Our Dog Teddy
By Thomas J. Minter
When I was a boy growing up in rural east Texas in the late 1930s, our family, I lived with an aunt and uncle, had a dog named Teddy. Most families owned a dog or two, and it was indeed a rare family that did not. It was almost like you were not a complete family unless you had a dog.
I don't know whether it was the difference between city and country or between now and then, but people possessed dogs for different reasons then than they do now. They did not endow them with human characteristics as much as people do today. They did not have a dog because they needed his love or because they thought he was cute. They did not see a dog as something fashionable to own or to make some kind of statement.
For people where I grew up a dog was a utility, a working member of the family. He kept varmints out of the chicken house and garden. He let you know when a stranger came on the place. Even though he might be behind you, he warned you if you were about to step on a snake in the grass. He was always on duty, day and night. And in general, the family dog was your companion. Not such much in the sense he kept you from feeling lonely, but one who went with you into the dark of the night to investigate some disturbance among the chickens or livestock. He was your side when the big , red rooster would try to flog you.
If a dog didn't perform his duties like he was suppose to, he didn't earn his keep. And any dog that didn't earn his keep was no good. And any dog that was no good was gotten rid of. It was that simple. Dogs didn't have a union. We never heard of the "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals," even though it probably existed back then somewhere. A good dog was a source of pride, a no account dog was a downright embrrassment. As a consequence of this attitude, there were few fat, lazy, dumb, finicky dogs about. And come to think of it, many people back then held quite a similiar view when it came to other people. But that is another story.
Our dog Teddy was black and white spotted and weighed about 20, or maybe 25, pounds.
And if you would set him up in a chair, he would have looked just like one of those skinny
Teddy bears you see in antique shops. His ancestry was terrier, although "terror" would
have been a more apt designation. But Teddy was not a pure bred. Some people refer to his
likes as "rat terrier." In the southwest these dogs are commonly called "feists," which I
suppose is derived from the fact they are feisty.
Although Teddy was loved, if that is the word, and respected by the family, he did not have the perks that dogs have today. There were no pet cemeteries in those days. The flea collar was yet to be invented. If you would have mentioned having a dog's teeth straightened in those days people would have thought you were ready for Terrell, the town with the nearest insane asylum.
Aside from these things, there were other things available back then that a dog was not privy to as dogs are today. For one thing, Teddy was never allowed into the house. If he were suddenly thrust in there, he would have felt as out of place as dog would today in the middle of the Los Angeles freeway during rush hour. He was a dog, and he stayed outside. In the summer he slept on the porch, and the winter he slept in the barn. The food he ate consisted of the scraps leftover from the meals we ate. Teddy was never seen by a veterinarian in his life . . . and would have probably been mortified at the prospect. I suppose there were obedience schools for dogs back then, but I never heard of them. Everyone trained their dogs in their own way -- it was a personal thing.
Teddy must have came from good breeding, because he had none of the drawbacks of many of today's so called "modern dog." He certainly was not a lap dog. He never did his business where you would step in it. Nor was he ever so glad to see you that he would pee all over the ground. He didn't lick your hand or jump on you unless he was invited to do so. The sound of gunshot of exploding firecrackers never sent him scurrying for cover. He didn't chase his shadow or bark at the moon. For him to hump your leg . . . well . . . he had to be extremely horny. And then, you could tell he knew he was doing something he wasn't suppose to. He just couldn't help it, things were out of his control -- the act was automatic like sneezing or sweating.
Teddy would, however, bite you if you messed with him. Messing with his food was a no no. Poking his testicles with a milkweed or "accidentally" stepping on one of his paws, would set him off. He didn't like for you to manhandle him either, especially when he was in the process of dispatching some critter. He would not have been good with children, as they say. There is no way Teddy would have stood for some kid pulling his tail or trying to sit on his back.
Teddy did have some idiosyncrasies. When you put something out for him to eat, for example, he would sniff of it, but he would not touch it until you left. He would just stand over it and look around with a sort of ticked off gaze. This always puzzled me, for many times we had been out hunting all day and I knew he had to be hungry. Sometimes I would hide and peek around the corner of the house to see if he was eating. He never was, and could sense I was spying on him. He would have never made it in today's television dog food commercials where dogs act the glutton and choke down food like it is going out of style.
Some other things puzzled me too about Teddy. I couldn't figure out how he knew when my uncle was nearing home in the old Model A Ford, when I never heard a thing. He would be lying on the porch asleep, and then all the sudden he would jump up and head for the road that ran by our place in a trot to meet the old Ford. He knew the car was coming long before I could hear the faint sound of kiss ya momma . . . kiss ya momma. To me, an eight year old, this power of Teddy's bordered on the supernatural.
The fact that Teddy hated rats, possums, skunks, and cats, didn't mystify me much. What I couldn't comprehend though was the intensity and passion with which he hated them. In their presence he became a hurricane, an uncontrollable source of energy. For some reason he had a special hatred for cats. Lord, he hated cats. He reached critical mass the instant a cat wandered into his presence. If a person were to get that heated up and angry, he would have a stroke. If you didn't quickly get him under control around a cat, he would more often than not kill it. I have seen him kill tomcats that seemed as big as he was. Although these cats acquitted themselves with honor on the battlefield in one heck of a fight, that wandered back and forth over several square yards, they usually succumbed to the volatile and tenacious Teddy. Very few had the good luck to escape.
