April 29, 2007


As I sat and snuggled and kissed my puppy this morning, I thought of a title for a post: Dogs I Have Loved. I thought I'd write about the 4 dogs I've had: King, the German Shepherd; Daniel, the Brittany Spaniel; Josie, the Great Dane and now Ruby, the Bernese Mountain Dog, their personalities and some of the experiences I had with them. Then I realized I had plenty of stories of King himself. So this is the story of King. Yes, I'll save Dogs I Have Loved for another kind of post altogether.

My father taught with a lady, Marlise, who was married to an FBI agent. Her husband had trained and worked with a German Shepherd named King, who was 7 and retired by the time he came to us. Marlise and the agent got a divorce and due to housing arrangements, she got the dog. King was lonely all day and she found it hard to care for him, so somehow my dad ended up with an FBI-trained attack dog on the first day of summer break, 1977. I was 12, my sister, 6.

~Let me just say that my parents, Julie and I had NO dog experience. I think my mom, as a young girl, had a dog that she called across the street for dinner and watched get hit by a car. That's about it. So we went from no pets - oh, and I had a great phobia of strange dogs - to owning a dog that came complete with a command word that signalled him to kill someone.~

Every summer we went to my great-grandfather's farm. We did have some farm animals for a couple months out of the year. We had a goat, Carla, and some chickens, ducks, rabbits. On the day King came into our lives we were packing up the house and moving to the farm. I rode an entire hour with our new large attack dog sitting next to me, wondering what life would be like with our new pet, and sitting very still. Arriving at the farm, King nosed his way into the door of our broken down farm house first. Julie and I followed excitedly, bouncing from room to room, eyeing our good ole vacation home with anticipation of summer fun. In the dining room, with King at my side, I made a quick turn for the stairs to the bedrooms and suddenly felt King's jaws firmly around my right thigh. He held me in a stand for a moment and I, well, I stopped. My feet stopped, my arms stopped, my thoughts stopped, my circulation stopped. Then, with me marbleized in the dining room, he took to the stairs in a flash, patrolled through each room above me, and came robotically down the steps where he stood still at the bottom, giving me permission to proceed. And I, halting and agape, proceeded.

That day the balance of our family shifted. King was in control. It was: King...and the rest of us.

There was one thing King could not control. Carla. She was a large Saanan goat. His job of patrolling the suburbs for bad guys had evidently never led him to meet a goat and he was very interested in this life form. At the odd times that she was out and he got out, King would beeline toward her like a missile to a target and Carla, seeing the missile approaching, would enlarge to twice her size and use her one small horn, disabled and stunted in a de-horning mishap, to git 'em! Right in the mouth. King would then make a beeline back to us, bloodied and humbled, like a guy in a bar whose suave advances had just been turned down by the quick wit of a foxy lady who wasn't havin'.

But other than that, King was in control - of us, of the infinite radius around him, of himself. King didn't play with us girls no matter how we pestered. We'd tease, poke, tempt, tickle and treat King to get him to loosen up and just enjoy life a little. He'd lay there stern and statuesque like a British guard and we were the princesses. At meal times he would lay just outside a comfortable perimeter of the table and face in a tangential direction. King was even in control of our visitors. A couple friends and I were chatting, sitting in a circle around King on my living room floor and Patti began to imitate King's heavy breathing. When he'd had enough, he stood and put his jaws around Patti's entire skull and just stood there. We all gasped. And Patti stopped teasing him. Being out of total control, for King, was an uncomfortable and foreign feeling. Once while we were out he had a bout of diarrhea and exploded all over my electric race track. When we came home he was as distraught as a being could be, like he was standing on a bridge ready to take his own life, like he'd just mistakenly killed the Easter bunny. The poor thing was emotionally wrecked for 24 hours.

There are two basic story lines of our lives with King. There is the How He Protected Us storyline and the How He Crossed the Line story line.

How He Protected Us.
Patty, my friend from across the street, used to babysit my sister. Patty knew King well and King knew Patty well. King did not know Patty's father well. One night, while Julie slept, Patty got spooked when she thought she'd heard something suspicious upstairs. Evidently, Patty didn't know King that well or she would have understood that things were always safely in his control. Nonetheless Patty called her dad over to check on things. She explained to him, with King by her side, that she'd heard something upstairs, so he walked over to the steps to check things out. He put one foot on the bottom step and King, like a light switch, turned on growling and snarling and barking. So Patty's dad lifted his foot off the bottom step and it quickly occurred to the two of them that there was absolutely no foreigner hiding upstairs.

