Many years ago a small, starved mongrel dog showed up in our front yard and adopted Trudy and me. At the time our veterinarian estimated he was about a year and a half old. We have always wondered where he came from and how and where he had lived his first years.
Recently, Trudy and I convinced Little Jack, the name we gave to him, to dictate his backstory, and I have acted as scribe to write it down. Below is the first part of Little Jack’s story, describing his early years and adventures. I hope you enjoy Little Jack’s story.
Tom Hutton- Ed.
A Mouthful of Collars –
As for my beginning, I don’t actually remember all that much. After all that was eight and a half long years ago- almost 60 when measured in dog years. But I have some recall of pleasant sensations and feelings.
You see I have vague memories of warm, soft, and squirmy bodies pushing up against me in the dog box and also of getting kicked in the face by soft paws. I also remember a large, raspy tongue licking me, and the licks feeling really good. Those licks made me feel loved, well cared for, and gave me a sense of belonging.
While the other puppies provided warmth in the pile, the competition with them for Mama’s teats proved fierce. More than once another hungry pup knocked me off a milk-producing fountain of life. I soon learned to climb over the doggie pile, use gravity to my advantage, and dive downward, wedging another puppy’s greedy snout from that sweet smelling milk. I learned early that life was for those who most wanted it and took it.
Once attached to Mama’s milk bottle I would suck lazily until my belly was full and sleep claimed me. I would purposefully let milk dribble from the corner of my mouth and down my chin, just so Mama would have to clean me up. Her warm, scratchy bathing of me along with a full belly were just about the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. Life was really good in the dog box.
But let me back up for a moment. Why am I, a dog, telling a human, my story anyway? Well, I’m doing this because Pickup Man knows nothing whatsoever about my first eighteen months of life (that is over 10 long dog years, you know). So here goes.
Later when I first opened my eyes, I saw my Mama, brothers, and sisters. Mama was lovely but extremely large. I recall she was careful not to lie down on her puppies, turning round and round before finally taking her central place in the dog box. My brothers and sisters remained wiggly and driven to obtain more than their fair shares of Mother’s milk. All the puppies had a wholesome dog smell about them that was pungent, penetrating, and juvenile.
Yes, on the whole my early days were happy ones. Mama loved her puppies, but I’m pretty sure that she loved me best. Her unhurried tongue baths over my back and chin made me smile, sleep, and feel prized. When Mama would leave the box, we puppies would take this as a signal to tussle. We’d have mock battles trundling about on wobbly legs and growling as ferociously as we could. Never did we intend to hurt one another, but we had some good bluffers in the litter. The idea was to make the other pup back down. I think I was best at it. I sounded dangerous and most of the time proved successful at tricking my litter mates.
Shortly after my eyes had opened I noticed that I was one of the smallest of Mama’s six puppies. Learning this inconvenient fact proved a blow to my young personality. Later I heard a human talk about “it’s not the size of the dog, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters.” I thought that nicely described my place in our litter. Besides, I was always self-confident and smarter than the rest of my dim witted and easily bluffed litter mates.
I remember the first time human hands scooped me up and lifted me high into the air. I saw this massive head with a beard and for the first time heard the sound of a human voice up close. I soon learned that humans talk a lot, sometimes even nonstop, but they had to be trained to understand dog communication. Some humans are better at this than others. Some humans just don’t pay enough attention in order to understand dog talk.
“Say Ethel, this little brown one sure likes to tussle. He acts pretty scrappy heh, heh. Whaddaya say we call him Scrapper?” I recall smelling bacon on the man’s breath, as he said this. It was the first time I had sniffed bacon and it smelled heavenly. Always have liked bacon.
“Whatever you say, Henry.” Her voice was higher pitched than Henry’s and held a note of resignation and even indifference. She sounded submissive, but she also smelled of bacon. If she knew how to prepare something that smelled that good, I knew we would get along just fine. Not only are we dogs good at smelling, we also are able to interpret emotions in our human companions. I think we are better at this than are most humans.
I liked the sound of that description of the fight in the dog being most important; because I feared that I’d never be the biggest dog around. I wouldn’t ever back down to one of my litter mates or, later in my life to most other animals when facing danger. I’ve always had a strong life force, something that later saved me when I’d lost my way and was all alone on the road. But forgive me I’m getting ahead of my story. I tend to do that a lot. Now where was I?
The next memory I recall was Henry and Ethel taking me and the other puppies into the yard to play. Wow that yard smelled good! It was full of flowery smells, aromatic fresh soil, and redolent of leafy trees. This was so much different from the usual puppies smells to which I had become accustomed that it made my nose tingle and twitch. My tail wagged so widely, it made my whole back end sway from side-to-side. I just love the out-of-doors.
