At just over eight years old, Bert isn't a puppy anymore. He hasn't been a puppy for quite some time now, but his age is really beginning to show these days. I remember the day, the hour, the moment I reached down and picked up the fuzzy brown puppy out of a pen a dog pound in Dothan Alabama. There had been a little black dog trying to get my attention but Bert pushed the other puppy away and smiled at me. I noticed he had a splotchy tongue just before I got wet kissed. It didn't matter there were other dogs, and it didn't matter that I was with a woman who would one day become my ex-wife. Bert and I connected at once, and there has never been any doubt over whose dog Bert was, or whose human I was either.
When we got home and one of the cats smacked him across his nose for getting too close Bert ran to me. I didn't realize it then but this dog was going to be more trouble than any other dog that had come before him. Bert had the energy level of a dozen dogs, and three teenagers on espresso. When left to his own devices, Bert destroyed things as if he had all the intentions of dismantling the earth. The overstuffed armchair on the porch was eaten. He drug the chair into the yard so he could have something soft to sit in while sunning himself, and in the process he tore it into tiny bits. Billions and Billions. Bert dug up the yard, digging bunker complexes that would have made the Viet Cong jealous. I filled in those holes with half a truck load of dirt before we left. Bert ate my ATM card, after getting it, and just it, out of my wallet. Shoes, socks, and anything, everything, and all things were fair game.
What Bert loved most was bare skin. I'm usually nude when I'm not around other people but Bert made that a dicey proposition. Bert would sneak up from behind and nip naked flesh. I have no idea how he learned to pinch with his teeth but he did. I would get out of the shower, start to shave and suddenly feel the sharp sting of puppy teeth. After getting down from the ceiling, if I was to wreak revenge upon Bert I would have to chase him first. That, after all, was the object of the game, wasn't it?
When I moved to Brooks County seven years ago Bert was about a year old and he was running full tilt boogie. I decided letting him free range for a while, just to see what would happen, and he went off the deep end, literally. Bert had always been a water dog. He loved to be sprayed with a hose, and he snorkeled in the plastic pool I got him, just before he chewed holes in it. But the ponds and lakes around here drew him like a magnet. The large population of deer gave him something to chase he couldn't catch. For two weeks Bert ran free, and he would come home panting for breath, soaking wet, and so exhausted he would fall down on the floor and sleep.
The second Sunday after we moved here, I was out back talking to my neighbor when Bert limped home. His was holding his right front leg up and it was terribly clear it had been broken. The paw, and a couple of inches of the leg above the joint was pointing out at a severe right angle. My neighbor and I watched in horror as Bert limped up to us and lay down at my feet. He never made a sound.
The Vet said it would take two hundred and fifty dollars to fix Bert's leg, and he was kind enough o let me pay by the month. Two hundred fifty might as well been two million fifty at that point in time because I was dead broke. The next day Bert was in so much pain I had to carry him outside so he could go to the bathroom, and then carry him back in again. The cast on his leg, which I still have, by the way, looked alien, and to see Bert hobbled broke my heart.
It lasted exactly twenty-four hours.
Oh no, the cast stayed on, but Bert wasn't slowed down a bit. The next day Bert hit the ground running. Bert would hold his right leg, cast and all, and run. As he ran, the casted leg would slowly ratchet downward and as soon as it hit the ground Bert would bounce up high again. He looked all the world like a wind-up toy on jet fuel. The front steps, which are made of wood, still have some seriously deep grooves in them where Bert tried to jump up the steps but didn't realize the leg would throw him off balance. He crashed into the steps at full speed and it is a wonder he didn't re-break his leg, or break something else. Bert never so much as noticed that he had slammed into the steps at all. Bert having a broken leg didn't mean the end of his days as a speed demon in any way, shape or form. Worse yet, the cast could act as a club when he wanted attention.
Believe it or not, Bert changed from a Demon From Hell to who he is right now, literally, overnight. Six months after we moved here, Bert found a starved, beaten, emaciated very nearly dead puppy. Truthfully, if I had been alone I might have just gotten a gun and put the poor thing out of its misery. After all, there is a point of no return in starvation, and clearly this puppy was pushing that point. But Bert wanted the puppy so badly. He danced and wiggled and bounced around as if all the Christmases there ever were had just come at one time. I remembered how happy I was when I got a puppy. I rescued the puppy, Sam, and Sam changed Bert into sort of an Older Brother, who all of a sudden, took on the responsibility of helping raise the new puppy.
Good place to stop,