I credit King for saving me from great harm. Not only did he once take me home when I was hopelessly lost in a dense woods behind the farm...I just finally and desperately said, "Go home, King" which was all he needed to click into his inner compass and launch our spaceship home. I followed him through brambles and over creeks, like a deep-sea fisherman holding on to "the big one." King also saved me from a stranger at my door one night. When I think back to this 10 minutes of my life, I feel in my chest a deep dread coupled with a deeper thankfulness. I was 12, and home alone. Around 9 o'clock there was a knock at the back door. It was a young guy and I spoke to him through a window at the porch. He wanted to come in and use my phone and I told him, naively, that I couldn't let him in because I was alone. He kept trying to convince me to let him come in and being the sap that I was, I actually began to consider it, until I realized that King was throwing himself - in a rage - against the other side of the door at which the stranger stood. Finally I offered, "I don't think my dog is going to let you in anyway." He turned and left. I watched from a window in a dark room as he walked away, passing house after house in my crowded neighborhood, never stopping at another door for the phone he so desperately needed. And I clung tightly to King, who was sitting valiantly at my side. I've often wondered how my life could have been horribly changed that night, if it hadn't been for my protector.

How He Crossed the Line.
Johnny (pictured two posts below in the blue shiny jacket) was a fun little rascal in our neighborhood. He was the middle child of three boys and he was always up for stirring the stew for a little attention. When King was on his line, Johnny would stand across the yard and attempt to guess his "word" to set him on attack. "Sic'em!" "Git'em!" "Kill!" He taunted King and King would jump around at the end of his line and wish to taunt Johnny back. Then one day Johnny was standing innocently by when I took King off his line for dinner and King made another one of those beelines straight for Johnny's hiney. Johnny got off real real easy. King was a good teacher, firm but not too heavy-handed. Johnny ran home crying where his mom spanked him soundly.

Then there were the kittens of Patiferlynnlie, our wild and mean barn cat, named after parts of my, my friends' and my sister's names. There were kittens in the wagon garage...King, without any prior knowledge of the kittens in the wagon garage, got out of our station wagon...without a moment's hesitation, he made a direct and purposeful beeline to the wagon garage...he lifted all kittens out of the nest in one mouthful...and just like that there were no longer kittens in the wagon garage. King and Patiferlynnlie had other adventures that could be filed under: Times when King had no control.

Finally, King pushed my mom too far and this is the story of how I ended up in my attic bedroom crying and watching King leave in Marlise's car. My Uncle Joe was visiting us down at the farm and he and I took King across the street in the schoolyard to play with a Frisbee. It was a thick 100 degree day. When we all got too miserably hot and tired in the blazing sun, we returned home. I ran into the house to get King some water, King retreated into his favorite cool hole under the barn door and Uncle Joe tried to call King to the water. When he wouldn't follow, Joe, having never quite understood the suggestion to let resting dogs lie, grabbed King's choker to take him there. Yanking King's choker was part of his attack command and perhaps King became confused in his overheated, fatigued state. Or perhaps he wanted to make a point. When I heard Joe screaming my name I thought King and Carla were at it again. I sprung out the kitchen door and saw King skulking back to his hole and Uncle Joe standing in the driveway bleeding from his leg and hand. Hospital, stitches, King locked in spare room. Mother freaked her last freak over us having an attack dog as a family pet, Dad sadly called Marlise and King spent the rest of his happy days living at Marlise's retired parents home with plenty of room to run and not so much people interaction.

King, the day he left

There are many other stories of King, like him always passing gas under the piano while my mom gave lessons or the times when my great-grandfather at 90+ would come to visit us at his farm and tell us in his loud commanding voice to "Take that wolf outta here." Or the time I took him downtown and he nearly attacked my classmate Danny for staring at him a tad too long. Or the time my father was throwing sticks into the lake for him to fetch and then, without breaking sequence, threw my sister in. It was an honest mistake on King's part and Julie was very thin. You get the idea, he was an experience for all who met him. That's the story of King, the most amazing dog I ever had.


Kathy said...

What an amazing dog! Great stories, too!

Paul said...

"Some dog!" Charlotte said.

Pearl said...

I'm glad you remember him so fondly. He had a distinct personality. Perhaps if human he would have been an excellent numbers or tech person, or as yo say, royal guard.