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Wednesday, 26 January 2011 21:25

Dogs that make our lives whole

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If you don’t like dogs, come back next week. Dogs have been an integral part of my life since I was a boy. My first dog -– part something, part something else –- was named Rascal. He was my boyhood buddy. I was a sophomore in college when Rascal had to be put to sleep after a long and happy life. I still remember that day.

Other dogs have followed: cocker spaniels; a long line of beagles, several named Toby; and more recently German shorthaired pointers. German shorthairs are the best breed of dog in the world. They can be somewhat uppity when need be, but for the most part they are companionable, curious, bright-eyed, humorous, and generally reliable dogs.     

Our current shorthairs are Uly (a brown-ticked dog named for the Greek wanderer, not the Civil War general); Salley (a brown-ticked patrician sort of dog); Hera (a whitish black-ticked dog named for the Greek trouble-maker); Woodrow (a black-and-white spotted dog named after Capt. Woodrow Call, a character in Lonesome Dove); and Zeke (named after Ezekiel in the Bible).  

Born in a kennel in northwest Georgia, Zeke is going on 16 now. He doesn’t care much for any of the other dogs. His friend Maggie (a dark brown naturally regal dog) died several years ago and is buried across the creek. Zeke hasn’t gotten over her departure and apparently doesn’t plan on getting over it.

Maggie and Zeke were our constant companions for years, spending the day with us at work in town. When we went bird watching along the Texas, Gulf and Atlantic coasts, they traveled along in the back of the truck, their heads stuck through the camper top window into the cab. As a last resort, I would sometimes turn them loose when a particular bird wouldn’t come out of the brush. That tactic generally produced almost instant results. Zeke was stronger but Maggie was always in charge. I haven’t hunted for years; so, I threw red rubber balls for them to chase. They caught the balls on the bounce or tracked them down in the woods or plunged into the creek after them.             

Frumpy-looking with brown and white cow-like markings — front legs splayed clumsily and slow afoot — Zeke doesn’t look the part, but in his prime he was a natural born hunting and fighting dog. There were several bear squabbles I know about. Two of them he picked and didn’t quit but dragged himself home on his shield … as it were… head bashed lop-sided, ear torn, ribs busted in so bad all he could do was lie down and think things over.

Add in years of ongoing skirmishes. The battle with the weasel in the creek ford was hilarious … from my perspective. Every time Zeke’d shake him off the critter would come back and grab him by the nose. Went on that way back and forth for maybe five minutes. I called it a draw but (truth be told) the weasel looked better off at the end. Bobcats … coyotes … mink … wild hogs …coons … copperheads … feral cats … other critters … maybe even a big cat  … Zeke was born convinced that the universe is full of troubles it is his assigned task to combat.

He’s been a good friend. Born into a world of smells and subtle frequencies, Zeke has studied expressions and listened closely to intonations so as to comprehend human intentions in an uncanny manner. These days he’s mellowed. He enjoys eating snow cream my wife concocts from fresh snow, vanilla extract, sugar, and canned milk. And has taken to writing sonnets. The one he’s working on these days is titled: “Gone to Hell in a Handbasket: A Country Music Sonnet in Blank Verse (14 Lines, 140 Syllables with Rhymes).” The first draft has been completed. It goes like this:

 

Winter was dryly bitter & bone cold.

‘Cept when I went out in the yard to pee

I’d sit in the house by the fireside bright

and work on my next sonnet about me.

My ex-girlfriend Polly wasn’t so bad

but her babies had grown up to be hounds.

Long after I asked them nicely to “Shut Up!”

they still moped around singing Merle Haggard:

‘If we can just make it thru De-cem-ber

ev-ry-thing is go-in’ to be o-kay.’

Well spring’s dun sprung and noth-in is o-kay.

Polly left town with the beagle next door.

If en-ee-one asks ‘bout me you just say:

‘Ole Zeke’s gone to hell in a handbasket.’

 

After reading it, I told Zeke “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything,” he said.

 

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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