Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Boy and His Dog

You never forget your first dog.

I’ve suffered the loss of too many pets to have them again on purpose. I do seem to inherit them though. Pets are family members with short lives. Not only that but you can’t leave town for a week without getting them a sitter. Who needs the extra responsibility?

I like cats because you can leave them for a few days especially if you have more than one. Dogs are way too needy.

Pets are important for kids though. They learn love and social responsibility from them.

We got a dog when my brother was born. They shared the same birthday as far as we were concerned.

We lived in a barn shaped two family on Crescent in Dog Town. It shared a back yard with a store that faced the opposite direction. There was an old woman living there whose son’s dog had a litter of long haired, black puppies. He was a cop. (I know my mother will clarify the details of all this).

We got one of the dogs and my dad named him Sinbad.

I’m 51 and Sinbad still haunts my dreams. He was as much a part of my childhood as my brother. I know this is a common story but bear with me.

My childhood was a strange mixture of ultra urban and rural experiences. Sinbad was as comfortable in a six family tenement as he was running wild in the woods.

He was either a chow/cocker spaniel mix (his tongue had black spots) or, according to my father, a lizard hound.

He would patiently sit at the base of a tree all day waiting for a lizard to come down. Damned if one didn’t eventually. I had the pic where he’s standing proudly in front of our clubhouse made into a poster for my dad. I gave it to him that last Christmas he spent with us. He loved it of course. Sinbad had been gone several years by then.

Growing up in Laclede Town there were two town dogs that ran wild. An orange and white cocker spaniel named Freckles and Sinbad. It was amazing how many long haired black puppies ran around the neighborhood.

I mentioned in a previous post that my Brother and I traveled great distances on our bikes. The summer before I started 6th grade we moved to Oakland, an unincorporated suburb between Webster Groves and Kirkwood. It was a new experience for all of us.

The first thing my brother and I did was head out on our bikes to explore. Sinbad went with us. He went everywhere with us.

We rode as far as Sunset Hills. When we got back we noticed Sinbad wasn’t with us. He didn’t come home at all that night. We were beside ourselves with grief. Two nights later we heard him scratching at the back door as if nothing had happened. I thought we had lost him for sure because we never got off our bikes and there was no scent to follow home.

Two years later when we lost the house our family was thrown into turmoil. My mother had to stay with friends. My brother and I stayed a short time with my grandmother who tried to keep us in our school routine. Eventually we moved out to the country with my dad and his second wife.

I later learned my grandmother tried to get custody of us. The old Polaroid is my brother in the Oakland back yard with Sinbad and Samantha our cat.

Samantha stayed with my mom but Sinbad had to stay in the cold, deserted, dark, unheated house. I remember being embarrassed when my uncle Bill took us there to feed Sinbad and let him out. The house smelled like crap and I could tell my uncle felt sorry for us. I hated his pity.

My dad talked his new wife, Helen, into taking all of us in. This was the year we went to three different schools and still missed three months. I don’t know how we graduated.

Helen’s experience with dogs was a little different than ours. She had a small kennel with beagles. Her last husband was a hunter. He was found in our small lake slumped over in his fishing boat, heart attack I think.

Helen made Sinbad stay outside in the snow. He wasn’t used to this and we begged her to let him stay in the basement. She finally did but as soon as he crapped there he was back outside.

Sinbad disappeared.

There was a pack of wild dogs out in the woods. You could hear their yelps in the night. A neighbor told us Sinbad was with them. He told us when a dog goes wild you can’t tame them again. When spring came Sinbad came scratching at the back door.

My mother got her life together and took us back. I think my brother and I totally destroyed my dad’s second marriage.

On a side note I did build an electric guitar in shop class that year. It didn’t have the electronics but I did learn to play on it. My dad helped me get the woods, tuning gear and bridge.

There’s always that sad time when a child grows up and neglects his dog. When Sinbad was 15 he would dutifully follow me down a hill in Soulard where I would catch a ride hitch hiking to my girlfriend who lived in Webster Groves. I’d be gone for weeks sometimes.

The last time I saw Sinbad was as I was climbing into a car I’d thumbed down. When I came home I wondered where he was. For some reason I told myself he was old and he must have wandered off to die. Later my mother and I couldn’t believe we never checked the pound. He’d been there waiting for us so many times in the past. I’m afraid we really let him down at the end. Man, I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

His life would have made a great Disney film if they had the balls to feature such a dysfunctional family.

The pic of me in front of my dad’s record player was the first apartment Sinbad came home to on Crescent. The set of black shelves was built by my mom for my dad’s records. I still have the shelves. Note the tubes sticking out of the amplifier. The last pic is Sinbad, my dad and me in front of our West End apartment on Maryland. Check out my bell bottoms.


Anonymous said...

i remember Sinbad well, i didn't know about the dog pound thing, i think Pat and i assumed he ran off to die. i have only ever had one pet that stayed long enough to die, that was Sweetheart the dog we had in Overland; i always felt guilty because she had eaten a quarter hit of blotter i dropped on the floor once and although she seemed to have a good time barking at nothing at all she later died of heart problems, of course she was much older by then but i always wondered if that had anything to do with it... Geo

Doggie said...

I remember Sweetheart well.

...Sharon said...

PBS ran a 2-part episode on Nature last year about the evolution of dogs.

Basically, the most varied species on earth, dogs evolved for us. They literally evolve for our love, attention and table scraps. Their capacity and desire to work for us is incredible. Look at the instinct of service dogs; they even help sense epileptic seizures. My brother's dog kept nudging him in the chest when he had a mild heart attack.

Of course there's the pain when they die, but that heartbreak is what we need to evolve. To feel that loss helps us value life more, making us more humane. However, you do need to find another hound for your next phase of life. It's the perfect symbiotic relationship.

Your Sinbad sounds like one of those over-the-top loyal hounds. Hey... and it's okay to cry.

Anonymous said...

I, too, tear up when I think of Sinbad. When he disappeared we didn't have a car and getting to the pound to look for him would not have been easy. I would have figured it out, of course, but you guys, therefore Sinbad were gone so much I didn't realize he had lost his collar and tags. At the time I assumed the pound would call if they had him, based on the information on his tag since that was their practice back then.

As far as our first address when Sinbad first came home, we shared the yard with the landlady, who also had a black dog, but her dog was no relation to Sinbad..

I'll tell you the story, again, of how we got him and you can blog about it. It deserves a blog. It's a great story!

Incidentily, I wrote a little paper for Comp 101 about losing Sinbad and let our friend, Susie Gray read it. When she finished she had tears in her eyes.

Your Mom

Valerie Pennington said...

I read a story in the Post not long ago about a lady who was irritated at her co-worker for continually bringing her annoying little dog to work. The lady passed out in her cubicle one day and her co-worker's little dog started licking and licking and licking her head in one spot.
She was later diagnosed with a brain tumor IN THAT VERY SPOT.
So if a dog licks your head, you'd better go to the doctor right away.

Anonymous said...

I still miss my dog that was with us since around the time of my birth.