A simple story of a unique dog who had some extraordinary adventures.
This story starts out in a fraternity house in early '85. If someone had said to me at sixteen that joining a fraternity was in my future, it would have been met with derisive laughter, but somehow it happened. Now understand, this place was closer to Animal House than plaid shorts and polo shirts. In fact, we all knew at one point that our charter was about to get yanked, and in a few months we’d all be looking for places to live. It wasn’t my fault… at least not all of it, anyway. But with this forehand knowledge, I decided it was time to get a puppy, who would be the first I'd ever had. So, how did one go about such a thing before the advent of the internet? Why, the classifieds, of course. The ad said free pit bull puppies, which would later prove to be false, but after riding over what seemed to be endless miles of dusty dirt roads, a pit bull and mastiff mix seemed fine to me. Even if he was, well… bare. Yep, that’s how he got his name. The poor fellow had mange, which the poor farmer had cured with burnt motor oil. It seems back then the oil had lots of sulpher in it, and it was a common backwoods remedy. It did work, but the hair had yet to grow back in several large spots. My friend Elaine had done all the driving, and she found him adorable, so that sealed the deal. He would later thank her on the way home by getting car sick and retching in her purse, something she would discover by reaching in it for lipstick. It was an inauspicious start to say the least.
Have you seen that silly old beer commercial where the guys rent puppies because they attract women? Well, it’s true. At least, it was true later once mine grew his hair back. Some of the brothers weren’t too thrilled about him in the house, but once he became a magnet for sorority girls, they warmed up quickly. He damned near went everywhere with me, but Elaine never let him ride in the Jeep again, she learned her lesson. But be it a classroom, a beer run, or a road trip, that dog came along. One day a fellow brother named Tyler walked into my room, which was also the bar, and seeing him snoring under my arm said, “When you said he sleeps with you, you meant he really sleeps with you!” He seemed content, I suppose. I was. My bar that doubled as a bedroom is a tale for another campfire, but when one of the female patrons would decide to stay after hours, the pup was not amused. He’d stare, sometimes growl a bit because he didn’t know he was so little, but more often his revenge would be running off with an article of clothing. One woman groused at me because of three pairs of torn up panties.
She said, “You know, you really ought to teach your dog not to chew up my clothes!”
I replied, “I think it’d just be easier for you not to wear panties when you come over here.”
I’m fairly sure she never visited again. Thinking back, it’s not really clear if I actually ever taught Bare anything, he just seemed to pick things up on his own. The thought process had always been to train a great personal watchdog. You know, the kind that will only eat what they’re given by you in their bowl and such. Who really knows if the feat could have been accomplished or not, even by that dog whisperer guy, but I was going to give it a shot. However, one day young Bare was out in the yard doing him business, he actually house trained very easily, but this day something was amiss. While accomplishing his task, he was howling as if he were being branded with a hot iron! I was truly concerned, and started frantically checking him when he came in, looking for the source of his distress. Everything seemed to be fine, and Bare was content to sit there and lick his bum, as he was wont to do on occasion. It was then that almost the exact same noises began anew from outside. They were coming from the dog of my soon to be wife and then ultimately my ex-wife. Stunned yet curious, it was a matter that simply warranted further investigation. Upon examination of the two sites where the canines had been, we found that they had defecated what looked like miniature porcupines. It certainly explained why they’d been crying in pain, but shed little light on what caused such a thing, and there wasn’t a chance either of us was going to root around in doggie doo for more clues. A day or two later I came to two realizations. First, that one of the two rapscallions had found a huge dead fish, dragged it into an unoccupied room, and were sneaking off to eat it… bones and all. Secondly, that this particular dog wasn’t going to ever just eat what was proffered in his personal bowl. We disposed of the smelly fish, but for the next few days when he was out in the yard, I’d open my window and yell, “Serves you right, you big dummy!” And so, one of the many nicknames he’d acquire over the years was born. Oh yeah, he was getting big, too…
On the Farm
In my younger days, some decisions that were made really weren’t thought through very well. One might even call them rash. Two of them in particular, dropping out of school and getting married, were ones I would at least partially regret. But sometimes you think you’re smarter than everyone, you want to go your own way, and all I wanted was some land on which to build a house. While all of this turned out to be an error in judgment for me, it was a boon for Bare. He got two things he’d never had before, that being plenty of room to roam, and a pick-up truck. I think if he could smile, he’d have done just that… but come to think of it, he could smile. The first time seeing it kind of threw everyone in the room, but apparently some breeds, with pitbull mixes being on the list, can pull back their lips and show teeth. Interesting, but with him at the time, it was always a reaction to being caught at doing something naughty. For those who believe dogs forget something like dropping a deuce in the house, you might want to reconsider. Seeing that snorkeling grin coming in the house meant there were only two questions, what did he do, and where did he do it. But interestingly, he did pick up on the word “smile” enough that later in life he’d do it on command. It wasn’t anything I set out to teach him, but it sure was fun to show to the Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Another interesting habit he picked up from me was going with someone when told. It’s impossible to know how and why this happened, but it’s unusual to say the least, and would especially drive my future ex-wife crazy. If we were fighting, and we did… she’d often storm out for a “walk” in the backwoods. At times, particularly if it was late evening or dark, I’d send Bare with her. Not only because I wanted her safe, but I was well aware it drove her nuts. He’d go on after her and she’d scream at him, “Bare! You get out of here!” or “Get home, you little shit!” He’d just stop or back off a few paces, wait, and then start trailing her again. I could hear her yelling at him to leave her alone for probably a quarter-mile, which always seemed to improve my mood considerably. You could tell he was taking a shine to her, as he would with all my in-laws, but I was the only one he’d really heed. It paid off, too. One night she got lost in the woods and he stayed right by her side keeping her warm all night. I was a bit concerned, but since he hadn’t returned without her, I felt fairly safe she’d be okay. In fact, one night I found myself in a very similar circumstance.
