Sheriff Brody

When you live in a house for ten years, you come to know all of the neighborhood dogs, even those you’ve never met. You recognize their barks, calling to one another across fences and yards, down streets and alleyways. They pass secret messages to one another and information of great importance, such as:

“Hey! A squirrel is heading your way!”

“Get out of my yard, cat!”

Or most often, I imagine, “Did you hear that?”

These dogs I’ve never met have taken shape in my imagination: the dog down the street who cries out a long stream of excited barks every time he’s let outside is a medium-sized mutt of many colors with fluffy tufts under his ears; the loud, occasional woof comes from a big, black lab who’s barking just for something to do; the yapper is a miniature, white, overly animated dog with anxiety issues; and on the other side of the wall which borders the north side of our yard is the small, yet tough-sounding, scrappy barker I called the wildling.

Then there are the dogs I know…

Across the street, my neighbors have huskies, easily distinguished by their distinctive howls. Next door is a lovable duo–a low-key chocolate lab and a furry, troublemaking, little rascal. And behind our house, the dog known as Sheriff Brody.

When my husband and I bought this house we were elated to leave behind the noise of a rental house on a busy street for a quieter neighborhood. Even though we’d only moved a few blocks away, it made all the difference. Traffic had been steady, day and night. Beer trucks gunned their engines up the steep hill, people sped by on their way to and from work, and snow plows/garbage trucks/street sweepers were a constant noise.

At our new house, we could still hear traffic, but it was a soft din. We embraced it as the sound of our town thriving, people going about their lives—our neighbors, our family, our friends.

The first morning we couldn’t have been happier. We owned a home! We had waited so long. We’d worked hard, we’d saved, and we’d searched a long time for the right place. And now we’d finally moved into our own house.

Then, at 7:00 AM, “Bowowowowow!”

It was a big dog, we could tell. And it was close.

Another “Bowowowowowow!” came a minute later.

We got up and looked out the back window to see our neighbors’ yellow lab sitting on their deck overlooking our backyards, occasionally breaking the morning silence with a good old-fashioned, big-dog bark.

We watched him for a few minutes, sipping coffee, laughing about how much better it was than waking up to hundreds of cars and trucks speeding by, then went on with our day. Truthfully, we didn’t mind. We both had to get up for work anyway.

The next morning it happened again.

And the next. And the next.

The dog was a yellow lab named Body, but for some reason we called him Brody, and eventually that turned into Sheriff Brody, after the character in Jaws (which we watched years later and realized his name was actually Chief Brody. But that was for the best; there was only one Sheriff Brody.)

He was an older dog, and as sweet and mellow as could be. He never barked at any other time of the day–unless a siren went off at the fire station. Then he would let out a mournful howl that came from the very depths of his doggie soul. It was a howl of longing, perhaps one telling the world that somewhere deep within him the wildness remained.

Sometimes his owners would howl when they were on their deck with friends and it would cause the Sheriff to howl along with them. (If you have a dog who howls, you know you’ve done this…) Those coerced howls never sounded as mournful as the howls for the fire alarm, though. That siren struck a chord within him, like when we hear a song that brings tears to our eyes, or a certain note on the piano that strikes a melancholy within.

During the day, when Sheriff Brody was in his yard, our dogs would run to the fence barking ferociously. He would look at them passively, walk to the fence and sniff, then lay down in the shade. He never barked back. He never reacted. He was completely quiet … except for when that siren rang, and at 7:00 AM in the morning.

So we had bought a new home with a built in alarm clock that was perfect for a pair of dog lovers. We left behind the sound of traffic and traded it for an old lab welcoming a new day by calling out into the morning sky. It was wonderful while it lasted.

Sheriff Brody passed away a few years later. He had a nice, long life with good owners, but it was still sad. It always is. We miss the best alarm clock we ever had to this day. He was our introduction to the fact that when you own a home, things don’t often go as planned, but sometimes, if you go with the flow, they may turn out even better than you imagined.

Some mornings I wake up thinking I hear him, but I know it’s only a memory. Those mornings I get my coffee, look out my back patio and imagine him, sitting quietly, content, gazing across the yards behind his house, occasionally sniffing. Then his body flexes and his head flattens out and he puts his snout in the air, letting out a “Bowowowowow” for all he is worth.

I remember the fog of his breath on cool mornings.

And sometimes, when the fire alarm goes off in town, I call out a wild and wolf-like howl in his honor, and wonder if he is howling along.

Rest in peace, Sheriff Brody. You were a good boy.

