Good Dog: Back from the Grave
How one stray dog tempted fate and lived to bark about it
Good-to-be strays thrown out in the middle of the country by impatient and/or unready dog owners invariably crawl on their bellies, eyes up and pleading. I’ve never lived with loving and judicious ex-strays that didn’t appear in my yard, then come to me as if mimicking a Parris Island soldier-in-training forced to crawl beneath razor wire. River showed up thusly, as did Gypsy, Lily, and Sally. All my other ex-strays over the years—Nick, Maggie, Stella, Marty, et al—have been great dogs in their own ways, but they’ve never fully shaken the feral out of their coats.
My dog Dooley appeared on March 1, 2000. I went out to the front yard at dawn with my then-nine-year-old dog, River. Fog hung low. I could see my neighbor’s visiting mother-in-law a hundred yards away, a new dog beside her. I yelled out, “Hey, Dot, did Jim get a dog?”
With this, Dooley came running toward River and me. River—one of those mixed breeds that look like coyotes—didn’t growl, bark, or wag her tail. Dot yelled back, “No. That’s not our dog.”
Dooley—white and liver-spotted, mostly legs, thin as a whisper—dropped onto his belly, eyes up, with what looked like a smile. He crawled past a Leyland cypress, a fig tree that appears to be a bonsai, and a crab-apple tree. He reached River. They touched noses. I won’t lie here: At the time Glenda and I had eight ex-stray dogs and Herb the ex-stray cat controlling us, all of which emerged from the tree farm across the road, and I thought, I need to take this boy down to the Humane Society.
Dooley followed River and me inside. I put a bowl of dry food down for him and said to Glenda, “See if anyone wants a dog over at the school,” et cetera.
On this particular day I had to drive down to a detention center for juvenile delinquents in Alabama to teach them some fiction writing, oddly. I needed to get on the road, and wouldn’t return for three days. “We can’t afford another dog,” I said. I meant it, too.