DULUTH, Minn. — Every morning when we open the paper, after reading the main sections, we wander to the classifieds section and eyeball the puppies. Every one of them is so darn cute. We talked about maybe getting one and then decided, no, it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. We’re gone too much.
We had a dog years ago. It was a year older than my son when we got her. It has been 40-plus years since we got Doc. The pup was a replacement for our first dog, which sadly got clipped by a pickup on an icy street.
For a few days, we didn't have a name for her. Our first dog’s name was “Mac,” after my wife’s brother. Not wanting to break tradition, we thought it appropriate that we name this Lab, short-haired pointer after another member of the family. The logical choice was Sarah’s father, a medical practitioner in northern Minnesota. Surgeon seemed pretentious, Physician a little better, but yelling that name out the back door would probably get us a boat-load of EMTs. A friend said, “Why not Doc?” Short, simple, and something a dog could understand.
Having a new puppy is a mixed bag. The first night is the yelping. We didn’t have any kids at the time, so disturbed sleep was not something we’d grown to tolerate.
“Don’t go downstairs,” said Sarah. “If you do, she’ll just keep at it longer.”
So I didn’t. At dawn I stumbled downstairs to enthusiastic yipping, several puddles and a couple of brown deposits. Fortunately, the kitchen carpeting came later.
The house we owned in that small Iowa town was about 90 years old. We got a good deal on it; a “Handyman’s’ Special.” I started tearing it apart and putting it back together. Things went pretty well. I learned some new skills, developed a sense of what was good plumbing and carpentry practice, and the outcome was generally pleasing. I also learned how to cuss.
One day in the midst of a major sanding operation, Doc decided to exit the house. I had sealed off the kitchen from the living room with a sheet of clear plastic and masking tape. The dog was in the living room snoozing, and a friend came to the back door. Remember those car commercials, the ones where the latest in automotive razzle-dazzle comes bursting through a large sheet of paper? That’s kind of how Doc came through the doorway.
Standing there with a fine layer of sawdust all over me, the belt sander whining at warp eight, the air blue with various words describing Doc’s ancestry, my friend smiled sheepishly and said, “I’ll come back later.”
They had a leash law in town. Mostly it seemed to be enforced when people were planting their gardens in the spring. We rarely tied up Doc. She normally stayed around home, but there were times when she’d disappear for an hour or two.
On those occasions when she would return from rambling, she’d carry back partial loaves of bread. We never figured out where she got the stuff. She wasn’t very discriminating, one day whole wheat, another rye, a third day butterfly rolls. The neighbors accused us of having a dog that was wooing a bread truck driver.
Things came to a head one night. The police chief called and said he’d gotten a report of an older lady walking home from the super market with a couple bags full of groceries, who had been knocked down by a black Lab. Bread wasn’t missing, but a five-pound roast was. Did I have any idea where my dog had been at 5:30 that evening?
I thanked him and told him I’d call him back. After figuring out that the dog had been out a short time, I called my neighbor, the city attorney. No, they hadn’t seen Doc running from the vicinity of the grocery store, either.
Well, I was mortified, embarrassed, and getting a little hot under the collar until I went next door to tell my neighbors the story. They smiled, listened attentively and burst into gales of laughter.
Yeah, it was funny, but not that funny. I was worried about the old lady! Then the woman of the house came up to me, put her arm around my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “You’ve been had.” Needless to say, my confidence in law enforcement and city government were greatly diminished.
Hunting had never been a strong point with me. Living in pheasant country, however, I thought I’d give it a try. After all, I had the black Lab, right?
I invested in a 20-gauge, bought a license and started scouting some abandoned rights of way. It had been a good year for birds, so I had some hope.
I’ve always heard friends talk about how they couldn’t keep their dogs out of a car. Not Doc. We had to make sure she was tied up before we started packing or she’d disappear. Getting her to go hunting involved a strong grip on her collar and a heave-ho into the back seat of the station wagon.
Once she got to where we were hunting, she jumped out of the car, tail wagging, ready to go. The trip, the anticipation, worked negatively on her gut. My companions accused me of spiking her “Ken L Ration” with mineral oil.
Things went well until one of my buddies scared up a big rooster. We took aim and let go with a couple rounds each. The dog was gone. No birds, a little exercise and no dog. She went to the car. This time she willingly crawled in the back seat for the trip home.
As I mentioned before, the house we lived in needed some work, and I rebuilt much of it. One of the areas that needed some attention was the front steps. The old ones had rotted through, so I fashioned some new ones out of sturdy pine boards. They lasted two weeks.
A stray rabbit worked its way under the porch, and Doc was determined to find it. My first clue that something was amiss was a grinding, crunching sound followed by a splintering rip. I got up from some afternoon reading and walked to the front door. Standing there, looking through the screen, I saw the carefully assembled steps in pieces that would make good kindling. In addition, several lengths of cedar siding had been munched to oblivion. The training I referred to earlier in refined cussing held up well. I was out of the door, blood pressure on the rise, hurling epithets and accusations at a retreating black figure.
As I have grown older I have grown a little more tolerant. Things that were big deals before don’t seem so large. I’ll look at those puppies. I do like dogs. But I don’t know.
Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at email@example.com.