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A Stray Dog Finds Its Home Pack

The only dog I ever owned was a pariah dog from Mississippi. A pariah dog is what results when breeds are mixed haphazardly over many years, the kind of dog you see in the slums of India and Asia.

My husband and I were just married and we lived in Mississippi from 1982 to 1983 and ran a small medical clinic. During the summer the people in the town dumped eight different puppies in our yard. They must have sensed we were soft hearted when it came to strays. We de-wormed and de-fleaed the puppies and fattened them up, and then got on the phone to call the SPCA. We were informed there was no SPCA in our county. We called the next county, where there was an SPCA and we were informed they would not take puppies from any county but their own.

Our friend, the postmaster, offered to dispatch the puppies by banging them on the head with a shovel, but we declined his offer. Instead, we got some chloroform from the druggist and killed the puppies ourselves. It was a heart-rending experience, but we were simply not able to keep all the dogs, and were unable to give them away, since strays were everywhere. We saved one, who we named Basil, and she was our marriage’s mascot. We loved her without reservation, and when I left my husband I felt a great deal of guilt about leaving the dog. I stuck to cats after that.

Recently my daughter got a dog. I was dubious about her decision to do so, since she is the lead singer in Della Mae, a band that is increasingly well known, and spends much of her time on the road. However, she lives with a fellow who has a 9 to 5 job and I figured he’d take care of the dog. They decided to get a rescue and chose a 2-year-old from South Carolina. (There are still many more strays in the south, and many of them are now shipped north.) They named the dog Charlie. He was a yellow, short-haired, mid-sized dog with a tail that curved jauntily up in the air. When they researched him they realized he was what’s called a South Carolina dog, the result of years of genetic mixing. He was somewhat traumatized by his years of being a stray, and threw up when he rode in a car. Apparently he’d been on his own his first year, but then an old man caught him and tied him up in the yard. He then spent a year tied to a post, before he was rescued. Perhaps as a result he was an escape artist, and was able to open windows with his nose and then tear out the screen and run free. He had stomach issues and often pooped in the wrong place. He had heart worm and required months of treatment. Still, they stuck with him, and he learned how to sit, lie down, sleep in a crate, stay, and generally behave himself.

It was then I got the phone call. My daughter spoke of other things and then said, “I need to ask you a big favor. Can you take Charlie for two weeks?” It turned out her boyfriend had to go to a conference and she was traveling around with her band. Of course, I agreed.

Charlie came with a wide array of belongings: toys, bones, medicine, blankets, shampoo, a crate. My daughter wrote two pages of instructions. We got the dog settled and left for lunch and when we came back Charlie had ripped all the screens on the second floor. (My daughter had closed the windows on the first floor.) My partner was none too pleased, but I managed to calm him down.

After my daughter left I took Charlie to meet my sister’s dogs. She lives just up the road from me, and has two females. Charlie was entranced, especially when one of my sister’s dog went into heat. He’d been fixed, but in the dim recesses of his memory he knew this was a special occasion. He played with them every day, and soon learned to go up to their house on his own. He’d always been afraid of water, but he learned to wade in the river, and forgot all his lessons about not begging. I fed him cheese and cat food, and gave him treats galore. I let him get on my bed. In other words, I spoiled him terribly, as grandmothers are wont to do. He had a grand old time. Even so, when he heard my daughter’s boyfriend’s car, he leapt up and went to the door. He was overjoyed to see them and they were just as glad to see his doggy smile.

Off they went, back to Portsmouth, where there are no woods in his backyard and no ladies up the street just waiting for a game of tag. But that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that two humans have finally chosen him, and he belongs to someone. That was all Charlie ever wanted.

The writer lives in Norwich. She can be reached at sybil.smith7@gmail.com.