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

We took a short break from posting “Stray Red Dog” this past friday since it was Washington’s birthday. We did a special post about our 1st President (who interestingly is not only the Father of our nation, but also the father of the American Foxhound). But today, we’re pleased to announce Part III of this exciting tale “Stray Red Dog,” a true story by writer and blogger Ian Duncan. Enjoy! And check back on Friday for the next installment!

Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV

I named him “Bear.” It seemed appropriate, considering how he’d turned over that frat house kitchen, and his big, broad head made the name stick. I took Bear to the vet and spent three hundred bucks bringing him up to speed with the current standards of doggie hygiene. This included shots, worming, and the vet’s head-scratching analysis that he might be a Golden Retriever, but he seemed a little too tall or “just not quite right.”

stray dog bear

On that first visit Bear weighed only sixty pounds. He was a year old—maybe two. It was impossible to know. The only thing everyone could agree on was the stray red dog’s wonderful disposition. He was so nice, in fact, that the vet had a hard time believing he was a stray. I think maybe the entire staff at the animal hospital had just finished reading a Robert Ludlum novel, because they wanted to scan Bear for electronic chips or secret tattoos, like he might have belonged to Jason Bourne. At the time I’d never even heard of a dog with secret markings, but I let them do the scan, and sitting in the waiting room I could imagine them coming to me, clipboard in hand, saying, “Well, Mr. Duncan, the good news is, the dog you found is healthy. The bad news is we’ve discovered a capsule beneath his hide containing six foreign passports, a handgun, $10,000 dollars in cash, and access codes to a numbered bank account in Zurich.”

The scan found nothing, but by then Bear had become an instant favorite at the vet’s office. He just looked around the place and seemed to smile. His big pink tongue lolled in and out with each panting breath and his eyes searched everyone with interest, and everyone wanted to stop and pet him. It must have been quite the relief after those months living like a wild animal, dodging cars and crazy rednecks, eating God-only-knows-what, and barely surviving.

He just looked around the place and seemed to smile. His big pink tongue lolled in and out with each panting breath and his eyes searched everyone with interest, and everyone wanted to stop and pet him.”

I took him home and gave him a bath, then took him for a walk in a nearby pasture to let him air out. The first thing Bear did, perhaps to express his appreciation for my efforts to introduce him to civilized life, was to stop, drop, and roll in a huge fresh pile of cow manure. I walked him home and gave him another bath. Bear didn’t seem to mind.

Home was a small farm in southwest Virginia, about forty-five minutes from the neighborhood where I found Bear. It was thirty-five acres of pasture and wooded hills, with creeks on both ends. A knot of cows grazed the place—really more overgrown goats than cows, serving no greater purpose than keeping the weeds down. Bear took an immediate interest in stalking the calves. Curious, they would approach him and he’d look away deliberately as if he didn’t see them. Once they ventured perilously close, Bear would dash after them and they’d run bleating for their mothers. This was all great fun for Bear, judging by the way he wagged his tail and grinned. When the calves did occasionally come close enough for contact, it turned out all he wanted to do was sniff and touch big black nose to big pink nose. The mother cows weren’t so thrilled and usually charged us with heavy, stamping hooves that shook the ground, but even that Bear welcomed as an enormously fun game. He would take off running in tight circles, weaving and dodging and faking like a rodeo horse, always keeping just out of reach of the lowered bovine heads that came plowing for him.

baby calves

All that time I was keeping Bear on a twenty-six-foot retractable leash because I’d found out that he liked to run and keep going, like that Irish Setter in the movie Funny Farm. Apparently, the instinct to stay on the move was a throwback to Bear’s old life on the lam. Like any reasonable dog owner, I had initially wanted him to run free and get plenty of exercise, but after a few experiences calling for him only to watch in dismay as he disappeared over the horizon, then spending hours chasing him over hill and dale, staggering out of the woods and knocking on the doors of random houses, breathlessly asking if anyone had seen a Golden Retriever streak by like a four-footed wraith—after that I started keeping him on a leash.

When Bear did get loose, his first priority was to get as wet and muddy as possible, like Rambo preparing for a hostage rescue mission, smearing dirt and grime all over his body until only the whites of his eyes showed. And it’s not difficult to find dirt in backwoods Appalachia. Even if Bear was loose for only five minutes, by the time I caught up, huffing and sucking air, he would be standing there looking more like a chocolate lab than a golden retriever.

It’s not difficult to find dirt in backwoods Appalachia. Even if Bear was loose for only five minutes, by the time I caught up, huffing and sucking air, he would be standing there looking more like a chocolate lab than a golden retriever.”

He never had a sense of shame about those larks; he’d just look at me as if to say he was surprised I’d decided to come, but happy to have me along. I would clip the leash to his collar and we’d hike back to the house, Bear with his trademark enthusiasm, sometimes carrying a turtle in his mouth or some other souvenir he’d found: a wild turkey feather or the cast-off antler of a ten-point buck. A few minutes later I’d still be muttering at him, but Bear was too sweet to stay mad at for long, and even then I knew the only reason I was angry was because I was afraid of losing him.

All that running must have stoked Bear’s appetite, because that first year he gained nearly forty pounds. The stray red dog had begun to take the shape of something a lot like a real Golden Retriever. His long legs, huge paws, and massive head began to seem proportionate to the rest of his body. Before long it became apparent that the strange-looking dog I’d brought home had looked strange because he’d been little more than skin and bones. Now his coat was turning a richer red and he was starting to grow the breed’s distinctive “feathers” of fur around his legs, belly, and tail. Even the friends that at first had teased that I’d given Bear a trailer-park moniker had to admit he was beautiful. The next time I took him for a check-up, even the vet began to speculate that Bear might be a purebred after all.

Surely someone would be looking for such a nice dog, he said.

I began to feel guilty—even though I had dutifully notified the Blacksburg animal shelter, the most likely place Bear’s previous owners would begin their search. Those first months I tried not to get too attached to the stray red dog. I did my best to think of him as foster pet, on loan for a little while to care for and enjoy. I braced myself for the call I knew was inevitable.

— Continue To Part Four —

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, articles on journaling, opinions on matters of extreme importance, or just to say hi.

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