I think the first words I could say as a baby must have been puppy. I loved dogs. I studied every breed and could identify them when I saw a dog on the street. I could even tell you cross breeds when a dog was a mix of several breeds. Every waking moment as a child, I thought about dogs and the day I would have my own. We owned a set of encyclopedias and under dogs, there were four color pages of the different breeds and I studied them, thinking which one would be the one for me. I always wanted a collie like Lassie who would come home to me no matter how far away she was, but I knew my mother would never approve of a dog with such long hair around the house. So I decided it would be a German Shepard, a white German Shepard. A dog that would stand out as different, a dog that would protect me from all dangers, a dog that would be my best friend.
When I was 10 years old my mother finally gave in to my tormenting her and told my dad to find me a white German Shepard. We drove to somewhere on Chicago’s south side. I thought I was getting a purebred registered AKC dog. Instead we went to a small grey two-story house made of painted wood boards now chipped and faded that was in dire need of work. We went to the back door and looking down a few concrete steps into the basement entrance with a sewer drain was a litter of German Shepards. Some of them were white. I got to pick the one I wanted and immediately I was drawn to this little dog that was somewhat shy, but immediately came up to me and wanted to be my friend. I knew he was the one.
When my dad paid $75 for the dog in cash, we were promised the registered papers would come in the mail, but I knew they never would. I had read much about pure bred dogs coming from fancy breeders and I knew immediately this was not one of those places, but by the time we made it home in the car, I didn’t even care. I loved this dog like no other. His name would be Rex. Strong, simple, masculine. He peed on the car seat and on my clothes from excitement, and I was afraid my dad would slap me for it. The stench from the dog not being washed in days stunk up the car. I was hoping that didn’t matter. But the bigger problem was when we got home. My mother insisted that Rex would never be allowed upstairs. He would be relegated to the basement and would not ruin the living area of our small home. My mother taught me to make scrambled eggs and the real treat was when I would wake up early Saturday mornings before anyone else got up, closed all the doors, and let Rex into the kitchen where he so looked forward to the human food I would make him. And then we would take a long walk where we talked. I always felt like he understood me. But other than those few minutes every week, whenever I wanted to be with the dog, I had to go to the basement. He wanted to be outside, but I couldn’t be outside with him all the time especially during those cold Chicago winters, so I took a clothesline and tied a long line to his collar so he could run up and down and forth and back on the patio. Still, he felt the resentment of being locked in a basement and not being with the family.
Little did I know that this resentment would develop into an intense love and protectionism of me, and a resentment of the rest of the world. He would want to kill everyone who came near me out of a skewed love for me like no other. I would sit in the yard and hold him in my lap as I rocked him back and forth like a baby, even as he got bigger and would talk to him and confide my troubles and my worries. He seemed to never tire to hear my voice.
Another problem, though, was that he never learned to be housebroken. In fact, he had it mixed up and thought it was the opposite. Even when I would leave him outside for hours to go to the bathroom, he would hold it until he was let inside and he would race to the corner to pee on newspapers I placed there, which ultimately ruined the tile. One day when my dad drove us to school, Rex got away from the leash that tied him up outside all day and he chased our car. When my dad stopped the car, Rex would run away. This went on for a half dozen times and my dad was going to take us to school with Rex running behind the car the whole two miles. I was crying for fear he would get hit by a car in the street as he tried to keep up with us. Finally, with one last lunge, I was able to grab him and bring him back and tie him up. My mother was becoming more and more impatient, but then one thing occurred that was the ending of my ownership of my beloved Rex.
I fed him one morning before school and took him outside to tie him up for the day and at that very moment a high school student was walking with his friends on the sidewalk to the nearby high school. Rex went after them past the gate like a fierce wolf, biting the student on the ankle when the boy hadn’t done anything to provoke the dog. I tried to step on the leash to stop him, but just missed it, so I couldn’t stop him. The high schooler held his cut ankle, yelling obscenities at me, as my mother worried that his parent would be visiting her about the attack dog. Rex had become vicious for resenting being locked up for so long. My mom said that we had to give him away. I cried and cried, so she compromised that we would give him to another family to take care of him and I could visit him and still consider him my dog. We placed an ad in the local newspaper and found a family about 15 minutes away. Most weekends, my mom would drive me there to bring the dog food so I could visit him until one day when we pulled up, he growled at me. My own dog had forgotten who I was and barked and showed his teeth like I was a stranger. I cried and realized that this was never going to work so I told my parents that it was OK to give him away. They found a woman whose husband had recently died and wanted a protector dog. I’ll never know if that was a true story or if they were taking him to be euthanized.
It was a Saturday morning and they loaded him into the car and drove away. I wanted to go with, but they wouldn’t allow it. They didn’t want me to know where he was going. I stood at the gate and watched them drive away. I couldn’t stand watching the car in the distance, Rex’s face looking at me in the back window, so I ran after them, but they never slowed down. I would never see him again. They only told me that the dog jumped on his new owner with delight and peed on the floor as he wagged his tail, but the new owner didn’t care. She was so delighted to have such a beautiful dog who immediately seemed to love her. I had lost my best friend.
Rex wasn’t the one.
Copyright — 2014