Part 1. Gus: The Best of My Youth

I’ve told my daughter Taylor that one day I’d write down the stories about a remarkable dog I had as a child.  Twenty- four years have passed since I have written this and fifty-seven years have passed since he died.  But he is still dear to me, more dear in fact than most people I have loved.  I don’t think a day has passed since his death that I haven’t thought about him.

The truth is he was sort of a combination nanny, body guard and dearest friend rolled up in part Chow and the rest mutt.  Part Chow because his tongue was mainly black, barely mottled with a little bit of pink.

A pup comes home.

I was too young when he was first brought home to remember his arrival.  Mama said my daddy brought home this odd furry wad of a puppy at a time when she had no interest in having a dog in the house.  All I remember now is that I never recall my youth or in my mind’s eye see myself without Gus at my side because he was the ultimate constant companion.

When he first arrived, I was still in diapers, just learning to crawl or to stand and probably delighted to have all that hair to clutch for support.  His hair, though long and coarse, was mottled some with black and that dullish red of pure bred Chows.  But his nose was quite a bit sharper than the Chows I have owned since him. He could climb too.  So sharply and clearly I can still see his clambering up and over a rather high five feet wire fence around the backyard.  A rather ill-tempered Shetland named Daisy never accepted Gus’s presence (or any of the rest of the family’s).  Once when she charged Gus, he dashed for the fence and made a speedy exit to the other side before she could head butt him to the other side.  Chows I have had can hardly charge steep steps.  It’s true his whole build was much too stiff for fence climbing, but Gus was a dog of revealing attributes.

Now I can see how unique his spirit was.  I had a constant menagerie of animals that Gus accepted as part of his charge.  We simply took it for granted that he would never be abusive.  Somehow or another he thought they were his animals just as they were mine: joint ownership as such.  I had other dogs at times, some males, a cat or two constantly, chickens, ducks, a baby goat, rabbits, Shetland ponies, a pig, a monkey and numerous sparrows whom I periodically nursed back to health or honored with his and my presence for an elaborate funeral if I failed.  Not all these animals were present at one time.  But during the course of Gus’s life he had a variety of life coming and going.  He just stood by my side or lay within feet while I dressed cats in doll clothes or tried to nurse a sick rabbit back to health.  He had a tremendous respect for life and has always been my standard of respect all should have for others lives.

Within months of Gus’s arrival we credited him with saving my life. The front yard was surrounded by a low white wooden picket fence with a small gate for making one’s way up the narrow walkway.  During the summer mornings mama put me outside to crawl at will around the yard with Gus babysitting while she made dinner.  In those days we didn’t have lunch; we had breakfast, dinner, and supper.  One day  the postman didn’t completely shut or latch the gate on his departure because out I crawled through the gate and into the dusty road in front of the house.  The south side of Arkansas Street sloped gently away from the bordering yards, but the north side of the road abruptly ended with quite a deep culvert.

Once I reached the road, I took a sharp left turn and proceeded west toward busy Hwy. 75 also labeled South Ninth Street in Durant, Oklahoma.  A neighbor lady happened to look outside just in time to absorb the ensuing scene.  A car heading west in the classic neck-breaking speed bore down on me as I padded down the street.  Gus, once he noticed the approaching car, stopped his frantic dancing and whining, placed himself between me and the car and nudged and rolled, pushed and shoved me into the culvert just before the car passed by.  Mrs. Dyer, who was bearing barefooted toward me, raced across the street, swooped me up and took me inside her house while she put on a pair of shoes.

Gus had a meltdown.

He had no intentions of his charge being taken inside a strange house by a strange woman; he tore away at her screen door until he had demolished it.

Another odd timing put my aunt in a Trailway bus heading toward the Durant depot.  As her bus passed the intersection of Arkansas and Ninth Streets, she saw in a flash of horror all that was transpiring.  She jumped up and started screaming, “Stop the bus! That’s my niece!  Stop the bus.” I was returned home safely.  Thus began Episode One of the remarkable dog Gus.

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