Saturday, September 30, 2006

A boy and his dog



Old Shep

"When I was a lad
And old Shep was a pup
Over hills and meadows we’d stray
Just a boy and his dog
We were both full of fun
We grew up together that way

Old Shep he has gone
Where the good doggies go
And no more with old Shep will I roam
But if dogs have a heaven
There’s one thing I know
Old Shep has a wonderful home"
--Elvis Presley (words & music by foley - westpar)

When I was a baby, our family had a dog named Lucky. Lucky wasn't. He had a tendency to bite people so my mother sent him away to live on the perverbial farm when I was a toddler.

The first dog I really remember when I was growing up was Shep. That's me in the photo above, towering over him when he was a puppy. It was nice to have someone in the family shorter than I was.

Shep was a Beagle-Dachshund mix. Our neighbor had been hunting and found Shep and his brother abandoned in field. And being your typical five-year old boy, my radar discovered the puppies the minute the neighbor brought them home. I would run over there the minute I got home from school and roll around letting the puppies swarm over me trying to lick my face. The puppies were identical except one had a a small tuft of white hair at the end of his tail. That made him special to me.

I should have known then I'd have a career in marketing. It didn't take me more than two days to convince my parents we needed one of the puppies. I remember bringing the "special" puppy home, adament that I carry him despite the fact that he was almost as big as me.

I named the new puppy Shep. I'd never heard the Elvis song, "Old Shep." At the time, I don't think I knew who Elvis was. Shep was short for "shepard," because it was around Christmas and I liked the phrase "the shepards stood watch in the fields at night." Give me a break, I was five years old.

Shep would be waiting patiently for me when I came home from school and respond untiringly when I threw a ball or stick. My father built him a doghouse. I drew pictures of dog family portraits and glued them on the inside walls of the doghouse. Shep seemed to like the drawings. At least he never complained about them to me.

Shep soon became part of the family. He would go everywhere with us. He loved riding in the car. He would ride in the back seat with my brothers and I'd ride in the front seat with my parents. I used to get car sick so both he and I would have our heads out the car window at the same time. Shep was much more sympathetic than my father was when I'd toss my cookies out the window onto the side of the car on a particularily windy road.

Shep was chronically flatulent (something he and my oldest brother Ted had in common). So I always appreciated that, with Shep's head out the car window, his butt was in my brother's face for hours during most trips. Shep would also get very excited when he was going on a trip. The more excited he got, the more flatulent he became and the more my brothers suffered.

I remember on trip in particular. My brothers started hollering for my father to stop because they were sure Shep needed to relieve himself (apparently the farting was reaching a new level). It was a mountain road and places to pull over were few and far between. My father responded to the emergency in his usual fashion. He yelled at my brothers to shut up. My mother responded in her usual fashion. She started giggling uncontrollably and rummaging in her purse for a tissue. I forgot about being carsick momentarily as my brothers began calling out, "It's coming out." My mother found the tissue in the nick of time and I relished the fact that my brothers were forced to catch Shep's crap in a Kleenex. Shep meanwhile continued to enjoy the scenary. Dogs are pretty nonchalant about such things.

Shep loved to go camping with us. He loved the outdoors. He was one of the few ones in the family (other than my oldest brother Ted) who actually liked to accompany my father fishing. He'd trot along for hours with his Beagle body and Dachsund legs without complaint as my father worked the Middle Fork of the Boise River for trout.

On one trip Shep actually saved Ted from drowning. Ted had waded out into a particularly deep portion of the river and lost his balance in the swift current. Shep, happened to be paddling around nearby and Ted grabbed his tail. Shep pulled him to shallow water (though I think he may been more interested in saving himself than Ted).

Shep lived to a ripe old age of about 12 years. To the end he loved the ladies (unlike the polictically correct society of today, we never had Shep "fixed"). Any chance he could, he'd be over the fence looking for a date. It's what eventually did him in. One night he never came home. My father went out looking for him and came back in about an hour crying and carrying Shep's limp body. He'd been hit by a car. It was one of the few times I'd ever seen my dad cry. I helped him bury Shep in the backyard under a tree. And we both wept together at the loss.

To this day, when I visit my mom in Boise and walk out into the backyard of the house I grew in, I think of Shep. I pay my respects at his grave and, though I'm not a religious man, I know his spirit is somewhere chasing the wind and laughing the way dogs do when they are happy.

And if this post seems maudlin to you, than so be it. Shep and I were children together and were best friends as only a boy and his dog (or a girl and her dog) can be. He was a good soul. I think he deserves a tribute.
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