I cannot tell you how many times I was dressed down for letting Teddy tangle with some old lady's pet cat. "No mam . . . it want ever happen again, I promise. . . . I didn't see them until the fight started. . . . I'll make sure he stays at home. . . . That's exactly how my Aunt Minnie feels about him chasing cats." The explanations . . . and condolences took various forms and were fashioned right on the spot. As a part of their training, every diplomat or person who wants to acquire tact should have as an exercise the task of explaining and apologizing to some old lady why her beloved cat was mangled or killed by their ill mannered and insensitive dog. Such as task requires timing, feigned emotion, and a certain amount of deference orchestrated just so.
In late summer, when a chill was in the air, my Uncle Jack and a neighbor would go to the woodlands on Saturdays to cut firewood. Since the little town of Saltillo where we lived was on the prairie, this amounted to a trip in the old Model A Ford with a trailer in tow. Teddy and I were allowed to go on these trips, and I could hardly wait for Saturday to roll around. It meant that Teddy and I got to spend most of the day hunting in unknown territory. At the time I was too young to pull a crosscut saw or split wood with an axe. My main chore was helping stack wood in the trailer that had already been cut. And every chance we got, Teddy and I would hightail it for some hunting.
Once we struck out into the woods, it wouldn't be long before Teddy would tree something. If it were a skunk, I lot interest right away. It took some coaxing though to get Teddy to abandon the quarry. Sometimes it might be a copperhead snake by an old rotting log. At other times, it might be a housecat taken to the wild. But more often than not it would be a possum or a badger in an underground den on the banks of a creek. In trying to get at the critter, Teddy became super dog, and would move mountains of dirt and chew roots into as big round as a hoe handle. You could hear Teddy's muffled activity way back in the tunnel. And the more you urged him on, the more frantic he went about the job. He would stay with the task at hand all day if need be. Rarely would he stop, and then only for a drink out of the creek. Then it was right back in the tunnel. Most of the time he was successful, and finally got the varmint . . . dragging him out of his underground bunker clawing, biting, and squealing.
Other than his ability to hear far away sounds, exorbitant hatred of cats, and amazing strength, the thing I had the hardest time understanding was Teddy's occasional vanishing act. Periodically, Teddy would disappear. He would be gone two or three days. And when he came home, all he wanted to do was drink, eat, and sleep--in that order. This was the only time he would eat while you were watching him. Once he had eaten, he would curl up in a ball with his tail over his nose and sleep. He seemed oblivious to everything, and would sleep for about two days as if though he was drugged. As far fetched as it might seem, he seemed so out of it I think a cat might have walked right under his nose without arousing him.
When I ask my Uncle about Teddy's vanishing acts, he would say something like, "That's the way dogs are. They were once wild, you know. And from time to time they go off to join their ancestors. Its the call of the wild." My uncle use to tell me all kinds of things like that. Once he explained to me why dogs invariably smell of each others rear ends when they met. He said way back in dog history all the dogs in the world got together for a big party. And that one of the requirements for a dog to attend, was he had to hang his butt hole outside before entering the house where the party was being held. And while most of the dogs were inside having a good time, a couple of smart alec dogs took it upon themselves to mix all the butt holes up. When they dogs left the party, each by mistake left with the wrong rectum. And that is why to this very day when dogs meet, the first thing they do is smell of each other, looking for their rightful butts.
One day at school when Teddy had did one of his Houdini acts, I thought I got a glimpse of him at recess. What appeared was him and two other dogs single-mindedly following old Mister Spark's dog Becky at a fast trot across the far corner of the school yard. I hollered out his name as loud as I could., but he paid no attention to my calling . . . which made me wonder if it was really him.
If I had to sum up Teddy, like Europeans do in little biographical portraits of each other in their journals. I would say Teddy was an independent little cuss, but in a way you admire. He was a dependable dog who did his job well. Other than biting at his privates on a hot day when the knats were irritating him, Teddy never really embarrassed us. I know my aunt thoroughly detested his behavior when the knats were after him, especially when she was sitting in the yard with company. She would run him off, but he would be back at their feet in a while. At other times, when it was just us in the yard, she didn't seem to mind. So I really couldn't say Teddy embarrassed us. Teddy never demonstrated any tendencies of a coward, and would have taken on a grizzly bear with the slightest encouragement. He didn't seem to be afraid of anything, but he wasn't stupid about it. Left to his own, he would not necessarily attack or mix it up with a large, menacing dog. He would hold his ground in the face of such a dog, with a lot of posturing. He would growl, pee on bushes, scratch grass with his hind legs, and bristle up the hair on the back of his neck, but if the odds were against him he would not be the first to sink his fangs. You could count on it, when danger was imminent, Teddy would be at your side or in forefront--never behind you. I can't ever recall him being injured or sick. Sometimes you would suspect he didn't feel well, because his food was left and you would see him eating grass. But in spite of this, he was always ready to go off hunting or anything else. Teddy didn't exemplify the saying that "dog is man's best friend," which implies that he was subservient and would take all kinds of crap off of man. He wasn't like that. Your relationship with him was as about as equal as it can be between man and beast. All I can say here in conclusion, is that every kid should be so lucky as to have a dog, or buddy, like Teddy.