Yesterday we cut the grass and I see that I missed one. Staring at the flat, brown mass, I couldn't help but think about Dad.
He always said that dogs "are nothing but a pain in the arse."
If you didn't know my Dad you'd probably assume that he was an old grump who didn't like dogs.
And if you did know my dad, you'd likely find that statement hard to believe.
"Bruce would never say such a thing. He loved his dog." But he did say that. Often. Usually while sitting on the kitchen chair, one hand stroking his dog's back, in a motion that began at the top of its head, ending with a loving pat on the ribs.
Dad was annoyed the day his wife Irene brought home a stray dog. He'd been without for maybe three years, easily the longest span in his life that he didn't have a "damn dog" to look after. Growing up he'd tell us stories about each and every dog and easily fell back into that pattern when the Heinz 57 they named Freckles started sleeping on the floor at the end of their bed.
Freckles was afraid of everything. Dad was afraid of nothing. You'd think the fact Freckles was not a well-adjusted dog would annoy Dad, but he just looked at him with softer eyes and spoke in a gentler voice.
He was retired, living in Simcoe and had plenty of time. The fenced-in backyard of their little house was small, however. It didn't take Dad long to figure out that if he didn't do something quick, there would be nowhere safe to step.
"There's nothin' worse than steppin' in dog shit," he'd say. So he started taking Freckles on a daily walk.
The next time I arrived for a visit he was excited that I'd get to go along. Leashing a dog was a new experience for him since we always lived in the country on a big piece of land, so our dogs barely even had collars. They always came, were too lazy to run away and mostly, stayed off the road.
"See, I take this here tow rope . . ." he explained as Freckles sat patiently waiting for Dad to fasten the leash. Holding up a splintered rake handle, Dad smiled. "And this here is my shit-flicking stick."
Yes, that's how Dad spoke. Think of an old Andy Griffith, ears and all. That was Dad.
Before I could ask about the stick, he proudly began telling me how smart Freckles was. In no time at all he was able to teach the Dog to sit down on the curb and look both ways before crossing the street. And since Freckles was a big scaredy cat, he completely ignored the dogs they'd meet or the ones that would bark furiously from inside their own fenced-in yards. He called Freckles "very polite."
And I have to admit, he was. He never pulled on the leash, looked back up at Dad whenever he was uncertain and peed discreetly. When it came time to drop the big one, crouched as inconspicuously as he could, eyeing us apologetically as he went.
"So then I take my stick . . ." he said, and using the splintered end, got underneath it and began flicking the shit under a bush. I was both surprised and embarrassed. Looking to see if anyone was watching, I wasn't sure what to say.
Thankfully, it only took a few seconds before Dad and Freckles were ready to continue the walk. As we started out again, a woman who looked to be in her 50s met us on the sidewalk and stared first at the stick, then at Dad, giving him a hostile look. I was silently apologizing. Forgive him, please. He's from the country and in all his 72 years has never once had to stoop to pick up a dog turd. He isn't about to start now. It has never even occurred to him.
Dad grunted. "Boy I sure hope I never see her again," he said. "She probably thinks I hit Freckles with this stick when he misbehaves."
I smiled. "You'd never do that."
"I sure wouldn't."
I remember clearly the day Dad brought home the body of his beagle, Cindy, from where she lay dead on the side of the road, so he could bury her in the backyard. He said he'd never get another dog. And after that, Foxy went blind and eventually was put to sleep. Dad said he didn't want another dog. When Freckles health began to fail, Dad took him to the Vet and stayed with him, stroking his head until it was all over.
Freckles was Dad's last dog. A real pain in the arse.