I was at a neighbor’s house having a few beers, and while we were, it got dark out. This didn’t seem like an issue, it was only a half a mile or so to my place, but as I was crossing a field, my neighbor shut off his yard light. Oh my, were those stars gorgeous! And oh my, there was no moon and oh my, I couldn’t see shit! Well, I damned sure wasn’t going to try and go back, but I knew wandering around in the dark half crocked could end with a nasty fall off a cliff. Since my pal was there, and it was evident by his romping around he could see just fine, I grabbed hold of his tail and told him to head home. Not only did he stop me at a barbed wire fence, but found the gate for me, and led me out to the road. I carried a flashlight after that, but it earned another nickname, as he would also be known as my “reality guide dog.” I used that line numerous times when entering places he wasn’t supposed to go, but by the time they realized what I’d actually said, we were in like Flynn.
The pick-up mentioned before was an old ’74 4WD Chevy, and we both loved it. The bed was his, and the cab was all mine. In fact, riding in the cab annoyed him. Not because he still got car sick, but no matter what position he took on the seat, he was either going to eat the dashboard or roll onto the floor. He really got his sea legs in the back, he only fell out once, and he could jump over the tailgate. So even if he wasn’t invited, he was often on board anyway. To be fair, the one time he did fall out, there was a load in the back. Luckily I glanced in the mirror and saw him running after me, and being a nice guy, I slowed way down. Not really, of course, I stopped and made him get in the cab. There was also one time when he actually jumped out, too. It was later on, after he’d matured into a full-grown dog, and had a severe distaste for other male dogs. While next to another pick-up at a red light on a four-lane road, he and some other large breed got into barking and growling match. It was a good thing I’d turned to see this fuss, because just as the light changed the two jumped at each other, missed, and landed in one another’s trucks! I had to chase the other guy down, catch his attention, and pull up a bit so he could see his dog in my truck. The look on his face was priceless, and we had a good laugh as we exchanged pets by the side of the road. They seemed so utterly confused that they no longer wanted to fight.
The ability to jump in the truck did lead to one unfortunate event, however. Since he was able to get in the back by himself, he knew if he could catch the truck, he was golden, but sometimes it’s good to know when to quit. That Big Dummy chased me on dirt roads for almost five miles once, and when we got to pavement, he got lost. There will be a couple of points as I write where I’ll say I almost lost Bare, and this is one of them. Since no one knew he’d taken off after the truck, it was a total mystery as to where he could have gone. After two weeks of ads, flyers, and calls to the pound, some woman called and told me there was a stray in this little town where the dirt meets the blacktop. It didn’t take much of a search to find him then, but sadly I never got to thank that lady because she never gave her name.
Mastiffs don’t seem to be much for water, and perhaps that part of his mix made him not care for it. Suffice to say that when he got a bath, snarling and biting at the stream coming from the hose was quite a sight. When it got really hot that summer and we went to the swimming hole, one furry family member refused to participate. There was a large outcrop about ten feet up, and we’d climb up and jump off while that same fuzzy member barked his disapproval. That river felt so cool and nice, and on the other side was a sandbar just perfect for lying out. When the whole family was on that other side, though, the barking took on a new tone. It was more frantic, and he’d run from the side of the river to the top of the rock and back, beseeching us to return. It was my brother-in-law, rest his soul, who started calling him and urging him into the water. Soon, all of us had waded out towards the middle, teasing and calling, just to see if he’d swim over. It was then that ol’ Bare took us all by surprise, ran up on the rock… and dove. It wasn’t very pretty, but around the same time as Air Jordan was making a splash in the basketball world, “Air Bare” had a new nickname. It didn’t get a lot of use, but he’d earned it. Oh, and if you intend to take a dog swimming, be sure to trim their nails first. By the time he was done dog-paddling to each of us, we looked like we’d been attacked by a werewolf! I suppose he got the last laugh on all of us that day.
