Monday, July 11, 2005


In Which the Cavalry Comes...

Dogs don't lie, and why should I?
Strangers come, they growl and bark.
They know their loved ones in the dark.
Now let me, by night or day,
Be just as full of truth as they.

--Garrison Keillor

When I was a kid, my dad had a recurring dream about burglars.

It all started when he took a construction job up in Canada and started making twice what he had been earning in the New Hampshire (I think his salary at the time was something like $8,500 a year). Flush with cash, he and my mom decided to make one big splurge purchase. Now, you or I might choose to buy a new car or perhaps take the family on a vacation to Disneyworld. Something like that.

My dad bought a deep-freeze.

I remember well his pride when the truck from Sears delivered this vault-sized freezer and jockeyed it into position in the garage. He and my mom immediately filled it with all manner of vegetables, casseroles and stews that could be frozen for later thawing. At one point they bought a whole side of beef at wholesale, which they butchered themselves and stored in the freezer. It was my dad's pride and joy, and I'm sure he and my mom loved it because it meant we had some resources to fall back on. If we ever got snowed it, by God, there'd be meat on the table.

But it was such an extravagant purchase that it began to weigh on my dad's mind and he started having the dream.

It was always the same. He'd hear a noise in the garage and get up, quietly sneak his shotgun out of the gun cabinet, then throw open the garage door and flick on the light. In front of him would be two seedy-looking characters, each holding an end of the massive deep-freeze, which they were attempting to carry out of the garage.

My dad would level the shotgun at them and say, "By Gorry, the first one of you to let that freezer touch the ground is gonna get a face full of buckshot."

And then the men spent the rest of my dad's dream slowly sinking to the floor under the weight of the freezer, each screaming to the other not to let it fall.

Despite the stressful nature of the dream, my dad always woke up with a smile on his face.

The memory of my dad's dream flitted through my mind now as I listened intently in the darkness. I thought I had heard the metallic squeak of our garage door sliding up in the middle of the night.

My heart was pounding in my ears as I hopped out of bed. I fished around under the bed, knocking over books, before finally finding my cricket bat (don't ask why I keep a cricket bat under the bed. I just do, okay?).

As I crept down the stairs, I kept listening. I couldn't hear any noises, but the wall between me and the garage was fairly thick. Of course, so am I sometimes, especially in the middle of the night. There have been instances beyond number that I have done this: heard the noise of a window breaking, or a door opening, or a child crying, and leapt out of bed, cricket bat in hand, only to find the children sound asleep, the windows and doors all intact, and realize that I had simply dreamed it.

As I crept through the living room, I stopped at Blaze's kennel. He was locked in for the night, snoozing away, undisturbed by my presence. I was afraid he'd make so much noise that I wouldn't be able to hear what was going on. If anything was going on. Still, I wanted him along, so I opened the cage to let him out.

"Come on," I hissed. He gave me a look and rolled over, pretending I wasn't even there.

Oh that's just great, I thought. My dog, the hero. If I were the Brownie, he'd be in front of me, leading the way to the garage. If I were my wife, he'd already have any intruder by the crotch. But it's just me, the dumb ol' Man. Fine, I thought. You stay there, you big fat, useless tub

Actually, I was heartened by his reaction (or lack thereof). Surely if a real prowler had been creeping around the garage, Blaze would have raised the alarm (wouldn't he?). Still, I had to check. I crept to the entry door of the garage, just off our kitchen and slowly eased it open. The door stood in one corner of the garage, up a few steps from the floor and overlooked the whole bay. The glow of the streelights from outside was penetrating the gloom of the garage ever so slightly.

Because the garage door was indeed open.

I stood there a long while, every hair on my arms and neck standing, cold sweat running down my back, under my arms. I couldn't see anything moving. Had someone come and gone?

Tentatively, I stepped into the garage, my hand feeling for the light switch along the wall. I placed my foot on the first stair leading down to the garage...

