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The Day the Sheriff Shot My Dog

The Day the Sheriff Shot My Dog
by Greg Hatfield

From the earliest recorded annals of history, man and his best friend, the dog, have always been connected.  In the great Greek poem Homer’s Odyssey, there was the story of Argos, the loyal dog of Odysseus, lies waiting to see his master once more, following a twenty-year separation.  Once proud and frisky, the dog is now old and sick and hanging on by a thread.  When Odysseus arrives, disguised to attack his enemies, Argos immediately recognizes him and it’s time for him to die.  This was later made into a now lost 1929 silent movie, Argos of Olympia, by the great German director G.W. Pabst, starring Louise Brooks and a young strapping Huntz Hall, with no less than sixteen stunt dogs playing the part of Argos..  (They would copy the same formula a few years later, in 1943, for Lassie Come Home, where an incredible 248 stunt collies — all male –played Lassie.)

Also lost to history is this tidbit.  It seems when Homer was writing the Iliad, there was a lengthy chapter devoted to yet another dog, Fidox, who happened to be a big fan of the Trojan War, and even participated in scouting missions.  This chapter was lost to the ages, after it was cut by Homer’s editor at the time, Maximus Perkins.

In 1999, well-noted archaeologist, Dr. William Clayborn Jackson Jr. III, has drummed up the financing needed for a dig in a little known area of Thebes, hoping to find the tomb of Fidox, who was buried with warrior honors and a bone made of gold the size of Rhode Island.

We’ve since learned the only thing standing in his way is a T.G.I. Friday’s, which was recently erected on the exact dig spot, and open to tourists, so the dig must be confined to when the restaurant is closed for the evening, and only dug by TGIF’s employees, making it difficult to gain any momentum.

Of course, Walt Disney has made a nice hunk of money capitalizing on dogs as characters.  Pluto and the Tramp immediately come to mind.  I think no one really knows what Goofy is.  Jack London, whose estate keeps him active with a lively Facebook page, recently tweeted he liked dogs better than humans, and his characters White Fang and Buck will soon be appearing in Jack London on Ice.

Sappy dogs, like Winn-Dixie and Toto, too, and the worst offender of them all, Marley, also permeate the literary and cinematic landscape.

But my dog was different.  Sure, everyone says their dog is different and unique.  It’s inherent of every owner.  But the dog that I owned as a kid was indeed different.

His name was Ruff, named after the dog in Dennis the Menace.  He was a cur.  I never really knew what that meant, but my mom always referred to him as “that ugly cur dog” and all of the many dogs we have throughout my childhood were curs.  My Aunt Alice brought Ruff to us one day following a trip to the country.  Our previous cur, Cindy, had died, and my aunt knew we needed a dog.

My Dad was always hoping that one of the dogs would be the great hunting dog he always wanted, but generally they were lacking in the skills that good hunting dogs needed, like tracking ability and a certain stealthiness.  My mother really didn’t like dogs.  She refused to have them in the house and made them sleep outside their entire lives.  Of course, when she wasn’t home, I always let them in to warm up or play.

I was at the right age, probably ten years old, when Aunt Alice dropped off the puppy that I called Ruff immediately.  I claimed him for my own and spent all my free time with him.  He was a great playmate.  He chased the stick, not really bringing it back, but I could wrestle it from his mouth and throw it again.  We played in the woods that surrounded our neighborhood.  The woods weren’t that extensive, just enough for a kid to get lost in them, build a secret camp, and wile away the hours.

In those days, our neighborhood was still serviced by milk trucks and vegetable and fruit trucks and other services that have gone by the wayside.  Ruff’s weakness was that he chased cars.  I yelled and yelled for him to stop, but to no avail.  It was useless to protest, cause no matter what we were doing, Ruff’s ears would perk up and he would take off like a rocket whenever one of the trucks would rumble down the street, barking endlessly until the truck would get too far ahead.  He could be in a deep sleep, snoring like dogs do, but instantly wake up when the roar of the truck approached and zoom to the curb to bark and chase the vehicle.

One day, Ruff got a little too close to the milk truck and the front bumper clipped him on the hind leg.  It was fortunate that he wasn’t killed.  I was there and saw the whole thing.  The milk driver didn’t even stop.  He just kept going as I screamed and shook my fist, “You hit my dog, you bastard!”  We weren’t customers.

Ruff was howling from the pain.  I could see he was limping.  As I approached him, he took off and went into the woods.  I chased him, calling his name and I could hear the rustling of the leaves as he made his way though the foliage.  And then it stopped.  I panicked.  What if he was dead?  I called him repeatedly, looking everywhere.  I scoured the woods for what seemed like an eternity, but couldn’t find him.  I went home, crying hysterically and waiting for my Dad to get home.  My Dad took it in stride.  “I told you something like this would happen if he continued to chase cars,” he said.  Well, it wasn’t my fault.  I had told Ruff, too, but short of an intervention, there seemed to be nothing that could be done.

