The summer of 1989, I’m just freshly home from a trip to my boyfriend Chris family cottage located in Hammond Bay (near Rogers City) in Michigan. We’d been there for about a month and during that entire time I was surrounded by friends of the four-legged kind, Chris’s mother has a chihuahua, his Aunt has a golden lab. The neighbours had 2 black labs and there were all sorts of other dogs roaming the beach, looking for some kind of trouble to get into.
So imagine coming back to a home that is filled with 2 legged folks, not a dog’s tail or whisker to be seen, it was lonely. So I woke up in the morning, after both of my parents had left for work and decided that today I was going to the local animal control office and get myself a canine companion. I dragged my14 year old brother Kenny, along with me, and of course Chris went as well, since this whole thing was really the fault of his entire family and their dog loving ways.
I called my Mom and Dad at their places of employment and informed them that I was picking up my last paycheck from the Deli I worked at before running away to Michigan with my high school sweetheart and was going to be heading out to get myself a dog. Both my parents kept their cool over the phone but I could tell that neither of them were impressed with the idea.
My Mom called my Dad up at his work in a panic, freaking out about us going and getting a dog without their permission first off and secondly, getting a dog without them there at all.
My Dad softly reassured her that there would not be any dogs coming home with us at all. What sort of place is going to send a dog home with a group of kids? He told her that we’d have to go home and come back with an adult to adopt a dog. Both of them breathed a sigh of relief, confident that they’d be able to thwart my attempt to bring a food eating, poop making machine into our home.
We arrived at the pound and the folks there looked at my ID, my proof that I was actually over the age of 18 and therefore an adult, too bad my parents forgot about my birthday a few months past.
The staff at the pound ushered us into the dog holding area, where there were a whole bunch of way too cute dogs locked up behind bars, it was just like a doggy prison and the whole thing made me sad and want to take each and every dog home with me, just to save them from that place.
Then my eyes fell on the last cell, where the saddest, most pathetic sight I’d seen and still to this have yet to see one worse.
Lying on the floor of that last cage, amid all those jumping, yipping, barking and howling dogs was a great giant of what looked like a Lab. He just lay there, his sad brown eyes not even looking in our direction. He couldn’t care less that some people had just come through that heavy brown door and that if he impressed us with what an amazing dog he was, we just might take him on out of there. This dog didn’t wag his tail or pick up his head. You could see that he just didn’t think people were all that fabulous, like our kind had let him down way too many times for him to even give it a chance.
His front legs were covered in ribbons of long black scars that ran from his tips of his paws to his broad chest, one leg had at least 5 marks while the rest had at least 2 each. He was skinny, like malnourished skinny. It would have been easy to give an anatomy lesson on this poor creature, you could see every one of his ribs and his hip bones jutted out like 2 great mountains on his backside.
We looked at his paperwork hanging on the door to his cage, he’d been a stray and had been there for a week now. The staff member who’d accompanied us noticed us looking at him and told us not to go into the cage, they didn’t know how he’d react to anyone, so far he’d been pretty anti-social. That just made my heart ache for this poor guy because I realized that meant that nobody had gone in there and even tried to give him a little TLC.
“It’s his last day.” Chris pointed out the words stamped in red on his paperwork. If this fellow wasn’t adopted today, they’d take him and put him down and probably think that it was all for the best because he wasn’t the type of dog to make a good pet, he was too shy, too nervous and a bit on the edgy side.
“He’s not responding to anyone, staff or potential adoptee so it just didn’t look like he was going to be heading to a good home.”
That made my mind up. When the staff member left the room I grabbed hold of Chris and said that I wanted to take that one, even if I just took him for a day or 2 and then brought him back, it would give him at least another week to find a home and maybe warm up. He’s probably just scared! The only thing is, I’m sort of nervous of him myself. I don’t want to take home a dog that will freak out or something, but I’m nervous to climb into that cage after what the staff lady just said.
Without batting an eye, Chris grabbed hold of the latch for that cage, opened the door and sat down on his bottom. I closed the door behind him and watched as he slowly scooted his way to the other end of the cage where that big old dog was laying, still not paying much attention to Chris.
When Chris finally got within touching distance of the dog he stopped and put his hand out, he didn’t touch the dog but left it close enough for the dog to take the first move and sniff his hand. Which he did in just a few seconds. The next thing knew he’d lifted his head, put it into Chris lap and gave a sad little single wag of his thick brown tail.
After that I realized that this dog was a good one, he just didn’t feel like we worth the effort of impressing us. I slowly made my way into that cage and the great beast looked at me, and gave a few more wags of that tail of his. Chris and I sat there, petting his head and slowly letting that guy know that we weren’t going to hurt him. When the lady came back in with some guy in tow we smiled up at her and told her that she could cancel their plans for that beast tonight because he’d finally found a home!
