A Dog Story

His name was Al. In the days before we knew him very well, we'd had loftier expectations and registered him as "Greenbrier's Alex." We should have known better, for even his arrival was fraught with misconceptions.

In the late 1970's and into the 1980's, one of the top family TV shows was The Dukes of Hazzard. It told of the escapades of a couple of back country cousins and featured a souped up Dodge Charger called The General Lee. One of the regular characters was Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, who was always trying to outsmart the Duke Boys. His faithful sidekick was a laid back Basset hound named Flash. Our kids loved the show and we particularly loved Flash, who was rarely roused to do anything more than get up on the seat of the police cruiser. So, when we felt the time was right for a dog, we decided we needed our own Flash.

In retrospect, this was far from being my finest hour and I may never live it down. Who am I kidding? There is no "may" about it. Here's how it unfolded:

I scoured the nightly want ads (acoustic ebay) looking for someone who was selling a Basset. Eventually, my search paid off. A woman was looking for a buyer for a six month old puppy--&75 or best offer. I was excited. The kids were excited. I made an appointment to check it out. A few of the kids went with me.

We were only in the place a few minutes, when a roly poly bundle of fur and floppy ears came charging out into the room, toenails clicking and oversized feet sliding on the bare wood floor. In a second, he was in our arms, wriggling and lapping our faces with his tongue, and all of our hearts immediately melted. This was where he belonged. Permanently.

Which left only the finances to be decided. Best offer, huh? I knew there was someone else coming to see the dog and I wanted to be the person with the best offer. Therefore, I told myself, I had to go higher than the $75. "I'll give you $125," I blurted out. Surely that would win the auction. I know, I know. I have endured gales of laughter every time that story is told, so now I know and have for a long, long time. But hey, I got the dog!

Which is when Al began to show his true colors. At six months old, I guess I figured he'd be at least paper trained. Wrong again. And he didn't really show any interest in it. Not for quite a long, long time. Besides the canned stuff, he considered almost anything "food." He had quite a liking for butter, even to the point of getting up on the kitchen table to chow down when nobody was looking. He once even crunched up a pair of eyeglasses that had been carelessly left within his reach. He wasn't leash-trained, either, resulting in daily walks being more of a daily drag, literally.

The kids adored him. I'd often find a pile of them curled up with Al on top of a floor heater watching television. "See, Al?" they'd say. "There's Flash!"

Al's "home" was a huge cushioned wicker basket that was parked under the counter of our lower level kitchen. The end of the counter was supported by a post and we'd hook him up to the post by his leash. I did have one rule that, most of the time, was obeyed. The dog wasn't allowed in the carpeted parts of the house--living room, dining room, bedrooms.

If you don't know anything about Basset hounds (and want to), I'd advise you to watch an early Tom Hanks movie called Turner and Hooch. Hooch was a French mastiff, much larger than Al, but with the same propensity for--well, there's no polite way of saying it--slobbering. When these dogs shake their heads, it goes flying and the devil only knows where it will land. I got to the point where I wished it would always land on me, rather than the back of the bookcase that separated the kitchen from the family room. Clothes were easier to wash than the back-breaking labor of scrubbing an expanse of wood. Eeeeuuuu, as they say. And enough of that.

I never found out until later, but a favorite activity the kids dreamed up was to put Al in his basket and send it like a sled down the basement stairs, much like the dog Max in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

But by far, the best part of Al's life, according to him, was Tuesday night, otherwise known as Garbage Night. Pickups were on Wednesday morning, so all up and down the street and throughout the development, people set out their metal or plastic cans the night before. And Al knew it. You could almost see the excitement building throughout the day. The entire household would go on alert, because we knew he was plotting his strategy for escape. Front door? Back fence? It would have to be a split second decision. Would I stick my head out to call one of the kids? Between my legs or however he could manage it, he'd be gone. The backyard was fully enclosed by a rickety wooden fence. Under the pretense of needing a potty break, he'd go along each side, nosing the slats gently until he found one that wiggled. A few more nudges and he was out, never to be seen again until the wee hours when, his body stuffed like a sausage, he'd bark to be let in. And out. And in. And out, and so on through the night. If you've ever overdone it at some country kitchen buffet, you probably know how he felt.

There were other exploits--the time he ate an entire coffee cake, or when he pulled me on cross country skis through a park and suddenly took off after a squirrel, or rolled in the manure at a relatives farm, or--it goes on.

Life eventually caught up with Al. He went blind and then his back gave out on him. It was sad to see this rambunctious animal that had caused us so much frustration and tumult and at the same time, given so much loyalty and love, reduced to pulling himself around with his two front paws. The decision was made.

I stayed with Al until the end, as I'd been with him from the beginning and most of his days in between. As the last breath left him, I closed my eyes and saw him in his glory days--ears a-flap and tail wagging as he came charging through the snow to greet me. He'd been worth every penny of that $125.

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