the man told her. Your dog ran in front of me. I didn’t see him. I’m sorry.
Mom said the man paused a minute before he walked back to his truck. It was parked and idling on the road.
Later that day, when I arrived home from high school, I learned the bad news. I walked to the ditch east of our driveway. Joe was partly hidden by the tall grass.
Joe was on his left side. His proud tail, usually curled over his back, was straight out behind him. Joe’s natural smile was gone. His pink-and-blue-black tongue hung out of his open mouth.
I slipped my hands under Joe. I could tell that death came quickly. As I lifted him, his lifeless body opened behind his right shoulder. There was no bleeding. I placed him on the flatbed trailer behind our tractor and drove him to a place next to two trees in our pasture.
It was a numbing experience, digging a grave for a loyal companion. I buried Joe nearly 50 years ago, but I still can visualize where I placed him in the pasture. Two trees shade his grave at sunset.
Dogs are unique
Dog enthusiasts walking their dogs exercise themselves as well as their canine friends. The walks also improve the dogs’ socialization. This photo was captured soon after sunrise in New Orleans’ French Quarter. (Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett)
Dogs are among my favorite people. The permanent grin and a perpetual tail wag will brighten any day. That’s why it’s frustrating to see dogs that are poorly socialized. They are easy to spot. From their barks, you often can tell whether they are lonely, bored or dangerous. They might bark at everyone they see, or at any sound, real or imagined. Some don’t play well with other dogs.
Dogs that exhibit such behavior generally have been abused or ignored by their masters.
And as much as we understand about the abilities of dogs, recent books are suggesting they are capable of much more. Two examples are “The Possibility Dogs,” by Susannah Charleson, and “The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think,” by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods.
Throughout my childhood and high school years, one or two dogs always shared our home. When I was 5 years old, I remember my neighbor’s dog digging for a small critter that scampered down a hole in a dirt bank. The dog was excited. He whined as his front legs shot dirt back and under him, through his hind legs.
When he paused and shoved his nose further down the hole, all motion stopped. He was sniffing and listening.
I moved closer to my neighbor’s dog with its head down the critter hole. That was my mistake. I was behind the dog, on my knees, watching. Without warning, the dog shot a double-paws load of dirt back through his rear legs and straight into my face.
It took me a few minutes to get the stinging dirt out of my eyes. Meanwhile, the dog kept busy, digging for the critter he never found. He finally gave up.
I was in the second grade when we had a small light-colored terrier mutt. His hair was so wiry, every day was a bad hair day for him. But he was my friend. We played around our home in northern Oregon.
One day, our bad-hair dog vanished. We never learned what happened. I imagined that he was hit by a car or dognapped. Maybe he fell prey to a larger animal from the surrounding forest.
It was a few years later, after we had moved to Washington State, when Joe entered our lives. I don’t remember the year. I think I was about 12. Joe was a collie-chow mix whose personality earned him a permanent place in our memories.
Joe was the size of a collie but a little broader across his chest. His pink tongue was streaked with blue, from his chow heritage. His hair was darker than the collie’s golden color, and it was thick, especially around his neck.
Joe’s previous owner had surrendered him to the animal shelter because Joe had nipped a little girl in the neighborhood. Or so we were told. But that story also pointed out that local children had teased Joe, so the owner probably had been forced to take him to the shelter.
From the animal shelter, Joe rode home with Mom in the backseat of our car. The first few hours in our home, Joe stayed under the dining room table. He relaxed there, like a handsome sphinx but with his head on his paws. We waited. He watched. We kept our voices calm and low. We placed a water dish nearby. He was in a strange world. We allowed him to become confident in new surroundings.
If we walked past the table, he would raise his head and follow us with his eyes. Later that evening, he crawled out from under the table to greet us. He saw that no one was waiting to tease him. We offered him a new home. He offered us his friendship.
One summer, because it was especially hot and humid, Dad cut Joe’s thick hair. That buzz cut was a mistake, and it didn’t happen again. Using shears meant for trimming our horses’ manes, Dad cut Joe’s thick hair. He left part of Joe’s thick neck hair and a tuft of hair at the end of Joe’s tail. Joe’s strange haircut startled a neighbor.
These memories of Joe’s life with us flooded my mind while I dug his grave. A dog’s loyalty lasts forever in a boy’s memory. Joe’s violent death was in the early 1960s, but I still think about him.
After Joe, it was many years before I had time for another dog. I had enlisted in the Air Force, after which I was busy with college studies.
Cancer: Too late
A few years after meeting my Best Friend, and after purchasing our first home, we decided to bring a dog into our lives. She and I chose an Australian shepherd pup from a litter. We called him Bandit because the markings on his face resembled a mask.
Bandit fed himself from an automatic feeder I built for him. He never became overweight. He enjoyed chasing a Frisbee or a tennis ball. During hot weather, he preferred standing under a running hose to jumping in the swimming pool. I believe he didn’t like the pool because he fell in twice.
When we first moved into that home, I walked him into the back yard. Since it was strange territory, he trotted around the yard, sniffing and eyeballing his new surroundings. He turned toward the pool and, without pausing, tried to walk across it. He bobbed to the surface right away and I fished him out. He shook himself off, trotted a short distance and again tried to walk across the water.
I pulled him out of the pool again. That second dunking probably convinced Bandit that when he wanted to get to the other side of the pool, the best way is to walk around it. Even when we entered the pool, he stayed on the side, watching us, wagging his tail. A few times, I carried him gently into the pool and lowered him into the water at the pool steps. He tolerated my efforts, but he always dog paddled to the steps and climbed out. I guess he thought it was a game, but he preferred to stay out of the water.
In the 11 years Bandit was with us, he provided much friendship and loyalty. He was a high-energy dog, but always quiet and dependable. He was a rare dog. He worked his way into our hearts.
One day, Bandit yelped when he tried to walk fast. His flanks, which should have been soft, were rigid. We drove him to our family vet. Bandit stood still on the examining table, allowing the vet to run his hands across his sides and abdomen. The vet wasn’t sure what to say, other than the situation was not normal. He decided on exploratory surgery.
The next day, on the operating table, Bandit died. Our vet said he found cancer that had caused Bandit to bleed internally. It was too late. He was about 11.
A dog treated kindly can become a loyal companion, with its wide eyes and willingness to go anywhere. And when the child (or the man, or the woman) is struggling with family or work pressures, the four-footed companion will be there, sitting quietly alongside the chair, listening, watching, waiting, as if to say, “I’m here. I can help. Can I help?”
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