There’s nothing like a good dog story to spur a smile when there isn’t a whole lot to smile about. Fond memories are just one way man’s best friend keeps right on giving, sometimes long after they have reached that mythical overpass known as Rainbow Bridge.
Anyone who has owned a dog is likely to have a few good tales to tell. One of my favorites belongs to a guy I’ve never met. A co-worker who shared the tale called him “ol’ Joe.”
The way the story goes, it was early spring and the white bass spawning run was at a fever pitch. Ol’ Joe was overly eager to get on the water, and he backed his boat so far down the ramp that it floated off the trailer bunks.
With no bow strap or rope attached, the boat drifted away in the slow-moving current of the Trinity River before he could reach it.
Naturally, Joe was concerned about the situation. Fred, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
Fred was Joe’s 4-year-old black lab. The two were nearly inseparable. The dog loved riding in the boat and always made a point to load up before Joe dumped it into the water.
As Joe paced the ramp and pondered a plan, Fred stood on the front deck and wagged his tail as the current carried the boat south toward Lake Livingston.
It was risky with no life jacket, but Joe dealt with the dilemma the best way he knew how. He removed his shoes, jumped in the river and swam like heck before he finally managed to catch up with his runaway boat and dog.
That’s when the kid came out in Fred. Rather than backing off and allowing his master to board the boat, Fred barked and licked Joe repeatedly in the mouth as he struggled to clear the gunwale. The more Joe cursed the dog, the more intense the kisses became.
“That damn dog — I almost never got back in that boat,” Joe said. “I finally threw water in his face, and he backed off long enough that I could pull myself in.”
I was telling a friend about Fred recently, and it rekindled some fond memories of some K-9 companions in my past:
Captain and Velveeta
I’ve owned a small army of dogs in my life, but the lop-eared boxer/shepherd mix everyone knew as “Captain” was by far the most entertaining. Trouble seemed to follow that dog wherever he went. If not, he’d go out and find it.
Captain grew up in the late 1970s in east Garland. He was a brazen playboy who leaped our 4-foot yard fence at will, often stayed gone for days at a time and once came home with a spark plug wire tied around his neck for a collar.
He was crafty, too. My guess is he may have been the only dog to ever bust out of the dog pound, resulting in a city-wide dragnet that involved everyone from cops to dog catchers on a hunt for a four-legged fugitive.
Though he never started a brawl with another dog, Captain ended a bunch of them. I saw him shred water moccasins, tangle with raccoons and crunch armadillo backs like potato chips. It was never a good idea to leave a fishing rod unattended in a pick-up bed when Captain was back there, either. He’d turn it into a pile of splinters if you did.
Plenty of people loved that dog, but Travis Bagwell wasn’t among them. Bagwell owned a small grocery store a few blocks away on South Fifth Street. He knew a dirty side of the big, yellow dog that few ever saw.
Captain was a thief. He had a bad habit of sneaking in through the grocery store loading dock and helping himself to the goodies inside. He made off with everything from loaves of bread to cinnamon rolls and slabs of bologna and bacon.
I once caught the dog red-handed as he slipped up the alley and hopped our yard fence like a deer. Lodged in his jaws was a bright yellow box with red lettering I couldn’t make out without moving in for a closer look.
Somewhere along the way Captain had snatched a box of Kraft Velveeta Cheese. We had a pretty good idea where it came from.
Slug-Go the Bear Dog
Slug-Go was a 100-pound boxer/cur mix I raised from a pup and named after a soft plastic fishing lure. He never was one to get excited about much, even when pinned against the wall by an unruly gang of bronze turkey gobblers and hens we raised at our home back the late-1990s.
His easy going nature took the ultimate test in June 2004. That’s when he bumped noses with a black bear in the New Mexico high country.
A friend and I were scouting for old elk sign along a tall ridge one morning, and Slug-Go was along for the trip. We hadn’t gone far when the dog smelled something in the wind and took off to investigate.
Minutes later we heard grunting and growling from the dark woods ahead followed by the sounds of a barking dog. It was obvious the dog was moving our direction at a fast pace.
My friend, Chester Williams of Lindale, was the first to spot the source of the commotion. A black bear was on Slug-Go’s heels, and the dog was leading the angry animal straight to us.
Like an Old West actor in a black and white comedy, I grabbed and pulled frantically for the .357 Ruger holstered on my hip as the dog and bear moved closer. The bear had charged within 20-30 feet before I finally managed to draw the pistol. Luckily, however, I didn’t have to use it.
Williams had begun yelling and waving his arms and finally managed to get the bear’s attention. It veered and vanished into the forest, just as swiftly as it had appeared.
That was Slug-Go’s final trip to the mountains. It’s also marked the last time I’ll make the mistake of turning an unleashed dog loose in bear country.
Matt Williams is a freelance outdoors writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.