The Dog of Dogs

Having lived in the country for most of my life, it is fair to say that I've had my fair share of companions in the form of dogs. And in typical country living, some dogs have lasted longer than others. As one might expect, dogs in the country tend to live a freer life than city dogs. They roam more with fewer fences but this freedom also comes with greater risks. Over the years we've had dogs hit by cars, stolen, run off, killed by something/someone, and more but there are those dogs that do live to ripe old ages and die peacefully.

But of all the dogs that I've had the pleasure of knowing as my own over the decades there is but 1 dog that stands out as "the dog of dogs" to me. For my friends that I've made later in life, they would wholeheartedly agree that Clyde would be the dog of dogs.

They would be wrong though.

Clyde was a pitbull who was already a few years old when I got him. He was a stray that wandered up into a friend's yard one day in bad shape. My friend described Clyde as starving and covered in fleas. The sickly thin brown dog had no identification on him but did not act aggressive or mean. Not wanting to see an animal suffer, my friend took this strange dog in and cared for him. The vet found no microchip in the dog and other than being malnourished and infested with fleas he was in good health.

My friend nursed Clyde back to health and kept him as part of their family where the once stray dog thrived. Clyde and I became well acquainted with one another during my many visits to their home during his time with my friend. Clyde always seemed like a loving and good natured dog despite the negativity surrounding his breed.

After a couple of years, my friend and his wife found they were expecting a new baby. Concerned that the number of dogs in the home might be a safety factor, they looked to rehome some of their more recently acquired animal companions. Clyde was among those in need of a new home. Knowing my connection with Clyde, they reached out and asked if I would be interested in taking in the lovable scamp. I quickly and happily agreed.

Clyde and I were inseparable for the few years that we had together. He was indeed a very good dog that never showed any signs of aggression or ill-temper. That isn't to say that he wasn't protective of me but he did not attack anyone or act out in a manner that was unsafe. He enjoyed car rides and snuggling on the couch next to me when I watched TV. He was my constant companion for a few years where it was rare for anyone to see me without Clyde somewhere nearby.

Sadly, Clyde followed one of my children out one drizzly Thanksgiving evening when they took the trash out. The trash can was near the end of the driveway. A large truck came barreling down the road just as my son and Clyde reached the end of the driveway to deposit the trash bag. For whatever reason, Clyde decided to try and catch the truck as it passed. I don't know if he thought it was a danger to my son or what but Clyde jumped out in front of the speeding vehicle.

The driver of the truck never hit the brakes, never swerved, never made any attempt to dodge Clyde or lessen the impact. Some might see that an act of insensitivity but given the narrow dirt road, the rainy weather, and my son's proximity to the road, such inaction on the driver's part might have been the safest thing to do in that instant. And while I loved Clyde and hated that he met such an unfortunate and brutal end, I think I would have been more upset if something had happened to my son.

To some, that may sound heartless but I'm being honest. The loss of Clyde was devastating to me but I think the loss of my son would have hurt more. Anyone who is a parent, I think, would understand that sentiment.

But the dog of dogs, for me, isn't Clyde. He was a great and loyal friend who I still miss dearly but anyone who knew me growing up knows that the dog of dogs in my life was my dog Bear.

Bear was what we liked to call a Heinz 57 dog. He was a mixed breed that consisted of we don't know what. He had characteristics of several types of dogs and no types of dogs all at the same time. His fur was various shades white, gray, black, and orange. He had shaggy medium length hair that never matted. He had purplish black spots on his tongue. At no point did he he get much bigger than about 40 lbs and he was never a big/tall dog.

He looked almost like if you took every breed of dog and rolled them all into a single animal. We adopted him from our local animal shelter, who had no information on him, when he was a very small puppy. He was nothing but a ball of fluffy fur back then but he quickly grew, as dogs do.

My mother was against Bear being an inside dog so he spent his life outside. Our front yard was fenced in so as a puppy that is where Bear stayed. I would play with him when I wasn't at school but I was pretty young too and I didn't know anything about training dogs. I just enjoyed having a playmate that wasn't my older brother some times.

As Bear and I grew older, Bear was turned loose from the fenced in yard and allowed to roam our 10 acres of land freely. He would always accompany me as I adventured through our mostly tree-filled back acreage. Similarly, he would follow me when I rode my bike down the dirt roads around our house. If anyone ever wondered where I was, they only needed to spot Bear because everyone knew that he was never far from me. Even when I went to visit or stay the night with friends that lived nearby Bear would follow me there and stay close by until I left to return home.

