As I groped through the dimly-lit hallway on the way to the kitchen, I see Tank, our eight-year-old yellow lab, lying there on the living room carpet. His head is down, but he’s watching me, his eyebrows lifting. It’s our daily routine. I scuffle to the coffee maker, and he follows me. I pour myself a cup, and he heads to the garage door, ears lifted, hopeful. I walk over, open the garage door, push the garage door button, and with a simple gesture of my hand, he scurries out.
Tank is a very social dog. Everyone in the neighborhood knows him. Especially Sadie’s parents. Sadie is Tank’s girlfriend. She’s also a yellow lab, although much older. We tease Tank a lot about her. He visits her as often as possible, leaving her little “love notes” under the mailbox or on the shrubs. Sometimes Sadie returns the favor, the old girl limping up our driveway.
But this story is not about Tank’s romantic affairs. As I said before, Tank is a very social dog. And although his propensity to socialize has been a source of consternation in the past, his relationship with Marilyn, our widowed neighbor, is a heartwarming tail, er…tale. We knew Tank liked to wander over to Marilyn’s house from time to time, but we had no idea what was going on. We figured the chipmunk hunting was especially good over there. It was much more than that.
Marilyn is easily in her 90’s, widowed several years ago when her husband Gib passed away. She has many children and hordes of grandkids and great grandkids (“52 or 53” — she can’t remember exactly). Her kids lovingly look after her. She is kind and tender.
One July day when Tank and I were in our backyard, I noticed many of Marilyn’s family had gathered at her house. As we wandered close to the property line, one of the family members called me over. She asked if the yellow lab was mine. I winced a little, thinking, “Oh brother, what did he do this time?” Did he pull the gutter guards off again, in search of those elusive chipmunks? Did he leave one too many doo-doos in the yard?
It was none of those things, the lady assured me. In fact, she wanted to thank me.
Apparently, Tank is well-known to the family, and highly regarded. Marilyn was not only aware that Tank wanders into her yard, she looks forward to his visits, which were frequent. The lady gestured to the cow path worn in Marilyn’s yard that leads up the hill to our backyard and said, “that’s his trail.” I then learned that Marilyn regularly invites Tank into her home and feeds him treats. Marilyn is well-cared-for by her family, but there are times when she’s alone during the week. In those times, Tank was like an old friend stopping by to say “hello”. Marilyn was so touched by Tank’s friendliness, she gave him a special pet-name, “Pupperdog,” and wrote a poem in his honor.
I just had to see this poem my dumb dog inspired. So later, one wet, windy Saturday after mowing the grass, I set off for Marilyn’s house with Tank at my side. When we got the front step, I rang the doorbell. Tank was fidgety and anxious, as if he knew exactly what happens next. Marilyn opened the door, and before I could say, “Hi”, Tank rudely wedged himself into the house and went for the kitchen. As I was apologizing profusely, Marilyn waved it off. “Pupperdog” was making himself at home, just as he had done many, many times before. Then I asked Marilyn if I could see her poem. She knew exactly where it was, and headed off to her bedroom, closely followed by Tank despite my urging him to “sit”.
Marilyn soon returned, and gave me a laminated card, on which were the following words, hand-typed, all caps, double spaced:
“PUPPERDOG”, LIKE “JACK & JILL”
COMES UP & DOWN MY BACK-YARD HILL
HE’S A “GOLDEN LAB”…DON’T KNOW HIS NAME
I KNOW HE’S A BOY & NOT A DAME
HE’S THREE FEET TALL, A HANDSOME “DUDE”
HE’S ALWAYS IN A VERY GOOD MOOD
HE STANDS AT MY DOOR..WAITING FOR ME
I GIVE HIM A TREAT & HES FILLED WITH GLEE
WHENEVER A STRANGER COMES TO MY DOOR
HE GIVES A “HOWL” & A MUFFLED ROAR
HE STANDS BESIDE ME..LOOKING MAD
IN CASE THE STRANGER IS VERY BAD
HE’S WORN OUT TWO ROWS UP & DOWN THE HILL
IN WINTER OR SUMMER YOU CAN SEE THEM STILL
I LOVE MY “PUPPERDOG” ON THE HILL
DON’T FEED HIM MUCH & NEVER GET A “VET” BILL
THIS MAY SOUND A BIT ABSURD
I BELIEVE HE’D BE MINE IF I SAY THE WORD
HE’D SIT BY MY SIDE & WATCH T-V
HE’D LAY BY MY BED & GUARD OVER ME
I LOVE MY DOG UPON THE HILL
I CARE FOR HIM & I ALWAYS WILL
HE’LL NEVER KNOW THAT I WROTE HIM A POEM
“PUPPERDOG” IS HAPPY WHEN HE GOES HOME.
As I read, Marilyn gave Tank a couple of dog treats from her old stash. I could tell we had interrupted her dinner; her plates were still on the table. Tank’s nose was just high enough to get a whiff of her main course. I scolded him. There were tears in her eyes as I suggested we be going so she could eat her dinner in peace. I bid her farewell and headed out, back up the hill, with Pupperdog trailing along behind.
It occurs to me that you can never underestimate the power of a friendly visit. You never know who might be blessed by occasional “checkings-in”, even if they are selfishly motivated (by a hunger for dog treats). Maybe I’ll keep a closer eye on Tank from now on. I might learn a thing or two from him.