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How our dog taught me to fetch.

It began when our local supermarket ran a ten-minute special on chicken parts while my thrifty little wife happened to be doing her daily grocery shopping. She of course loaded her cart with enough chicken parts to give every sailor and marine on the battleship New Jersey a late-night snack. This resulted in my being force-fed chicken parts under every possible disguise --minced, diced, pressed, ragouted, souffled, casseroled, you name it. And for the next four days straight, guess what my thrifty little wife brown-bagged for my lunch. You've got it.

Now meet Brutus, our wolf in dog's clothing. Brutus is half Great Dane, half Russian wolfhound and half Siberian Husky. In other words, a big dog. We acquired this beast for the small sum of $12,000, which we had given our daughter Shari to purchase a B.A. in fine arts at the University of Michigan. In return, she had left Brutus with us, including all rights and privileges, until she graduated. Four years later we rented a U-Haul trailer and took Brutus with us to her graduation. But somehow in the confusion she forgot to claim him. And somehow still hasn't.

Brutus is now 9 (or about 63 for you and me), an age when most dogs are ready to let the squirrels have the walnuts and the cat walk for the sandbox without detouring up a tree. An age when most dogs are content to lie by the fire or the air conditioner and meditate on memories of the sassy little Chihuahua that lived across the street and those happy mornings when they closed the front door and left the master outside in his pajamas looking for the paper. And with their appetites on the wane, most dogs of this vintage no longer knock over the garbage pail looking for tidbits or continue to scout the neighborhood in hopes of bringing down a moose. But this isn't Brutus.

Brutus has this thing about retirement. Under the pretext of catching moles, he still works long hours digging up the garden to save me the trouble of hoeing. And no matter how we protest that we'd rather do it ourselves, he insists on mulching our lawn with organic matter leaning heavily on bones, sparrow carcasses and choice bits from the trash burner. He has even gone into the next county to drag home a cow's skull and mount it in the rock garden off the back porch. His efforts also include protecting our home from visitors by placing both front paws on their shoulders and trying to slobber them to death.

To keep up this pace requires him, of course, to keep up his strength. Which in turn requires him to keep up his appetite. And when Brutus' appetite is up, dry dog food is like peanuts to him, and after a large can of Alpo he will look at you as if he's just had his hors d'oeuvres, bring on the entree.

Now, if I'm not too late, let me insert a warning right here: If you bring your dog chicken bones for four days straight and think you can come home barehanded on the fifth day with impunity, forget it. Unless, that is, you have a soul encrusted to the point where you can look into a pair of brown eyes large enough to serve as cable-TV dishes and say, "Sorry, boy, no chicken bones tonight."

Even if my tender nature had survived this, I'm a pushover when it comes to a dog drooling on my brief case. And then he began his roll-over trick as soon as he let me into the house. When this didn't produce the chicken, he resorted to his fail-proof gig of bringing the so-called master his slippers. By this time I was trying to hide behind the evening paper. But there's no reading the paper with that long, black nose ramming up under it and those cable-TV dishes staring you right in the face.

Removing my slippers, I put on my shoes, picked up my brief case, drove to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken and pretended to arrive home from work a second time.

You might think that anyone as smart as I am would have learned his lesson, wouldn't you? . . . I say, wouldn't you? Never mind. That Saturday night, however, I compounded my mistake by bringing home a doggie bag containing two steak bones from our night out at Ponderosa. By the quaint way he had of attacking me before attacking them, he let me know that the concept of the doggie bag belongs right up there with the fire hydrant and the yew tree. And the reason I dreamed of being swallowed by Jaws that night wouldn't have taken Freud five seconds to interpret.

For our next gastronomic foray out, my wife chose a Chinese restaurant. Instead of standing firm and overruling her, as I've often thought of doing, I stood soft and went along, as usual. Not that I'm allergic to Chinese food--their cuisine just isn't noted for doggie leftovers. This didn't occur to me again until we came home. Until Brutus met us at the door, to be exact, eyes aglow, tail awag, mouth adrool.

Reaching up and patting him on the head, I patiently explained that it wasn't feasible to fetch home a doggie bag every time we went out. I told him there would also be days when business luncheons would preclude my brown-bagging the bones from chicken parts. I even tried to get his feet off my shoulders by opening a can of his favorite cat food. Many a morning we'd seen him nose the cat halfway across the kitchen and beat her back to her dish before he turned to his own rations. Not tonight; no way. Who ever heard of a dog eating cat food!

So, with those accusing brown cable-TV dishes burning into mine as if I'd just signed an agreement to have him sterilized at dawn the next day, on went my shoes, my coat, the ignition, and it was off to ye olde White Tower hamburger shoppe for four with everything but pickles. "A dog that won't eat pickles can't be very hungry," I had once reasoned with Brutus, nearly losing my hand trying to retrieve one he hadn't touched.

The United Way victory dinner the following week was not enjoyed by one and all. One was nearly finished when he realized the committee had not taken Brutus into consideration when planning the menu. So one had tried to act the slob (not a particularly difficult role) by sopping up some gravy with a hard roll and surreptitiously slipping it into his napkin and thence into his pocket. But there is always some nosy dame at the functions who has nothing better to do than look around to see who might be sopping up gravy with a hard roll etc. So there went that.

"You go in," I said to Lois as we approached the front door empty-handed, or doggie bagless, to be precise, "and let me in through the bedroom window. Maybe Brutus will think I've been mugged and taken to the hospital." Which might have been the easy way out, at that.

Many things could be said about Brutus' whine, but No. 1 among the things, it's pervasive. It can pervase the kitchen door, the bedroom door, the bed covers and a pillow. Thus, around 2 a.m. I removed the pillow and the covers from my head, climbed out of bed, put on my clothes, pushed the car into the street and drove to the chicken place. The chicken place was closed. An hour later I found an all-night Steak 'n Shake. The hamburgers looked so good I ordered one for myself. Then I made the mistake of going into the house before eating mine. And there went that.

At least I learned my lesson.

Tonight Lois walked over to the theater, only three blocks away. But I took the scenic eight-block route past Pizza Hut to pick up a slab of pepperoni for Brutus. From the craning of necks, its aroma smelled up the theater at least six seats in back, in front and on each side of us. But turning 20 or 30 heads in a darkened theater sure beats driving 30 or 40 blocks in the dark of night and looking for a late-late snack for a big-big dog who by that time is in no mood for excuses.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1984
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