We saw the movie, “Marley and Me” a couple of weeks ago. I think I can tell you, without spoiling the plot, that it’s based on an autobiographical book about a young newspaper reporter/columnist who has a dog named Marley, that he lovingly calls “the worst dog in the world.” I kept getting those familiar wifely nudges in the side from Megan as we watched the film, and I knew why.
We really had the worst dog in the world.
His name was Whitey.
While many dogs are ruled by a desire to please the one who feeds them, Whitey had two, and only two, driving forces in his life.
Food and love.
Or, more precisely, garbage cans and girls dogs.
This, of course, put us at odds a lot of the time. And if you were keeping score on who got what they wanted, he would have been way ahead.
When we owned Whitey, we lived in a house with a huge back yard. It was a wonderful place, filled with sunny open spaces and shady tree-filled pockets; a perfect place for a dog to live his life in ease and comfort.
He used that yard for a successful base of operations that targeted every trash can and female dog in a 10-block radius. Once we got clued into the fact he wasn’t going to be content to stick around, we began making him come indoors when we weren’t out in the yard to restrain him.
The dog was a veritable Houdini, able to slip out of any unattended, unlatched door without detection. When we responded by locking exits, he began an assault on our doors and windows that kept Galva’s Houghton Lumber Company, and its screen and glass repair business, on daily alert for years. He started with the screens. I’d walk into a room and find a perfect dog-shaped hole in a door or window screen, letting me know that Whitey was, once again, on the town. I tried closing windows, and he discovered that glass is only, well, glass, and was easily broken by a determined dog with love on the brain and a high tolerance for pain. Thinking I’d thwart him by locking him upstairs, he, after stewing about it for a few days, discovered that one of the upstairs windows looked out onto a porch roof. The jump off that roof was only about seven or eight feet. Crash. Thump. Gone!
While Whitey’s exploits were many and varied, one of the most infamous has to do with a neighbor a couple of blocks away, who had, of course, a female dog. After making his escape late one night, Whitey got that lovin’ feeling, and trotted over for a visit. It was a warm night, so just a screen door blocked the front entrance to the house. One dog-shaped hole later, Whitey was in the house and heading upstairs in search of the object of his affections. As the story goes, the lady of the house woke up just in time to see Whitey peering into their bedroom.
“Wake up, wake up, there’s a dog in the house,” she cried to her sleeping husband.
He woke up, looked at the object of her concern, and said, “That’s not a dog, it’s only Whitey.” Alarmed, Whitey exited by the first means available, a back window, bringing that evening’s destruction count up to two screened openings. After receiving an early phone call and alerting Houghton’s, I made my way over to retrieve a now guilt-ridden dog, who had, however, been unable to bring himself to leave the home of his beloved. I took him straightaway to the local veterinarian’s office for a procedure designed to cool his ardor, if not increase his intelligence.
Being “fixed” didn’t really cure Whitey’s wanderlust, it just redirected it. He still visited girl dogs, as a consultant, I guess, and became even more of a garbage aficionado, if that was possible. He became a kind of collector, as well. I would find interesting things in my yard: clothing, tin cans, kids’ outdoor toys, and, even, part of a fishing pole one time. But the highlight was when he discovered an ample supply of pig skulls stored outdoors (I hope) at the Bob Evans plant on the edge of Galva. It must have taken him all night going back and forth, because when I stepped out into the back yard the next morning, it looked like a Georgia O’Keefe desert landscape, with bleached skulls dotting the terrain as far as the eye could see.
The thing is, that despite his many transgressions, Whitey was still our dog, and we loved him. When caught red-pawed in some petty crime, he would roll over on his side, slowly thump his tail, and plead for understanding with his big brown eyes. So we forgave him. Again and again.
There are many other things I could tell you about Whitey: how he got his name, the adventures he had with his dog-friend Claude and our two boys, and all the ways he entertained, outraged and loved us. But there’s barely room now to tell you one more thing about my dog.
As he got older, his lifestyle caught up with him in the form of a heart condition that the vet said would force him to live his remaining days as a dog-invalid, sheltered from noise and excitement by confinement in a quiet, darkened room. I got that news from Megan while I was at work one day, and drove home worrying about him and thinking about how his weakened state would finally slow him down. It seemed the life-long battle between man and dog was finally over, though I wouldn’t have chosen to win that way.
As I pulled into the driveway, I saw Whitey lying in the back yard under the shade of his favorite lilac bush. Wondering why he was outdoors unattended and fearing the worst, I walked over to him.
He rolled onto his side, as his tail thumped gently in the grass. I looked into his big brown eyes, then I glanced back at the house.
There, in the back door screen, was a perfect dog-shaped hole.