Creative Writing |

Raleigh, the Friendly Dog

Raleigh's ironic sobriquet comes from the Caspar the Friendly Ghost theme song, slightly modified:

He always says 'hello', and he's really glad to eat ya',
Wherever he may go, he's kind to every living creature.
Raleigh was a stocky German shepard who tried to kill every living creature he saw except puppies and female dogs large enough to mate with; smaller female dogs fell into his 'critter' category. On the other hand, indoors he was as sweet and affectionate as could be and would only bite if you stepped on his tail or something. He was what you might call visceral.

I got Raleigh at Morningtown, a pizza parlor that used to be where Roosevelt and Eastlake converge. I was in a street band that would play there sometimes for pizza, and when we came out one night after playing and eating there was this big German shepard sitting in the backseat of my car. The mythical story is that I told him, "OK, out, bub!", he growled and showed his fangs, and then I said "OK, you can stay". Actually I think I probably just decided to keep him then and there, because I'd always had a thing about German shepards, ever since I was five when my mother took my sister and me back to her home town, Missoula, to stay with our grandparents. There my Uncle Luke had Rhett Butler, a beautiful super-intelligent German shepard, and we really hit it off. At five years old I wasn't suppose to leave the yard but I always did and my mom would panic and say "Where's Marty?" and my Gramma would say "Out somewhere with Rhett, don't worry, they'll be fine" and we always were. I don't remember this, but they tell me that one day a friend of my Gramma's saw me wandering around and thought maybe I was lost, so she started to come up to me and Rhett barked at her so she didn't get any closer. At any rate, I was really enamored with Rhett and after I came back to Seattle Gramma sent me a letter saying that he was moping around and really missing me.

Raleigh had a girlfriend, a sweet little German shepard named Sheba, who my girlfriend Patty got so Raleigh'd have company. When Sheba was in heat we tried to keep them apart but failed once and the result was a litter of 12 healthy puppies. Sheba gave birth in the crawl space under the house, so we didn't really get to see them or know how many there were till they started scampering around the yard. When they were around 5 weeks old we dumped them all in a big cardboard box and took them to the Arboretum. There Patty would try to line them up more or less at the top of the hill and when I called out they all came racing down. These puppy races usually drew a pretty good crowd so we'd get any kids who were around to each take a puppy up the hill to the starting line and then let them all go together in a proper race. This could go on all afternoon, so that by the time we returned home we had twelve pooped pups.

To find a home for our charges, we put an ad in the paper "German shepard puppies, no papers, $10". People on the phone would always ask just what these pups looked like, because sometimes what some people called "German shepard" was more like a "shepard mix"; these terms can cover a lot of ground. So we just said "Come and see", and made Raleigh our sales agent. When folks came to the gate and saw the "Beware of Dog" sign, they would call out to be let in, whereupon Raleigh would charge off the porch growling and showing his teeth. In two days the puppies were gone; everybody took at least one.

One very surprising thing I learned: Dogs recognize their own offspring, even when they haven't seen them for a year and the offspring have grown up. It happened that one of our friends took a male puppy from this first litter, who he named Rufus. So about a year later I happened to have Raleigh in my truck when I went to visit this guy.

"Don't let Raleigh out," he warned, "Rufus is around here somewhere." Well, Raleigh did manage to get out but the two dogs just exchanged sniffs and then completely ignored each other. This can only mean that Raleigh remembered Rufus from when he was a pup, because in all the years I had Raleigh he would always attack another male dog. Always! The only reason he didn't attack Rufus must have been because he somehow recognized him. Now the question is, did he recognize him as being his own offspring or, if Rufus had had a different father, but Raleigh had been around him when he was a puppy, would he still not attack him when he grew up?

I suppose it will come as no surprise to know that, in spite of living in a crackerbox house on the corner of 12th and Cherry that didn't even have a funcional lock on the front door, no one ever broke in and stole anything. There was a whole colony of musicians and other freaks living on the economicably viable fringes of the Central Area in the early/mid-seventies —the rent on our three-bedroom house was $80/month— and ours was the only house that never got burgled. This did a lot to make up for the occasional vet bills I had to pay when Raleigh mangled someone's little dog.

It happens we have a very good friend, Mickey, who is very Irish, very fond of a drop, and very inclined to "straighten people out" when he perceives them to be in need of such. So one evening he passed by, in somewhat low spirits despite having imbibed strong spirits, and we sat on the couch and got to talking. Affectionate old Raleigh came up to him to put his head on his lap for ritual petting and peevish Mickey gave him a kick in the chops. Lucky I'm called Lightning Louie! In a flash I manged to grab Raleigh's collar and save Mickey from getting a third nostril. Or a hole in the neck, I guess, since I don't know whether Raleigh was going for the face or the jugular. Mickey called the next day and asked me, "Was I really trying to pick a fight with Raleigh last night?" I'm happy to report that thanks to this and similar experiences (and AA), Mickey's been on the wagon for more than thirty years.

One day Patty and I were walking along a very remote trail in the Olympic Mountains when suddenly, from the direction we were walking, a man and a woman came riding toward us on horseback. Before I could stop him Raleigh bolted off and jumped for the throat of the woman's horse, who naturally reared up, nearly throwing her off his back; fortunately she was able to stay in the saddle. Raleigh nearly got his head smashed in when the horse came down, which would have served him right, so he backed off a little and I was able to grab him. And then it was probably a good thing I had Raleigh, because the guy on the other horse was calling me every name in the book and telling me I needed a lesson and I'm sure he would have loved to get off his horse and let me have it... But with Raleigh there his abuse didn't take a physical turn.

Finally, as bad luck would have it, some idiot kids who passed by our yard every day teased him mercilessly and so he developed a dangerous case of kid-hate. Later we moved out of the city, to an isolated house trailer on the Kitsap Peninsula, so I thought it would be safe to have him there, but his end came when one day he got out of the yard and nearly killed a neighbor's dog. The woman whose dog it was told me that what she was really concerned about was that her kids were playing outdoors at the time and she was afraid he might attack them next.

It wasn't easy, but the truth was he was dangerous to kids, so I took him to the pound and told them he should be put to sleep. The guy looked at me like I was just making excuses for getting rid of an inconvenience, since Raleigh was really affectionate indoors, among friends, and the agent was petting him and he seemed perfectly sane. But I told him he'd been my dog for eight years and about the teasing and my neighbor and her kids, so he had little choice but to agree. I did mention he would make a good night watchman dog, just so long as you warned whoever took him that he was dangerous to kids. But the official shook his head: "dangerous to kids" is a death sentence for dogs.

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