Bare wasn't much for guns. In fact, if you would have pulled one out around him in later years, you'd have likely gotten bit. Aside from being loud, there were other underlying reasons, as he enjoyed chasing things, even bottle rockets. Fortunately, he never bothered domestic animals, because there were never reports of him going after cattle or ducks, both of which were prodigious in the area. His quarries of choice at the time were rabbits, squirrels, and upland game birds. This made him a wonderful hunting companion, actually, as he'd roust birds to flight and start rabbits running. If I yelled his name once the rabbit was startled, he'd stop, and with the tendency of this particular prey to circle, it usually gave me a great shot. Squirrels were a different matter, and once he gave chase there was nothing, and I mean nothing, that would call him off. It was the only time I could never get him to listen. When he holed or treed Sciurus carolinensis, et.al., I'd usually just leave him there, because he'd gotten big enough that trying to drag him away was quite impractical. To my knowledge, he never caught one, and I have no idea what he'd have done had he had success, because aside from male dogs, he was a very gentle fellow. We’d often find the cat sleeping on him.
It may sound as if living on the farm was all fun and games, but there were some rough times as well. The first problem was the full-grown pitbull living across the road, who was very territorial, and didn't shy away from a fight. Bare may have grown to full size, but it often takes a dog some time after that to outgrow the puppy inside, and fights between the two rarely went well for him. A friend gave me a very large Rottweiler that summer, who got along fine with his housemate, and kept the pit off the property. Nearing the end of that second summer, I had become tired of working two jobs, then working on my property, and seeming to get nowhere. So, it didn't take much convincing from my brother-in-law to sell the place and move down to the New Orleans area. In a somewhat ironic twist, my neighbor's pitbull died, and he adopted my Rotty. But it goes even deeper. The story told by the neighbor, I was not a witness, was a fight between the two that lasted almost a half hour. Let me be perfectly clear about one thing, I do not condone the “sport” of dogfighting in any way. In fact, if anyone tried to induce a fight with my dog then or now, they would deal with me first. But Bare fought that day, though the hose was turned on them and bullets from a .45 was fired over their heads, they didn't stop. Bare won. I think that day he matured into a full out dog, but that’s just speculation.
There was one last thing that remained to be done before the "nomads" left the farm, and that was payback. You see, it could be the Great Barian reason for hatred of guns was simply because he was shot. Some old crotchety neighbors down the road liked to feed cats on the front porch with dinner scraps. The Ex used to say the dogs were dining at “Chez Voisin” that night, but what it meant was one certain dog was on one particular porch eating from a pan meant for felines. Yes, they called. They called often, and solutions were available. With the information of a regular feeding time, it would be easy to keep a dog inside. Or, as the offending party, I offered to construct a feeder that the canine diner could not reach. Since keeping a dog on a chain for good portions of a day will not, and never will be, an action I will take, they shot my dog. I thought him dead. It eventually looked like #8 target loads, and you could feel them in his ass for the rest of his life. Realize I was a different person then. One who was a bit mean… and owned explosives. That different person blew up a few things on his way out. Never shoot a man’s dog. Ever.
I'm different because I don't have explosives anymore.
Down On the Bayou
If you've never been to New Orleans, you should at least visit, as it's one of the more unique places in the world. So when something may seem a little off when you read this section, chalk it up to the unusual nature of the area. That’s a rule. Anyway, we moved to a suburb just outside “N’awlins” proper, near the parents of an in-law. Don’t try and do the math on the familial connections here, it’s just not worth it.
This is the location where we discover Bare has more moves than Houdini. While we had mentioned the magician when discussing his shenanigans, it was never a nickname, even though the shoe fit perfectly. We had walked a time or two to share dinner with family, so “Bee Dee” knew the way. On one of those walks, I saw a woman across the street with what I do believe were two Afghan Hounds.
I asked loudly, “What kind of dogs are those?”
Her reply was, “Mean ones.”
Really? She should be glad I didn’t do the first thing to mind, which was letting a really torqued-up dog, with a bite larger than several species of sharks, loose on her dogs. Ah, well. That’s me… if I could avoid him fighting, I would. The real point here is that someone now had a nozzle map to the in-law's house. One night when I had a late cooking shift until about 3:00 a.m., he decided to go for a walk, by himself. He showed up at the “really good food place,” barking to come inside for, well, perhaps a late-night snack. They ran him off, and he came home, but oh the foreshadowing. The list of things that would not keep the dog in place was as long as his naughty list.
We eventually moved to cheaper quarters, we nomads five at the time, and settled in an unforgettable place where strength and hospitality meet. The neighborhood sat between a pair of colossal grain elevators. Two blocks deep, between the Mississippi River and the Louisiana swamp, and six blocks wide, it's an unusual place. It was here we simply dispense with the notion that Bare could be contained outside. I’m sure you’ve seen those tie-downs that screw two feet in the ground for the ends of a dog run. He still had one hooked on his neck when he got home. Any kind of rope was chewed apart in minutes, but I don’t like doing that anyway, because it just tends to make a dog mean. We tried building a pen or two, but forget that. He’d have a tunnel system dug that would have Bob Crane jealous before you had the last wire tied. The best idea was to hook him up to something that would keep him from going over a fence, because if he couldn’t jump it, he’d climb it. Yet, it had to be light enough for him to drag around. Looking back, he might have viewed this as a challenge. The first time I collared him to two cinder blocks. The bad news was he dragged them over the fence so easily and quickly no one noticed him gone, but the good news was he left a drag mark in yards and a chalk line in the streets, making him easy to follow. I found him alright, and the look on the poodle owner’s face staring in horror out the window was almost worth it all. A tire rim worked for a while, but once he figured out the function of the wheel, he rolled it right up the fence, and was off visiting again. I have been told I should have had him altered, but he wasn’t simply running off to meet his newest love interest. It just seemed like he had his own business that needed attending, and he was going to see to it.
