Kate, Sunny Boy, Chinchee, Spotty, Pepper, Pokie Jo

Mark, for my 54th birthday, my Mother gave me a copy of Rescuing Sprite. In the card, she wrote, “You could have written this book with a few name changes”. She was right! She also wrote, “I know you don’t read much, but you’ll like this one!” She was right again. I picked the book up only twice… finished it the second time. I wanted to write and personally thank you, for sharing your love and compassion for dogs with me. I’ve often said that if we loved everyone like we do our dogs, the world would be a better place. But then, I always clarify that by saying if everyone loved us back like our dogs do, the world would be a much better place.

Mother said she wanted her contribution (proceeds from your book) to be in memory of Katherine Alexandria Trussell (KATE for short), the last of my ‘best friends’ who succumbed to bone cancer in ’04. Therefore, I felt compelled to tell you and other dog lovers the story of Kate. But, as I read your book, I thought of all 6 dogs that have been so special in my life. And I relived special moments from each of them. So, I decided to write a brief biography for each. It may be too long for you to read, as I’m sure you’re very busy. Probably too long for others to read as well, but that’s okay… just writing this helps my soul. Reading it is just optional. So here goes…

Sunny Boy was my first dog. He was a registered German Shepherd, brown with black saddle, given to me by my Uncle Joe when I was only 1 year old. I remember Sunny Boy throwing up in the car on the way home from Memphis, TN… over a 100 mile trip. After that, he never did take to riding, and seldom did throughout his 14 years. We lived on a farm, and Sunny Boy was totally an outside dog… you couldn’t coax him in the house with food. Of the 6 dogs I have had, he was probably the smartest. He took to his job of protecting me, my older sister, and Mother immediately. Our old house didn’t have A/C, so we had only screen doors at night so the air could circulate. We had an L shaped porch around the house and Sunny Boy would know which part of the house we were in and would choose the nearest door as his resting place. No stranger could get in the house unless we told Sunny Boy it was okay. He fought off strangers, stray dogs, snakes, foxes, bobcats, and even a panther while proudly on duty. But he was so much more than a guard dog he was my best friend and more like a brother. Mother never worried about me outside playing or wandering thru the woods, because where I was, so was Sunny Boy. We moved out of the old farm house into a newer brick home about a mile up the road from our farm when I was 14. Sunny Boy didn’t care for the move. Every day I would go get him in my ’59 VW and bring him to the new house. He would spend the day with us, but sometimes during the night, he would go back home to sleep on the old porch, and I’d have to go get him again the next day. He only lived about another year. We figured he likely had a heart attack or something although he had never really shown many signs of his age. We also suspected someone may have poisoned him. Some of the neighbors were scared of him, although I don’t remember Sunny Boy ever biting anyone. I buried him back on the farm where he loved to roam, along with part of my heart.

Dog #2 was Chinchee, a small brown Chihuahua. My Father actually bought Chinchee as treatment for asthma. Supposedly these little dogs would somehow take some of the allergies away. Never understood how that was supposed to work, but didn’t matter anyway. Chinchee never cared much for Dad, and had very little to do with him. Probably because he was in and out of our lives so much, till he finally left for good when I was round 12. Obviously Chinchee was an inside dog, and shared part of my lifetime with Sunny Boy. Chinchee had decided she was our inside protection. I can remember if my Father would whip us, Chinchee made no effort to discern if the punishment was justified… she still came to our rescue and would pierce my Father’s ankles with those little sharp teeth. She seldom came outside, but when she did, she would growl and bark at Sunny Boy, who would just stand quietly and stare at her, wagging his tail. I believe till the day she died, she felt she could whip Sunny Boy in a fair fight. She had long toe nails and you could hear her running and sliding on the hard wood floors to meet my sister and I every day when she would hear the school bus drive up. When I was around 12, my sister and I went to a week long Christian summer camp on the Ms Gulf Coast. When I returned home, I couldn’t wait to see my best friends, Sunny Boy & Chinchee. Sadly, we found Chinchee lifeless by our driveway. We don’t know who let her out of the house, or for sure what happened to her. She was 9 years old. It was months before Mother would tell me that Chinchee had not eaten the entire week we were gone. Just go to the screen door, look out and whine… such loyalty and love for her master and she did not understand why we left her.

