Growing Up American: Small-Town Dog
Before dog licenses and leash laws; before doggie mohawks, colored hair and painted toenails; before $100 teeth cleaning, $800 vet bills, and humiliating Halloween costumes, there existed – in almost every sleepy town with a red brick school and a white church steeple – an extinct breed of canine I like to call the American dog. He (or she) went by names like Old Shep, Old Dog Tray, or Spot. This is the story of an American dog.
UNCLE ROY AND HIS PUPPY: SPOT'S ADVENTURE BEGINS
My mother's uncle Roy was a WWI veteran. He had been gassed in the trenches in France and was never quite the same again. In the late 1930s, Roy’s wife left him, with nothing but their new puppy remaining. Devastated and depressed, Roy realized he was unable to care for the pup. He brought the little dog to his sister’s house. She was married with six children, and the puppy was a welcome addition. The puppy and the littlest child, my mother Arlene, would eventually become inseparable. Thus began Spot’s long and adventurous journey.
DOG ABOUT TOWN
Spot was a mixed breed – cocker spaniel and something else. He was white with tan spots and grew to about 40 pounds. The entire family loved Spot, but he became Mom's dog and constant companion. Spot had found his little girl for life.
Mom doesn’t remember the first day Spot met her when school let out, but it would become an impressive routine that lasted for years.
Even more impressive was when he started meeting her after Girl Scouts. No matter what time Girl Scouts ended, he'd be sitting right outside. The strange thing was, his little girl would leave school and go directly to Girl Scouts at the church. So how did Spot know where to find her?
Even more mysterious was when Spot would show up to meet his little girl outside the movie theater, after an afternoon or evening movie.
Because of his travels, he became as much a part of the town as he was of his family. "Arlene, your dog's out there waiting for you!" became a regular shout. Dark winter nights and hot summer days –there was Spot, waiting.
Spot loved every season. He loved snow, and he loved kids, so it was only natural that he passed many a winter day at the sliding hill, enjoying both.
When the sunlight would slant a certain way, and the snow smelled just so, Spot knew that the yearly adventure of finding the right Christmas tree was approaching. Every Christmas, Mom's brothers would journey deep into the woods to find the best Christmas tree ever. They would be gone for hours…but Spot wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Spot ate from a 50-lb. bag of Kellogg’s Gro-Pup dry dog food, and he regularly received table scraps after supper. During supper, he was the quintessential begging dog: sitting next to the table with his front paws in the air, a stance he could maintain seemingly for hours. Sometimes he sat so long he would slowly, slowly, slowly start to tip over...but he never fell down.
After a good rain, he liked to go out to drink from the fresh puddles, but puddle-drinking was highly frowned upon in his family. "Spot! You get in here – don't you dare drink out of those dirty puddles! Come in and drink your clean water!" Spot’s little girl’s mother would yell this to him every time, but he’d always try again after the next rain.
Whenever Spot saw a gun, he'd go crazy with excitement. A gun meant hunting, and hunting meant a long walk into the woods with rabbits to chase and a billion trails to smell.
At this point you may be wondering how Spot got along with that great canine nemesis…the cat. Spot loved them, especially when they were running away from him. He especially loved chasing them inside the house. Like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the cats would tease Spot to signal the beginning of the chase. He'd scramble his paws on the floor like Fred Flintstone getting a kick start. So much speed would he build that he would skid uncontrollably around every corner, desperately regaining control after flying across the floor. He never caught a cat – never intended to. But this controlled explosion of excitement provided plenty of laughs for his family.
OUT ON MANEUVERS
Eventually Spot’s original owner, Roy, moved in with his sister and her children…and Spot. Roy had a good job, but everyone knew at least part of his mind was still clouded by yellow-green gas. Though Spot was never really Roy’s dog again, Roy took great satisfaction in watching the dog’s daily routine and speculating on his secret adventures.
Spot regularly took trips by himself. It is an eternal mystery what Spot was really up to in his solitary constitutionals, but it is known that he was regularly seen in every part of town, sometimes simultaneously. With such a large family at home, someone always reported having just passed Spot somewhere, and in this way his general well-being was monitored. In those hours away from home, it is highly suspected that he visited benevolent citizens who secretly stashed treats for their intermittent visitor.
When Spot was gone, Uncle Roy would occasionally squint out the window and solemnly announce: "Spot’s gone out on maneuvers." He admired the dog so much, he imagined he was protecting the front lines years after the Great War had ended.
A SPOT OF TROUBLE
Spot’s friendly reputation suffered one significant blow. My mother (Spot’s little girl) babysat for the bank manager, Mr. Wilson. The Wilsons owned two nasty boxers who had a reputation for growling at people. When mom babysat, Spot would meet her there; the boxers were always inside the home, looking out at him. One day when Mom arrived at the Wilsons' house to babysit, they told her that Spot had been downtown morning before last – at the bank. Spot, having pent up frustration at not being able to get to the growling dogs in their home, had waited for Mr. Wilson to go into the bank as he left the boxers alone in the open car. When Mr. Wilson came out, the inside of his car was completely torn apart, and there were three dogs in there: two boxers...and Spot. Surprisingly, the Wilsons relayed the story with amusement, and passed off the scuffle. Mom’s mother nearly fainted when she heard what Spot had done. Having a member of your own family conduct himself in this manner was totally unacceptable.
LUCKY DOG OF YESTERYEAR
There are many other stories about Spot, like when he spent the night outside (where he preferred to sleep in the good weather), growling at lumbering giants that slowly surrounded his family’s home while they slept. How bad the family felt for not heeding Spots warnings of danger sooner than they did. The first rays of dawn revealed thatan entire cow herd from a neighboring farm had taken up residence in their yard. Spot had stood his ground, blocking the door, not knowing that the strange creatures had no intention of entering.
Spot lived to see his little girl become a married woman. His thirteen years on this earth were full and free. His “maneuvers” remain a mystery, and so they should, as every dog deserves his privacy. His uncanny ability to locate his little girl, his carefully planned schedule and sly premeditation, will always be remembered, as will his unwavering devotion.
Though advances in veterinary medicine have saved many a beloved pet, I think Spot would agree he was lucky to be an American dog of yesteryear…enjoying a freedom and security that few dogs today, let alone people, will ever know.
Susan D. Harris can be reached at http://susandharris.com.