I could easily write a book on the good people of the parish, and perhaps someday will, because I so enjoyed living there. At that time it was a perfect place for an imperfect world. Sure, some of them might have been crazy. But by and large, they were on the positive side of crazy, and that was just fine at the time. I went to play a game of football in the only open land in the neighborhood, to find they played tackle football without pads. With respect to rugby players, that’s insane. I played, but only after they assured me that anyone who was really hurt got a ride to Charity Hospital, where they waited in line for free medical care. I wisely played deep in the secondary as I did in high school, far away from the massive running play piles. It was after one of these games that my other brother-in-law brought us two gallons of Crawgator. New Orleans has drive-through daiquiri shops, and it was a fine surprise on a hot day. So after the game we all climbed a huge live oak to partake in the frosty drink, leaving the noisy canine spectator on the ground. Then, to the amazement of everyone watching, Bare climbed a tree. Not like a cat, of course, but in a live oak, the branches are low and long. He stepped and jumped, teetered a time or two, then flopped over a big branch with a sigh. He might like to venture out alone, but don’t ever try and leave him out of the party!
When I said my dog was gentle with most animals, aside from other male dogs, it didn't apply to all manner of creatures. It's funny that my friend and neighbor Martin was on hand to witness the first two encounters. He loved to needle me about how Bare was slow and clumsy, and he'd never keep up with all the "coonass" dogs in the area. Knowing now his procreation proclivity, it might have just been better to tell him that soon most of the puppies in the area would be part Bare, but I digress. We were on the house stoop when a tail went full mast, hackles shot up and a slow trot across the yard began. Usually it was easy to figure out what he was going to investigate, but until he started barking, we thought he just smelled something on the breeze. Not this time. The swamp had been up with some recent rains, and a water moccasin was in the yard. Had I known, I'd have put the dog up and just killed it, but he was already on it. That type of bite is rarely fatal to a dog if you get them to the vet quickly, but my first instinct was not to try and call him off, because that reptile was coiled and ready. The way it went down even surprise me. Bare would stick his face close and bark, wait for the strike, and dart back away. The snake would recoil and wait, and the same action was repeated numerous times. It seemed like it went on for a long time, even though it was probably only a minute or two, but we both watched silently, until the end. Once the snake was worn out, and how he knew is a mystery, he waited for the strike and recoil, darted in and bit it hard right behind the head. I was relieved it didn't get him, since those bites are at the least very painful, but Martin broke the silence. He said, in the southeastern Louisiana accent that is so hard to capture in words,
"Woooo eeee! It was lightnin', lightnin', lightnin'... then bam! Thunder!"
That kind of took me out of my spell of checking the dog for bites and petting him, and I said, "Is that you, fella? Are you Thunder Bare?!"
That was met with some loud barking, lots of prancing about, and it would stick like glue. Whenever we'd get to playing rough, that's who he was, Thunder Bare! It's not like I want to see any animal killed unless it's for food, and no one picked that snake up for dinner, but vipers are a different story. I'm not sure why a dog might sense that kind of thing, but it seemed like he did. Aside from his squirrel fetish, he was rather gentle. Chase a cat? Sure. Hurt it if he caught it? Nope. So there we were on the same stoop, doing not much of anything as usual, when what looked to be a great blue heron landed in the road a few houses down the block. Of course he started after it, but since it wasn't a furry nut muncher, he came right back when called. Martin was laughing, and said, "Yeah you right, like you could catch dat bird!" I thought for a moment.
"Martin, don't you remember the snake?"
"Yeah, but jus' cus' he quick don' mean he's fast!"
"I see. Weren't you headed on a beer run?"
"Yeah, you right on dat."
"How about if he catches it, you buy Dixie instead of that other crap?"
"Bro, Dixie is crap."
"So you've said, but it's my favorite. Deal?"
"Yeah, okay. Not like it matters."
"Okay Bare, go get it!"
Off he went. You'd have sworn that dog was shot out of cannon, but that's not why he caught him. Big wading birds are very slow to take flight, and this one was huge. It must have had a wingspan close to six feet, and even though he saw him coming almost immediately, it was still going to be close. Now try and picture this in your mind, because if you do, hopefully you'll get the same belly laugh we did. By the time he caught up to the heron, it had already achieved flight, but was only a couple feet off the ground, and ever so gingerly Bare reached up with his mouth and caught hold of one foot. He didn't bite down! You could tell. No, he just held on, and watching the two of them racing down the street like that was like nothing I'd ever seen.
