My Friend Duke and Other Dogs

We have a cordial ceremony when we meet on my daily jog. Duke barks, comes out to the road. I say, “Hey Duke. Good to see you. How’s the big guy.?” Duke gets bored and walks back to his house. I jog on.

It has not always been this way. One of us got smarter. The other got amnesia.

My association with other people’s dogs includes being chased by the bishop’s feisty guard pet. I was too young to understand the snarling and snapping were only for show. Apparently so was the nip on my back side. The bishop told me the dog was harmless, but he forgot to tell his dog.

I have never been a mail man, but I was a paper boy; same spot on the food chain to some dogs including the deranged collie on my route. Psychologically many generations removed from Lassie the TV and movie star, his job as he saw it was to protect his owners from the news of the day no matter what the cost—the cost to the newsboy that is. In his feeble brain he was a pit bull, and I was a rabbit.

Every afternoon I would take a deep breath and push off down third East Street headed north. No problem delivering the paper. The street was a gentle down hill slope. I just got up a little speed, pulled up both feet out of range (barely) of his gnashing teeth, sailed the paper over him to the front porch (or near it), and coasted on till he ran out of breath, lost interest or more likely, bided his time. Because, as we both knew, the street was a dead end.

Where are the Barnum and Bailey Circus talent scouts when you need them? The trip back up the street was an act worthy of the Big Top. Water and bikes don’t run uphill. To keep from slowing down, and tipping into the jaws of death, I had to lift up the dog side leg and pump with the other foot. This involved catching the pedal with my toe on the up stroke and coaxing it over the top of the arc so I could push it down again. Man’s best fiend knew the drill. He would whip from one side of the bike to the other trying to get a hunk of peddling leg before I could reverse my pumping and lifting order.

My childhood trauma, newsboy days and my deep feelings about citizens’ rights are the only excuse I can give for my part in the ongoing feud between Duke and me. As I used to say (fruitlessly) to my mother when my brother Gordon and I went a few rounds as children, “He started it.”

My mother was never convinced, neither was Duke. The first day we met he stood his ground snarling as I invaded his turf. But it was not his turf. It was the middle of the street, a street that I as a tax payer had helped pay for and was therefore authorized to jog on.

The blood of patriots flowed to my brain as I picked up a rock, and stared Duke down. Justice having been served, I jogged on triumphant except that Duke was nipping at my heals at every step.

And thus it was for years. I threatened to stone him. He backed off then came snarling back as soon as my head turned from him. I got bigger rocks. Worked on my attack face and posture. No good, same scenario. I read you could spray ammonia in the eyes and it acts like tear gas. That’s what I’ll do,” I thought. “I’ll fill a squirt gun with ammonia and when I pass Duke’s house I’ll knock on the door and when his owners open it I’ll spray then in the eyes and say… never mind what I’ll say. That won’t work.”

And nothing did. Sometimes Duke would be locked in their garage when I came by. But he would hear my gentle padding steps a block away, and start tearing down the walls to get at me. No matter how long Duke spent in the garage. He always remembered me when he got out

I suppose I could have changed jogging routes, but hey the founding Fathers could have moved to Mexico instead of fighting for their lawful territory. There was a principle at stake. Stupid dog. Doesn’t he know anything about American history?

One day I told Sharon about this homicidal dog. She said, “Oh, you mean that nice friendly black dog. He comes out when I walk past his house. I give him a little treat or a pat on the head. We’re friends.”

Shades of Benedict Arnold, my own wife collaborating with the enemy. .

Nothing changed until Sharon and I went to the Caribbean Islands to serve a two year mission for our church.

The first day or so back I went for my morning jog. Truth to tell, two years being involved in more noble pursuits than winning a street battle with somebody else’s dog had matured me. I had forgotten my daily firefight with Duke. That is until he came streaking from behind his house barking and reclaiming his—really my—road. But part way out, he slowed down, seemed confused, couldn’t quite remember why he was doing this act.

I tensed, then relaxed, then remembered the higher road I had been walking for two years. I said, “Hey, old buddy good to see you. Still got the nice shiny black coat and white tooth smile. The last 14 dog years haven’t aged you at all. Have a good day.”

Duke trotted back to his front lawn to continue his sun bathing. I jogged on thinking, “Who knew?” Christian kindness is a whole lot better than snarls, rocks and glaring among dogs, people, or combinations thereof.