My wife Patti and I have a pet dog named Max. He is a Dalmatian - or at least appears to be so. He has no "papers." Strange how even social class distinctions are thrust upon "man's best friend"! Rather ludicrous in a way. Max is one of the most amiable dogs I have ever seen. He truly loves to be loved. Certainly one of the best dogs I've ever had. That thought inched across my mind when sitting with him in the back yard just a short while ago. I have muttered to him that he might turn out to be another Christy - the beloved dog of my children. Christy lived almost fourteen years. She was put to sleep soon after a cancer was found. She was a most intelligent dog and my thoughts there drifted back to some of my most earliest memories.
It was in San Antonio, Texas at Randolph Field that my father was stationed with the then U. S. Army Air Corps. We - my family - were returning from a family get together at the officer's club. My father was carrying me straddling his shoulders. It was very dark and I remember my hand's clasped about his forehead kept slipping down over his eyes. He kept telling me..."Dickie! Daddy can't see! Keep your hands up!"
The problem was that I was very fearful of dogs. And in the surrounding darkness there were dogs...barking. And I was afraid.
I remember that fear very vividly - even today. But I overcame it with the help of Toby. My first dog. He was just a frilly mutt. And he angered my mother to no end by wetting everywhere. Wherever my brother and sister and I were, there also was Toby. He became our family's fourth child. He slept in our beds. And followed us to school. And every day was outside the schoolhouse door to walk us home. That's fact! He enabled me to over come my fear of dogs. No more did I run home crying because a dog had playfully jumped up on me. But Toby had one annoying habit. He chased after cars. Headlong into the street he'd go. Barking. Full steam in two strides. Oblivious to even other cars he'd charge his target! Once a city ice company truck inadvertently ran over his hind leg. Right before my eyes! He yelped fiercely and ran limping to the shrubbery that rimmed our house on Beaver Street.`` I literally froze with fear...then screamed out for him. Crying I ran to the house. Mother came to check him. There he was lying on his side shaking, whimpering. His warm tongue lapping at my mother's hand.
"His legs look good. Just let him along... I think he'll be alright" my mother half-promised. Just a few minutes later he rose and limped into the house. Head held low. Thank you, God, for making him okay. Toby recovered. But because of his habit he had to go. My dad made sure he would get a good home. That was no consolation for us kids. We were heartbroken.
A day or so later Dad let us know at dinner that he had found a home in the country for Toby. On a farm. As if that might soothe the anger and the coming loss that we kids felt. It didn't. The day the man came to get our dog, I ran with Toby to Susie Dacoson's house behind ours. There I lifted the lattice that surrounded the crawl space of Susie's front porch and there we hid. Toby and I. I could hear my parents calling. And I wouldn't answer. Just couldn't answer. Then Toby's soft blurted barks gave us away. The memory of my father raising the lattice and spying us will never be forgotten. Toby ran to him but I couldn't. In a couple of minutes I came out in time to see the car heading up toward Eighteenth Street. My parents told me that Toby wouldn't enter the car until Dad took a pair of my blue jeans and tossed them into the car. With Toby in quick pursuit.
Some time went by and Dad brought us kids together one evening to tell us some news. He had run into the man - that shadowy sleezebag - that now had our dog. Toby had jumped right in as a perfect farm dog and was already helping the man herd his milk cows back to the barn at night! Now, we all knew that Toby was smart, so it didn't come as news to us. But this time our loss was soothed a bit by the news that Toby was doing well. And his new owner was proud of him. That's the last word we ever got about Toby.
The memory of that dog is like no other I have ever known. For Toby was and will always be special. He was the first dog I didn't fear. He helped me to overcome one of my childhood weaknesses. No other dog can ever equal the one who opened the door.
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