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Hagebak: Only Grandpaw could tame ‘Wild Dog’

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When I was a kid I prided myself on my way with all critters and my dream was to become a vet just like James Harriot, who wrote the series of memoirs that began with the book “All Creatures Great and Small.” I just knew that one day Dr. Herriot would hear of my amazing way with animals and call me up, all the way from Yorkshire, England, and invite me to come and help him with his more difficult cases!

Yep, I had a way with animals, no doubt about it. But there was one nut that I could not crack, and his name was “Wild Dog.”

One winter day when I was around 12, I heard crying beneath the azalea bushes outside my bedroom window. I honed in on it with my near-supernatural ability to locate critters in distress, and crawled underneath the hedge with a piece of loaf bread, planning to lure the little thing with a promise of food and a warm set of arms to cuddle into. When I had scooted as far as I could under the bushes, there he was – a tiny ball of white and black-speckled pup. I started doing my expert calculations and soon had him figured at around eight weeks old. He had obviously gotten lost, but I was sure that I would be able to scoop him up and calm him with my gentle voice that all creatures great and small responded to, and find his rightful home before nightfall.

The little sucker chomped me and ran away! By the time I had scooched backwards out from under the azaleas, he was nowhere to be seen. Mama, who’d run outside when I started howling about blood and stitches and possible rabies, thought I’d made the whole thing up.

We didn’t see the puppy for a while after that, but one day Brother spied him in the back yard and managed to nab him! He came running inside with the little thing in his arms, both of them hollering at the top of their lungs. During that initial exam, I discovered that he was indeed a male, with a docked tail and different colored eyes. One was blue and one was brown. They both had murder in them, and as soon as he could, he bit me again and scrambled out the open door and was gone for another week.

It went on like that for a while. We’d catch him and bring him inside, he’d grudgingly allow us to feed and pet him, and then just when we thought he might love us, he’d nip us and run away again. No one in the neighborhood claimed him and we never did figure out what misadventure had landed him under the azaleas. We might have eventually won him over, but when he was around six months old, Wild Dog bit Brother hard enough that Mama lowered the boom and we had to give up on taming him.

He was never a pet, but Wild Dog lived with us for around 12 years. He grew up to be a large fellow, probably an Australian Shepherd mix. We fed him and loved him, no matter how stand-offish he was. He was ours. And we were his. He was always there, on the periphery of whatever we were doing. If I took a sun bath, he kept vigil just out of arm’s reach, staring at me the whole time. He allllmost played ball with Brother and the other dogs. He barked to keep strangers away, and it drove him nuts if we left with friends that he didn’t know. But we could never touch him. For most of his life, Wild Dog didn’t know the pleasure of a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears.

Grandpaw came to live with us when I was in high school. He was kind of a loner, and not very affectionate. In fact, he could be downright prickly, and was always almost a stranger to Brother and me. Daddy said that Grandpaw loved us, but he couldn’t help but love us from afar.

Grandpaw loved to read, and spent most days sitting in a comfortable chair on the patio with a paperback open in front of him. One day I looked out the kitchen window and there was Wild Dog, sitting by Grandpaw, who was casually scratching him behind the ears with the hand not holding his open book. They were silent companions until Grandpaw’s passing. Wild Dog followed him soon after, and I imagine they sit together in the Great Beyond, reading and guarding, two old loners who love from afar.