Volume 25, Number 4

Snuffy’s Last Walk

Jack E. Dunning

I was a member of the family, had been since being adopted back in Tennessee. It hadn’t been the greatest, living in apartment buildings, but I was just glad to have someone who would take care of me and love me like another child. At least I thought of it that way because I loved them like the parents I never had. My name was Snuffy; I was a tan, moderate-sized dog, part terrier and part boxer, playful with people of all ages. My name came from looking like the color of snuff.

Soon my gang of four was able to move to a condo down the street from the apartment building where Mom was expecting her third child, adding a son to two daughters. I couldn’t have been happier having another member of the family, because now I’d have a brother. My Dad was finishing college, working nights from three-thirty to almost one AM in television, then off to school at eight AM the next day. But there was still time to get play time in, and, after all, I was still a young pup.

The day came when Mom had her new baby. I tried to remember my birth-mother but when I did there were bad things happening in my thoughts that I couldn’t quite resolve, like some violence a few months after I was born. It involved humans and a gun; two loud blasts from this thing spewing fire and then my mother lay still and bleeding. I looked at the man holding the gun who was now laughing and thought he would do the same thing to me. He didn’t, but now I was all alone.

After spending four years in the Navy before returning to Tennessee, we were about to make another move, this time into a house about six blocks away from the condo where I would have a backyard. Maybe my new brother would play with me there. Life was good, and I felt confident that I would live out my life here, or wherever the family was. Someday I would have to cross the animal rainbow bridge but until that day came, I would be safe and secure with my brood, as I called them.

When Dad graduated from college there was a big celebration when his parents came to attend the graduation. The grandfather played with me a lot in the backyard while he was there, but soon he had to leave and life slowly returned to normal. Dad was working at a local television station but was getting restless with four children to care for and started to look around for a new job where he could pursue a career. He found it at a large publishing firm, and soon they were able to buy a new house.

This time a fenced-in backyard that was bigger than the last where I could run around all I wanted. They were moving up in the world, and I was moving with them. I just wished all the other dogs could be as happy as I was, but I knew many were neglected, some even abused. Why couldn’t people just understand that all animals like me wanted was to be loved and given a place to live? Most humans were good but some were bad, like the man who killed my mother.

Thinking back, remembering how I had wandered around aimlessly until deciding that I must now take care of myself to survive, it was a quick learning curve how to scavenge for food, sometime resorting to killing small animals to eat. But I didn’t like to kill anything, so for the most part relied on open garbage cans and an occasional handout from a human. I lived the best way possible but, not knowing any better, figured I would have to do this the rest of my life.

The first winter in the new house was almost here, and I looked forward to my own backyard, playing in the snow. It would be a big one for Memphis, which was not known for having heavy snowfalls, and the first time stepping outside on the ground I sunk in right up to my under belly. After the initial surprise though, it was so much fun rollicking through the white stuff. It was a dry snow so it didn’t get me wet, and I spent the whole afternoon cavorting from one end of the yard to the other.

When I finally went inside, my Mom dried me off at the back door, going immediately to my bed to warm myself. The bunk had come with me from the old man who had found me out in the woods. The man had a cabin outside the small town where I had been born and felt sorry for a scrawny pup who was so friendly the guy couldn’t resist taking me home. First he fed me, and then there was a bath, which I had never experienced, and it sure felt good to be clean.

But one day the old man’s brother came by to check on him and found him dead in his rocking chair; I was at his feet on a rug. Not knowing what to do, the relative took me home with him, along with the bed, and had the idea that he would see if his niece wanted a pet. Her husband was in the Navy but due to be discharged soon. Although I missed the old man, this new person was nice, and she seemed to like dogs. I was given the name Snuffy, having only been called Dog in the past.

I was slowly getting used to my new Mom and two sisters when the Dad came home from the Navy and decided to go to a local college. He was offered a job at the local television station and almost took it until he decided that if he could get into TV in Jackson, Tennessee, he could do the same in Memphis. And that’s how I eventually ended up in the new house with the big backyard. Although you could never be sure what humans would do, I felt sure my new Mom and Dad would take care of me.

I was out in the backyard alone one day just sleeping in the warm fall sun when the whole family came out the door, my youngest sister holding something very small in her hands. They went over to a section of fence, and Dad started to dig a hole in the ground, and soon there was a mound of dirt when my sister placed what she had in her hands on the ground beside the hole. It was a baby rabbit, obviously no longer in this world, and the whole family quietly stood around the grave.

My sister was saying a prayer for the little animal that I had seen in the house, assuming they had found it somewhere and were trying to save it. But it must have been its time to go, and I hoped when it was my time to cross the rainbow bridge the family would give me the same kind of sendoff. Of course they would, I thought, since I planned to spend the rest of my life with them. It was great to have a loving family like this that would even take in a wild animal to save.

Mom and Dad had a lot of parties, and there was usually quite a bit of drinking going on, and Dad would often give me a small dish of beer. One night when the party lasted very late, some of the guests noticed my stash and refilled the dish a few times. I lapped it all up, and soon was staggering around the house, occasionally letting out a tipsy howl that caught the attention of everyone. When Dad found out what had happened he carried me to my bed and shut the door to the room.

I had heard the word hangover several times but didn’t know what it meant. Until now. Dad liked his booze, so I finally associated the way he looked when he said it with the way I felt the next morning. Not good. So why do these people drink so much of this stuff? Well, Snuffy, I thought, why did you consume so much? Could it be the fact that it kinda tasted good and the contented feeling it seemed to give you? Well that was an adventure into the human experience, but never again—not that it would ever be offered.

