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Friday, November 28, 2008

AN AVERAGE DOG’S TALE

But Kelly had no average tail

By Chip Bennett

This is a story of a very average dog.
Really, I mean it.
Kelly was average. She was not particularly big, but nor was she small. She was not exceedingly loyal, or intuitive, or watchful, or even fast or powerful. She was not an especially good swimmer, nor could she pull a sled, track a criminal, sniff out contraband, or guide the blind.
Kelly could, I suppose, flush out a rabbit, or perhaps a quail…if by flush out one means startle the poor creature, and then give wild chase.
No, Kelly was definitely not the brightest bulb in the dog world…if pressed, I could argue she was pretty, with her long, flowing, silky red hair that glistened in the sun, as she pranced through the meadows…but I won’t even give her that superlative, as I’ve seen many a mongrel, that looked equally good.
But wait, you say, was she a pure-bred? Surely with her family history…her pedigree, her provenance…she must be special. And indeed, Kelly did have good breeding, that is to say, she came from a long line of “special” dogs.
But so do half the dogs in the country, so that, unto itself, makes her, well, rather common. Yes, Kelly, the Irish Setter, if you must know…was average.
But that being said, her story is worth telling.
Now before the reader of this story gets indignant and wonders to themselves why any self-respecting dog lover would ever call their dog average…a sacrilege statement, a mortal sin…an exclamation worthy of excommunication from the Society of Friends of Four-legged Friends. Well, perhaps…perhaps it is…but listen a moment and I’ll tell you why my Kelly was average.
The story will start with a laugh, but if you are not careful, my reader, it will end with a cry. It begins on a lovely, sunny, glorious, lazy summer day in upstate New York. A day not much unlike the day before, but infinitely different from the day that would follow. The day began with a happy-go-lucky setter out with her master for a walk; a long stroll along the banks of Lake Chautauqua.
Kelly was doing her very favorite thing; absolute tops among a long list of her favorite things. She would sprint from one curious smell to the next, only taking the occasional break from her olfactory ecstasy, to chase a flock of ducks off the grass, and into the lake. A cacophony of squawking fowl and beating wings…though probably pure euphony to a canine. And these chases would end almost as suddenly as they began, because, although Kelly wasn’t clever, she was smart enough to know that she couldn’t catch a duck. Not even close. So she would quickly shake off the humiliation of the ducks that had now circled back , landed just off shore, seemingly mocking her for her effrontery.
Kelly didn’t care, she was lost in her fascinating smells again.
And it was after just such a episode, that I met another young dog walker. He was walking his Dachshund nearby, when the sound of the ducks got his attention, and he came over to introduce himself to me, and more to the point, introduce his charge to Kelly. Well, the two dogs seem to get along just fine , which isn’t surprising, as both setters and dachsies are the friendly type. So the four off us continued our walk along the lake, chatting about whatever 12-year-old or so boys chat about while walking their dogs. At some point along our walk, this kid whose dog was not allowed to walk off-leash, mentioned that it would be nice if he could let his dog run around with Kelly for awhile. I thought about this for a moment, and in a flash of inspiration I said to my new friend, “well, why don’t we tie them together, so they can walk each other?”
The boy, whose name I can’t remember, ( in fact, I don’t think we ever even introduced ourselves to each other), thought that my idea sounded brilliant. If not brilliant, at least doable. That is to say, he agreed to the idea.
And it does sound like a no-brainer….you have to admit. Let the dogs walk each other. What could go wrong? So we tied the dogs together with the leash he had been using to walk his dog, and let the dogs “loose” to their thing.
Well, all was fine for all of fifteen seconds.
All was fine until Kelly decided to do exactly her thing. In other words, she bolted after a rabbit. And I do mean bolted. Kelly, if nothing else, was pretty quick. So within a second or two she was bounding along after the rabbit at a good twenty miles an hour. And yes, you guessed it…the Dachshund was just along for the ride. Literally, no exaggeration, the dog was bouncing along, mostly on its back, behind Kelly.
Picture the cowboy that falls off his galloping horse, but gets his foot stuck in the stirrup.
It was something like that. I was mortified. And more than a little worried that the poor Dachshund was going to be injured. There was going to be a lot of “splaining” to do.
And oh, that poor, poor Dachshund.
Well, the Kilkenney sleigh ride was over in about 30 seconds, or so…who remembers exactly how long it lasted, or why Kelly decided to stop running.
Perhaps she eventually realized there was a yelping dog tagging along her heels, or perhaps she just got fatigued. But when the dust finally settled, and the dogs were detangled, the Dachshund simply popped up, shook himself off, was happy as a lark, and no worse for wear. Thank God. Those Dachshunds are one tough, tough breed. But one would expect no less from a breed that was bred for short legs, specifically to chase vicious badgers down their holes. Fearless, and hardy…short in stature, but tall in courage. Dachshunds are not average.
I scolded Kelly and took her home. I may have chuckled once or twice, on the way home, picturing the bouncing brown dog, but I remember I was also quite miffed at her for being so oblivious to the little dog’s welfare. And it was probably because I was cross with Kelly that I did not take her with me that afternoon when I went to my friend’s house to play some basketball. I can’t remember, after all these years, if I had left Kelly in the house…or perhaps Kelly was in the back yard playing with one of my sisters or brothers.
What I do remember, very, very well, is that it was unusual for me to do anything without taking Kelly with me. She was my best friend, and constant companion. Always by my side. She may have “officially” been a family dog, but in reality, she was my dog.
From the time she came home with us as a 7-week-old puppy, she was glued to my heels. And with the exception of school, of course, I took her every where I went.
So it was significant that she wasn’t with me that afternoon. But she eventually did follow me. Somehow she got out of the house, or slipped out of the backyard, saw me across the street, and dashed the few hundred yards in my direction. I remember it like it was yesterday, though it was more than 30 years ago. She never took her eyes off me as she spirited the remaining 50 yards.
She never thought once about checking for traffic on the road that separated our property from my friend’s basketball court. I felt an instant, rising panic as she approached the road. I knew, very well, that cars flew down this road. I knew that something bad was about to happen.
It was one of those moments that you see coming, but you are powerless to do anything about. Your life is changed in the blink of an eye.
And so it was. The car that hit Kelly didn’t even have time to hit the brakes. I heard no squeal of tires, I only heard the sickening thud of a dog against metal. My dog…my best friend. I’m sure I reached Kelly where she lay on the other side of the road within a matter of 5 or 6 seconds. She was still alive. I cradled her in my lap and tried to comfort her.
It was the worse few moments of my life. Kelly just looked at me with love in her eyes.
There was no panic in her gaze…there was no blame. There was just love. And as I stroked her, I told her she was the best dog in the world.
She gave me a final wag of her tail and died in my arms.
I learned a lot of life’s important lessons that day. I learned that life is not always fair. I learned that it can change in the blink of an eye.
But mostly, with regard to dogs, our most beloved friends and companions…I learned that there is no such thing as an average dog , when it comes the place that they hold in your heart.
Those who love dogs will know…there is more meaning in the wag of an average dog’s tail than in just about anything else one can think of.

