Stray Red Dog: A Dog Memoir by Ian Duncan Part II

Take a break from dog training and read Part 2 in this exciting series of guest posts! Writer and blogger Ian Duncan recounts to us his experience of a very special dog that he adopted—or rather, adopted him. Check back every friday for the next installment!

Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV

I have what you call a big heart when it comes to animals. I have to tell you that first so you don’t think I just nabbed the stray red dog, like some Disney movie bad man driving around abducting random pets. I made an honest effort to find his rightful owner, in case there was a cluster of children somewhere weeping their eyes out and going through the Seven Stages of Grief.

My carpenters sometimes brought hounds and gun dogs to work in their pickups, a classic redneck accessory, albeit more endearing than shotgun racks and Mudflap Girl silhouettes. I asked around on the jobsite, but none of my subs seemed to know anything about the stray red dog. They stopped what they were doing and looked at me funny for asking, taking a moment to adjust the golf ball-sized lumps of chaw in their cheeks and narrowing their eyes, but then again, they always looked at me that way.

I made an honest effort to find his rightful owner, in case there was a cluster of children somewhere weeping their eyes out and going through the Seven Stages of Grief.”

The next day I drove up with a box of Milk-Bones stashed behind my bench seat, and the stray red dog came by more often once he associated me with the cardboard box that rattled with treats. In my spare time I went door-to-door asking residents if he belonged to anybody. One homeowner had seen him playing with the better-groomed dogs of the neighborhood, but no one could tell me where the odd-looking retriever had come from. Days passed, and I started worrying that he might wander onto the four-lane highway over the hill through the trees.

On the opposite side of the neighborhood was a frat house—a constant irritation to the residents, who were forever complaining about the young hooligans who drank too much and played their music too loud, always speeding down their long gravel driveway with a typhoon cloud of dust swirling behind them, and the dust drifting into the neighborhood and coating backyard plants and patio furniture with something like ash from a volcanic explosion.

stray red dog

One afternoon, with nothing else to do, I drove slowly up the gravel driveway, parked, and knocked on the storm door. I waited, but no one came. Finally I cupped my hands to the door and saw the stray red dog standing inside, coming up to press his wet nose to the glass. I thought he must be their dog after all, or maybe he’d just wandered up there one night and drank a python and gotten himself initiated.

He grinned at me from inside. I knocked again, but no humans came to the door. Minutes passed. I must have already been falling for the mangy dog with the sweet disposition, because instead of leaving I tried looking in one of the windows. It was the kitchen and it looked like a Yellowstone grizzly had worked it over. Trashcans were tipped over, fast-food bags ripped open in the floor, wadded foil and crumpled wrappers strewn everywhere. The dog was obviously still starved and pawing through the trash for something to eat. I was starting to get irritated.

I opened the storm door and stuck my head inside, petting the dog with one hand.

None of the lights were on. “HELLO?”

Nothing. The sound of the dog panting.

I was never in a frat, but the house looked much like I would’ve imagined: pictures crooked on the wall, thrift-shop furniture, open pizza boxes filled with circle-bitten crusts, and on top of these—in them, and on every horizontal surface—were dead soldiers, assorted trash, clothes, and mostly-empty bottles of Jack Daniels. A figure lay sprawled on the couch, either dead or so hung over that it made little difference. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, so I felt justified in another booming, “HELLO?” The dead guy began to stir, rubbing his eyes and finally seeing me—possibly several of me—framed in the doorway.

I must have already been falling for the mangy dog with the sweet disposition, because instead of leaving I tried looking in one of the windows. It was the kitchen and it looked like a Yellowstone grizzly had worked it over.

“Dude, what time is it?” He stood up and staggered toward me, squinting painfully against the daylight. I asked him about the dog. He braced himself against a chair and started yelling for a girl in the back of the house, who finally appeared, bleary-eyed, trailing wild strands of hair and muttering expletives.

It turned out the residents of the frat had—apparently in rare periods of prolonged sobriety—actually put some effort into finding the owner of the stray red dog. None of the nearby neighbors had claimed him, they said, but they had a friend coming to get him that weekend.

I left feeling dissatisfied. It was settled, then. The dog would have a home after all, someone to rescue him from a derelict life of wandering from one handout to the next. I hoped he would get better meals than pizza crusts and kitchen trash.

The next Monday morning I made my rounds, checking on Buck and Buddy and Bud, noting the supplies we needed and trying to predict what would go wrong, the daily crisis that would send my boss’s blood pressure into critical meltdown. I was sucking my coffee and bracing for the worst when I turned around and saw the grinning red vagabond eyeing me, hoping for another treat. Apparently the frat house connection hadn’t worked for him. I made the decision instantly. I was taking him home.

He was immediately leery of my efforts to get him into my truck. Something about the sight of an open truck door and a man beckoning and making kissing noises seemed to set off warning bells in his head—not at all unreasonable given our proximity to West Virginia. He slunk back and forth, tail between his legs, a tortured orbit just out of reach. He wouldn’t come closer, but he wasn’t running away either—like he really wanted to trust me, but some horrible memory just wouldn’t let him. He’d been abused, I realized. The previous week I’d noticed him cowering when I emerged from a house carrying a shovel. Poles, sticks and other long implements scared him. There’s something wrong with our race—all kidding aside—and I was never more acutely aware of it than I was crouching by my truck, hands outstretched, watching that poor animal caught between hunger and a humanity so degraded that even a dog couldn’t forget it.

Apparently the frat house connection hadn’t worked for him. I made the decision instantly. I was taking him home.

In the end it took a miniature Dachshund and a slice of American cheese to change his mind. Watching from her window, one of the residents realized I was working for a good cause and came out to help. First she brought the slice of cheese and we took turns dangling it in the air and talking like you would to a baby. Not helping. Finally she got the Dachshund and held him out like bait by the open door of the truck.

Apparently Dachshunds pair well with American cheese. The stray red dog came close, but he still wouldn’t commit to getting in the cab. Knowing it was a dumb thing to do, I wrapped my arms around him—one around his chest and the other under his rump—and picked him up. He could have easily turned and bitten a chunk out of my face, but my instincts told me he was worth the risk. I was usually pretty good with dogs, but you never know. Once, while working in an occupied house, I had befriended a skittish dog only to be nailed by the family parrot. But he didn’t bite me. If he’d been abused, he wasn’t going to return the favor. He didn’t even growl.

Now I had something like a half-starved golden retriever sitting in my truck. I closed the door gently, walked around to the driver’s side and got in, scratching his head for a minute before I started the engine. He seemed okay with being abducted. We rolled down the street and he sniffed the air flowing in through the window. We turned onto the highway and I shifted through the gears, picking up speed toward home. His tongue lolled out and he grinned at me, a drop of slobber falling to the blue vinyl bench seat, furry little knobs over his eyes working up and down as he watched the passing scenery with interest. I wasn’t sure at that point what I was going to do with a stray red dog, but I had the feeling we’d started something good.

— Keep Reading: Continue to Part III —

ian duncan

IAN DUNCAN is the author of Mouribon Cave, Brozini’s War, and Cordyceps Resurgentis, the newly released sequel to Cordyceps. He writes everything from novels to literary short stories to the fictional memoirs of veterans and treasure hunters, all of which he finds infinitely more enjoyable than the reports he used to write for the lending industry.

Visit www.IanDuncanBooks.com for writing and publishing advice, humor, brilliant articles on journaling, opinions on matters of extreme importance, or just to say hi.

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