Junior

Junior
 
We lived in an unofficial community of small”ranches” called Rolling Oaks, which was a wondrous land of no hills and no oaks, obviously named by someone with a sense of humor. It had been the Bailey Ranch until the old man died and his grandchildren (who had been raised rich and wanted no part of working a ranch) sold it to a real estate developer for some fast cash.
 
It was South Florida in 1970 and I was living in the middle of grasslands next to the Everglades and loving it. Life was still pretty simple and uncomplicated in those days.
 
The prelude
 
My trusty companion Thor the Wonder Dog, was always with me when I went out and about. There were times when I was either gone to school or doing the rodeo thing, or inside doing homework, or for whatever reason, not around for him to watch over. At such times he was left to find his own means of amusement and he was quite good at it.
 
There were times when you could quite literally smell Thor coming up the road before he even got to the gate, which was one hundred and sixty feet from the house at the end of the driveway. He had a real penchant for killing skunks. Of course, he paid for it every time by getting sprayed by the poor creatures. Then I had to scrub him down with tomato juice and/or vinegar and Tide laundry detergent and anything else that I could find. None of which deterred him from going after another skunk at the first opportunity.
 
The only thing Thor hated more than skunks was cats. A big tom cat had attacked him inside of his doghouse when he was only twelve weeks old and he never forgot or forgave the species.
 
If you could have seen this great beast at his full one hundred and twenty pounds with his shiny coat and energetic manner of moving, you would have been impressed. At the time of this story he was three years old and all male in his habits and attitudes.
 
He was a German Shepherd with a nose like a Bloodhound and could smell a female dog in heat for miles. Which lead to his other consuming passion, (which I’m sure you can guess) besides killing skunks and cats. I once drew up plans for a male “chastity belt” for him but couldn’t figure out how to secure it on him to where he couldn’t chew through it.
 
There were a lot of dogs in our spread out mini-ranch community, everybody had at least one and some had their own packs. It was often necessary to have Thor along just to be able to safely walk to some areas of the “neighborhood.” He knew them all, and they all knew him and stayed way back from us, not eager to test their mettle against this black and tan warrior. I was glad; I hated dog fights and hated getting dog bit even more.
 
To the north of our place was a gentleman who was either the first or second person to settle in the area when they split the old ranch up and he considered the rest of us “squatters” or intruders of some kind. He was not the friendliest sort of guy and was prone to temper tantrums and yelling. You could hear him over the half mile between our houses like he was standing next to you.
 
He did have one redeeming feature (as far as I was concerned anyway) in that he owned a beautiful silver and black German Shepherd female who was not only registered, but had her Champion title from the dog shows. She was a sweet girl, always friendly and would try to come and visit us when we worked on the fence bordering their property, or rode by on the horses.
 
If the man was home when she visited us she got severely chastised, at times even whipped with a belt. The man hitting her made Thor very angry and he would growl way down deep in his chest. I knew that the big dog was just hoping that I would give him the word, so he could “deal” with this abusive human, but of course I never did; I wanted to, but I knew better.
 
When dogs run free in any area there will inevitably be an accidental breeding, or shall I say an unplanned breeding, or an “oops litter” if you will. Being the owner of a dominant male dog who ranged far and wide in his solitary travels, quite a few fingers could be pointed in our direction. Most of the sensible people who had female dogs, had them spayed to prevent this problem. I don’t know why the idea of neutering our male dogs never came up. It would have helped too.
 
Our neighbor to the north did not have his female spayed as she was a valuable breeding commodity to him. His female German Shepherd came into heat and before he could arrange for a suitable stud, one was provided for him, or several possibly, we never knew for sure.
 
There is a lot to be said for adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The man had locked his dog in the garage while he went to town thinking that she would be unreachable there. On the side of that two car garage there was a “jalousie window” type of door that would prove his theory wrong.
 
For those of you who don’t know about “jalousie windows,” this door had a center section of three inch glass panels running horizontally across the door and installed in a framework which allows them to be opened or closed for ventilation, similar to Venetian blinds, and with a screen to keep the bugs out. The windows were cranked all the way open at the time of the “dastardly doggie deed.”
 
I don’t know if it was Thor, or another dog who figured out the way to do what they wanted to do. I do know that the female was very much a willing participant in the “act.” They somehow removed two window panes at the correct height, and then chewed a hole in the screen. The female backed up to the open spot and the male dog stood up on its hind legs and copulated with her through the door. It was quite ingenious if you think about… and she wasn’t your dog.
 
The owner of the female came home in time to see Thor next to the garage, not in the act, but suspect none the less. He snatched his shotgun out of the gun rack in his truck and attempted to fire at the, “I’m going home now, but I’ll call you, I promise…” Thor.
 
Luckily for the dog (and the man) there wasn’t a shell in the chamber. By the time he figured it out, cycled the pump action, and then got off a shot, the dog was out of range and only suffered from the noise of the blast… Thor was terribly afraid of loud noises.
 
Enter Junior
 
Skip ahead in time now to about fifteen weeks later.
 
