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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Boy and His Dog Pup

The puppy was a sort of scroungy, scruffy little runt—mostly black on his back with a white belly and some brownish yellow around his ruff and his eyes.  Someone had told me that clabbered milk was good for pups and we had plenty of that.  I raised that little runt on clabbered milk and table scraps.  It must have been good for him because he grew at a prodigious rate.  By the time he was six months old that runt had turned into a big-bonded, medium sized, deep-chested dog.
One evening my father asked me what I was going to name the dog.  Up until then we had simply been calling him “the pup”, but my father said that a dog should have a proper name.  I thought about it for a long time but could not come up with anything that seemed appropriate so, by default, the dog’s name remained simply “Pup.”
I never did manage to train Pup to bring in the cows by himself like some dogs will do.  Pup was more what you would call a “biscuit hound.”  He would hang around outside the kitchen door at mealtime (neither cats nor dogs were ever allowed into the house) hoping someone would throw him a biscuit—which I usually did.  He was my constant companion, though, and turned out to be one of the best squirrel dogs I ever saw.
When I went squirrel hunting with that slim little Remington twenty-two, Pup always went along.  He seemed to know just what to do.  He never barked and simply padded along silently at my side or behind me through the thick woods until we spotted a squirrel in a tree.  Of course, as silently as we moved, the squirrel always saw us and would promptly move around to the other side of the trunk or limb.
I did not have to signal or direct Pup in any way.  He would see the squirrel as soon as I did—probably before.  When I halted and froze in position, Pup would silently circle around the tree until he could see the squirrel again, then he would go “Whuff!”  just once.  The squirrel would circle away from Pup and I would have a clean shot at it.  Ol’ Pup and I put a lot of meant on the table that way.
Pup did have one real failing—he really loved to chase the cottontail rabbits.  We might be crossing a pasture to go squirrel hunting and, if a rabbit got up, Pup was off and away.  I do not recall that he ever caught one but he would be gone for several minutes, then finally show up and throw himself at my feet, panting and looking very pleased with himself.
Chasing rabbits almost got Pup killed one time—y me.  I had the rifle and, although they were not as a young squirrel, would not hesitate to kill a rabbit to take home.  Well, we jumped this cottontail in a wide pasture and Pup took off after him.  The rabbit circled and was running crosswise to me so I had a clear shot.  I pulled down on the rabbit just when Pup was close on his tail.
I did not lead the rabbit enough and he shot out of the sight over the hill before I could reload, but old Pup let out a pained yelp and skidded to an abrupt halt.  He pawed at his nose then came trotting back and sat down looking reproachfully at me.  His muzzle was bleeding.  Turned out the bullet had just grazed the end of his nose.  He did not chase anymore rabbits that day.  I think he was trying to figure out if it was my fault or if that rabbit had kicked him in the snoot.  He must have decided that it was me because in a day or two he was back chasing rabbits.
Spit and Whittle Clubs were common in the south and Midwest.

The loafers at Grandpa’s store used to kid me about Pup just being a “biscuit hound” and not much good as a cattle dog or to chase a fox.  Pup was with me one hot summer afternoon when I went by there and there were three or four of them loafing in the shade on the store porch.  One of the loafers was white-haired old Buck Blair who lived in a shack just down the road and would mosey up there in the afternoons to get a bucket of water from the well at the churchyard.
Someone started ribbing me about Pup as usual and old Buck decided to put them down.  “Why, fellows,” he said, “that there is one of the smartest dogs I ever did see.”
They did not stop whittling and Cook Neil never missed a lick at his chewing tobacco but they all looked at Buck to see what was coming next.  I sort of wondered myself.
“Well, sir,” Buck went on, “I took Conrad fishing the other day and that there dog went along.  We went down to Maze Creek and when we got there, just to see what that pup would do, I threw a quarter into a deep hole in the creek.  That there dog went down and dived in right after it.”
Buck paused and struck a match to light his old pipe.  The whittlers stopping making shavings for a minute and everyone waited for Buck to go on.  I did, too, because I knew I had not been fishing with Buck Blair and I also knew he probably hardly ever had a quarter in the pocket of his patched overalls to go throwing into a creek.
“Well,” he said solemnly, “that pup dived deep and he was down there so long that I was beginning to wonder if he had gone and drown hisself.”
Another pause (Buck had the timing of a great comedian) then, with a twinkle in his faded old blue eyes, he said, “Nossir—after a couple of minutes that there dog popped back up and he had a string of catfish in his mouth and fifteen cents in change!”
They all laughed and went back to whittling while Cook Neil spat a big squirt of tobacco juice into the dust of the road.  I was tickled pink and took Buck’s galvanized water pail and drew him a bucket of water from the well to take home.  I used that tale of his about Pup several times years later.