Editor's note: Chip Bennett wrote for Tesla's Love from his Rhode Island home, where Cassie and Trixie are now the holders of that place in his heart.

6 comments:

Daithi Jane said...

That was as Garrison Keillor would say an "above average" dog Chip- Kelly had a soul and unconditional love for you. Thank you for writing this. Many of us have sadly shared this heartbreak. I feel this story was just waiting to be told and shared. P.S. You, as all your family does, have true writing talent. I loved the words and syntax- Kilkenny sleigh ride... Please consider publishing some more short stories, I so seldom enjoy the voice of writers as I have through Tesla's Love. I don't laugh easily either and I was cracking up about the 12 year old inspirational idea of tying the dogs together. I could actually see it. Thank you Chip- and hello to you and yours! Love, Helen's buddy Daithi Jane

Michelles Rambling Woods said...

I came via Patti's blog who left a comment about this post...Patti wrote
Your photos are awesome! and the story of Benji is great. Dianne is right, you have most of a children’s story right there!
I love how he hung out with the ducks.
This post would be perfect for a new blog about pets that a friend started. E-mail me and I can get you in touch with her.

Here is the post she was talking about...

Benji The Goose

Daithi Jane said...

Benji, the Mother Goose, would make a great photojournal children's book like the cute one about the kitten and lamb from the 70's??? Thanks for your comment- suggestion: some pic's of Benji with kids nearby would be cute to in the story thread- Daithi

Busy bennett said...

I'll have to writr about Kelly and Jon's trip to see Helen. Yours is a great tale. Keep those stories coming.

Patti said...

Kelly was more than average in my book as well. This is a wonderful story. The brainstorm about tying the dogs' leashes together is too funny, but it does sound like something a 12-year old would come up with, that's for sure.

And to Michelle, I'm glad you found Tesla's Love!

jan said...

Wow Chip, I think you need to reconsider your choice of professions. I feel that writing is your true calling. Just think it only took you 49 years to find it!!! And the story about Kelly, you had me laughing and crying in the next breath. Isn't it amazing that our best friends can do that to us? Love you, jan