February 21, 2002
A long time ago when I first started writing in A-mail, I said that some day when I felt comfortable enough, I would like to write about my first dog. I am now at that stage, so here is my reminiscence: If it hadn't been for a stray half-breed collie with a strong set of legs and a lot of determination, my dog would have had a pedigree, and he would not have come to live with me. As it was, just such a wanderer jumped the fence impounding a neighbor's pure-bred Irish Setter and put an end to all plans for the next litter of valuable puppies. It was early in the summer when I first heard that my neighbor was planning to put the forthcoming litter up for adoption. I raced down the street to my neighbor's house as fast as my eight-year-old legs would carry me, worrying all the way that I would be too late. I wasn't too late, and my neighbor smiled a knowing smile as I stood there out of breath, begging for a puppy. She said I could have the pick of the litter if I had my parents' permission to have a dog. I told her that I was sure that it would be OK, but she said to ask them anyway. My mother was not very receptive to my request. She spent the better part of the morning detailing the responsibilities and disadvantages of caring for a dog. I made the required solemn promises and she finally said that it was OK with her if it was OK with my father. I knew then that I was home free; he said yes before he reached the door that evening. The only stipulation was that the dog be a male. The pups were born a short time later, and I was first on the scene to make my selection. I picked him out, and in the weeks that followed, I made quite a nuisance of myself checking to see if he was ready to be weaned. Finally the big day arrived, and I brought my puppy home. It had been declared at the outset that I could not keep my dog in the house, so I had fixed him a large cardboard box in the basement. My mother gave me a blanket that probably wasn't really "worn out", and I contributed a loud-ticking wind-up alarm clock and a stuffed animal for my new friend's company. I placed him in his box and wrote "Rebel" on the side with a crayon, thus christening the new member of our family. He was a fine dog, with big paws (my father told me that big paws meant that Rebel would be a big dog as an adult). He was mostly white, but he had some beautiful large red patches on his side and rump. He had red ears, and a red spot on the crown of his head, and small freckles on his snout. Later, his chest would have long, curly, white fur, and his tail would be like a flag in the wind. His first night in his new home I hated to leave Rebel down in the basement all alone, and after I had climbed in bed I was sure that he felt the same way, because I could hear him whining. I waited until I was sure that my brother was asleep, and then I slipped out the window and went down to the basement. I climbed in the box with my dog and we both then spent a comfortable night. I intended to do that every night, but I got caught the first morning, and that was that. But Rebel didn't whine much after that first night, so I felt better about having to let him sleep alone. My older brother maintained that Rebel was his dog too, and my parents sustained that point of view. I didn't mind, because I KNEW whose dog he REALLY was. I fed him, bathed him, and spent my days with him, and the bond between us grew stronger all the while. I hated to see school start again after that summer, for it meant that I could not spend as much time with my dog. I guess we missed each other equally, for those reunions each afternoon were always joyous and now constitute some of my fondest memories. We spent a lot of afternoons roaming the golf course (Forrest Hills) and woods. I can still see him racing through the wheat-colored grass with his tail raised and his head to the ground exercising his keen nose. When he flushed a bird, he could run like the wind chasing it, and would bark with unreserved delight. Rebel was smart. I taught him a lot of tricks, but he picked up many on his own. His energy was as unbounded as my love for him, and his patience was endless. Heck, I was glad that he didn't have a pedigree. When he reached adult size, Rebel assumed sole responsibility for my well-being when in his company. He was fearless and absolute in the performance of this duty. Anyone who directed a threatening gesture in my direction was sure to suffer his fury if they persisted. Not only was he my protector, he was also my confidant. He would listen to anything I wanted to tell him, and respond according to my mood. He shared my joys and tragedies equally. More than once he licked tears from my cheek when I needed relief from a sadness I could explain only to him. There are several events that I remember most vividly when I think of growing up with Rebel, and I have already related (in an earlier posting) the unhappy encounter between Rebel and my seventh-grade teacher. Here are a few more memories: Rebel was always a welcome participant on camping trips with my Boy Scout troop, and he never missed a family outing to the lake. There came a time, however, when he had to be left behind. It was the summer after I got him. The family was going to the beach, and no amount of pleading could sway my parents' decision to leave Rebel in the care of a neighbor. I spent a long time explaining to Rebel why he couldn't go. The vacation was fine, but for once I actually looked forward to our return home. When we got there, Rebel was in my lap as soon as I opened the car door. With the hugging and licking you would have thought we had been separated ten years instead of ten days. Another milestone in our lives occurred when Rebel was about three years old. One night when I went out to feed him, he wasn't there. I was not especially concerned, because he sometimes was late for dinner. When eight o'clock came and he still wasn't home, I began searching the neighborhood for him. It was raining and I was soaked to the skin when I returned home. No Rebel. At that point my father volunteered to take me around in the car to look for my dog. We covered a lot of streets, stopping frequently to call his name in the darkness. I yelled until my voice failed, or maybe it was just that lump in my throat got too big. Still no Rebel. The next day he was not there when I came home from school. My mother suggested that we put an ad in the paper, but just as we were composing it, there was a call from Dearborn Veterinary Clinic. They said that my dog had been hit by a car and a passing motorist had brought him to the clinic. We were informed that Rebel was in bad shape, and that we should come as soon as possible. When we got to the clinic, the vet informed us that Rebel had severe internal injuries and suggested that the dog be put to sleep. I begged them not to, and the vet offered to do his best to pull Rebel through. And he DID pull Rebel through. We never knew what had caused Rebel to venture so far from home that time, but he never did it again. The last major event of our lives together came when I was a junior in college. I was home for the weekend, and Rebel had disappeared for the second time in our lives. My parents said that he had been gone for three days. Rebel was very old then, and I knew that his roaming days had long since ended. I searched everywhere for him, but couldn't find him. I decided to continue my search in the car, so I returned to get it. When I reached the house, Rebel was there waiting beside the steps. To this day I don't know where he had been, but now I believe that that reunion was the result of an heroic effort on his part, precipitated by indescribable love and loyalty. He got up slowly, and wagged his age-ragged tail. I patted his head and hugged him, but I was crushed by the intense sadness in his eyes. I asked him if he wanted to go to the golf course for a walk, and he perked up some and gave a feeble bark. He walked by my side across the street, but I had to lift him over the fences he once used to jump so easily. As I watched him move through the grass with only a whisper of the grace of his youth, I thought of our life together. He was still proud and dignified, and the best damn dog that had ever lived. I called him over to me and he lay down by my side. We were on a hill overlooking the fields and woods we had shared for so long. We stayed there a long time just thinking and remembering. Finally, we started home and he chased a few birds along the way. He never once stumbled. The next weekend he died. It was a beautiful clear night, and I had come out to give him a goodnight pat. Sometime between supper and then, he had drawn his final breath. I went to the back yard and dug his grave under a pine tree. I brought him to the grave and knelt down with him in my arms. Then I cried. I cried for a long time. Finally I gave him a last hug and kissed his noble head. I bade him goodbye, wrapped him in a soft blanket and buried him. The next day I chiseled his name in a large granite rock and placed it at the head of his grave. It's been many years since that night, but I often think of him and remember our time together. I now have another dog, but there can be only one dog that grows up with you, that helps mold your character and shares the most difficult and the most joyous moments of your youth. His name was Rebel, and he was my friend.
Sorry for the length; may be too long for A-mail, but I needed to write this. Love to all my classmates, Buzzy Crowe ======================