Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction

Puppy Love- Part IV and Conclusion of Jack’s Story

Editor’s Note: This is the concluding episode of Little Jack’s backstory. He clearly has enjoyed dictating his story, and I have enjoyed writing it down. I have learned Jack is an amazing little brown dog with a far more interesting and heroic background than i had suspected. He and I hope you have enjoyed his story. Jack has certainly enjoyed his fan mail.

 

Little Jack dictating his story

 

I knew I couldn’t survive much longer on my own. By then I had learned the pitfalls of being a lone dog on the road. Eating whatever I managed to catch had proven too infrequent to sustain myself. Moreover dodging guard llamas and donkeys, avoiding fierce horses, evading cars and trucks, and barely escaping the clutches a mountain lion had taken their toll on my freedom-loving doggie spirit. I was ready to exchange a few biscuits of freedom for a bowlful of security.

The following afternoon I trotted along the country road until it passed through a ranch entrance. There the road became an even smaller byway.

A sign at the ranch entrance

I then traveled up a steep hill. With the climb my paw pads became progressively sorer and my belly increasingly empty. When I lifted my nose from the ground, I saw a white stone house perched high upon the hill. It became a distant visual target that encouraged my flagging hopes. I knew exhaustion would soon overcome me if I couldn’t find rest and food. What did I have to lose by proceeding up the hill to its summit? Might this signal what I had been searching for my whole life?

Shortly after arriving in the front yard of the house, I heard a noisy, old pickup grinding its way up the hill. Fear welled up within me, as I had suffered close calls from such vehicles. I tried to hide, but could find no good place to do so.

Soon out of the truck stepped a clean-shaven man who was quickly followed by two large dark and white dogs. The dogs that later I learned were Border collies sensed my presence almost immediately. When the collies ran my way, I retreated, but the two dogs were bigger and faster than I was. The collies quickly trapped me inside the fenced yard. I turned on them, crouched, growled, and prepared to make my stand. While trying to appear aggressive, I knew my energy level and my physical state were depleted. I doubted I could protect myself for long from these larger well-fed, highly energetic dogs.

This is the pickup that came up the hill. Now I get to ride in it rather than have to walk everywhere

I hunkered down, my teeth bared, expecting a vicious attack at any moment. Then to my surprise the man called off his dogs and they stood down. The man then tried to catch me, but even in my depleted state, I was far too quick for him. You see two-footed, overweight humans move pretty slowly. This was my first time I saw Pickup Man. I didn’t know his intentions, and he frightened me, because by then I was afraid of just about everything and everyone.

Pickup Man with his Border collies and me

The man who by then was out of breath headed for the stone house and left me alone in the yard with his dogs. The Border collies fortunately kept their distance from me. Not long after going into the white house, Pickup Man came back carrying a piece of fried chicken. Oh, it smelled so good. In the face of the luscious smelling meat, my fears simply melted away. My thoughts of evasion collapsed before that tantalizing smell and luscious looking meat. I climbed straight up into his arms to eat the meat. I wolfed down the tasty chicken, as Pickup Man held me and carried me toward the white stone house. He stroked my head as he walked and said soft words.

Once inside the house he called out to his human companion. That’s when I first met Nice Lady. She came into the room and looked surprised at what Pickup Man was carrying. She approached us and gently took me from his arms. She caressed my head, scratched my ears, and said kind, soft words to me. She told Pickup Man how skinny, dirty, and, exhausted I appeared.

Nice Lady standing beside a Hay bale

The rest you might say is doggie history. Nice Lady proceeded to give me a soapy, warm bath in a large bathtub. She fixed a place for me to sleep next to her bed. She fed me regularly and liberally.

Nice Lady even feeds me with me sitting in her lap

Oh, and the food came from cans, a seemingly bottomless giant plastic bin of dry dog food, and even her dinner table. It all smelled and tasted so good to this half-starved dog. It took me several weeks to get used to all that food, as my system wasn’t used to eating much or very often. I eventually became used to eating more frequently and the food proved so much better than the meals I had eaten while on the road.