The grumpy neighbor from our north pulled up in our driveway in his truck and slammed it to a stop by putting the truck in park before it has stopped moving. That was something that he did frequently and then grumbled about the “lousy quality of truck transmissions these days.”
 
He piled out of that truck in his bullish way and with his usual scowl on his face. Thor was standing next to me, on guard and silently shaking with anger (not fear) waiting for me to turn him loose on the man. I wondered if this was going to be the “big showdown” or something.
 
There was never any concern that the man would hurt me, but I did have a real fear that if he reached for me my dog would seriously hurt him. That would cause the police to come and they would take Thor to the pound for quarantine and there would be lawsuits, etc.
 
The big bully reached into his truck bed, turned, and then he swung a beautiful silver and black ball of fur into my arms. Before I could get a grip, he let go and turned around to get back into the truck… and the worst thing happened. That squirming puppy went right on through my arms and fell head first onto the concrete. It landed on the crest at the back of its skull and died from the impact, just like it had been clubbed.
 
The man said to me, “Why did you do that? It was your damn dog that got me into this mess….” and then he shut up. I guess the look on my face told the story plain enough. It was an awful heart wrenching event; a real sick to the stomach, going into shock experience. I could do nothing but stand there and hold onto Thor’s collar as his growl became audible and his intentions became clear.
 
My neighbor reached into the back of his truck, grabbed another puppy and handed it to me, making sure that I had a grip on it this time. He picked up the dead one and tossed it into the bed of the truck, like so much garbage. The man then said that “he should just dump the whole damn litter on our doorstep” and ground the starter and the truck once again came to life. He stomped the gas pedal and fired his vehicle backwards out of our gate, barely missing a pole that I promise he could not have moved. It would have killed his truck deader than that sweet puppy.
 
This new puppy (when I could stand to look at it) was just laying there in my arms. It had the dopiest look on its face and then blasted me with a welcoming “green cloud” that would peel paint. He was colored similar to Thor, but had more of a rust brown (vs. tan) color to his “markings” and he had short hair.
 
So, “OK” I thought, “if Thor was partially responsible or whatever, I guess we were kind of honor bound to take this little monster.” In a hopeful moment, I named him “Junior.”
 
From the very beginning, Junior spent every day proving that he was NOT a chip off of Thor’s old block. His coat never grew any longer, something very odd for a puppy supposedly from two German Shepherds; in fact he looked more like a hound.
 
Then one day I saw a large male Doberman trotting over to the neighbor’s house and he went straight to the side door of the garage and sniffed at the spot where the hole was before. The neighbor had replaced the entire screen and the two glass pieces immediately after the incident took place. That dog didn’t hang around for very long, but long enough for me to grab a horse and follow it to the house nearest to the entrance to Rolling Oaks. His home was straight up the road from the “scene of the crime.”
 
Now that I was fairly sure as to the real parentage of this knucklehead puppy, I wasn’t nearly as embarrassed. He wasn’t Thor’s puppy, of that I was convinced.
 
Junior was an opportunist in the extreme. He found out how to get the dog food barrel open and drug the entire unopened fifty pound bag out of the overturned barrel and onto the concrete parking area in front of the garage door… about twenty five feet away. He then proceeded to rip open the bag and eat until he looked like a dead cow that had been out in the sun for days. It was hard to believe that his body could stretch that far. Thor wouldn’t even come near the bag of food; he knew trouble when he saw it!
 
I didn’t know that the little troublemaker of a pup had done all of this until Dad got into his truck and backed out of the garage, not even thinking to look behind the truck. You didn’t have to worry, dogs got out of the way when you started the truck… at least normal ones did.
 
The truck ran over Junior with both tires on the driver’s side, naturally making a bump each time, which clued Dad that something wasn’t right. And he was correct. That should have been the end of the story and of Junior, right? Wrong!
 
Not only was the dog not killed, he didn’t even bother to get up. Junior had definite tire tracks across his middle, just like you had painted them on; black zig zag lines. He just lay there burping and farting from eating most of 50 pounds of dog food and would occasionally wag his tail a couple of thumps and moan and groan.
 
The only thing that we could figure was that he was so packed with food that it supported the approximately 3,500 pounds of weight of the full sized half ton truck going over him. Junior showed absolutely no ill effects from the “parking block” imitation that he did, and we often remarked that his real parents were obviously aliens.
 
Junior chewed everything that he could get a hold of. He was so different from the well behaved dog that Thor had conditioned us to expect, that he was not a favorite of any one in or around our house. He not only ate all of the dog food, if you weren’t watching he would eat the horses sweet feed too.
 
We made the mistake of allowing him to chew the pieces of hoof that the blacksmith had removed when shoeing the horses. When he ran out of those trimmed pieces he would try to chew on a horse’s hoof while they were sleeping.
 
My cousin’s old cranky palomino kicked him square in the forehead once for doing just that, and again we were ready to start digging a hole for his last remains. The horse had kicked him so hard that we figured that his skull was crushed. After flying through the air for about twenty feet, he parted two 55 gallon drums full of feed and ended up against the fence pole behind them.
 
