22 January 2012

A Dog We Owned Named Carter

When I was a college freshman, my Mom got a dog from a family friend. The yard was big; and Mom wanted large dogs prowling if just to persuade would-be intruders to think twice about entering the property. We did not even know its breed; if at all. Mom’s major prerequisite for acquiring puppies was that it was sired by a large dog; and she was not interested in breeds at all.

I rather suspect, though, from dogs that I subsequently saw on television that Carter had a bit of the golden retriever in him. The ears, the face and the colour certainly were giveaways; ditto the demeanour. That said, traces of the local azkal were also unmistakable.

It was apparent from the moment that the cream-coloured puppy arrived that it had an even temperament. Although I personally named many of our dogs, it was my Dad who claimed the privilege of naming the new arrival.

It was 1976. Jimmy Carter had just been voted the United States’ 39th President. The puppy, Dad therefore declared, would be called ‘Carter.’

As a young pup, Carter was already a bundle of energy. He was always running all over the yard chasing after birds, neighbourhood chickens or even stray cats. He was also starting to annoy an older dog named Bimbo, who became grumpy not long after Carter arrived.

The hell we knew, of course, about dog psychology, as Cesar Millan calls it. The new arrival was just so even-tempered and lovable. Everyone gravitated towards him. He was also obviously intelligent and so easy to train. My brother was able to train him to sit, lie down and shake hands, which was so much more difficult to do with the other dogs that we had.

He knew when he was being invited into the house and when we did, he would be content to unobtrusively lay quietly somewhere. He was not the sort to jump all over the place and break things. When we wanted him to leave the house, we just said ‘out’ and he would pick himself up and let himself out the door.

Because I took a year’s leave of absence from college in what was supposed to be my sophomore year, I got to really spend a lot of time with Carter. I took him with me whenever I went to help out in the farm that we used to own just behind the house. Like many dogs, if I asked him to walk with me to the farm, he would run on ahead of me with boundless energy.

I would recall him back to my side with a whistle; and he would come running back to jump at me. After I gave him my customary affectionate caresses behind his ears – which he so loved – he would run ahead of me again. Then I would have to whistle for him to come back again. It was a stupid ritual that we played over and over.

I used to get so upset whenever I gave him baths. It was easy to persuade him to have one. I just simply picked him up and took him to the bathroom. I would lovingly lather him up and meticulously scrape all the dirt from all over him. Once I took him outside, what would he do but roll all over the ground and get himself dirty all over again. Dogs!

Sometimes, I would ask him into my room while I read a book. He would lie quietly for a while and then get claustrophobic. He would then start to scratch at the door and I would have no recourse but to let him out so he could play with the other dogs in the yard.

He had a love-hate relationship with Bimbo who he so loved to tease. Sometimes, the two would pretend-fight good-naturedly. As the years passed, Bimbo became more and more ill-tempered. When Carter was full-grown, he was about the same size as Bimbo. I will never forget the first time he stood up to the latter as though he was making a statement that he would not be bullied anymore.

We broke the melee quickly; but there was this godawful time when for some reason the two got into a fight-to-the-death. We could not break them apart. Each was hanging onto each other’s face with his fang and blood flowed from each dog’s face. Finally, somebody brought out a pitcher of water; and the wonder of it all was that two testosterone-enraged canines were finally broken apart by something as innocuous as water. Dogs!

When I finally returned to school and was away for most of the week, I badly missed not having Carter with me. That was why I used to love coming home for the weekend. Whatever Carter was doing when I stepped off my bus, he would drop it and come running and jumping towards the gate to welcome me back home.

There was this one time when I got off the bus, quickly scanned the yard and saw that Carter was not there. All I needed to do was to whistle and immediately there he came running out the door of the house to greet me. Mom later told me that Carter was lying asleep close to the dinner table before I arrived. At the sound of my whistle, he bolted up and was sprinting out the door!

Regrettably, this story has to end in sadness. One fiesta day, he went missing and never came back. What is it about dogs that they go haywire when firecrackers explode? Carter was no different. On New Year’s Days, he would hide under a bush somewhere and refuse to come out even to eat sometimes for days. We learned not to worry because he always came around and realized that nobody was firing anything at him.

Thus, this particular fiesta day, none of us were unduly worried when he went into hiding once again when the fireworks and the loose guns went off, as used to be typical in those days. But we never saw him again…

We searched around the yard and even every nook and cranny of the farm behind the house. We went around the neighbourhood to ask; and either nobody knew anything or nobody was telling.

We had more dogs come in since; but I honestly was never as affectionate with any of them as I was with Carter. I did not even get the chance to say a proper goodbye…




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