Here I am all cleaned up but looking pretty skinny

Nice Lady stroked me often and nursed me back to full health. I gained weight and my energy gradually returned. I knew I had found a promising new home with caring humans along with an accepting pack of dogs. And to make matters even better Pickup Man regularly took me for rides around his ranch in the backseat of his pickup. The Border collies he relegated to the bed of his pickup. Riding in a pickup was ever so much easier on my paw pads than walking.

Here I am with Pickup Man inside his truck

Well this is the end of my story prior to coming to live with Pickup Man and Nice Lady. It isn’t heroic like the stories of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, both legends in the canine world. Nor am I as well known, as a dog that lived up the highway in Mason, Texas, a dog whose name was Old Yeller. But it’s my story and I’m proud of it.

My adventures in the big stinky city and my exploits on the road made me, for better or worse, what I am today. For sure I learned resiliency.

I wanted Pickup Man to write down my story to fill in my background for Nice Lady and him. This is the best I can recall.

Later when talking to friends, I overheard Pickup Man and Nice Lady talk about naming me Little Jack Kerouac. They said something about a book written by a man named Jack Kerouac that described his time on the road. Pickup Man and Nice Lady thought there must be similarities between his story and mine. Kerouac had described his experience, as the road is life. Well I also had traveled a road of my life to this new and happier place, and perhaps like Jack Kerouac, I had grown from and been molded by my life experiences.

I am now a wiser dog but also a pampered one

The friends of Pickup Man and Nice Lady all laughed at hearing why my name had been chosen and seemed to enjoy it much like I might enjoy a good steak bone. So that’s how I gained my new name, and I hope it makes better sense to you than it does to me. Humans can act pretty mystifying at times. But I am happy now with my name, Little Jack, and have learned to respond to it.

Now I’ll leave the rest of the story to Pickup Man, that is, if he chooses to write it down. I don’t know if he will, as he spends a lot of time sitting at his desk, clicking away on his keyboard. Sometimes he says he is moving his mouse around and on one occasion even claimed his mouse had died. Sometimes humans say the silliest things, because I know what a mouse is and even caught and ate several while on the road. I don’t know what makes Pickup Man say such crazy things, but I care for him anyway, even if a little daffy.. I think overall he is a good pack leader.

Frankly I’d just as soon Pickup Man get up from behind his computer and take me riding in his pickup, or else go for a walk across our ranch. I wouldn’t even mind if he takes along those herding obsessed Border collies of his. After all they long ago gave up trying to herd me. You see, I ‘m not the biggest dog around, but I carry a big bite.

I have gotten used to the Border collies and to respect their bravery

I’ve actually learned to respect those Border collies for their skill at herding cattle and for their bravery in the face of some really big animals. They aren’t varmint hunters like me, yet I have gained a grudging respect for their remarkable abilities. Admittedly, I have also grown to care for them, look out for them, and enjoy being part of the same pack.

What makes my life even better is knowledge that a full dinner bowl always awaits me at the house. Despite knowing this I still keep my nose to the ground, and seek out armadillos and possums. If I catch an armadillo or possum, I don’t even bother to eat it anymore, as I know better fare awaits me- dirty nose and all- at my white stone home on the hill.

As I write this I am almost nine years old, that is 63 in dog years. Wow, I am getting old. In the process I’ve learned a few things that I wish to share. Chief among my observations is gaining a strong sense of place. While early in life, I wished to explore the entire world, now I know that to be impractical. I now recognize my special place, my correct place in the world, is right here in Live Oak Valley living in a house on a hill.

I can explore the valley, splash in my favorite spring-fed creeks, relish my varmint chases, quietly observe graceful deer without feeling the need to chase them, and most importantly revel in a sense of belonging to one special place. I love my dog/human pack and my pack loves me. As I’ve grown older, being loved and loving others have become more important matters to me. I think perhaps that is what life is all about. This valley, this ranch, these dogs, and these people just feel right to me. It feels like I’m home at last.

