Remembering a big dog named Bear

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

The neighbor’s daughter had a fiancé who had a dog that was too big for a house in town.

The guy brought the dog to our farm. He bragged the dog up one side and down the other. They were lies. The dog didn’t even believe them.

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We needed a farm dog. The guy talked us into giving a home to a dog as big as a barn. The canine was a plus-size St. Bernard. I thought the guy’s smile was a bit too big when we agreed to take the dog. That should have been a warning sign. The neighbor’s daughter married that guy. She divorced him. I’m not proud of it, but I wasn’t unhappy when that happened.

The dog’s name was Bear. It should have been Whale.

Smaller dogs can be yappy, but they’re often easy to deal with. I owned a Chihuahua. Chihuahuas are so small that fleas have them on their backs. If he misbehaved, I simply picked him up and put him in my pocket.

Loyal, faithful and smart. Those are the attributes of a good dog. Bear had none of those. Bear was gigantic, enthusiastic and a good eater. I took him fishing once. He ate the fish I caught. Bear ate the bait. Then he ate the bait pail. Bear ate things that he shouldn’t have — we all do. You could smell his breath up to 14 miles away. Hog houses were blamed for the smell. I tried brushing his teeth with a toothbrush advertising the services of Dr. Flor, but Bear ate it. I had to pay a visit to the local banker, Joe Skophammer, to get a dog food loan.

Bear loved to run. When someone drove to town, Bear ran behind the car. He ran three miles until he came to a stop sign. Then he stopped, turned around and meandered back home. I worried that a car might hit Bear. I wasn’t worried about Bear being hurt. I worried that he’d total any car that collided with him.

Like most farm dogs, Bear tangled with skunks. That’s not quite true. He didn’t just tangle with skunks, he enjoyed their company. Bear smelled so bad that the sky above him turned a pallid pink.

Bear was rambunctious. He played defense during family football games. Anyone catching a ball could expect to be tackled by Bear. He hit hard enough to earn a spot as the starting middle linebacker for the Vikings. He not only knocked the wind out of an opponent, he knocked a couple of internal organs out as well.

When we had company, we tied Bear to the plow. We didn’t tie him to the tractor after he chewed through the battery charger cord while it was plugged in. It really didn’t matter what we lashed him to. He’d either chew through the rope or drag the farm implement to where he wanted to be. We tried using a log chain. Bear ate it.

The vet examined Bear once. Bear licked the vet’s eyeglasses off his face and they fell into a fresh cowpie where Bear stepped on them, breaking the frame and one lens. Then he jumped on the vet with poopy paws.

One day, I napped on a hammock. I dreamed that I was walking in a warm rain. I awoke to see Bear’s giant eyes staring at me, while he drooled on my face. Seeing that I was awake, Bear attempted to join me on the hammock, nearly pulling the trees holding the hammock out by the roots.

After Bear had lifted a leg enough on the tires of the pastor’s car that the vehicle was floating, the pastor could say only, “There are serpents among us!” before giving Bear the evil eye or as close to an evil eye as a man of the cloth could give a dog.

Bear seemed determined to do all the things he shouldn’t and he excelled at them.

There is no warm and fuzzy ending to this story. Bear never Lassied-up and saved someone from drowning. He didn’t win Best of Show at the Westminster Kennel Club. He didn’t even take the championship of the “What the heck kind of dog is that” class.

Sometimes, Bear looked at me as if he were thinking, “I’ll bet he wishes he was a dog.”

Bear had his faults. We all do. But I couldn’t help but like him. I think it was because he was so happy being a dog.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.