Of course we’d forgotten to bring a dog leash with us, so the pound held onto that guy for us, not that anyone was willing to take him, and hurried to the mall down the street to get a leash from the pet store and we hurried back to pick up that fellow. We brought him home on the bus, Chris and I taking turns holding his leash while Kenny cradled a charcoal coloured kitten against his chest.
All the way home we discussed names. Kenny decided that his kitten was going to be named Charcoal because of her smokey colour. I decided that the great giant of a Lab would be named Pogey, because it just seemed to suit him.
And so we took him home and called my parents and let them know that because they’d forgotten how old I was, and hadn’t forbidden me from getting that dog we now were the proud owners a Lab/Rottweiler mix.
My parents came home and found this “small horse”, as my dad called him, spread out across the livingroom floor. There had to be at least 20 kids running around the house, ranging from 20 years old to 10, since my two younger brothers and I had invited all of our friends to come and see our new pet. The dog lay there, calm as could be, actually he was fast asleep and couldn’t care less about the hullabaloo going on around him. My dad turned to my mom and said, “He’s a keeper!”
Us kids would fight over who got to take Pogey for a walk. We would roll around and play with him for hours. When he ran, every second step would be a leap high into the air.
My Aunt Eileen came over not long after we got Pogey and when she saw him and especially the way he ran, she announced to us that the pound and the vet who’d seen Pogey were all screwy since they couldn’t tell that he was no Lad/Rottweiler. ” That dog is a Rhodesian Ridgeback!” he just didn’t have the trade mark ridge, but when we started to read about and look at photos of the breed we realized that there wasn’t anything else that he could be.
Of course Pogey had his idiosyncrasies, for the rest of his life he was terrified of the basement and would only go down there in times of desperation or when we fought tooth and nail to drag him down there for a bath. He also hated large, muscular people, as I found out when he tried to run down a friend who worked out a lot and also played football with Chris. Luckily he was a really fast runner and managed to sacrifice the football to Pogey. He also hated people who wore hats, and when I say hated what I really mean is ‘he wanted to rip their throats out’.
He also really loved cologne, especially a particular scent that one of my friends wore all the time. Whenever that guy came to the house to visit, Pogey always greeted him with a good old leg humping. That dog really loved him!
Pogey also loved to break out of the house. I’d be halfway to school and look behind me to find that dog leaping his way across the field and I’d have to turn back, catch him and take him home. Whenever I was late and told the school secretary why she always cocked her eyebrow and gave me one of her ‘Do you really expect me to buy that’ expressions. I told her that if she didn’t believe me she could always ask my Mom, but as far as I know, she never did.
There were a few times when our neighbours had to break into our home and coax Pogey back in from the roof after he broke out of one of the second story bedrooms. He’d just stand there on that slanted roof and survey the neighbourhood, like he was a King and all he saw was his domain.
Once when my Mom came home she found that Pogey had broken out of the house and the neighbour across the street had somehow managed to get him back inside and then closed the window he’d busted out. The screen was missing and we weren’t able to open that window until we got a new one, which we did very quickly. A few days after we’d got the new one my Mom was walking the dog down a lane way and came across our missing screen, the mesh was all ripped out and my Mom suddenly got an image in her head of our dog bounding down the street with the frame for the screen stuck around his neck, at least until he’d managed to swing his head and toss that sucker off into the bushes.
When it came time for me and later my brothers to leave home my Mom said the same thing to all of us. “You can go, but the dog stays!”
My Mom just told me that Pogey isn’t doing well. He’s lost a lot of his weight, so much that you can once again perform an anatomy lesson on him. He’s looking pretty much the same as he did that first day we got him. His movements are slow and painful. He wants to run and leap as he’s always done, but now he collapses in a panting, heaving pile for hours, trying to recover from so much exertion.
He cries and whines a lot of the time, and he’s always panting like he’s having a hard time breathing. We’d known for a while that he was sick, we could tell that he was coming to the end of his days, long before we got the leukemia diagnosis.
This is going to be Pogey’s last week and we should all come to the house and say our good-byes to our gentle, loving beast. It breaks my heart to have to say good-bye to him, he was always there to support us and make us smile, even laugh, whenever we needed it. But it breaks my heart even more to see him like this and to know that he’s suffering so much.
I don’t want to say good-bye, but there’s no choice in the matter. Say it or no, it’s going to happen.
Even though I haven’t been under the same roof as him for many years now, I’m still really going to miss him.