Anyone who knows me very well knows that I love dogs. I have three myself and although they’re trying my patience (seriously, I don’t even know how I managed to adopt three of the most neurotic dogs ever, I thought that shit was against the odds), they’re my favorite animal to own. Loyal, loving and snugly, they care about their humans and about making their humans happy. I just feel safer having dogs around; I’d rather have a big dog than a loaded gun in my house any day.
One in particular comes to mind though. When I was 16 or 17, one of my mom’s friends bred her dog, a black lab, with her son’s dog, another black lab. Before this, we’d had a Rottweiler for years that we credit with saving my sister’s life (a story for another day), but he’d been gone for a while and my parents were finally looking at getting another dog. The puppies came along at the perfect time. I was out of school and could stay with the dog, and we were just ready to get another big pooch.
We picked one out that had a white stripe on its chest, as it would be a cheaper puppy. In fact, somebody had told the breeder that she might as well drown the labs who were born with white on them, because they were worthless, especially for registered dogs. Being a dog lover, there was no way that was going to happen so she instead discounted the “worthless dogs”. It was never discussed with us kids, but I think money was tighter at the time than any of us knew. Instead, it was just announced to us one day that we wouldn’t be buying one of the lab puppies. I don’t know if the lady took pity on us in the end, after we’d picked one out and everything, or really just wanted us to have one of her dogs, but she wound up giving my family the puppy for free.
On the first day I met the dog, while he was still with his litter mates, it occurred to me to call him Boo. No really good reason why it was that name, but despite being told it was stupid, it stuck with the rest of the family. So when he was finally big enough, Boo came home.
It was a weird time for my family. My dad was trying a new business venture that was rough going. They hadn’t allowed me to get a job under the assumption that I’d work for them, but they couldn’t pay me and I got fired the second week. It’s funny, but my parents remain the only person/company to have ever fired me. But no matter-that meant that I got to hang out and be worthless all summer. My brother was still working for them and my little sister stayed with friends most of the week, so at home it was just me and Boo.
We naturally became the best of friends as the months went on. He was pretty low-maintenance for a dog. Boo didn’t want to sleep in your bed, he didn’t want to you to sit and pet him, and he most definitely did not want to be in your lap. For the most part, he only wanted to play fetch with his soccer ball, and hang out around where you were.
Given that I was stuck at home most of the day, I started taking my brother’s truck every afternoon/evening, and Boo and I would head down to an offshoot of the Sacramento river. I’m sure it has a proper name, but I’ve always just called it The Slough. It’s a lush, overgrown, infrequently traveled area, shrouded all around by trees, where the river back fills a small area. Every day about the same time, Boo and I would grab my fishing pole and tackle and head down to The Slough to hang out for a while.
For a shitty, Paint-generated reference:
At this point, Boo was still a scrawny pup. He was getting tall, he would eventually dwarf both of his parents, but he was all huge puppy feet and yaps. He’d frequently fall into the slough and I’d have to drag him back out by the collar, and he’d lay by me while I failed to catch anything, ever. Sometimes we’d run in to other people fishing, but Boo would run and say hi, then hang out by me.
So I can’t describe the terror I felt when, one evening, out of the blue, Boo turned on his Big Dog Bark. I’d never heard it before, ever, and it scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t just one big bark either-He danced around, hackles raised, barking and growling like I’ve never heard before in my life. At first I tried to quiet him, and then I got worried. We have mountain lions and other nasty creatures in the area and given the dog’s behavior, I thought it was time to go.
That’s when he showed up. I was never as scared of him at the time as I should have been. As he walked out of the woods on to the trail, I actually had to leash Boo to keep him from going after the guy. Really, I should have left then, but I tend to be too trusting. The guy had a pole and tackle, so I really just felt like the dog was being slightly crazy. It did strike me as odd that he chose to fish about ten feet from me, but we were talking about fishing out there, so I didn’t think anything more of it.
I don’t clearly remember everything, but there are three things that I do remember. The first was that the guy told ridiculous and rather shitty fishing stories. Yes, I’m sure they were just flying out of the water to get your lure. Yes, I’m sure they swallowed a lure the size of your fist. Uh huh.
But the second thing is what started to make me worry. Boo was always a little protective of me, but only when he was older. At this stage, he’d freely run around and say hi to every one and every thing. But every single time this guy tried to pass me a lure to look at (he made them himself, honest!) Boo would lose his shit and try to bite the guy’s hand.
On top of that, I started to take notice of the questions he was asking. Do you come here a lot? he asked. What time do you like to fish here? You bring you dog to swim down here every night? You ever bring any friends?
Even as obtuse and naive as I can be, I got the chills. I noticed it was getting dark and fed him some line about needing to get home and cook dinner for my sister. On our way out, I spent so long looking over my shoulder that I’m surprised I didn’t walk into a tree. To this day, I’ve never gone back to that slough.
As I finish that story, I’m trying to remember why I felt the need to tell it. I was working in that area today and it dredged up the memory, but I don’t think that’s why. I’ve been reflecting on things that have happened to me in the past that are just now hitting me as way too fucking creepy, but that’s not it either.
I think I just miss Boo. He was my friend, and he protected me. That guy wasn’t the only one he chased off over the years, one of which he actually bit when the guy didn’t leave me alone after I’d asked. Boo would sneak into any vehicle with an open door, just to make sure he didn’t get left behind. I was the only person he’d jump on until he met my husband, and he’d wrap his legs around my shoulders and hug me. He’d crawl in my bed when he stayed over and he’d play fetch until he dropped.
About two years ago, Boo’s size finally caught up with him. He wasn’t even ten, but he went over a soccer ball and suffered a major spinal injury, paralyzing his lower half. A life without running and swimming was no life for that dog, and my parents made the right decision. But of all the dogs we’ve ever had, I’ll always miss Boo the most.