There are many funny stories that my friends love to tell even now of how Bear would follow me to baseball practice during the summers. Our summer league practice field back then was located about a mile from our house and I would regularly ride my bike or walk to practice. Bear would follow me there, wait at the field for practice to finish, and then follow me home. On some occasions, idly waiting for me to get off the field was too much for Bear. There were a few instances of him following me out onto the field and even trying to help me field balls when hit to my position.

Bear's unwavering companionship though was not always welcomed. My coaches did not appreciate his interruptions to practice when he would run out onto the field to be with me. There were times I took various measures to evade my canine companion but most failed. Bear was an intelligent dog. I tried putting him in our fence only for him to learn how to open the handle that held the gate closed. I tried locking the gate handle and Bear learned to climb the chain link fence. He would slip out of or break collars if I tried to restrain him that way. If I had someone put him in the laundry room until after I left he always seemed to know where I was headed and could track me down.

There was no escaping Bear. He was determined to be by my side at all costs when I left the house. That's not to say that he didn't also protect me at home. On multiple occasions, Bear would bark and growl at delivery drivers in such a menacing way that they would refuse to get out of their trucks. We would be in the house and hear honking coming from outside only to see Bear holding them hostage in their vehicles. Once we stepped outside and acknowledged that the situation was okay would Bear back off. He wouldn't leave but he would calm down before coming to stand in front of us, as if to act as a shield if the stranger was to become a threat later.

Bear was the ultimate friend, protector, and companion.There are only a few memories from those years that don't include Bear at some level. He was the most persistent occurrence in my life for a long time.

Unfortunately, my time with Bear came to a sad end when I was 15. Bear had not been his usual self for a few days but as a teenager I failed to really take notice to the change in his behavior until it was too late. After a couple of days of Bear not greeting me as he usually did when I came home from school I thought to check on him. He had been laying in the same spot in the yard for the last two days. That by itself wasn't odd as he had his favorite spots but combined with his lack of energy it prompted me to inquire.

What I found was a sick and dying friend. His hair was unusually matted. There were signs of vomit. His movements appeared weak, slow, and strained. I don't know when the last time was that he had eaten anything. I tried in vain to revive my friend. I tried to feed him his food but was unable to get him to open his mouth. I had heard of certain poisonous foods and snake bites that could cause "lock-jaw" in animals and Bear seemed to fit that description. I poured water over his teeth hoping that some would find its way into his mouth but he seemed unable or unwilling to swallow. I cracked raw eggs and poured them into his mouth through his teeth in an effort to get him any kind of nourishment I could.

I sat out in our yard alone trying to understand what had happened to my beloved dog so that I could fix it but nothing seemed to work. This was in the days back before the internet or smartphones so I had no easy access to information. Back then the best I could have done is called our local vet to see if they could tell me anything over the phone but in my panic that thought hadn't occurred to me. My parents were both at work. That left me, a scared and ignorant teenager, to tend to my aging and sick friend in what would be the final minutes of his life.

At some point, I understood that my efforts were for naught and that I had waited too long to take notice of his plight. He was dying and there was nothing I could do to stop it now. With that clarity of mind and acceptance of the inevitable, I did the only thing I could do for Bear, I sat down on the ground next to him, held him in my arms, and gently petted him until he was gone. I wanted my friend to know that he was loved until the very end.

Not long after Bear had passed on, my mom arrived home to find me gathering tools and a wheelbarrow. This naturally prompted a question to me about my intentions with such things as it was not normal for me to use such things. I explained what had happened and that I was planning to use the tools to give my beloved dog a proper burial out in the back part of our land.

I think my mother recognized the distress the situation had put on me. She calmly told me to leave everything where it was and to go inside. She said that she would have my dad take care of things and that she didn't think it was something I needed to deal with in that moment. My dad came home from work and buried Bear while I remained in my room, inconsolable at the loss of my most loyal and loving friend.

Looking back, I would have liked to have gone with my dad to give Bear a fitting send off but I'm not sure that I would have been emotionally prepared for it. I still get teary eyed thinking back to my last few minutes with that hairy mutt and he's been gone for over 3 decades now.

Bear never killed a coyote like Clyde but there is no doubt in mind that Bear would have taken on a entire pack of coyotes if he thought I was in danger. I have had many dogs since then and have shared some very special bonds with many of them but there has never been a bond like the one Bear and I shared. He will forever be my dog of dogs and I will miss him endlessly until such a time that we are reunited.

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