Prime Time | Dogs were pals of youth
Rex was my dog until I was 11 years old. He and I did many things together. We walked and talked. We sat and thought. We wrestled in the side yard.
When I was 6, he and I went to Ol' Man Schnorr's house north of Highway 14 and a half-block behind Andy's gas station, which was on Highway Fourteen. Mr. Schnorr had an ongoing offer with me to give me a nickel everytime Rex would dive into his haypile and bring out a rat. Rex was a white dog with brown circular spots. Rex was a rat terrier, and it was his nature to dig our rats. I loved the game because Mr. Schnorr gave me a nickel with which I could go to Andy's and get an ice cream cone. Mr Schnorr just had fun watching the two of us and making my day with an ice cream cone. I don't think he really cared about the rats. He just wanted the fun of watching Rex and me accepting and achieving the challenge. In those days we got a nice-size cone for a nickel. The charge was a nickel a scoop, and they were good-sized scoops. As I mentioned earlier my daily trip to Allenbaugh's Dairy included a triple-scoop of ice cream. About once a week Rex and I made the trip to Mr. Schnorr's house.
When I was in third grade we got a collie we named Tippy. We did not have him long because he chased a neighbor everytime he passed across the street. In those days we did not have to leash our dogs.
One day Dad came home for dinner and told me that the man insisted that Tippy be shot. The policeman carried out the order, and that was my first real tragedy. Thank goodness I still had Rex.
In sixth grade Rex died of old age, and Dad brought home a cocker for us boys. He got it from a man who owned the diner down the block from his store. I can't remember his name except again that he was a very nice man. I keep saying that the people in Tracy are nice, but that is my experience. I did not know the man well, but every time I saw him he had a warm smile and greeted me like I was somebody important. That is a nice feeling for a little kid.
We named the cocker Butch. He and I went through my teens together. He was still alive until I went off to college. Butch, too, was a white dog with brown splotlches. Rex's spots were round. Butch's spots were more splattered around his body.
Butch always slept in the middle of the doorway between the dining room and living room. He did not move when we passed through, so we automatically stepped over him.
He also was included in the meal. He had his own dog food, but we always included him with scraps from the table. I guess this is not a good practice, but then we didn't worry about such things.
Rex loved to sit next to me on the front porch. We had many, many conversations there. When I came home at night, he could hear my footsteps a half-block away and would run down the block to meet me. When we got home, I would talk to him, and he looked up at me like he was listening. We sat side by side and talked everytime I got home. He was truly a good pal.
When I went off to Mankato State College, I went there for two quarters in 1957-58, I came home for pheasant hunting season. My youngest brother, Dave, had just finished gun training with the NRA program. They had instituted the training program around that time, so kids had to have training before they could go hunting.
We lived a block and a half from the northern border of the city, so we just walked out the back yard with our shotguns and went hunting. When we crawled underneath the fence at May Hatch's dairy, we began hunting. Butch was a terrific hunter. He roved forth and back in front of us. Once in a while he got too far, so we couldn't shoot. But most of the time he was terrific.
Occasionally he got stuck on a furrow. He rocked forth and back on his tummy until he could traverse the bumps in the field and continued on hunting for us. Dave and I had good laughs whenever this happened.
Within forty-five minutes Dave and I were on our way home with three pheasants in our back pouches. These were pouches sown into the back of our hunting jackets.
When we we got home we beheaded the birds and plucked out their feathers. We had three great meals from our adventure.
I told Dad about how good a hunter Butch was, and he laughed. He told me that cocker spaniels are born hunters. Throughout the past seasons I have hunted with dogs that just ran all over the place. These were supposedly training hunting dogs. Butch gave us perfect shots most of the time. I had never hunted with a better dog than this little bugger.
Butch was also a good psychologist. Whenever I was concerned about something, he would sit next to me and give me all of his attention - and that is all I needed.
I remember reading the story of a German psychiatrist who was flying to the United States to speak at a meeting. When the passenger sat next to her, she recognized that he looked forlorn. She did not know a lot of English, but she greeted him and asked how he was. All she did was give him her attention. She did not understand a lot of what he said, but her eyes focused on him, and she listened as best she could. Also, she did not say much, nor did she try to solve his problem.
Gradually she noticed his mood began to lift, and by the end of the trip across the Atlantic he looked just fine.
This is the experience I had with Butch. He was not able to solve my concern, but he could listen. That is all I needed. I think too often we try to solve our friends problems rather than listen to them and let them get their feelings out. Listening is so powerful. I once read that psychiatrists and psychologists spend many years learning how to listen. It means we have to get rid of our own defenses, so we can open up to listening to what they are concerned about.
Dave and I worked at Frontier Farm near Effie, MN when I was at the University of Minnesota. We worked with boys from 8 to 15 years of age from the inner city of Minneapolis. The boys came from poor homes, and some of them had police records. One of the boys brought his dog, Mike, with him. Mike was mostly a Boxer and turned out to be a tremendous hunter. Donnie's dad was apparently quite a trainer.
At the end of the summer a family in Bigfork, one of the neighboring towns, want to adopt Donnie, but they did not want Mike. Dave and I met our parents and brothers and their families at Lake Miltona which was just north of Alexandria, MN. We brought Mike along, and when we got there we instructed Mike to butter up to Dad. Dad and Mom ended up bringing Mike home with them.
That fall Dave and I went pheasant hunting with Mike. Dave with a sophomore in high school at the time. Mike only hunted with one of us at a time. He hunted with me to begin with. He got a pheasant too far ahead of me, but I shot anyway and got some tail feathers. At that moment, Mike turned and gave me a dirty look, like he was saying: "I worked this hard, and you missed the shot." At that moment he went over to Dave and hunted with him. Of course, the two us burst out laughing. That was a one-in-a-lifetime experience.