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Saving Mr. Jingles

We found half of a mouse in the basement the other day. The back half. Not sure where the other half is, but I assume it’s in the belly of one of our cats.

We also found a whole mouse, cowering under my husband’s bass drum, a cat on either side of it–one all white and fluffy, one black and sleek–watching it intensely.

My husband pulled the mouse out and brought it upstairs. “What do we do with this?” he asked, motioning to the mouse sitting patiently in his hand. It was just a baby, fully furred, yet unstable on its feet, eyes slightly open, mouth suckling the air. It quivered uncontrollably. Undoubtedly, it had seen its sibling get bitten in half by a giant beast. We were torn.

At first we put him out in the woodpile, finding a sizable notch in a piece of wood and wrapping him in a garden glove. We dropped some flax seeds around him for nourishment. He nestled in and we left him there, hoping he would survive.

As darkness fell an hour later, we began to question our decision. Did we just sentence this little creature to death? Surely he’d freeze in the night; it would get down to fifty degrees overnight. Plus, there are stray cats out there all the time. Could he even eat solid foods yet?

My husband went out to check on him and came back twenty minutes later. “His name is Mr. Jingles,” he said, matter-of-factly. Of course it is, I thought, since he’s Stephen King’s #1 fan. Well, on second thought, he’s his #2 fan…

Once he had a name, we had no choice but to bring him in. We decided to keep him warm overnight, then free him to the wild when it was warmer. So, we poked holes in a shoebox and lined it with a piece of a fleece blanket. I made a concoction of half and half and warm water for him to drink. The internet said to feed him powdered kitten milk, but we didn’t know where to find something like that. (Was someone out there milking cats?) It was nine at night and we used what he had. He drank it, slowly, from an eye-dropper. After a few drops he quivered and we thought he was dying, but he didn’t. He climbed around the blanket, buried his nose into a fold and nestled in. He slept in our bedroom that night next to the heater.

Maybe we were crazy. Maybe we should have let nature take its course. But, we’re part of nature too, aren’t we? And, in a way, didn’t he have more of a right to live in our house than us? I mean, he has BORN here! (I know, I’m stretching it there…)

The next day he spent in the garage while we were at work. That evening we fed him by putting drops into our hand and he lapped them up. It worked so much better than the eye-dropper. He eagerly crawled into our hands when he sensed us near–his dexterous, gripping toes clinging for dear life as he climbed our fingers. As he walked more, he built strength and balance in those wobbly little limbs. The next few days were cold, so he became a full-time house dweller.

I’ll admit that after three days I felt a bit like a crazy person taking care of this little guy, but I figured I was doing it because we have four month old dachshund puppy and I have some ‘mother’s milk’ running through my body. The innocence is all too familiar; the trust too sweet. Or is it more than that?

I think the moment we knew we’d protect him and try to save him was when I ran a finger along his head and under his chin and he closed his eyes and stretched out his neck. He loved to be touched, to be pet, like one of our dogs or cats. He wasn’t ‘vermin,’ as some people would say. He was a scared, little creature asking for safety and comfort in a big world after he’d lost his family.

How could we refuse?

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I wrote the first half of this a few days ago, and really thought we were going to save Mr. Jingles. I had visions of creating a little home for him in our house, or letting him free in the garage, where he would come out and visit us when we were working on projects out there. (I probably watched too many Disney movies as a child…)

Last night he snuggled up in my hand for a while, then I lay him on my shirt as we watched a movie. He was fine until his back legs spasmed. Then his whole body spasmed. I tried to get him to eat, but he wouldn’t. He started gasping every few seconds, sucking in air. We each held him for a few minutes until he passed. We hoped he wasn’t in pain, but it was quick, and he wasn’t alone.

We thought he was going to make it. And we had been ready to take on the responsibilities. We were feeding him numerous times a day, making sure he was pooping (he did so…in my hand, often…) and we kept him warm. But, it wasn’t enough.

We only had him for four days, but he became a part of our family, however briefly. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears when he died, and I went to bed sad, and a little shocked, with no shoebox on the floor next to the heater.

We knew the odds were against us, but we tried. I’m glad we tried. I hope he is too.

I know this happens all the time–people try to save birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other animals who are orphaned or injured. But why? Is it just instinct to care for those who are helpless? Or do we have so much love inside of us that we can give, and give, and give and never be empty?

I hope so. That’s a nice thought.

We did love that little guy; he had personality. 

We’ll bury him in the backyard under a fruit tree. And we will remember Mr. Jingles.

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