Dog #3 was Spotty. Spotty was a mix breed, but predominant colors and marking were that of a setter bird dog. He too, shared my life with Sunny Boy. In fact, it was Sunny Boy who brought him home. Sunny Boy never like other dogs, except maybe Chinchee, and regardless of size or quantity, he would run any strays off immediately. So, we were quite surprised that he actually brought Spotty to us. Spotty was apparently someone’s abused pet. The hair around his neck was missing, as it appeared that he was tied to something. As serious as Sunny Boy was, Spotty was just the opposite. He lived to play. He would literally destroy any leaf piles we might rake up and spread them all over the yard before we could clean them up. He would even slide down the hills in a cardboard box with me whenever we would receive an infrequent snow. He & Sunny Boy would ‘play fight’, tossing and tumbling through the yard, often with me in the middle. And although Sunny Boy could have easily whipped him with one leg tied behind his back… he would often let Spotty win the contest. No biting, no growling, just wrestling. But let another dog come around and threaten Spotty and he had to deal with Sunny Boy. Spotty disappeared just like he appeared one day… no warning, no idea of where he went or anything. Sunny Boy and I both grieved for months, missing the best play buddy we had ever had.

Dog #4: Pepper. On the day that Sunny Boy died, my Father came home to visit, and even though he knew nothing of Sunny Boy’s death, by the grace of God he showed up with a little white puppy. Pepper was supposedly a full blooded Sptiz… but not so. He had a little brown on his head & ears and a light spot on his side. But the real give away was a bob tail with long hair on it. Sounds a little like he & Sprite may have been kin along the way. I’m guessing there was a Spaniel in his family tree somewhere. Pepper was different from any dog I had ever owned, or owned since. He liked very few people, namely just myself, my mother, my grandmother and a few of my closest friends. He didn’t like ANY other dogs, and he hated ALL cats! In fact, he didn’t like my sister because he associated her as the owner of a crazy Siamese cat that she had. What Pepper lacked in statue and size, he made up for with sheer determination and speed. He usually skipped the barking and growling part and went straight to the biting stage. That was his ‘secret’ in becoming undefeated in any battle he chose. Because the brick house we had moved to was so close to the highway, I had to keep him in a pen whenever I was gone. But as soon as I got home from school, he would be freed and unlike every other dog I had before he loved to ride. He would head straight to the ’59 VW and jump in the passenger window, ready to go. He even tried that a time or two with the window up, must to his dismay, so I had to be sure to always roll the window down BEFORE letting Pepper out of his pen. We would ride back to our farm and up and down every dirt & gravel road in our part of the county. After my sister and I had finished high school, my mother moved to the nearest town, some 15 miles away, where she worked as she didn’t want to stay that far out in the country alone. She bought a small house and we fenced in the back yard for Pepper. I built him a new colonial style dog house complete with front porch. But, the top of the house is where he spent most of his time. If left alone, he would entertain himself. He would drop a tennis ball from his mouth, jump down and catch it on the first bounce, and run around the yard, returning to the top of the house to do it all over again. He was the quickest dog I had ever seen. No matter how hard I threw the tennis ball against the brick wall, he would catch it before it got back to me. He was up in years before the Frisbee was invented… such a shame, he would have loved one of those as a young dog. Wasn’t long before he mastered opening the gate to his fence and I had to put a lock on it. Wasn’t concerned about him getting lost or harmed as much as the possibility of him biting someone… he didn’t go looking for trouble but if anyone scolded him or scared him, they usually paid for it. Pepper was a good judge of character and chose his friends carefully. The elderly couple next door would bring him scraps, or just come over to visit him… he like them from the very beginning and surprised me at how he took to them immediately. He didn’t care very much for the electricity meter reader. The meter was just outside his gate, and it was if he knew that guy was costing us money. He would bark at him continuously until he left. The meter man didn’t care for this, and although Pepper could cause him no harm, he sprayed him with pepper spray through the fence on a couple of occasions. This was before the gate lock however. So, on his third attempt, Pepper opened the gate and put the meter man back in his truck. It was obvious that he was not happy that I was away at college and didn’t have time to spend with him or take him riding. He never liked Sandra, my girlfriend, who is now my wife of 32 years either. I think he was jealous of the time I spent with her. He died on Halloween day at the age of 13. I buried on our farm near Sunny Boy and Chinchee.