It was all I could do to move those barrels; they weighed more than I did. He crawled out from between the barrels and the post and staggered over to the shade beside the house; where I looked him over. Junior had a horseshoe impression on his head that never really went away. But the idiot was fine, no lasting damage from a kick that by all rights should have killed him.
 
My buddy (and neighbor, two miles away) David had animals of all kinds running around his place. His parents were a bit different than most I knew at the time. They were not your basic conservative types… more of the anything goes variety.
 
I didn’t know what hippie parents were like before meeting them, but they were. The father was kind of half and half, having to keep his hair short and wear a suit to work in the conservative business world and then switching gears when he got home. David’s mom was 100% hippie.
 
At times their house would smell of freshly smoked weed and frequently there would be adults (not just David’s parents) walking around without clothes on. It was a teenaged boy’s dream world. David and I never spoke about any of this at my house. Don’t get the wrong impression, their house was always very neat and clean. David’s dad was a very well paid executive so they had plenty of money to live on. They just did things their way.
 
David had all the usual animals; a dog, cats, birds, fish, a horse. Then there was a raccoon, and a pig named Nancy that followed us around and was well trained and very smart. He also had a monkey that they couldn’t handle anymore. It had matured and figured out that it was a monkey and not a human, and wouldn’t play nice at all. The monkey cage was always kept padlocked.
 
His dog had gotten run over by a delivery semi out on the main road through our area and now he was short one critter. Being the good buddy that I was, and having two dogs of my own I offered to give him Junior. I could share and Thor would not get along well with all those other animals crowding his space… so it would have to be the puppy. I was not sure if my ulterior motives were transparent or not.
 
I really expected his mother to say no, but shockingly she said, “That’s really sweet, of course David can have the puppy.” We departed immediately for my house and gathered up Junior and his collar and tags, and hauled him to David’s house where he would reside for the rest of his days. My parents must have been happy to see the dog go, but they never said so.
 
It didn’t take long for Junior to “endear” himself to his new family. And it wasn’t much longer than that for both of David’s parents to stop speaking to me unless they had to. Junior had a knack, a gift even, for causing trouble. He would open the animal cages and eat their food, while the creatures wandered about, some of them deciding to relocate permanently.
 
If there were little baby animals around he would round them up into a corner and not let them leave or get back in their pens. He would even go to the neighbor’s houses and steal kittens and bunnies. The goofball didn’t hurt them, he just corralled them and wouldn’t let them go anywhere until a human came and freed them. One positive thing that I can say about him is that he never hurt any living thing in his life.
 
Junior also liked to turn on the outside water faucet and sit under it with it running on his head while he leaned against the house and fell asleep. And, just like a kid, he never turned it off again. There would be a veritable lake on whichever side of the house that he decided to take his bath. Once it ran for an entire weekend while they were gone to a festival. I can still hear David’s dad yelling about the bill for that pump running non-stop all that time. They removed all of the faucet handles after that episode.
 
I thought for sure that Junior had finally done it when he decided to drink green house paint. The enterprising dog found a one gallon can in their “supposed to locked” shop and of course immediately turned it over and it got all over everything on the floor of that building.
 
Being crazy, the dog licked up a bunch of the normally toxic liquid and rolled in it. He then had a new green coat, which he used to go on a painting spree around their place. The dog rubbed up against their white car, the tan stucco finish on their new house, and of course the laundry hanging on the line and the rugs on the porch. Somehow, for some reason that defies rationality, he survived again.
 
Junior came close to getting blown to smithereens for being a thief. He was an uncontrollable and unrepentant shoe thief (and doormats too.) The dog would go around the entire area at night and steal whatever shoes were left outside on the porch, which was very common in mud country. He would then go back around and nab all the doormats and little rugs that might be on the porch. He brought all of this contraband back home (to David’s house thankfully) and hid it in a recessed corner behind a big bush on the side of the house.
 
After Junior was seen leaving a house with a man’s new leather Florsheims (which he had gotten muddy and sat on the front porch to clean later) and had a blast from a shotgun come close enough to leave a little “proof” embedded in his backside, the mutt was followed to his hideout and the goods were discovered. Some of it had come from as far as four miles away.
 
I liked Junior more and more as time went on… I was exceptionally fond of the fact that he wasn’t my dog.
When I left Florida, Junior was still residing with the same family, and still beating the odds.
 
When I talked to David in 1973, Junior had been shot twice and stuck in an electric fence all night once (by accident I’m sure) and was still going strong. David’s dad finally got his way and Junior had to wear a muzzle when he was out of their sight. The muzzle wasn’t because he might bite someone, but so that the dog couldn’t pick anything up with his mouth and carry it home. Knowing Junior, he would find a way around that too… I had faith in him.
 
If someone were to tell me that Junior was still alive, forty plus years after his birth, I would have to believe them. Maybe his parents really were Aliens after all.
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