I remember when I was about eleven my dad asked
me if I wanted to go for a ride with him one day. Sometimes we would just ride
around country roads, particularly after hurricanes and heavy rains to check out the damage, but sometimes just to look around
the countryside. This ride was different, however, because we had a destination,
we were going to buy a dog. My dad wanted a hunting dog, so this ride took us
to the country home of a woman who bred Brittany Spaniels.
We arrived at the woman’s house, which
was nothing more than an old wooden structure only slightly larger and less run-down than a shack. The stench of dog shit that has been hosed off of cement, the smell of a crudely kept kennel, greeted us
as we stepped from the truck, as did the barks of dogs and a woman in her 50’s wearing white rubber boots with shorts
and a blouse. After the formalities of introductions and small talk, the
woman showed us the kennel and where it had to be reinforced because the mother of the puppies would get escape. Then she showed us the puppies. One was small and scrawny,
a runt, with light markings, and the other was bigger and rounder with dark brown markings.
I wanted the smaller one, because as is usually the case, it’s always the littlest puppies a child will find
cutest. My dad, however, chose the other.
Although she was not the one I chose, I was smitten
with her charm that all small puppies seem to possess. When we got home, we put
her in a cardboard box lined with newspaper, since she was too small for the yard yet, and we all ooed and awed at how cute
she was. When she crapped on an advertisement for Dixie Auto Glass, my mom decided
the puppy should be called Dixie and so she was named: Dixie Dee Darling.
I suppose it was because I was so young and still
liked to spend hours outside playing with Dixie that it was decided she was my dog.
This was why such statements as “your dog chewed up the patio furniture” and “your dog made a mess
in the back yard” were directed at me. The one particularly puppy-like
destructive act that Dixie committed which sticks out in my memory was when she destroyed this large potted plant that belonged
to my mom. I always thought it was just a plant that she had always had, something
she had bought. I didn’t understand why my mother was so upset and extremely
unhappy with Dixie until I learned that the plant had once belonged to my mom’s brother who had died years earlier.
Despite her wave of puppy-like destruction, Dixie
became a part of the family. She became a pet because she could never hunt because
she didn’t have the ability to sniff out game. My dad tried to teach her
to hunt, using the command, “Find the bird, Dixie, find the bird” while holding a bird’s wing at the end
of a fishing line, but she never could quite get the hang of it. Even though
she never was a hunting dog, my dad would take her with him when he went out romping around in the woods so she could do the
same and explore. It was on one of these trips that my dad lost Dixie. On their way home, she jumped out of the back of his truck and he couldn’t find her. He read an ad about a found dog near where he had been and I went with him to see if it was Dixie. It was a Brittany Spaniel who we ended up taking home after no one claimed her. We named her Blondie because of her light markings.
Soon after this we did find Dixie.
Dixie and Blondie got along fine. Dixie let Blondie know that our backyard was hers and hers only, but that she would allow Blondie to stick
around as long as no one paid more attention to her than to Dixie.
Being the free spirited and intelligent dog she
was, Dixie learned to climb the fence surrounding our backyard. She would climb
paw over paw, through the links in the fence until she reached the top and then she would jump over to the other side. To prevent her from running into the street or running away, we tied her to a running
chain in the yard, but this Houdini of a dog would free herself from the chain, climb the fence, and explore the world beyond
One day she made a “great escape”
and we didn’t see Dixie for days. We got worried. She never usually stayed gone even a whole day. Since we lived
on the edge of a “bad neighborhood,” we didn’t know many of our neighbors.
Our mother taught in the neighborhood elementary school, however, and spread the word there that our dog was missing,
described Dixie, and asked that anyone who may have seen her let us know.
About a month went by and we had heard no word
of anyone spotting Dixie. We had given up hope of ever finding her. Then one morning, before school, a janitor who worked at my mom’s school approached her and said,
“Miss Mouton, I know who has your dog, but he’s a bad man.” My
mom asked who and where he was. The janitor said, “Miss Mouton, I don’t
think you should go over there, but if you do, don’t tell him I told you” and then gave my mom the location of
this “bad man’s” home.
On my mom’s lunch break, she left the school
and headed to the man’s house. When she got there, she went straight to
his backyard and looked in. There was Dixie, along with two Doberman Pinschers. My mom called Dixie to come to her, but Dixie was too afraid of the other dogs, who
were barking at my mom, to go to her.
Hearing the raucous his dogs were causing, the
owner stepped out on his back porch to see what was going on. When my mother
saw him, she said to him, “Would you please hold your dogs. I’m taking
my dog and if you try to stop me, I will call my principal.” Now, this
isn’t a threat for a “bad man” in a bad neighborhood, but apparently he thought my mom was someone he didn’t
want to reckon with, so he did what she said.
Dixie, still being scared, didn’t want
to go to my mom even though she was calling her to come to get into the car. Finally
my mom said, “Where’s the bird, Dixie? Find the bird” and with
that, Dixie ran and leapt into the backseat of the car.
The man, who had been watching, then asked, “Will
you be breeding her?” I would like to think that my mom would have told
him to fuck off at making a comment like that and maybe she said something equally biting, with less vulgar language, but
if she did, she didn’t tell us that part of the story.
When I got home from school that afternoon, I
was in a bad mood, as usual after a day at school. When mom told me that we had
to go around through the backyard because she didn’t have a key to the front door, it didn’t help my mood at all. When we went through the gate and turned the corner and I saw Dixie there, on her
chain, pulling to come to me, I was in a state of shock and I was elated to see her.
It was a reuniting that cannot be described.
When Dixie died, I blamed my parents. She died of heartworms, which is very common here in Louisiana, since it’s carried by mosquitoes.
If you try to treat dogs who have heartworms, it will most likely kill them, so a person has to give their dogs preventative
medication, which my parents stopped doing.
I remember when my mom told me Dixie had passed
away. I had just gotten home from my first semester of college when she told
me that Dixie had died two weeks before. She told me that she didn’t want
to tell me when it actually happened because I had been sick with tonsillitis and then had had finals to take and she didn’t
want me to be upset while going through that.
I do still miss her, as ridiculous as that may
seem. I suppose I just find it hard to come across unconditional love and I truly
believe that was why Dixie and I were together.