I hope you have enjoyed my story

Oh, I learned lessons in the big, smelly city and even while lost on the road. My actions taught me self-reliance, survival skills, and provided me with almost limitless self-confidence. But I’ve proved myself and am now an accomplished, grown up dog. I take life a little easier now. You might say I’ve become semi-retired. At last I’ve discovered my real home and more about what makes this dog bark. Isn’t that an important aspect of anyone’s life?

 

The End

Jack’s Tail of Two Cities- Part II of Jack’s Story

Editor’s note: This is the second part of Little Jack’s dictated story. I hope you enjoy it. Also Jack asked me to thank his fans for their emails and words of encouragement.  When he said this, his tail was wagging broadly and he sported a giant canine grin.

Little Jack, also known as Scrapper, dictating his backstory. Note he lays on two pillows- a long way from his days when on the road

 

It wasn’t long after Eddie’s departure for college that I overheard his parents talking about a trip to visit one of her littermates. Actually I may not have understood the whole event at the time but filled in details later. I know that I understood “go” and “car”- two words quite sufficient to excite me. At that time I was still learning to understand more complicated human speech.

I sat licking my paws just to have something to do when the important conversation between Eddie’s parents occurred. Initially I had a glimmer of understanding but that soon grew into a full-fledged idea, much like when chewing on a bone in the dark and becoming surprised to discover residual meat on the bone.

You see, I vaguely remembered from where I had come and held a strong desire to visit there again. Haven’t you had this feeling? My birthplace may not have been perfect, yet I recalled it as nearly so. Eddie’s parents became more purposeful that week and began to pack their suitcases. I became increasingly excited over the prospect of going on a car trip.

I displayed my excitement by repeatedly scratching to go in and out the backdoor of our house, a behavior that seemed to irritate Eddie’s parents. Wasn’t that what back doors were for? I must admit that I become frustrated by how slowly humans move. After all, once I had my collar on, I was packed and ready to depart!

One morning my sluggish human companions finally began loading their suitcases into the car, grabbed up my sack of dry dog food and bowls, and climbed into the car that made the droning sound. I didn’t have to be called, as I had already bounded onto the backseat of the car. No way would I be left behind.

No way are you leaving me behind. Note tags that jangle.

We headed out of that busy, smelly city and drove into the countryside. We drove for a long time. Eventually the flat plain fell behind us, and the land turned hilly with gurgling creeks and streams. I kept my nose pressed against the window, panting the whole time. By the end of the trip I had nose prints covering that side window.

The number of cars and trucks on the road gradually grew less. The air became fresher and more fragrant. I smelled flowery smells, the earthy smells of cattle, and the sweet fragrance of freshly turned soil. Those smells I recognized and they pleased me and made my tail wag. This all had an uncanny familiarity for me. These scents not only were familiar, but they also tantalized my nose and made it twitch.

We eventually arrived at a cattle ranch just west of Fredericksburg. The trip seemed to take a long time, perhaps because I was much too excited to sleep. I rode in the backseat with my tail striking the back of the front seat. I think my thumping tail on the back of the seat and the jangling sound of my tags from scratching had aggravated the man, as during one of the car stops he removed my collar. It just didn’t take much to irritate him. For me I like the sound of jangling tags, except of course when I am stalking a squirrel.

Ahead of the car appeared a beautiful, bright sunset, as if beckoning me home. I panted with excitement. I could barely contain my excitement. I felt at one with this countryside; a completely different feeling than for the big city.

Soon I’d be free to run around in a big yard and go free without that wretched leash. I was one happy, excited dog, although I knew a visit did not mean forever, and it would end far too soon.

Admittedly, once back in the country, I gave thought to running away from the ranch. I feel guilty for even admitting this. I had several opportunities when I could have easily slipped under the barbed wire fence and have taken off to explore surrounding ranches. Nevertheless, leaving my food bowl and more importantly, deserting my humans kept me from doing so.