There were times when I was frustrated and didn’t really know why. Especially when the female dog next door was in some kind of condition I didn’t understand. I knew there was something I wanted to do and sometimes went through motions that mimicked my need, but that didn’t provide real satisfaction. It only happened when the dog next door had her circumstances. There were many times that I wished I could talk so I could discuss my displeasure with Mom and Dad.

It wouldn’t be long until we would move to California after my Dad received a big promotion to take over the Los Angeles territory. The neighbors were coming over regularly to congratulate Mom and Dad, but at the same time everyone was very sad that they were leaving. I know that my parents were well liked but I think secretly these friends hated to lose the best party-givers in the neighborhood. Everyone seemed to flock to our house when they wanted to have fun, and they usually did.

I will never forget the day the movers arrived. I was in the backyard so I wouldn’t get in the way and heard one of the movers ask my Mom if everything in the storage shed attached to the back of the house should be packed. She said yes, and I watched the guy proceed to pack the trash that had accumulated over the last few days. I barked to get his attention but he just thought I was going to attack him so Mom finally put me on my leash and attached it to the fence on the other side of the yard.

When we got to California and unpacked, our Memphis trash had mellowed considerably, and we had to air out our new house for the rest of the day. Another incident when it would have been nice if I could talk. Our new house was beautiful with a cinder-block fence around the back yard. It was smaller but more than enough for me to run around in. It wouldn’t be long until the family built a patio which took up a little of the yard but still leaving me plenty of room to play since I slept in the house.

But I knew things were beginning to change when my Dad and neighbors built me a dog house in the backyard one weekend where I would sleep from now on. It was soon obvious why when a cat appeared through the patio glass door looking at me with the same curiosity I looked back. I had been dispatched to the backyard to live out my life while a cat took over my house. Why would they do this to me, even though I had had some altercations with felines in the past? Wasn’t I here first?

I was mad, real mad. Not even given the chance to compromise, and all of a sudden while receiving less attention, it was clear through the door the whole family was playing with the new cat. I did appreciate what my family had done for me in the past but felt this was wrong. Turning around and heading back to my shelter, a thought entered my mind. Maybe if I dig up a bush my Mom and Dad will decide that I should come back in the house. It’s worth a try.

Well, it didn’t work; actually it backfired. When my Dad noticed the bush at the edge of the patio, out of the ground and on its side, he quietly went into the house. After an hour or so he came back out with a long chain, mounted it on a metal loop he attached to the dog house and secured the other end to my leash. I looked at him with a combination of regrets and dubiousness. I knew I had done something wrong, but on the other hand, I thought I had been wronged. There was no justice.

My exercise was limited now, and I had to drag this heavy chain around with me all the time. Still not able to reach the bushes, but even if I could I wouldn’t bother them; only did it before to get back in the house. But the backyard wasn’t so bad. Had a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep and they still fed me every day. Things could be worse, like the poor animals on the street that had no place to stay at night and probably didn’t eat every day. Yep, guess I shouldn’t complain.

In the next year and a half, the situation changed very little. The cat was on the inside, and with the length of the chain I couldn’t even see the family playing with him or her; I wasn’t sure. Probably just as well; it just made me blue. Would things ever get back to normal? And then they got worse. People were here packing things like they did just before leaving Tennessee for California, which looked like another move. I didn’t know where but as long as it was good for the family.

Mom and Dad and my two sisters and brother—I didn’t consider the cat kin—had been very distant in the last few days; any fun time with them almost nonexistent. One day I heard the big truck pull up and it took all day but they finally loaded everything up to go…except my dog house. Maybe the family had decided to let me live inside again at the new home. I walked to the end of my chain and strained to see into the house, when Dad opened the door and walked out.

“Well, Snuffy, you’re going to have a new home, and now I’m going to take you there.”

It sounded all normal at first so I anxiously followed Dad on the leash as we walked through the empty house out the front door and into the car. Alone. It was just me and him, no Mom or brother and sisters, just me and him. We drove for a short while and finally stopped at this building, and Dad came around to get me out of the car. It was beginning to look very odd, and all of a sudden I was scared because I had no idea what was going to happen to me at this strange new place.

Dad looked at me and said, “Snuffy, the people here are going to find you a new family and home because where we are moving we can’t take you with us.”

I stopped in my tracks when I suddenly realized my family was about to abandon me. Dad was going to drop me off at this place like you’d drop off a load of recycling. I would never again see Mom or the other kids, and I began to panic over what would happen to me. I loved my family, and I thought they loved me. Dad gently tugged the leash and we went inside. There was a man at a high desk there, and Dad told him he was here to drop me off.

The new man was talking to Dad but all I could hear was something about seven days. Maybe that was how long it would take to find me a new home. And then Dad said “Goodbye, Snuffy” and walked out the door. The new man looked disgusted and took me by the leash and walked me to a cage where there were other dogs in the back of the building. I missed my family already but if all I had to wait was seven days for a new home, that wouldn’t be too bad.

I watched people, families, come in for seven days looking at other dogs. They were puppies and thoroughbreds but no one looked at me. At the beginning of the eighth day I began to wonder when my family would be here to pick me up. And then one of the workers came to my cage alone, but I figured it was just for my daily walk. She took me into a strange room and put me up on a metal table. Shortly after another person came in with a funny-looking thing in her hand with something pointed on the end.

She whispered in my ear that I would be okay, and I wondered why I wouldn’t. Then I felt something sharp go into my skin and began to lose consciousness and drift into oblivion. I saw a long tunnel lined with clouds that I floated through, feeling the best I had ever felt in my life. As I neared the end of the tunnel there were beautiful bright lights and soothing music playing. And then I was out and I saw the rainbow bridge. I was home again.