Leah and I were going through some of the thousands of slides my father left behind when we came across a picture of Mike, the first dog my family ever had. I realized that I needed to write about Mike before I wrote anything about any of my other dogs.
You can barely see him in this picture, obviously taken on a rare snowy day in Rome.
He came to our home one day many years ago when my brother Henry and I were just little boys. My father brought Mike home from his aunt’s farm in Texas Valley, not far from where we live now. He was around a year old. My father called him a short-haired collie, and maybe he was.
I have a lot of memories of Mike, but the one that I can’t think of is the way he died. All I can say about it is that my father ran over him. The only way I can even type those words is by not thinking about what they mean. It’s so distressing to me that I can’t let myself even think of it. I didn’t see it happen, but my mother told me about. Any time I find myself thinking about Mike, I have to consciously force myself to turn away from his death. So this is the last time I’ll mention it; from now on, I’ll talk about Mike’s life.
In those days dogs lived outside and ran free, so Mike lived outside, except in cold weather, when we let him go into the crawl space and sleep under the floor furnace that heated our house. In those days, boys ran free, too. We ran or biked all over our neighborhood and the Berry College campus, which was right across the road from our house. Mike ran along with us. It was such a normal part of our lives that I didn’t think anything about it at the time.
Mike was hell on squirrels. Almost every dog likes to chase squirrels, but most dogs never catch one. Mike was different. He would stalk them, moving very slowly, picking up one foot, carefully placing it on the ground and then picking up another foot. If the squirrel stopped doing whatever it was squirrels do and looked around, Mike froze. At some point that Mike determined through very complex calculations of time, speed, direction and distance, he stopped stalking and started dashing. If he calculated correctly, he caught the squirrel before the squirrel could climb a tree. It didn’t happen every time, but it did happen. Once when we were riding our bikes on Robin Street, Mike chased a squirrel across the road in front of us. The squirrel climbed maybe four or five feet up a telephone pole and then stopped to call Mike names. Mike was racing towards the pole. He leapt up and as he passed the pole, he nabbed the squirrel right off the side. That must have been a hard lesson, but useless in the end.
Mike went shooting with us. Our father regularly took us about a half mile away to the creek and railroad line where he played as a kid. We took our .22 rifles and shot twigs, cans and rocks, and Mike ran around with us.
One winter day after a long, heavy rain, the creek had risen, and then in a very cold snap, a skim of ice had forced. Mike walked out onto the ice and fell into the freezing water. We gathered at the edge of the ice and yelled encouragement to him as he struggled to climb out. It was torture to watch. He would get his front legs onto the ice, and then the ice would break, dumping him backwards into the water. If that happened today, I’m pretty sure I would go out into the creek to get him, but we were way too young, and my father was way too responsible to try it. Eventually Mike got himself out. I don’t know whether our encouragement helped, but I would like to think it did.
Mike was my brother’s dog. If I was petting him and Henry called, Mike would leave me and go to Henry. Eventually to remedy that my parents got a second dog for me. That dog (probably Heidi, but possibly Schroeder; Mike outlived my dogs.) followed us just like Mike. One day we had ridden our bikes to a dirt road that crossed the creek and had gotten off to throw rocks into the water. A car full of older kids went by and we exchanged some innocent taunts. They stopped and climbed out of the car, probably planning to try some bullying. The dogs immediately turned from pets into protectors. They barked and charged so ferociously and convincingly that the boys piled back into their car and sped away. The dogs had never acted like that before then, and never acted like that again. But somehow, they knew the right time.
Eventually we got older. My brother went off to college, and we moved from our house on Redmond Road to the house my mother lived in until she died. Mike moved with us. He was old by that time. He was never neutered, so he had had his full share of dog fights, and it showed. He had a cauliflower ear and scars to prove it. But he lived his life contentedly until the end.
Mike in his later years. Good boy, Mike. That ear needs some scratching.
Mike was a good and faithful dog. He was a boy’s dog, and they don’t get any better than that.