Discover more from Poiema
The Peanut Gallery
I never want another dog.
As I made the 30 mile trek home from the veterinarian’s office with the stiff body of my 14 year old cur dog, Katie, beside me, I remember muttering those words through hot tears.
“They’re a damned inconvenience is what they are,” I argued to myself. Making an oral list of reasons in case I was stricken with a bad case of puppy love in a moment of weakness. You either can’t go anywhere without them, or else you have to pawn them off on someone else to house and feed. They cost money–too much money–for food and medicine and toys and those little Santa hats at Christmastime. Dogs are messy; tearing the stuffing out of pillows, shedding three winter’s worth of coats on the La-Z-boy, leaving cold piles to step in if you forgot to take them out for their evening constitutional, or warm puddles beside the pee-pads that they somehow manage to squat right beside but never hit. Plus, they chew up everything. Shoes. Furniture. Books. Walls. And eventually, the brittle edges of a wounded heart not quite ready to say goodbye.
It was decided. I never wanted a dog again. And as the Psalmist might’ve said, “He who sits in the Heavens had himself a big ole belly laugh.”
15 months later, I went out one Summer morning to feed the chickens and saw a white mass beside the coop. It was flat, wrinkled and undulating ever so slightly in the breeze. I thought it was a plastic bag blown in by the wind. Then it picked its head up and tried to move–to hide–on the other side of the chicken house. But it was too weak to move.
I knew it was a dog. And I was angry. Somebody had pitched a stray in my yard. As I approached, I yelled at it, hoping it would be frightened enough to get up and run off. Instead it tried to bury its head beneath the chicken wire at the bottom of the pen.
When I got closer, I understood why it didn’t flee. Its right hind leg was cocked at an odd angle, so of little use for running, and it was so emaciated I could have read the morning paper through its ribs. As I looked around I could see drag marks across the grass. Apparently, the little fella at been pitched out in the ditch, and then crawled his way over to the chicken coop in hopes of sharing a taste of their scraps.
“Little fella,” I said to myself. “What do you mean ‘little fella? Don’t you be goin’ soft.”
I didn’t have the resolve to just knock the dog in the head and haul it to the woods, so I decided I would go back inside and see if I had anything to feed it that wasn’t dedicated to the hens.
I found two filets of fried crappie from supper the previous evening, and a plate full of boiled shrimp shells. “Ain’t much but it will do,” I thought.
I put the leftovers and scraps on a paper plate and took them outside to the dog still snugged up against the chicken coop. He laid his weak head in the middle of the food and lapped the fish and broken shells in a matter of seconds. Then he looked at me with sad, pleading eyes.
“Alright. Damn. I’ll see if I have anything else.”
I rummaged through the pantry to see if I had anything he could make a meal of. But I didn’t see much point in trying to feed a starved pup a can of rotel or a bag of dry beans. The refrigerator was practically bare save for some eggs, and I was not about to get him started on those. Then I remembered that I had two ribeyes in the freezer.
After thawing the steaks, I seasoned one with salt and pepper and left one plain. One for me, one for the mutt. I figured I would feed him a decent meal and send him on his way.
He inhaled his steak before I managed to saw off the first bite of mine. So I handed him what was on my plate and he ran off with it, hiding under my truck, and ate it with wild abandon. I came back inside to do some work. I knew he would leave when he wanted to.
He laid under my pickup all day. When I went to bed he was still there. But when I woke up the next morning he was lying on the welcome mat at the front door.
When I opened it, he ran back under my truck. He was appreciative of the food, but still afraid of me. And with good reason. I had yelled at him the previous day. And whoever had discarded him in my ditch like so much trash had obviously beaten him, starved him, and never pulled a single one of the dozens of acorn-sized ticks from his hide.
I put scraps in a bowl for another day or two. When he deemed I was at a safe distance he would come eat and then retreat back under my pickup. But on the third day I decided that he needed to lose those ticks.
Laying on the ground, I tried crawling up under my truck with him. But I was too big and he was too skittish. So I shimmied out and went inside the house to find some bait.
Back outside, I did a belly crawl under the driver’s side door of my truck and held out a long wooden spoon with about half a cup of peanut butter on it. The pup smelled it and was on it like white on rice.
As he lapped and licked, I slowly inched the spoon back towards me until he was close enough for me to put my hand on. I began petting him, ever so gently, as he dove into the peanut butter.
After a few minutes of petting and half a jar of Peter Pan, we were out from under the truck, sitting in the yard. Within five minutes, he was in my lap, filthy tail wagging. Within ten, I had already given him a name.
In just a matter of days, the entire neighborhood made friends with the erstwhile stray. He greeted everyone within a square mile as they arrived home from town. And they greeted him in turn with friendly calls of, “Well, hey there Peanut!”
My Grandmother got in the habit of sending home sacks of her leftover cathead biscuits for Peanut. If there were three, he would eat one and hide two–usually in my bed or in my recliner. She made it clear that these were “Peanut’s biscuits,” and that I could make my own.
I never wanted another dog. But the Good Lord knew we both needed each other. A dog like this can’t be bought anyway. You have to wait for this sad world to make one, as it did mine. Beaten, and starved, and left for dead in the ditch beside the hen house. A castaway creature looking for someone to love.
But yesterday, all too quickly, Peanut was gone. My elderly neighbor said, “I never saw him. Then I heard a thump. I looked back and saw him limping towards your house and thought to myself, ‘I think ole Peanut is gonna’ be alright. I turned around to see about him, but he laid down in the ditch just before he got into the driveway. I’m so sorry. Can I help you bury him?”
I found him lying in nearly the same spot of the same ditch where he was thrown just over a year ago. And my first thought was how much richer both of our lives had been on account of each other. My second thought was of the sack of leftover biscuits on the kitchen counter.
Rest in peace, Peanut. You were a good boy.