Just about every kid wants a dog. I know I did. But for years, my mother wouldn’t allow it. Her excuse was the mobility of Dad’s military career. Mom finally relented when I was 10, and we moved to Long Beach during the summer of 1955.
Of course, this whole pet idea was to be on a trial basis. First of all, Mom was not going to spring for any puppy mill pedigree. We were simply going to the local pound and pick out a homeless hound.
Her approval was under the condition that my sisters and I would take full responsibility for care and feeding of our new family friend. We quickly agreed, but as with most children, our oral contract with Mom left plenty of long-term loopholes.
I remember at the shelter viewing the cages. Most of the dogs looked sad, lonely and rejected. They seemed to know their fate had been sealed on a dark and odiferous death row. But there was one canine that stood out from the crowd.
He was a curly blonde, adult cocker spaniel. The dog seemed out of place among the multi-colored, Heinz 57 breeds. His stubby tail wagged as he licked my sister’s hand. It was if we had been sent by a divine force to arrange his rescue.
On the way home, the cocker spaniel was nervous. He paced back and forth across the back seat of our yellow and white ’55 Dodge sedan. His clumsiness left a claw impression of four dots on the pleats of the pastel green door panel.
We named the dog “Trusty” after a popular Disney cartoon character at the time. But he hardly fit the image of a faithful companion.
Mom tried to give him access to our house, but the 1-year-old just couldn’t get the idea that his “business” belonged outside. Mom’s Chinese rugs took quite a beating.
For exercise, she would tie him to a thin rope attached to an outside water faucet. Probably not the smartest move because every time he chased after something, we could hear the water pipe bang inside the wall. (They must have had good lead solder on copper pipes on those days.)
He was a playful pup and liked to chase tennis balls, but Trusty was never a dog anyone could see as a “best” friend. He had no loyalties and treated everyone the same — friend or foe. If let go, he would take off and not return without an extensive search. He couldn’t be trained to do much of anything. We later figured this was why such a beautiful breed had wound up in the city pound.
Because of these issues, my sisters and I lost interest. Feeding him did not become a pleasure but a chore. My siblings and I argued over who would get stuck with the job on a given night. Other custodial activities also became undesirable. Mom often became the single-handed backup crew. This obviously gave her negative feelings toward any future ventures involving family pets.
In June 1957, Dad had his orders, and it was time to move across the country. Trusty was once again, in the back seat heading for that dreary place where we first found him. Mom assured us that someone would adopt the dog — just as we had done. However, her credibility was in doubt. We figured it was the end of the line for our blonde beauty. Strangely, my two sisters and I had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a relief to be rid of a dog that failed to meet expectations. On the other hand, Trusty didn’t have a mean bone in his body and probably deserved a better ending than what we were about to provide.
On the way home, I noticed the claw marks on the door panel that had been imprinted there two years earlier. I shed a few tears, but didn’t know why. I suppose it had something to do with the acceptance and unconditional love our pets always seem to provide. Somehow, despite all his faults, Trusty had still done his job.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.