Posted by: Bruce Allen | January 17, 2008

Dear Bobby B in Bethany–

Dear BruAl–

Tell them about the time your dog got killed in your backyard, right in front of you, by a German Shepard left to run loose around the old neighborhood.  And I’m not going to call you Mr.

                                                                                 Bobby B in Bethany

Dear Bobby B in Bethany–

Seriously.  No one wants to hear about that.  This is a site known for high comedy, slapstick and cheap laughs.  You don’t spend much time online, so we will forgive your asking, and provide the Cliff Notes only for that sad day.  BTW, you need to take better care of yourself.  You are not looking good.  Ike says you’re going to be the first of our Steiners to go.  You should avoid that.

The dog was a miniature collie, a Sheltie, named Laddie whom we had gotten when I was 7.  He was oversized for his breed, maybe 20-25 pounds, but ran with me when I rode my bike. fetched balls, guarded the house, etc.  As an only child, I developed a strong attachment to him.  He was a great dog for an active boy.

He was at the heart of one of only a handful of situations I experienced as a child where I was at some risk of dying.  A bunch of us, including the dog, were, at around age 11, climbing a broken granite outfacing in the community recreation area known locally as Rock Corey.  (In that there was no quarry to speak of, I will put aside thoughts that the name of this pile of stone was a combo mispronunciation/misspelling.)  Laddie, halfway up what was probably 300 vertical feet, lost his footing on a narrow path and fell off, landing perhaps 8 feet below on a small ledge.  He was on the edge of what was probably another 20′ drop, with no obvious way off, and stuck.  I went after him, and, just as he did, lost my grip on the path, fell, and landed on the same ledge.  We were unhurt, but pretty lucky.  There was a bit of a path near the ledge, and we made our way off.

On a spring afternoon in 1964, I was in the side yard of our home with the dog when Caesar showed up, approaching from our neighbor’s backyard.  Caesar had irresponsible owners who allowed him to roam the neighborhood; his home was 8 blocks from ours.  He was shy, standoffish, and probably weighed about 100 pounds.  Kind of scary, not at all friendly.

Laddie was surprised by this sudden intrusion, and immediately took off barking after Caesar who, apparently equally surprised, reacted by running away.  Running away!  Into the neighbor’s backyard, where he seemed to realize what was up, stopped, turned, and began to run after Laddie, who by then had also turned in flight.  They were running right at me.

It was no contest.  It all happened so quickly.  Looking back on it from 40-some years away, it’s always as if time slows to a crawl, super slo mo, not ten feet from where I was standing transfixed.

Caesar closed in, bodied up to Lad on the fly, grabbed the back of his neck in his jaws, and rode him down.  There was a snap and a yelp.  Caesar got up and walked away; Laddie didn’t.

He lay there on his right side, panting hard, tongue hanging out, twitching slightly, eyes unfocused.  His neck was broken.  I knelt down to him, afraid to touch him, desperate to do something for him, to save him, to rescue him, to fix him, but it was too late.  His eyes became glassy, his tongue and mouth began to turn black, his breathing became more shallow, and then he was gone.

At 13, I felt a combination of intolerable sadness and anger.  I had my first experience with the feeling of impotence.  At that moment, I needed to kill Caesar, to avenge my buddy’s death, to salvage my own honor, having been unable or unprepared to protect him.  I needed a weapon, because the dog would not let me near enough to try to kill him with just my hands, which is what I wanted to do.  This being suburbia, there were precious few usable weapons lying around the yard, and the best I could do was a small log from the woodpile.  I got as close as I could, heaved the log as hard as I could, and barely grazed Caesar, who slunk home.

Later that day, when my parents came home, my father was saddened, and my mother was outraged.  This was the 60’s.  People didn’t go around suing other people back then; I don’t think the thought ever crossed anyone’s mind.  What you did do, and what we did, mom and me, was to walk over to the owner’s house that evening, and knock on their door.  When the wife answered the door, mom started yelling.  She yelled at the lady until she closed the door on us, and then she stepped back into the yard and continued yelling, at the top of her lungs, until she was yelled out.  She then cried quietly during the entire walk back to our house.  For the next year or so, every time she drove through that part of the neighborhood, she would sneak glances here and there, wanting to spy Caesar and run over him with her car.  Never happened.  His owners moved one day, and the dog left with them.

It would be great if there were some kind of redeeming end to this story, Bobby.  But there isn’t.  I remember feeling like Mr. Bojangles, who mourned the loss of his dog for over 20 years.  The feeling of loss would be surpassed years later by the passing of Amos the Wonder Dog in 2005, a passing as quiet and peaceful as Laddie’s was sudden and violent.

Those of you who’ve never owned a dog or had a relationship with a dog might not appreciate the depth of feeling one develops over time.  In its unconditionality, its intensity and its honesty, the love of an animal may at times feel stronger than human love.  This seems to be possible, expecially in children and the disabled.  The list of “saddest movies of all time” includes many dogs, horses and even stuffed animal dolls whose portrayed passing reaches people in a place they don’t visit very often, and whose memory resides there forever after.


“There is one best place to bury a dog.

“If you bury him in this spot, he will come to you when you call – come to you over the grim, dim frontier of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again.

“And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel, they shall not growl at him, nor resent his coming, for he belongs there.

“People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall, who hear no whimper, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing.

“The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master.”                                                  

— Ben Hur Lampman —
from the Portland Oregonian
            Sept. 11, 1925



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