...and promptly stepped on the hard ridge of a plastic dinosaur. My foot slipped, my ankle twisted in a horrible wrench of pain and I fell hard into the garage. The cricket bat went clattering into the darkness.

And then in the dim light from the street, I saw a shadowy form suddenly silhouetted in the open doorway and heard a deep voice shout, "Hey!"

That's about as scared as I ever want to be. My hands are still shaking as I type this. I couldn't see, I couldn't get up, I'd lost my cricket bat. I've mentioned before that in crisis situations, I've occasionally been blessed with a certain preternatural calm that descends over me. Not this time. This time, I went into absolute blind hysteria.

I opened my mouth and in my panic, in my pain and distress, it's a wonder I didn't yell "Mommy!"

But instead, in a high, shrill, miserably desperate voice, I shrieked, "BLAZE!!!!"

There was absolutely no gap in time between my child-like scream and the next sound, which was actually two sounds at once: the clattering of nails on hardwood floor, and a simultaneous low growl like a muscle car ripping through my house.

Oh my God. It was like hearing the bugle call of the cavlary arriving, like that scene in the movies where the music swells and the hero suddenly steps into the frame to wipe the floor with the bad guys. My dog was coming to save me.

And then in the darkness, Blaze raced into the garage and ran full tilt into me, knocking me from my half-seated position, splaying me to the floor. He flopped halfway across me, and then, by propelling his back legs into my face and throat, he was up again with a disturbing, undulating "WHOAH-A-WHOAH-A-WHOAH" bark.

Dogs have been domesticated for so long, it's easy to forget that they were once wild animals. That they still have the strength and speed of some primitive feral creature. That the jaws of even the smallest dog are capable of crushing bone. Thousands of years of breeding and training have painted a certain docile, civilized veneer over most dogs, but it doesn't take much to strip that away, to turn them in ferocious creatures again.

And clearly there's something primitive in man that still responds to that ferocity. The shadowy form in the garage froze and I heard a familiar--if tremulous--voice crying "Wait! Wait! Don't!"

With great effort, I got to one foot, hobbled to the light switch and flicked it on.

It was my neighbor. The one who works nights. He keeps crazy hours and it's not uncommon to see him wandering around the neighborhood in the middle of the night. He's kind of an odd duck, but he's okay.

Blaze didn't care. He went for the guy, leaping over tricycles and coiled hoses and gardening implements, barking as he went, backing him into a corner.

Well, it took quite a while--and about half a pound of smoked ham--to settle Blaze down. My neighbor helped me back inside. The bottom half of my ankle was already puffy. The vein on the bone looked ready to burst and there was swelling just below the bone, along with some odd discoloration running from there to my foot. I'm sure nothing was broken (well, I hope), but it was a right good sprain. Ouch.


My neighbor and I both sat and had an impromptu late-night beer while we recovered from the moment.

My poor neighbor. Tonight was his night off, but he still makes himself stay up so he won't be off-schedule when he has to go back to work. He was walking by my house when he noticed the garage door was open (and here, I recalled, dimly and sheepishly, that I just might have left the damn door open when I walked Blaze earlier that night). He heard me crash to the floor and, thinking my family was still out of town and deciding it must be a prowler, he poked his head in to see what was going on. I mistook him for a prowler myself and, well, you know the rest.

So I must have dreamed hearing the door open after all (maybe it was my subconscious reminding me I had left the door open). And I still don't know what happened to my chain saw.

In the end we had a good laugh about it and my neighbor got up to continue his walk around the neighborhood. As he left, he looked over at Blaze, who was collapsed on the floor, burping moist bubbles of hammy air, exhausted from his recent exertion.

At rest

"That's some dog you got there. Isn't he the one that killed that bird?" I nodded proudly. He laughed. "Well, I'm glad he didn't bite MY head off."

"Yeah, he's a bit over-protective. Some days my wife wants to get rid of him."

My neighbor looked at me soberly. "If that ever happens, I'd take him. In a skinny minute." I smiled and thanked him and we said good night.