"Good... Bare! Let 'im go!"
He did, and came trotting back with as satisfied a look as a dog can produce. I got my Dixie, and it was tasty. And Martin, well, he never questioned that dog ever again. He believed me when I told him what occurred a month later. I said awhile back there was only one time, aside from those damned squirrels, I couldn't get him to come back when I called. Well, this was where it happened. I was headed to the grocery with the sheriff’s son, who was a handy guy to know in any parish, when the newly minted "Thunder Bare" made a flat out beeline up the road. His toenails left marks on the pavement. Looking up, there was another dog about two blocks away. If I hadn't mentioned it before, that's about half the width of this neighborhood. Since it was small and tight-knit, I also knew the dog was Chivas, a champion pitbull. I've seen pit fighting, and I'll never bet on it, nor watch again. It's just not cool with me, at all. But Chivas was well known there, and I knew why, and so did my friend. We ran as fast as we could, while we watched the owner of the pit bull unleash his dog. We all knew what was about to go down. They closed the distance, and when they met, my eyes and brain sent different messages. I jogged to a stop and asked the sheriff’s son, who really was a good fellow to know,
"What did you just see?"
"Man! You dog ju's grab Chivas by da face en' slap him on'na street!"
"Slap him one more'n' toss him in'a ditch!"
"Okay. That's what I saw, too."
It turns out, the owner of that dog liked to bring him around early in the morning and have him mark all the fences, and all the yards, and generally claim the whole place. Seems it didn't work, he wasn't the baddest on the block, and that poor pit was never seen again. I blame the owner. My dog and his dog were doing what's in their nature, yet bent by what we humans force on them. We ought to be careful about that.
Bright Lights, Big City!
Not that New Orleans isn't a big city, it is. But then, we never actually lived in the city itself. Going into the city for fun, especially at Mardi Gras time? You bet! You don't see too many dogs at the parades, unless you actually count the procession of dogs called Mystic Krewe of Mutts. The Ex and other nomads tried to dress him up and put him on parade, but he could chew off costume parts faster than three could dress him. Then I drew the line at spray painting him purple, green and gold, the colors of the season. However, some of the maskers actually throw dog treats when they see one on the parade routes. Once Bare figured that out, well, he chased floats down the street more than I did at Bacchus. But sadly, the Crescent City had so little work available at the time we decided to move back to the east coast.
Unfortunately, my parent’s house was the first stop. Bare was my first dog. Not because there were previous “family dogs” I don’t count, or that we only had cats, but it was simply that my parents did not allow pets. Period. So it was with trepidation that my dog was allowed into the house, specifically the basement. Incessant barking, door scratching, and general canine mayhem never changed their minds on having a dog in the house. What changed in their minds was something I never thought possible, but the dog still got stuck in the basement. He hated it. He crapped down there just to piss me off. I didn’t discover this until later, but once my folks got to know him, they loved him. So at one point, when I thought he quit dropping turds in the basement, it was just my parents cleaning it up before I found it so he didn’t get in trouble! My folks were of a religious nature, and they’d told me time and again that animals had no souls. Personally, my opinion is that if we have them, they do as well, but opinions are like assholes. Frankly, they thought that neither Catholics nor dogs went to heaven, until they met our neighbors, some Irish Catholics. It was amusing after all that time it would be my dog, not me, who made a change their, pardon this, dogma.
Once employed, I found a place in an old blue-collar neighborhood where I’d spent many years. It had changed, as things do, but some things are how you left them. There was the big park where many stories could be told, none which will, but it was also the outdoor haven for a mastiff-pit mix. Once inside, the many acres allowed dogs to be off-leash, and there I almost lost Bare. Squirrel, of course, and it decided to run into a grove of trees and then across the busiest street in the area. Hard to watch is all I can say, and not a thing could stop it. Luck, for lack of another term, was with us both that day. Lots of horns, but no blood, they were both charmed for that moment. The heart-clenching terror of watching that play out, followed by the sheer joy of holding my unharmed best friend is something I hope never to experience again.
There is, however, an amusing story regarding the park. It was when two dogs, mine and a Doberman, wanted to square off. We called them off, leashed them, and started talking next to one another despite the protestations of both our animals. Yep, we owners talked for a moment. It just took a moment. Then the other fellow yelled, “Shit!” or something like it. Seems one of our dogs surreptitiously positioned himself around me to piddle on some other dog, and hit the owner as well. Let’s say it wasn’t me. Let’s say none of us ever got to be pals.
The Ex liked to walk the dog, and for reasons Bare was more well known that anyone in my family. As she told it, people who she’d never met would ask, “Is that Bare from Second Street?” I mean, c’mon, the dog has better social networking skills that anyone else in the household? How sad is that? Ah well, he still possessed the skill of the reading of a dangerous situation. The way it manifested on these walks was simply something else, even though I never witnessed it. Walking along a busy street, Bare would jaunt from place to place, marking this and that, and enjoying the outing until something was amiss. We would never know why, and really didn’t question it at that point, but when it happened, he simply scared the crap out of someone. Hunkered down with teeth bared and fur up, someone walking toward them would, literally, be forced to go around, in a wide arc. Seems those singled out didn’t question it, either. The dog never bit anyone, because the dog never had to bite anyone. It seems, knowing him or not, no one doubted he would do just that. I’ll bet a few of them thought up nicknames that might not have been very nice.
