By Aaron Howell
At night with jet-black fur, thick that hung down in waves the eye easily misses the dog standing behind the tall gate obscured by the hedge; or when upon entering the property he blends so perfectly into the shadows as he rests in the entryway where he often settles down to sleep with something between a sigh and a grunt, the simple acknowledgement of weary bones and the familiarity of years. He was a dog after all, and dogs his age possess a quiet and solemn air around them as the energy and exuberance of youth leave a resigned and dignified adult familiar with the world of enclosed spaces, leashes and scraps in his bowl after dinner. His owner counted seven years since the animal was a puppy, seven years of buried instincts and urges to hunt and run forced away within a city backyard. Seven years of living in the same home with the same family, the dog standing near the gate to the street, hearing and smelling the world outside, hungry, though these days he lay down more often with the now more familiar sigh and grunt of rest. The eye easily misses him blending into the darkness and shadows at night. That is until with the speed and ferocity of his nature he lets out a low growl – his only warning – then a dangerous bark and flash of teeth as he crouches to defend or attack, for he was a dog after all and a good one at that who stopped and wagged his tail upon recognizing your voice or scent, friend, man’s best friend …
His owner loved the dog. He brought the dog home at only a few months old, a puppy. His daughters kept asking for a dog every time they saw one, one wanted a Cocker Spaniel and the other a Dotson. His owner came home with him, already the size of a full-grown small dog with large paws and the promise of growth. A boy dog too. After that very first night at home his owner knew the dog was going to be his, and his dog alone. He purchased a puppy for the whole family he thought, and not just a dog for his daughters. The girls were excited though a little skeptical, but the frown from his wife made him realize he got a dog for himself. Maybe he needed another male in a house full of females, maybe he knew his daughter might get bored with walking and feeding the dog leaving it on his shoulders, or maybe he always wanted a dog. Regardless he came home with a jet-black puppy that the girls and his wife loved as part of the family, but a dog that became his partner, each in turn looking our for the other, forming a bond that made them friends, a pack.
That first year, while still a puppy the girls played with him, picked him up and let him sleep in their beds, often fighting for who got to hold him. Time passed, he grew into his paws and as his black fur grew longer so did his legs. When they couldn’t pick him up anymore the girls began to lose interest. Still lovable, friendly and in many ways still a puppy he also became protective of his home and of himself. He learned the strength of his bite by chewing things around the house, and his speed by chasing the cat and catching toys that his family threw for him in the backyard. Not much smaller than the girls now he yelped and snapped at them if they pulled his hair or tried to pick him up by dragging him around. When walking him around the neighborhood he now pulled at his leash, and he as much walked you as you walked him. His encounters with other dogs taught him to be wary. Where at first curious, too many times he came across other dogs that growled and bit at him catching him by surprise, eventually teaching him to bark, growl and if necessary fight. He became aggressive, strong and an unruly young male, and this further made the girls uninterested in him as he was difficult to control. Instead a loving respect formed that often left him ignored.