The days went by.  Each morning, I stood with the empty dog food can, calling his name, banging on the bowl, annoying the neighbors.  When I got home from school, he was the first thing I looked for when I got off the bus, and I sacrificed my homework time (that really wasn’t too much of a sacrifice) to search the woods looking for what I assumed was his dead body.  Days turned into weeks.

And then one day, just like that, when I went outside, there he was.  The reunion between dog and boy was as glorious as a returning soldier to his family.  I hugged him and scolded him and was so thankful he was back to me.  Then I saw it.  His right leg was raised in the air.  He was walking on three legs.  When my Dad saw it, he explained that Ruff had let the leg heal on its own and he had learned how to walk and run on three legs.  There was no need to take him to the vet, he explained, because Ruff had taken care of himself the only way he knew how.  That’s why he was gone all this time.

It didn’t seem to bother him.  He ran and played just like before.  He still barked at the trucks barreling down the street, but didn’t seem to get as close to them as before.  He was still social.  He played with other dogs.  There were a lot of beagles around the neighborhood and they had that tracking acumen that my Dad found elusive in his dogs.  Coming out of the woods, the rabbits were plentiful, as rabbits are wont to be.  The beagles would sniff them out and give them chase.  Now Ruff’s skills as a sniffer weren’t that great, but he would let the beagles do all the work in that department, and then he would take off like a rocket, outrunning the short-legged beagles with his three good legs, and getting to the rabbits before any of the other dogs.  They never actually caught one, though, just making the rabbit stop and cower before they lost interest and took a nap.

In those days, glass soft drink bottles could be redeemed for 2 cents and penny candy was plentiful.  The place we went to cash in our bottles was Burt’s store.  The name of the store was H&S Hillcrest, but I never heard anyone call it that in the years I went there.  It was run by Burt, coincidentally enough.  His sister and brother-in-law also worked there, but they weren’t as likely to give you an extra piece of candy like Burt frequently did.

Burt’s was just up the field through our backyard and just on the other side of the firehouse.  You then had to cross a very busy two lane main street, the thoroughfare that went north/south where the speed limit was 45 mph.  There was no cross walk or light or anything that indicated a crossing, but everyone who walked to the store took the same route through our backyard and across the street.  You had to be careful and not be too impatient when waiting your turn.  Your time would come and you could then dash across the street where the penny candy awaited.

Ruff and I had made the trip dozens of times.  Each time, he sat patiently at my side while we waited for the zipping traffic to subside and we could cross the street.  On this day, I had my hands full with bottles.  The neighbor had just thrown them out with his trash and I was fortunate enough to retrieve them.  (I’m thinking this is a skill that will come in handy later in life.)  So with bottles clutched to my chest and one in each finger, Ruff and I made the trip to the store to cash in.

When we were at the street, it was busier than usual. Cars on either side were going back and forth at what seemed to be a high rate of speed and the bottles shifted against my body and I was fearful I would drop one of the precious.

Just then, a bird flew over our head and Ruff saw it and gave chase.  As he did, he darted out into the traffic, where a Lincoln Continental slammed on his brakes, making a horrendous sound, but to no avail.  The dog hit the front bumper and was dragged underneath, as the car scrambled to stop.  I dropped all the bottles and screamed “RUFFFFFFFFFF!!!”  But it was too late.  Ruff, barely breathing drug himself to Burt’s parking lot.  He didn’t whimper.  There was no sound.  His tongue was out of his mouth.  He was panting and I was at his side, petting him, not knowing what to do, frantic and helpless all at once.

Burt had come out to see what all the commotion was about and quickly went back inside to call the police.  Cars had stopped on the highway to see what was going on and there was getting to be quite a back-up.

I heard the police car in the distance getting closer and closer and Chief of Police Lindo Foster pulled into Burt’s parking lot, lights flashing, sirens blaring.  Chief Foster was a big Irish man, easily 6’6”, 250 pounds.  He had bright red hair and a ruddy complexion.  A perfect Chief of Police for a just developing suburb.

He came over and assessed the situation.  He began clearing the traffic and when that was cleared, he came back to me in the parking lot.

“It looks bad, son,” he said.  I looked up at him and nodded.  Burt came back out.

What do you think, Lindo?” he asked.  Lindo scratched his head.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I don’t think there’s anything we can do for him.”  The Chief leaned down to me, pulling me away from Ruff.

“He’s pretty much tore up inside, son,” he said to me. “I think the best thing for him is to quickly put him out of his misery.  Do you understand?”  I looked up, tears spilling out of my eyes, falling on the parking lot.

Burt looked at the Chief.  “Whatcha gonna do, Lindo?”  Lindo went to his police car and got a rifle.  I panicked.

“Wait!” I yelled.

I reached down, took off Ruff’s collar and kissed the top of his head.

“Goodbye, partner,” I said softly to him.  “No boy ever had a better dog.”

I moved back.  Chief of Police Lindo Foster pulled back the bolt and fired the bullet into Ruff.