The other thing about the place we lived was the preponderance of pubs. Every corner had one, some better than others, some older than others, but all with a unique flavor. My place of secondary residence was an older joint about a block away. It featured a barkeep who’d rather cuss you that greet you, was always grouchy, and definitely not an animal lover. However, as many times as he threw him out, he slunk back in, usually with the next patron. I tried to explain he was of no harm, which was of no use. I offered a “puppy bonus” that also failed. Bare was effectively shunned until the next customer came in or left. Then one night something unusual happened. Two lads at the bar, doubtless known to one another since Sister Mary swatted them in middle school, decided they had a disagreement worthy of a scrap. But by the time they squared off, a bouncer was already in the middle. The bartender had barely grabbed his bat, but it was Bare who was in the scrum. He growled and snapped back any offensive move, and he was quick at it. It didn’t take long for even drunk guys to forget what the squabble was about and go back to their beers. “Bouncer Bare” or more often “the Bouncer” was a short term nickname. I was told I also got the first and only free beer in there, along with the notice that my dog was always welcome.
One night I went to that very establishment and the big fellow back behind that bar said to me, “You owe me seven bucks.” I reply that I hadn’t been by since the weekend. Oh, he says, “But Bare was here last night,” Well, that took me by more than a bit of surprise. Then he further told me that for the past month, his newly appointed bouncer was available every night regardless of my attendance. The next night after letting him out back, I tore out the front and up the block. You should have seen the “Oh, I am so screwed” look on that dog’s face when I was at the bar door to let him in! After that, he was limited to chaperoned nights at the bar, even though as unusual as it sounds, he had waited at the corner for the cars to stop at the light. I thought at the time that the speed of the adaptation to city life had been remarkable. Some years later, it hadn’t been him who adjusted from campus, to country, to river town, to the big city and then on. It was us. We weren’t quite done, either.
It Must be Wanderlust.
It wasn’t that long after arriving, perhaps a half year or so in all, that I had some startling and wonderful news. I was going to be a father. That also brought forth plans to move out of the city. I knew what growing up there was like, and I wasn’t going to have my child experience it. It certainly wasn’t like travel was unique, and the “plan” was pretty general. By that time the dog had been to twelve states, by the time he was done, he would visit twenty-five. That’s more than many people get to see. And it would happen because we decided to head west until we ran out of real estate.
By then we were traveling in a ’66 Chevy van, as the truck was left behind in New Orleans. However, Bare had adjusted, and the carpet glued to the motor box between the front seats was his new perch. He could see out all the windows and got to ride shotgun to boot. He turned out to be a better threat than a scattergun. On one of the first parts of the trip, some ass in a fast car obviously didn’t like how slow my van accelerated, and instead of letting me merge from on on-ramp, darted between the van and the truck in the next lane. The truck honked and I lifted the one-finger salute, which seemed to the other driver an inappropriate response on my part. Well, fuck him. And I do believe he was thinking the very same thing. He pulled in front of me and slowed his car, on a major interstate, in an attempt to get me to pull over. I went to pass, did so, and had him honking up behind my bumper until he passes me again, starting to process all over. The Ex screamed obscenities on every pass, because that always helps calm road rage, but finally, I tired of it. I let him pass me one more time, at good speed, then braked hard and pulled over. It gave the vehicles lots of distance between them and gave time to prepare. By the time he was halfway to us, I was on the shoulder with a .45 behind my back, my brother-in-law was behind the passenger seat with a side by side 12-gauge leveled out the window, and Bare was still asleep. Now here we have some enraged driver in a tracksuit, I swear to you, running toward the van swearing about mothers and female dogs and where excrement might be lodged, and wanting to do ugly things to me. He was still a long way from being shot when Bare Van Winkle finally awakes. When he wandered out of the van and yawned, he just yawned, it was over. The spunky guy in the fast car got back to it just as fast, as he was quickly off on the horizon. The thing was, Bare really wasn’t that big as far as stature, but he had a big blocky head, and when he opened his mouth wide it was truly remarkable. Would you hurtle into a dog that looked like could he eat a basketball?
We’d planned it out to stay at low priced camping parks, eat cheaply, but still enjoy the trek. When we stopped, we usually stopped for a couple days. We got to explore the northern central states here and there as we moved through them. But our next big stop would be in South Dakota. I was aware of the badlands, and had seen their beauty in pictures, but always wanted to see it for myself. We stopped at one of the gorgeous viewpoints to look around, and as always Bare wanted to lead us all. I have a picture of the two of us taken literally moments before I almost lost him. The path on which he led us ended at a 100’ drop off, with only a little mound of dirt to stop pedestrians. I called him back so he didn’t annoy hikers, just as he was about to leap over that mound. Mammals are funny. Mammals can be lucky. I was that mammal that day.