Dog #5: Pokie Jo. I was dogless for several years after Pepper. My wife did not want a house dog and I vowed never to keep another dog in a pen, so we waited several years until I built a new home back on our farm land where we still live. My children were small… Joey 5, and Jennifer 2, when we moved. We knew we wanted a dog, just not sure what kind would be right for the children. Fortunately, I didn’t have to choose a dog, instead one chose me. I was a weekend farmer and had seen what I thought was a coyote while plowing the fields. But then I noticed it would come around every day, during the day, unlike a coyote. I finally got close enough to tell it was a stray dog. One that was obviously mostly German Shepherd, and although smaller, looked very much like my childhood friend Sunny Boy. I’m sure the Lord had something to do with this dog just ‘showing up’. It took weeks to get the dog to come out of the woods to eat and even more weeks before she would let us pet her. We had been calling her Hobo as she had no home, but once we discovered she was female, we needed a new name. I have no idea how or why, but Jennifer, who was barely talking at the time, came up with the name Pokie Jo and it stuck. For the next 8 years, Pokie Jo was to Joey & Jennifer what Sunny Boy, Chinchee, Spotty & Pepper had been to me… the very best friend you could have. She was a very sweet dog and to my knowledge never bit anyone, but that’s because she gave plenty of warning if it appeared they were going to cause harm to Joey or Jennifer. Before I could get her spayed, Pokie Jo made us the proud grandparents of two litters of puppies in less than a year… 17 in all. I ran out of friends before I found homes for all of them. We decided to keep one, but tragically he was run over on the highway trying to follow Pokie off on one of her many hunting trips. After about 7 years, I noticed her coughing and took her to the vet. She had heartworms. I had never had to treat a dog for heartworms before, but after watching her suffer for the next year of her life, I will never ever go without treating any dog from day 1 with preventive heartworm medicine. It is a horrible sickness. As her sickness progressed, she developed cirrhosis of the liver, causing fluid to build up around her heart and lungs. I would have to take her to the vet every couple of months to have the fluid drawn off. Each time she would return home like a new puppy, but the trips would get closer together and it was obvious she was hurting. I once sat up all night holding her head in my lap and propping her up so she could breathe and sleep. I begged the vet to put her to sleep, but she wagged her tail at him and he wanted to see what he could do. Miraculously he treated her for about another year, most of which was good times. In the end, she refused to eat and left the house. I knew she was going to die. The next morning our bob-tailed cat Buckwheat was at the door almost howling. She led me to Pokie Jo in nearby wooded hollow… same place where she had given birth to one of her litters and where I had first seen her. I was heart broken, but it was also the first time my children lost a dog, and it hurt even more seeing their grief. It has been ~14 years since she died, and I still feel guilty about not doing more to prevent her dreaded disease.

