In the days before fences and leashes, I had a dog.
He arrived in our back yard one cold winter day, friendly as all get-out. Then he moved on. The next afternoon my dad found him in the parking lot of the local grocery store. Someone had kicked the poor mutt in the face. Dad brought him home.
He stayed with us 14 years.
We called him Woofer.
Woofer was an extremely intelligent dog. He won a prize in obedience school for overall performance. He was a mutt of no particular mix, but he jumped through hoops, sang songs, and would sit and stay for hours if told to.
The story I tell for my students, written in a way that begs to be imitated, goes something like this:
There was a group of foul-mouthed hooligans in my neighborhood. They told dirty jokes on the bus. Since my own mother was a foul-mouthed hooligan who loved dirty jokes, I imported a good one from the school bus and told it to her over the dinner table, figuring she would laugh.
She didn't laugh. In high dudgeon, she marched to the middle school the next day and spoke to the principal. The principal disciplined the boys. They quickly figured out whose mom had snitched and vowed revenge.
I was a sixth grader who had nothing to do with that gang of kids. I also had no friends at the middle school except for a few shrinking violets like myself.
As we boarded the bus that afternoon, the gang of boys (and their "ladies auxilliary") predicted in loud and glowing terms how badly they were going to beat me up when we all arrived at our mutual bus stop. The bus driver, oblivious, drove on and said not one word.
When we arrived at the bus stop, every single kid got off to either participate in, or witness, the big fight. I lingered in the back of the bus -- with one other shrinking violet -- until the whole damn bus was empty.
It was my stop, but I didn't get off.
The driver closed the door, and off we drove to the next stop. It was about three miles away. For about 100 yards, the boys chased the bus, shaking their fists and promising more mayhem tomorrow.
Here's where the story grows murky for a moment. I seem to remember leaving the bus at the other stop and getting a ride home from the mother of the other shrinking violet. So I guess I was a little late coming home from school, but Dad was at work, and Mom was off my list forever. I didn't even tell them what happened.
The next morning, I invited Woofer to walk to the bus stop with me. Remember, there were no leashes in those times.
The whole gang of kids waited for me at the bus stop.
Woofer routed them.
He didn't even have to bite anyone. The growling, bared teeth, and bristled fur frightened even me. He stood there at my side until the bus drove up and everyone got on.
And he was there at the bus stop waiting for me seven hours later when the bus returned me to the neighborhood. He escorted me home without incident.
At this point in the story, my mesmerized students always want to know: Did Woofer sit there all day, waiting for me, or did he go home and come back? I honestly don't know, but it hardly matters. He was just there.
I've been a pet owner since I was a kid. I've had lots and lots of cats. I had a parrot who lived with me 29 years. But I have never adopted another dog.
I'm not ruling out having another dog in my life. It is hard, though, to embrace dog ownership in these days of fences and leashes. And Woofer is such a hard act to follow.
One final note that I don't share with my students. We never had Woofer neutered. About 15 years ago I was driving in Western Maryland not far from where I once lived, and a dog ran across the road not far from my car. That dog looked just like Woofer. A ringer. I absolutely endorse spaying and neutering -- my cats are both snipped. But in this case, I've got to say I'm glad Woofer's DNA is still in the mix. He was amazing.