Working through Minnesota into South Dakota, we started to see an increase of motorcycle traffic, mainly of the Harley-Davidson variety. What we’d failed to realize was that the Sturgis Rally was in full swing when we got there. Interesting. Our big stop had just gotten bigger! We had an old Harley dirt bike, they built them in the 1970’s, strapped to the back of the van, and we caught some good-natured crap for it.
“Look they brought their Hog with them!”
“Hog? That’s a piglet!”
The Ex was a portrait artist and was very good at it. I’d often had her out doing it for some extra cash, and this was an opportunity. It was the oddest set-up we’d ever done, but we didn’t really do it. She set up a chair and a little sign, but the first guy to approach asked an unusual question. “Can you do me on my bike?” Yes, she said, taking it as it was intended, but I need to see the bike. They had some prospects clear the space in front of her and he pulled into it. The prospects stayed, and one after another they came and parked to have portraits done. The faces were done in minutes, but the bikes seemed to take longer. So the driver, and sometimes his companion, would head off to a bar while she finished. I only tell this because I left her there with the dog, and in subsequent days she sat with him quite a bit. She told me that never, not even once, had Bare growled anyone off. I’d imagine the prospects were looking out for her as well as the parking space, but it says something about the people there, too.
We met all sorts of people those couple of weeks, but the locals were outstanding. We had camped at a local lodge and got to know some good folks while we played drinking games, rode bikes, and told tall tales. “Mih-nuh-ruh…” That’s what I heard late one night as someone was shaking my foot from outside the tent. I woke up fairly quickly considering I had been drinking Harley-Davidson Heavy Beer that looked and tasted like motor oil. Bare, who’d wormed his way into the tent wasn’t alarmed, so neither was I, and it turned out to be the teen son of the campground owner. Having no clue what was going on, but curious, my warm ass crawled out of the tent. My memory of the conversation went something like this.
“Wha…” and a yawn, “Whadda hell?”
“C’mon! We’re going on a midnight run!”
“Just put on some pants and hurry! It was hard enough to get you a spot in the truck!”
And he runs toward the lodge. Curiosity was piqued, as it was so easily back then, so after dressing quickly Bare followed me to the small parking lot. What waited was a small import pick-up on a lift kit so high there was actually a ladder on the side, and it was full of people. It also occurred that I knew some of the people, because I could see them quite clearly in the middle of the night. The moon was so full and bright it cast shadows. I climbed partway up, shut the dog up after one bark, and asked them to drop the tailgate. The looks they gave each other were quite odd.
“Your dog can’t go.” said one of the older guys.
“Well, then I can’t, either,” I replied, “He’ll chase the truck and get lost.”
“It’s a dog, man, he’ll find his way back.”
“Trust me. He’ll chase us in a lather until he can’t even see tail lights... No piss, no scent, huge park.”
“Yeah guys,” I said, “I’m not sure what the game is, but you’ll have to deal me out. Looks fun, though!”
“Will he jump out?” another fellow asked me after pausing to look at his friends.
“Not unless I fall out first.” They were a few chuckles at that.
That seemed to satisfy them and we climbed aboard. The curiosity train had long left the station and was barreling down the track. There was beer and spirits, loud and soft conversation, lots of laughter, and the lone canine settled at my feet. I assumed it was just a fun joyride, but I was wrong. Everyone started slipping an arm through this rope laced through eye bolts in the truck, and with a nod from another rider, I followed suit. It was going to be an off-road tour, but in minutes large dark shapes came into view. By the time the driver had gotten into their midst, and blown his horn to get them moving, I realized they were American Bison. They are huge. They are amazing. And, I found out later, to get them running is a felony! Bare got up for a bit to sniff, over my shoulder, the head of one of the creatures, and decided it was nothing with which he wanted to tussle, and went back to bouncing around the floor of the truck bed. For me, it’s something unforgettable. To him, it was much about nothing. But though we had different opinions, we still shared everything.
All Dogs Go To Heaven
We arrived in the Pacific Northwest without much more fanfare. We first stayed at a campground with a beautiful volcanic lake and old-growth timber. I loved it. Bare seemed to like it as well, and Douglas squirrels were to him, just as tantalizing as the Eastern grays. One warm day a couple of us went for a swim, but noticed the massive fallen logs in the water and considered walking on one. Now, doing that on several can get you killed, and has for many a log pond handler. So we found one that was by its lonesome, and since it had a couple big opposing limbs, it was quite stable. If we could only push it out into the lake to dive from it! Someone was not amused when he was left on shore, and barked repeatedly before he waded in to give chase. While he had some minor difficulty getting aboard, his sea legs served him well, and you’ll just have to imagine the sight of two guys paddling a huge tree across a lake with a mastiff mix on the bow captaining the ship. We would later return the paddles to some very angry canoers, but at least we brought them back! Some people can be just so ungrateful.