By then Henry and Ethel had given all us puppies names: Lady, Tramp, Dusty, Tex, Henrietta, and me, Scrapper. Actually the names of the other puppies meant little to me, as I identified them by their scents along with the noises each one made. Every puppy had a different and distinctive tone to its whimper and bark. Each also had a distinguishing scent, and I recall how heavenly Mama smelled with her overlay of enticing milk scents.
On the day we pups were taken out of the box and carried outside, the yard in addition to smelling inviting was also warm. I felt for the first time a gust of breeze that ruffled my fur and carried a variety of unknown mixed scents and fragrances. These stirred my curiosity.
I recall crawling through the grass, exploring the yard. The dog box had been confining, and now I found more space to discover. Mama let us play about, so long as we didn’t get too far away from her. If we did, she would walk over all stiff legged and annoyed looking, grab hold of the scruff of our necks and drag us back to our play area– and mind you, she did this none too gently. I received the free ride several times that day. You see, the many temptations in the yard were simply too great.
Long green things kept getting in my way and slowing down my progress. You see, I’ve always been in a hurry my whole life. I growled at those green stalks and attacked them and even chewed on the stalks of grass. The grass failed to dodge my charge and frankly didn’t taste very good either, certainly not as good as Mama’s milk. Plus there were just too many of them to knock down or chew up.
Later in the day Henry gathered me up, carried me in his hands back into the house, and placed me back into a freshly cleaned cardboard box with sweet smelling towels. There I promptly fell asleep. Attacking grass all afternoon and exploring the outdoors can really wear a puppy out, you know.
Who’d have ever imagined that such a big world existed outside our cardboard box? I became intrigued by what must happen out there and even dreamed about it. I determined that one day I would explore that big wide world- explore it all. That warm day in the grass had opened my eyes in a different way and promised new possibilities for my future.
One day Henry showed up at our dog box carrying six brand new dog collars. He placed a small collar around each pup’s neck and precisely adjusted it to fit. I was proud of my leather collar and especially liked its evocative smell of new leather. My collar gave me a measure of status and, I thought, indicated maturity.
The other dog’s collars soon became tempting targets for sneak attacks during our mock battles. I would bite down on a collar and hold on. Despite their bucking and barking, the other puppies simply could not shake me off. My success at this added to my growing feelings of power over the other puppies.
As time went by, I grew stronger and bigger. But while I was still smaller than the other puppies, I tried harder at games than my furry litter mates. Soon I was able to run around and make quick turns. My balance wasn’t good at first and more than once I sprawled out on the slippery kitchen floor. I would quickly right myself and have another run at it. I was never what you might call a quitter.
Tex was my best buddy in the litter. He and I would play together: wrestling, pulling on a rope, chasing after a ball, and stealing toys from our brothers and sisters. Tex was a big black puppy with long, floppy ears. I loved to tug on his ears. I would sneak an attack on Tex by jumping on his back, so as to knock him to the ground. Being able occasionally to known down the biggest puppy in the litter grew my self-confidence.
We also learned that if Tex and I ran together at the other puppies, we could scare them off or else cause them to flatten themselves before our doggie charge. We would run fast and growl our fiercest in our attempts to dominate them. This tactic proved especially practical when we saw Mother coming with intent to feed us.
Once when Tex and I were playing in the yard, I came across a strange bug with bent long hind legs. It used those strange legs to jump from place to place rather than scamper about, as did we puppies. I followed the strange bug around the yard and made several unsuccessful attempts to capture it. When an approaching Tex distracted it, I managed to bite and hold onto its tail. Despite its attempts to hop away, I held fast. Soon Tex arrived and bit down on its front end.
What fun we had then! We pulled and pulled, having a great old time in our new version of tug-of-war. To our great surprise, we actually pulled that bug apart. This pretty much put an end to our pulling contest, but it was loads of fun while it lasted.
Not knowing what else to do with that funny looking bug, we decided we might as well eat it. That proved a big mistake, a huge mistake, as it tasted just terrible- very bitter. Yuck! But what a lark, we had chasing and pulling on that strange bug. That insect was my very first kill, but to this day, that bug was the least tasty.
To Be Continued-
Tagged: A Mouthful of Collars, Creative Nonfiction, distinguishing scents, Dog Story, dogs, freedom of the road, life in the dog box, Little Jack Kerouac, long journeys, Mama's milk bottle, mongrel dogs, puppyhood, stalking grasshoppers, Texas Hill Country