Like most everything I write, even most outlandish of fictions, there’s a good chance there’s some hint of truth hidden somewhere. Some would say that probably makes me a rather liar, and I wouldn’t tell them they’re wrong. Every once in a while, though, you really gotta facts because you couldn’t make up shit that good if you tried. That’s the definitely the case with this next piece. . .
And be patient: We’ll get to the possums. Trust me…
I’m sure my notions on animals in general make me outright barbaric by most standards today, but I grew up in a different time.
People lived in houses and animals, outside. Barring some extraordinary circumstances, we kept things that way. In fact, we preferred it that way.
There were exceptions, of course. Like the time we got that hard freeze in February and we had to bring that newborn calf in the house because it nearly died when that momma cow refused to let her suck. You truly haven’t lived until you rammed your hands–both of them–halfway up your arms in a pile of fresh calf shit in a mad dash to destroy evidence as quickly as you can because you know damn good and well your grandma will beat you lifeless if she knew that the calf you talked her into letting inside for just a few minutes so it warm up by the stove just took a big steaming dump on those new rugs she got back when. Oh yeah! that’ll learn you all about the meaning of meek. And more than happy to live and let live, after that, everything in it rightful place.
We weren’t cruel people. Quite the contrary. Just practical. We had to be. We depended on these guys for food, and they, us. It’s what biologists like to call a symbiotic relationship.
And like it or not, livestock draws flies. If you want to keep the bugs out of your house, keep the critters elsewhere. Sure, we spent many a night sleeping with them, out in the dirt, nursing them back to health, keeping them warm in an ice storm, or protecting them from some marauding coyote or bobcat. But rare were the times we ever opened our doors the other direction.
Dogs were an exception to that rule. Of course, we didn’t eat them.
Rather, we depended on them, often placing our very lives in their capable paws. They helped do all sorts of things on the farm, not least of which was alerting us when there was trouble. I can’t tell how many times they alerted me to hidden copperheads, rattlers and even rare corral snakes, just by the tone of their bark and the way they tilted their head. Of course, I happen believer in the idea that good snake is one that’s been made into hatband, or belt maybe, perhaps a nice pair of boots. I know people who snakes in their houses as pets. They’re also fuckin crazy, but that’s another conversation…
Anyway, those damn snakes LOVED to coil up in the cool mud of cucumber patch, beneath all those big leaves. Or under an old feed sack, or a compost heap when it was cold. I would’ve probably been dead a long time ago snakebites (plural) were it dogs alerting that they were there. Likewise, I can’t tell you how many times a dog has kept some old ornery Braham from stomping me to pulp. I taken them hunting, fishing, and just for a romp because I like being outside. They can be some the company you could ever have, especially you need it. They’re damn good listeners, even some will say they understand a damn thing your saying (I tend to think they do, though; dogs are one hellova lot smarter than even a lot of so-called “dog people” credit them for). Still, I’d trade well over half the human population I come across on any given day just one more minute with any of the canine companions I had growing up.
Their role as protector and confidant did grant them a few extra liberties, things that if other animals had tried would likely land them in a cookpot or barbecue pit, at very least. Dogs were welcome on the porch. They got to tag along with us wherever we went around the farm, and occasionally, we let hop in the truck and go for a ride with us into town. Still, they lived outside, along with the chickens and the cows and the lawnmower. They belong there, in order to do their jobs effectively. You ain’t much of a watchdog if you’re stretched on my couch soaking up my AC while I’m at work, busting ass and sweating like a fool. Get you ass outside, and bark like a real animal. Keep people off my side of the street while away.
And I still cringe whenever I see them city folk happy as clams to have their face kissed clean by an animal that just spent the last half-hour licking his own ass. That’s fine if you’re five, but I’d like to think I’m not the only one who frowns on folks who continue to wet the bed after a certain age. Comes a time some things just gotta come to an end.
So call me cruel, if you wish. I may share the same fleas as my mongrel mutts from time to time, but I’ll be damned if I sleep with one every night.
In the same breath, I dare you mess with one of my dogs. I may kick them out of bed, but don’t let me catch you playing brute to one. I’ll happily beat your skin off, just on principle. Try it sometime. I double dog dare you. If I can’t do it myself, I know damn good and well there’s a whole line of dudes I know who will happily back me up.
Why? If my dog doesn’t like you, you probably ain’t a friend of mine. There ain’t a soul in the world I’d bother giving three shits about if my dog didn’t say it was okay. They don’t say much, but when they do, I listen. It’s kept me breathing this long. I ain’t about to change now.
Personally, I’ve never had much use for a little dog. I’ve always preferred breeds that at least looked like they might have your back in a bar fight. Most of mine are a hundred pounds or better, when they’re full and grown. Hico’s a German Shepherd/Boxer mix, I was told, though her heritage, like mine, is about as questionable as the day is long. She can leap straight in the air a good six feet, just for fun. Makes people mighty wary of the four-foot fence around my yard.
But, truth is, I don’t like a lot of people anyway, and she’s never figured out she can top the fence without trying hard. So far, anyway. Meantime, she keeps the folks I don’t want around at a mighty damn distance, I’ll tell you.
So you can imagine the mood I was in the night I heard my dog, start raising all kinds of hell for no apparent reason one evening . Mind you, this dog’s a complete imbecile in comparison to some those I’ve known through the years. I’ve had dogs, especially back in my younger days, who ran free beside me on bicycle, stopped at every road sign and traffic light, even waited for me just outside the building while I attended college classes.
If it was a good day, my dog might even lure in some unsuspecting doe-eyed sophomore—you know the type: “Oh, what a cute dog! He must be lost. Aren’t you a pretty boy? Why don’t you come home with me?—all the while he’s sitting there thinking, nope, I can tell already your coming home with us…
At my age, of course, I don’t have much use for a dog that plays chick magnet, especially among the purple-haired, bunny-hugging types who hang around outside the Liberal Arts building these days. Besides, Hico’s never been that smart.
She’ll bark at damn near anything. Somebody’s walking by. There goes that bright orange food truck that chooses to advertise its contents with a grub worm painted on its side. Of my favorite, “Hey, it’s hot out here—you gonna point that hose at them flowers all day or you gonna cool me off?”
If you learn to listen, you can pick out what each of those barks means.
“Hey, shoot the hose at me” is this embarrassing, high-pitched yip that sounds like a poodle farted through a kazoo. It’s a crying shame that such a noise should emanate from a dog as large as her, especially when your biker buddies wheel into your yard. You plumb wanna crawl under one of the pavement from the shame. Still, I can’t help but smile at her goofy ass.
There’s that choppy, the-puppies-are-missing bark, usually in concert with some other hound (or hounds), clear across town. Doggy dictation, I suppose, just passing on the word. Then there’s that throatier, stouter “BA-ruff!” she slings at most passersby. It’s the this-is-my-yard-and-you-best-keep-on-walking bark. It works like a charm, most days. Especially in tandem with that enormous leap of hers. Few and far between are those who loiter on my block. Lastly there’s the psycho, aliens have landed, Mogols are about to invade, ninjas-are-on-the-roof bark. It’s about five parts wolf pack, three parts Rottweiler and two parts get-your-ass-out here-because-I-need-some-help.
She barely breathes. It sounds more dog fight than dog bark. And that’s the bark she sounded this particular night, which, of course, prompts one to wonder: What the hell’s her problem?