Soon we found a big apartment that had several things going for it. The backyard not only had a six-foot fence, but was also adjacent to a big park. It was obvious that the fence was meant to keep residents out of the park, but more evident was that the previous tenant had other ideas. So we got to walk in the park, but also keep Bare in due to the way the hole was rigged. Unfortunately, the “gate” to the park wasn’t the only way my dog could get over a fence. He could, and I’d witnessed it, climb a fence. Literally. In this case, it was chain-link, and he’d put his paws in the holes and climb. But over six feet was something I didn’t think him capable of doing. I was wrong. The first time he was gone for two days, and showed up at the front door with that crazy grin of his. So then we knew, best to hook him to something. Steel cable wrapped around concreted fence posts and clamped with bolts and connections kept him in, but still with the run of the yard.
Someone put him out one night. I’ll never be sure if it was me or not, I don’t think so. Though, I was going to be a father at any moment. It’s impossible to explain, but that kind of takes over your brain, so I’ll always have a lingering doubt. Regardless, in those minutes, Bare was gone. Trying to follow him was useless unless he was dragging something, but it was so much more complicated. With everything happening at a frantic pace, it was just assumed he’d sow his wild oats and come slinking home. He always did. When he didn’t show up in the morning there wasn’t a huge concern, but as the day drew on, I was troubled. As night fell, the whole house was worried. My hope was that someone saw him wandering and locked him up tight inside, and would call the number on his vet tag. That call never came, and the head of the local shelter had no pitbull mix dogs come in with his description. Hope faded while we put ads in the paper and hung flyers about the area. Still nothing at the shelter, either. We’d even visited to make sure. I hated the thought that I would never get to lay my best friend to rest. I hated it, because he deserved better.
There will be a couple people to whom I’ll always be grateful. The first are in a group called “Critter Gitters” or close to it, the other person is the vet who treated my dog the night he was hit by a car. I understand the skid of blood was almost four feet, but luckily none of us saw it, and the vet on call that night did all he could do, just because of that dedicated group of volunteers who love animals. I only found this out because some girl told me. She happened to work at the animal shelter, and picked up my call by accident after I was put on hold. I grimly repeated what I honestly thought was my last call, that girl asked me if that “pit” might be mixed with a mastiff or a bigger dog. It was him! I hadn’t seen my dog because the hospital wing was off-limits to the visitors, and the director was a moron. That ’66 Chevy van never went so fast. Doctor Dumbass started to say something, but that young girl was quick to meet us. She was explaining about the exercises and the medication while we walked, but I didn’t hear it. When the door opened, there was my dog. I remember that I could hardly breathe.
Oh, but the look. I was so given the “where the fuck have you been” look, there was no dismissing it. To me, seeing him alive was uplifting, but looking at the bandage and casting work by the vets almost made me weep. I listened as best I could. She gave me good information on his medical condition, got me some paperwork, numbers, things I might need. An extraordinary person who you knew just loved animals, who even gave me a heads up on what I should expect next. I heard that advance notice, but it didn’t really register, I was simply euphoric Bare was alive. Then, as they say, I got the bill.
When I’d walked to the counter I figured to get some form for the purpose of getting my dog home, so it took me a moment of looking like a pole-axed cow to understand. I had to pay this bill of over a thousand dollars first. It had the vet bill of several hundred, plus the amazing fees for six days of not recognizing the detailed description of a dog in your kennel. I recall the next few minutes as if they were yesterday, and yesterday was almost three decades ago. At certain times my memory has unusual clarity, this was one of them. The smell of caged animals, the mix of whines and barks, even the peculiarly clean smock of the man in front of me. And I remember talking to that man.
“How can this be so… vet? What? What’s… Wait. My dog can’t come home?” I looked up.
“You have to pay in full to recover an animal.”
“Look. I don’t have that kind of money. And I sure can’t keep paying $150 a day to keep him here!”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t let him go, we have a policy.” I noticed a few more employees about.
“We can’t keep the dog over seven days. He’ll be destroyed tomorrow. I assure you, it’s very humane.”
“What?” It was almost beyond reason. “You’ll do what?”
“It’s how we…” He got about that far before I got close enough to him as I wanted.
Quietly I said, “You kill my dog… I’ll kill you. Your death won’t be humane.”
Truthfully, I probably would have, I really was a different man then. Turns out it wasn’t necessary, though, because the property was a bit isolated, anyone nearby was used to barking dogs, and we had bolt cutters. He was home at last. But the fourth day home he had some breathing problems, and we took him to that same vet who’d treated him before, and told us he wasn’t doing so well, but not to give up hope. As if I could. A day later The Ex went into labor, and the next I was a father. Bare was in the van in the parking lot where we had cheap champagne and cheaper cigars, and he waited patiently the next day for us to bring home this new “critter” we had. Once he finally got a good sniffing of my son, he came back to lie on my feet. I reached and scratched a few times behind his ears, and then he exhaled a long snort and died. Some people believe in a “rainbow bridge” where pets meet you in the afterlife. That would be okay by me.