Dog #6: Kate. After Pokie Jo’s untimely death, my wife decided we didn’t need another dog. The tragic loss was just too much. Still grieving and guilt ridden, I didn’t argue. But, who do you suppose was the one to go out and buy a registered German Shepherd and surprise us all? None other than Sandra, the one who declared no more dogs! There she was a little ball of black & tan fur hiding under the coffee table… a refuge that she would continue to use throughout her life. In no time, Kate had us eating out of her paw. Although protective in nature, as are most German Shepherds, she was an extremely loving dog. She was always hugging you… she would walk up to you and lean up against you with all her weight, which at her peak size was about 110 pounds! The funniest thing about Kate was that she was basically raised by our cat, Buckwheat, and took on some cat –like manners. It was not uncommon to see Kate slipping up on a bird on a phone wire. And even at 110 pounds, she was always dubious of another dog. Whenever I took her to the vet, she would prefer to hang out around the cats… Pepper would have hated her for that! She was happiest on the weekends as she knew I would be there to spend pretty much all day with her. She would have to get in the middle of anything you did and would not move until she got her hug. Anytime I tried to do mechanic work in my shop, once I stooped down, she would wedge her head under my arm and stay there till I hugged her back. Then she was content to just hang around and watch. Kate was deathly scared of lightning and thunder. And if we cracked the door open an inch during a thunder storm, she would manage to squeeze her 110 lb body through. And where did she go… underneath the coffee table where she hid as a puppy. Only problem, there wasn’t enough room. Only way to get her out was to lift the coffee table off of her. I had a good friend Greg who worked on cars in my shop a lot and he and Kate became best friends. She actually bit the tires on his Scout one day in our driveway (have no idea why), but hung her teeth and before he could stop, he had rubbed some of the hair & skin off her snout. She was okay, but it upset Greg. He called me at work the next day to check on her. I told him in a sad voice that I had to bring her in. He replied, I’ll pay the vet bill. I said, oh she didn’t have to go the vet, she wanted to see an attorney. Believe it or not, the next time he came to the house to work on his daughter’s car, Kate actually bit a whole in her front tire. During one thunderstorm, before we got home, she went to the shop where Greg was working seeking shelter & protection. He was underneath his truck on a creeper and she wedged herself between him and the bottom of the truck and would not move. I had to pull them out when I got there. The next night he just put her in the cab before he started. She was sitting patiently behind the steering wheel, as if she were waiting for Greg to shout, “Try it!”. Kate was a beautiful dog (I have attached one of my favorite pictures) and loved to have her picture made. She is in almost every photo my son & I have ever made from hunting and fishing trips. She suffered early on from an eye disease known as Pannus. I treated her daily, but she could not stand much bright light and stayed out of the sun as much as possible. With the eye disease and normal check ups and such (and yes she was treated for heartworms from day 1), we made several trips to the vet. Kate did not like riding, except in my old red Dodge powerwagon. She must have thought it was her truck and every time it cranked she had to be in it. She might only ride from the shop to the house, but she was going riding. So, for vet trips, that was the vehicle of choice. When my son was married, we staged the old powerwagon as their ‘going away’ car as a joke. The next week or so, I had to take Kate to the vet. At a signal light, one of my friends was in the lane next to us laughing his head off. I wondered what was so funny and then it hit me. Kate liked to sit as close to me as possible, and at the back of the truck where the tailgate used to be was a board on which I had painted “Just Married”. Wish I had a picture of that. Not long after Kate turned 11 years old, I noticed that she was limping on her right front leg. It appeared to be broken. My son was heartbroken as he thought he had back over her since she was behind him the first time I saw her limp. I took her to the vet and that’s when we discovered she had bone cancer. I got second opinions, but they all agreed, there was really nothing that could be done with this type of fast growing cancer and our days with Kate were numbered. They offered to amputate her front leg, but at her age she already had arthritis in her rear hips pretty bad and I knew with her weight she would never get up again. For the next several months, we cared for her as best we could. I even took her to the shop on a trailer pulled by the four wheeler so she wouldn’t have to walk, and it was obvious she wanted to be as close to us a possible. I put off the inevitable too long and one night she got down and couldn’t get back up. She had actually wondered off her pallet in the carport into the driveway and it was sprinkling rain. I tried to move her back inside, but she was in so much pain she bit me on the hand. I still have a small scar there today, which I think is a good thing. I never look down at my hand without thinking of my friend Kate. The next day, I had the vet come out and put Kate to sleep. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done. I wrapped her in her favorite Powerpuff Girls blanket that my daughter had given her years before and buried her next to adopted mother, Buckwheat. Looking back, I cannot say that any one of these dogs was my favorite, no more so than one of my children being favorite. I loved them all as family! But maybe just because she was the most recent, Kate’s death has seemed to take me longer to get over than any of them. Maybe I’m just getting softer in my old age. Regardless, it’s 3 years later and we still haven’t thought about getting another dog. Now that my children are grown and moved out, and Sandra and I work long hours, I just don’t think it’s fair to get another dog and have them spend so much time alone. I know I will have another dog in my life someday, but have vowed not to until some things change and I can spend some quality time with he or she. For sure when I retire, you can bet when someone sees me, they’ll see my new best friend right beside me.

Mickey from MS