honoring the hound

by tobias crabtree

dogs. they really do have it pretty good for the most part. even in the countries where i’ve seen them running loose in big packs, some of them with mange or missing eyes, they are living it up, tails wagging to the end. i grew up around dogs. most of the time we had more than one and sometimes three or four. my favorite was a staffordshire terrier named brewster who had more handles than a mini-van; brew, brewskie, rubber dog, pinkie, etc.  Brewster  was in the breed of dogs considered “pit-bulls” and he was a pretty awesome specimen. i don’t know how he managed to be so incredibly muscular by laying around in the sun begging for a scratch behind the ear, but damn he was awesome to look at. with five of us kids around to play with, he saw every trick in the book. i never saw brewskie snap at anyone, dog or human or cat. i did however see him try and jump up and sit in the 6 inch wide window cill next to pumpkin the cat on christmas morning. the result was that he landed upside down in the middle of the christmas tree and all us kids laughed to tears at his weirdness. how many times did we build tremendous obstacles in the hallway and then knock on the door only to bring the ol’ hound out of his nap in the back bedroom so we could see him do some miraculous leap over a chair and five cushions? this all because he so loved visitors. he was afraid of spiders (i’m sure he was pinched once and assumed that they were all capable of inflicting the same pain), rubber-bands (there were 3 of us ornery boys so you can figure out why he might not like rubber-bands), and the dark. when he had a bad dream he would come running with his ears pealed back and bury his pink and black nose in your lap. his love was impossible to push away. he didn’t beg for food because it didn’t seem to be a part of his nature (i always thought that was strange about him) and he mostly wanted to be in the room with you, not in your lap. my mom was the one who was smitten by ol brewster. she just adored him and with good reason. when us kids were at school, brewster was stretched out in a sunbeam watching my mom plant flowers, listening to the frustrations and dreams of her beautiful mind. he never spoke and his ears moved like satellite dishes snatching every change in tone, his eyes went from her working hands to her face, his eyebrows showing the concern of the moment, his tail, thick as a shovel handle, giving a thump against the ground whenever their eyes met.

brewster lived a wonderful life. he did so love to take a nap in the summer sun under the mile high air of colorado.  he was a pink-skinned, short-haired dog and after he got skin cancer on his belly, he lived less than a year more. we tried to keep him out of the sun but he was such a trickster, he would find it and he would damage the same area over and over. when he died, my mother was very quiet. oh my, she shed some tears, but they were not sobs, they were the big tears that roll out from the soul like the tide. she made it clear that she did not want another dog, she just didn’t think her heart could take a similar loss, and besides, “he was the loveliest of them all.”

three days ago i sat outside the keys cafe in lake tahoe. joe and azzie have made their little restaurant a “spot”. i sat there and chatted with a new friend. he was about my age and i liked his way of moving and communicating; he was slow and consistent like a tug boat. come to find out, that’s kinda what he does; he works on a boat that rescues other boats on the lake. as we were talking some people walked by with a young german shepherd. my friend broke off from his sentence and watched the dog sniffing and listening with ears too big for his body. without looking at me, i heard him say that he just lost his shepherd a couple months before. when i saw his eyes i could see that look, the same as my mom from 20 years ago. our conversation waned and he excused himself, i’m sure to escape the obviously uncomfortable possibility of crying into a cup of coffee. i liked that guy and i was sad for him.

i have wondered at the connection. dogs and humans. there certainly is a good amount of symbiosis between our species. it takes so little to have a dog’s undivided attention. we as humans are so busy with our ego that we often aren’t so good at taking the time to listen to one another. i’m guilty of it for sure. let’s face it, a dog doesn’t check his texts in the middle of a meaningful conversation. dogs will wait for you and are excited to see you even when you’ve neglected them for weeks. i don’t own a dog, don’t want one, but i get it. whenever dogs are acting up or acting out, i simply look at the owner and wonder what the deal is. those four-leggeds have been running on the outer edges of our tribes for thousands of years. whatever is weird about them they probably got from us. but really, i do love what they are and their resiliency. and so i wrote this little piece…about hound dogs and that slow swing of the tail as they watch and wonder what we’re gonna do next.