Hadn’t Eddie asked me to look after his parents? And what about chasing off those pesky squirrels in the yard? Those taunting squirrels might just overrun the place without me!

Ultimately the day of our planned departure for the big, stinky city arrived. At the time I rested under a tree next to a stream not far from the house. From there I watched Eddie’s parents straining to carry out their suitcases. I heard Eddie’s Dad call out for me in his deep voice.

“Scrapper, Scrapper, time to pack up the car and go! Come on Scrapper.”

I considered turning my back on him and heading off in another direction. I felt a tug between my feeling of oneness with this country that felt so right and my loyalty to my family from the big, smelly city. They weren’t much of a family, mind you, but loyalty is loyalty, and I am a very loyal dog.

“Hurry up Scrapper. It’s time to leave. Load up now!”
Both Eddie’s parents were calling. Their pitched voices sounded sorrowful, as they repeatedly summoned me. As if my own will had been stolen from me, I stood up, arched my back, stretched, and trotted back toward the yard. Once there I feigned a happy side-to-side tail waggle and jumped through the open back door into the car. Eddie’s father smiled.

I can’t fully explain how I felt about this situation except to say, I was hesitant to leave. Still I was loyal, and they were my human companions. Eddie’s father stuck his head in through the backdoor and removed my collar and tags for the trip. I settled in, awaiting the final packing of the car, expecting to hear the trunk slam shut at any moment.

It was then that something entirely unexpected occurred, something so thrilling, so galling that it would change the course of my young life. I saw a black, four-footed animal with what looked like a black mask, scurrying across the lawn. It had dark, evil appearing eyes and an alternating black and white striped tail. I caught a whiff of it and the animal cast off a different scent from any animal I had ever smelled. I had never experienced a raccoon before, but I was pretty sure it held evil, vile intentions and required my dealing with it. I needed to defend the house and my people from this disreputable predator. I raised myself up and launched myself out the open door. I took off at full speed, racing after the intruder.

The evil raccoon

The raccoon saw me coming, turned tail and lit out. It ran under the fence and scurried into a nearby woods. I dove through the fence, raking myself on the barbed wire in the process. One must sacrifice when pursuing bad animals. I could run faster than could the raccoon and rapidly closed the distance between us. What I didn’t realize was how good the masked one would be at hiding. He had a regular disappearing act. Several times I overran that sneaky raccoon, as it hid behind trees and expertly concealed itself in low spots. I had to place my nose to the ground several times and retrace my path in order to pick up its distinctive, musky scent. Having found its trail, I followed it. Repeatedly I jumped the raccoon, and each time it raced off with me in close pursuit.

The sneaky raccoon

What I failed to recognize at that time was how my pursuit was leading me farther and farther away from my city family and the car that made the droning sound. During the frantic chase, I seemed to lose all track of time. Oh what fun I was having!

After considerable time had passed, I looked up, surveyed the area for familiar surroundings, and failed to recognize where I was. I began to make a large circle, surveying the area. Nothing at all looked familiar. I was lost. I felt confused and for the first time in my life, I was entirely alone. Let me tell you that’s a pretty scary experience for a small, young dog.

I spent the rest of the day, searching around for familiar landmarks and my people. But by then I had lost all sense of direction. I cocked my ears up and heard no telltale sounds. Time passed. Finally the sun began to set behind some distant hills. The air temperature dropped. Fortunately my fur coat keeps me warm unless the temperature gets really low. Tired by this time, I lay down in an earthen crevice beside a stream and began to assess my situation. I licked my wounds where I had earlier scraped myself bolting through the barbed wire fence. I considered my options. It didn’t take me long to realize my circumstances were not good, not good at all.

To Be Continued

Jack’s Story by Little Jack Kerouac, a.k.a. Scrapper- Part I

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.

 

Little Jack, previously known as Scrapper, dictating his backstory. Note that he rests on two pillows- a long way from his days when he was alone and starving on the back roads of the Texas Hill Country

 

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-