On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Smelly Dog Stories
Writing a story about his sweet, sweet Violet has been a most difficult challenge because the Footloose Forester was not going to be satisfied with a simple story about his dog; or a fond anecdote or two about their happy times together; or with an understated tribute to his traveling companion of a dozen years. No, up until now, the Footloose Forester was willing to defer writing a story about sweet Violet until he came up with the words that were capable of bringing tears to his eyes when he reflected upon them. Violet, the jet black Golden Retriever, was one of the loves in his life.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there were other dogs in his life. Almost all of them came into our family at the behest of other family members, but in the end it was the Footloose Forester who fell in love with all of them. And based on the return of favor for his attentions, some of them chose him as their favorite person. There is no need to boast on that score, all one had to do was to observe who it was that the dog chose to spend his/her time with; and who it was that was snuggled up for the night with the family pet.
First in his memory was Fuzzy Q. Jones who was named after a TV character who was cast as a comic side-kick in a serial western show. He was a lovable ball of energy who loved to be outdoors. His shaggy black and white coat was distinctive but the very young Footloose Forester did not have a clue about his pedigree. And how he came into the family has long been lost, known only to those who have passed on. Fuzzy was a family pet during the early 1950s, but he died after only 5 years in our household. We did enjoy our days hunting in the woods not far from home; and Fuzzy especially liked to burrow in the deep snow. One day, during a brutally cold winter, the Footloose Forester woke up to find him lifeless in the corner of the bathroom.
Then there was Pokey, who was a beagle pup who Brother Paul brought home from a mechanic’s garage. Greasy, oil stained and smelly Pokey had taken a liking to Paul; and Paul brought him home for a bath, warm food from the table, and lots of love. Pokey was unquestionably Paul’s dog but he was the first in a line of smelly dogs who found their way into our hearts. He got his name because he liked to snoop around as he followed behind Paul on their frequent walks. He was kind of a pokey follower, that Pokey was.
Brother Jim also had a dog that became an important part of our family. Where Rusty came from is also unknown to the Footloose Forester who was away at college when Rusty came to live in our family homestead. They were all inside dogs that enjoyed the company of family, friends and occasional visitors. In addition, Rusty was the family peace keeper. Although Rusty was more prone to spending his time alone than the other dogs, whenever there were harsh words or shouting in the house, Rusty would appear on the scene and get between the shouters and keep them apart. It that didn’t work, Rusty would then jump up on the worst offender until the spat was over. One time, it was a heated argument between Mom and Sister Mary. Mom was on the offensive when Rusty appeared. After barking and gentle growling failed to silence the loud voices, the Footloose Forester saw Rusty jump up on Mom and push her back. With a wide smile on her face, Mom then looked at the Footloose Forester and quietly said that Rusty is the peace keeper in the house. And it was the end of the argument, right there and then.
Rusty was Jim’s dog, but Jim spent most of his daylight hours at work, so the Footloose Forester did not know at that time that Rusty already had a reputation as a peace keeper. But the Footloose Forester did know that Rusty had previously been hit by a car and had to have a rear leg amputated. Jim made the decision to save his life by agreeing to the amputation. Henceforth, it was 3-legged Rusty that was the family peace keeper. When Jim left the house after he got married, Rusty went with them. Hard working Jim kept Rusty at home, but based on the tangled mat of hair that we could see getting more and more neglected, Rusty also turned into a smelly dog.
By the time that the Footloose Forester had moved to Western Pennsylvania, it was time to have a dog of our own. It was a female and the runt in the litter of a dozen pups. When we arrived at the home of the person who had advertised in the newspaper about giving away pups to a good home, my wife Thu fancied the one who showed up last. All the others were let out of their box and scampered toward us, eager to be petted and showered with affection. But Dolie, as we eventually named her, did not come forward but sat afar and somewhat aloof. Perhaps Thu saw that spirit of independence in the pup’s eyes, and asked to take her—the runt of the litter. Dolie became one of the great loves in the life of the Footloose Forester. Her own brief story has already been recorded in a previous chronicle: Dolie, the Traveler.
Now for the long neglected tale about sweet Violet. She was a jet black, long haired mixed breed of golden retriever and water terrier. She also came by way of word of mouth from the owner of a local hardware store. Daughter Lucy eventually picked her out from the litter and chose her name. Lucy was young at that time, but we let her choose a name on her own, without trying too hard to influence her choice. And speaking about choice, when we as a family went to the outdoor pen where the litter of a dozen pups was kept, it was Violet and Violet alone; that immediately chose Lucy to lick. Violet was supposed to be Lucy’s dog but it didn’t stay that way for very long. Within a few weeks it was clear that Violet had chosen Footloose Forester as a steady companion.
Needless to mention to animal lovers, Violet had her own personality. That curious, rambunctious eagerness to see what was over the next hill was a perfect fit for a Footloose Forester who spent more than a decade as a forester with her in the woods, as companions. But just as often as Violet got to the top of the next hill first, she also was the first to discover the pungent and enticing trove of fresh raccoon droppings. Thus, Violet was a smelly dog, often and predictably so.
The price of rolling around in raccoon waste was a bath for Violet, at the first opportunity. Sometimes the preliminary cleansing took place in the woods, when and where there was a river or stream that afforded us that opportunity. Lacking that convenience, the Footloose Forester had to endure a long drive home with a smelly dog in the back, before he could chain her up under the apple tree to give her a bath with soap, water, shampoo, and rinse. Violet didn’t like the baths under the apple tree, whether it was winter or summer but seemed to understand that they were inevitable when she rolled around in raccoon droppings; or for that matter in deer pellets or rabbit poop.
The baths were commenced immediately, day or night; such was the bond that existed between the Footloose Forester and sweet Violet. She knew there was no escape, if she wanted to gain entry into a warm house. And he knew that his inconveniences were part of the price of having such a precious traveling companion who shared hours, days, and years in the woods.
On occasion, Violet managed to incur her stinkiness by jumping into the nearest lake, pond or stream she encountered when we first arrived at a new forestry consulting site. You know what a wet dog smells like. If it was summertime, we could delay the bath until after she dried off, but when it was winter, it sometimes was worrisome about what to do about it. One time, ice had formed between all of her paws and she was clearly in distress. Those times were also worrisome for the Footloose Forester who did not always know what to expect over the next hill, or on the banks of the next stream.
Stinky dog or not, sweet Violet will always be a part of the relapsing reveries of the Footloose Forester. And now, at the very end of this impromptu chronicle, the tears are forming in his eyes as he recalls holding Violet closely as he lay on the floor of his garage when she took her very last breath and he heard the last beat of her heart.