I didn't say more than that because I didn't want to seem impolite to my neighbor or his kind offer. And I hate to continue to aggravate Her Lovely Self. And I almost didn't tell this story because after telling you this one and this one, which occurred only last month, I figured at best everyone would be sick of these, er, dog tales. At worst, no one would believe it.

But in the end, I realized that when it comes to Blaze, I don't care what anyone believes, or what my neighbors, my friends, or even my wife wants.

This is my dog. This is what he does.

And after last night, there is no way in hell I will EVER give him up.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

So Blaze joins Maggie in the best guard dog world, yeah!

2 things: there can never be too many dog tales and I too keep a cricket bat under my bed
Bravo Blaze! Another doggie earns his keep. My Cheyenne sends him a high paw and a yip his way to say, "Well done."

Hope your ankle feels better soon.
Yeah, ok, but the missing chain saw is creeping me out. I mean, how do you know that your neighbor is telling the truth? What if he stole the chain saw and when he understood that he could get away with it, he went back to see what else he could steal? Not to sound like Dale Gribble, but I'd watch your back.
Alas, my wife and kids just got home and Her Lovely Self informed me she loaned the chain saw out to someone in her Master Gardener's group to clear some dead trees at a local church. I'm with you: a double-crossing neighbor would have been much more exciting and blog-worthy. I hate it when the truth gets in the way of a good story...
>>And after last night, there is no way in hell I will EVER give him up.

Awwwwwwww. I'm so glad to hear this. I absolutely adore your dog stories.

1) Sorry about the ankle. Hope it feels better.

2) Glad to hear that HLS loaned out the tools and it wasn't anything sinister.

3) And how great is it to have a dog that everyone adores? *g*

4) *is dying to ask about the cricket bat* *giggling*

Dogs are da bomb baby.

Hope you are feeling better and that the ego isn't as bruised as the ankle!!
Totally laughed at today's blog. Largely because I wish I was so vigilant. When I lived in Chicago a few years back, I thought I heard someone in my apartment when my roommate was out of town. I was tense in my bed, wishing that my cell phone was nearby, or that there were somewhere to hide...and then fell asleep. Apparently I have no survival instinct. :(

Feel better.
doodie is my friend ... :)
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Whew! Jasmine and I love the dog stories too.

And I'm sorry if I overlooked your ankle a little to think, "nice floor".

Hey I'm a Master Gardener intern. (Waves at Mrs. MM!) I don't know much yet but it sure is fun.
Between you and Shane I can picture myself making a trip to adopt a dog any day now!

Hope the ankle is better.
I'm impressed more and more by your dog. My own mutt, who is unfortunately rather old now, has never shown any such potential. In fact, for many years he would cover when a truck or bus drove past while we were out walking. Now he's deaf so it doesn't matter so much! But I would still never get rid of him - I'm just lucky he doesn't have to prove his worth. I think Blaze passed that test, though.

All your crazy dog stories remind me or James Thurber...
Nice !!!!
I too find it amazing how easy it is for the feral part of a dog's personality to come out. I once had a neighbor's Boxer decide that it had not had enough petting from me and it went to bite my wrist. Before I even realized what had happened my dog (an Alaskan Malamute)had jumped on the Boxer and pinned it to the ground by it's neck. It was comforting in some strange way.
Garrison Keillor is awesome. Good job Blaze. Hope your ankle gets better fast.

P.S. Nice leg :-P
I was searching for dog art info and found this post. I agree totally!

Having discovered your blog through the blooger toolbar, I hope you don't mind saying that I have a ebooks site/blog. It pretty much covers ebooks related stuff. Check it out if you have time.
Well done, Blaze!

"And clearly there's something primitive in man that still responds to that ferocity."

In women as well - I was actually disappointed when my German Shepherd decided that maybe other people weren't all bad and she shouldn't immediately try to dethroat them as a precautionary measure. *sigh* I'm afraid that I may be more primitive than the dog.
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