Clarence and the Poodle

There were quite a few dogs in our neighborhood, more mutts than pedigrees as I think of it now. We had a mutt, and our next door neighbor had two beagles. Our dog barked a lot because there was a lot of foot traffic through the other neighbor’s yard. The beagles barked a lot because they are beagles, and beagles are just obnoxious that way. Our four dogs accounted for about eighty-percent of the barking in the entire neighborhood. The other neighbors must have hated us.

Clarence, our neighbor with the beagles, hated us. He hated when my brothers or I trespassed on his property. He hated us when we played in the street in front of his house, and he hated us when we played in the park behind his house. We hated him right back. It’s possible he didn’t understand us, but the end result is the same–we didn’t converse, we didn’t say hello, and we were just morbidly curious whenever the ambulance came to his house for an emergency with his wheelchair-bound wife. I can say with certainty that I didn’t understand him, but at the time it sure felt like hate.

Clarence’s dogs were kept in a cage behind his garage. This was back when detached garages were the norm, so the dogs were a goodly way away from his house. He’d go out to check their food and water once a day, and at least once a week we heard him mucking out the kennel, scraping the dog shit off of the concrete with a shovel.

One day, our mutt went into the heat. It’s a lot like when women come into estrus, but the way dogs are so up front about the situation it all becomes charming, and there’s little need for euphemism. The girl dog drips blood in the house, my dad would get angry because you can only clean the blood you find (the stuff that gets soaked into the carpet becomes part of the charm of the place), and boy dogs start hanging around your yard.

It’s a chemically induced lust that is all part of the circle of life. When humans experience that lust, it gets all complicated with social norms, clumsy shyness, and State laws. Your brain can fire every available synapse with the message “HAVE RELATIONS WITH THAT PERSON NOW” but some part of you will hold back, try to think of an ice breaker, and hope for the best.

Dogs will scratch at the door, howl, and leap and tear at each other like, well, animals. It’s rather refreshing. So it was with our dog, “Lightning”, who suddenly became the most popular bitch in the ‘hood.

Most of the suitors were miserable curs like our own, but one was a lovely, white, standard poodle. The sons of the poodle’s family were pretty rough, and I avoided those boys out of my cowardly ignorance, and I assumed all along that the expensive canine was stolen. I would have been proud had that poodle, with his top knot and kennel cut, had nailed our mutt.

The poodle made a tactical error in taking the direct path from his yard to our own, which sent him through Clarence’s yard.

The poodle ignored the beagles, who barked insanely at the intruder. The poodle was trying to negotiate his way through the shrubs in Clarence’s yard but was frustrated by the chain link fence which confined our own Lightning.

Clarence came out to chase away the poodle, and brought a gun with him. It was an air rifle with a single pump action whose lever was the entire wooden handle beneath the barrel. It fired a .177 caliber pellet and was powerful enough to kill a squirrel or a rabbit.

Clarence stopped between his house and his garage, loaded the rifle, charged the air chamber, and aimed. The discharge is quiet, not much more than a spit of air. But the howl of the dog was loud and disturbing.

The poodle cried and screamed in pain. From my vantage, I did not see him until he came out from around the garage, bravely approaching Clarence; but then, the dog did not know that Clarence had hurt him. The dog only knew that he was in pain.

The small pellet penetrated the skin of his back and damaged his spine, paralyzing his back legs. He dragged those legs as he cried out in pain, and hurried home as fast as possible.

Clarence trailed after him to the front yard, but he could not think of anything to do, and lacked the conviction at this point to simply kill the dog, whose continued howling had brought a number of neighbors out of their home, and together we watched that dog drag his hind legs back home, like any good dog would do.

You couldn’t blame the poodle for having risked everything to be with our dog. He was just doing what dogs do. I suppose you couldn’t blame Clarence, either; he was just doing what crabby men do, which is wreak havoc on the world.