Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Donna Campbell Smith

He was the epitome of the word mutt. A medium sized dog covered with beige, curly hair. He had a long tail that wagged incessantly. He took up at our next-door neighbor’s house and they generously “gave” him to me. Mama let me keep him, but he had to stay outdoors. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was in school and I think old enough to have read Lassie Come Home. I was in love with this dog. For some inconceivable reason I named him Monty.

He was just like the dogs I’d read about in books. Monty followed me everywhere I went whether I was on foot or my bicycle. But the thing that clenched our relationship and told me this dog truly did love me was this: Monty was always sitting at the corner of our block waiting for me to come home from school. Now, that is love. That is also when I began to know that animals had a gift humans did not have. He knew the time and didn’t even have a clock.

Monty was my introduction to responsibility. I had to feed him myself and make sure he always had clean water. I took him down to the police station and paid his dog tax and got him his rabies shot. Daddy attached Monty’s rabies tag to his collar with needle nose pliers. The sound of the tag jingling around Monty’s neck was a joyous sound as he bounced along beside me while we played in the back yard.
On the corner, the same corner where Monty always sat waiting for me to get home from school, lived the Jones’s. I am changing the names to protect their esteemed reputations. They are dead now anyway, but Jones was not their real names. Mr. Jones was a State Senator and hardly ever home. Mrs. Jones was an unfriendly woman who wore her hair in a bun and fussed at we children if we ran through her yard on the way to the vacant lot across the street. Mama, nor any other grownups I knew, ever said they did not like Mrs. Jones, but they didn’t. You could tell.

One day I walked home from school and Monty was not waiting for me. I ran home to see if he’d forgotten the time and maybe was in the back yard. He wasn’t. I called and called. I rode my bike all over the neighborhood calling, “Monty!”
I couldn’t find him, and none of my friends had seen him anywhere since we left for school that morning. Mama said, “maybe he went back to where he came from.”
When the Chief of Police knocked on the front door we were not surprised or alarmed. “Poss” Brown was my third cousin’s grandfather and sometimes she came over to play. I thought, “He must think Patricia is here.”

Mama answered the door. And that is how I learned Old Lady Bailey had caught Monty peeing in her begonias and called the police station.

“Officer Davenport didn’t know it was Donna Lee’s dog. It didn’t have on a collar. She said it was a stray and wanted it shot. Of course, when I heard about it, I knew it was your dog. I am so sorry. I remember Donna Lee brought the dog down to get its rabies shot.”

I cried of course. And my Daddy never could stand to see me cry. He was furious. Mama was mad, too, but of course there wasn’t anything anyone could do. Old Lady Jones was the Senator’s wife after all. I think that was the first time I’d known anyone to tell a lie, a grownup to boot. She knew very well whose dog Monty was. She saw him wait for me right in front of her house every afternoon. And she had to have removed his collar before the police came, and then told them he was a stray.

Here I am almost 62 years old. I am surprised that this story popped right to the surface of my consciousness while I was participating in a memoir writing workshop. And it bothers me I don’t feel the forgiveness toward Mrs. Jones I should feel. I know Monty probably should not have been allowed to run free, especially while I was not home. But back then folks didn’t tie up or fence in their pets unless they were hunting dogs. I suppose peeing on the neighbor’s flowers was not a good thing either. When I think about it really hard I believe maybe it isn’t Mrs. Jones I can’t forgive. Maybe it’s me, because I let Monty down. I didn’t meet my responsibility toward him and maybe I blame myself that he was shot. Then again, maybe Mrs. Jones was just a mean ole biddy to have lied and had my dog shot.

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