Duke, Part 1

Duke, 1995.

Duke as Pup“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
– Milan Kundera

The first dog I ever got as an adult was a Rottweiler.  His name was Duke.

Duke was not my first dog. As a family we had dogs growing up, Barney the Malamute/Shepherd mix and Fifi the Toy Poodle so I had a good idea about what having a dog entailed. I knew that puppies are cute but puppies grow up to be dogs and dogs are a responsibility. I was a bartender back then, so I had a fair amount of free time and figured a dog would be a great companion as I had just ended a five year relationship. Dating was not of any interest to me and loving a dog seemed a safer way to give your heart and not have it get broken.

Now, as a bartender you actually get to know a lot of people. You get to know a great cross section of personalities and classes, so I tapped into this resource and let my customers know I was looking for a pup. Of course, everyone had opinions about what breed I should get, how the dog should be trained, yadda yadda yadda. I listened enthusiastically, not because I wanted the advice, I listened because I wanted the tips.

The next couple weeks went by with me kicking my breed selection around my bar, playing with names for the dog and throwing out feelers for a place I could get a Jack Russell Terrier. That was the breed I had selected for absolutely no discernible reason. In a bid to emphasize my rapier wit, I had determined it would be fun to juxtapose a big dog name like Duke with a little dog like a Jack Russell.

I was told that Jack Russell’s were high energy whirling dervishes and while I am a little more sedentary, I was undeterred by the horror stories I had heard. I wanted what I wanted. As luck would have it, one of the bouncers at the bar had a brother who was breeding Jack Russell’s and there was a litter due in a few weeks. I was sold…until he told me they were 400 dollars a pup. That was more than I could really afford, so I had to seriously rethink that. Which worked out for the better because I had, and still have, very mixed feelings about purchasing a dog. I wasn’t going to breed or show, so it seemed silly to pay that much, especially when I knew there were rescue groups and shelters. So I shelved the dog plan…for a couple weeks.

One Tuesday afternoon I was having lunch with a friend and we were looking at the local paper and I came across an ad for Rottweilers. I asked my friend if he wanted to take a trip up to Sandy Hook (yes, that Sandy Hook in Connecticut) and take a look. We had nothing else to do before our shift that night, so we decided to do it.

I had my tip money from the previous night on me but I was convinced I wasn’t going to buy a dog that afternoon. Besides, I had to work that night so getting and leaving a puppy alone in my apartment on the first day seemed unfair so I told myself I was just going “to look“. Ah, the naivete of youth, you can never go to “just look” at puppies.

My buddy and I drove up to Sandy Hook and found the shack where this guy was “breeding” the dogs. Following a dirt road for about 1/2 a mile we found a series of faded green shacks that were on cinder blocks and looked like they belonged to coal miners from Harlen County. We pulled over, parked and got out of my two door Honda Civic and were greeted by a barking German Shepherd behind a fence to our left. To our right were two free roaming, huge, mean looking Rottweilers. Yep, this was definitely the place. The owner came out and shouted from below “Don’t worry about them, they ain’t gonna do anything.” We started walking very slowly down the make shift 2×4 as stairs towards the shack as the two adult Rotties just sat and kept a close eye on our movements. If you have been stared down by a Rottweiler, you know that, regardless of the dogs disposition, it’s a tad intimidating.

Finally we got to the shanty on blocks, shook hands with the guy and made small talk. He asked if we wanted to see the puppies. I said “Sure”. As we walked in, I noticed all of the appliances were on cinder blocks so either the guy had a problem with vermin, was concerned about flooding or he was testing a blue collar post modern new aesthetic.

Just before the door closed the momma Rottie plodded, apparently to oversee the activity. The guy went to open a door and out flooded the six little puppies to see their mother. If you have ever seen bumper cars with a lot of people, you know there is a lot of bumping and directionless movement taking place. The puppies were sort of like a bumper puppies clamoring around their mother, bashing into one another like bumper puppies. They all were vying for her attention and oblivious to us. You could almost hear the puppies giggling as they bashed into one another and rolled around while the mother looked at us as if to say “So, you wanna adopt one of my pups huh?”

My buddy asked if she was gonna attack us and the guy laughed and said “Nah, she’s a softy. She just looks mean.” I noticed all the dogs still had their tails and I asked why they weren’t docked. He said he couldn’t get the vet to come out when they were born and doing it now would cost too much. He figured if someone wanted to dock the pups tails, they could pay for it. It made no difference to me whether the dog had a tail or not.

As I bent down to sift through the puppies, I noticed one off in the corner sniffing around. This one didn’t seem too interested in the puppy shenanigans taking place. So, I went over to that one and the puppy looked at me for a couple seconds, became quickly disinterested and went back to sniffing. Against my better judgement, I sat down on the floor of the shack to get a closer look. The puppy looked back towards me, seemed to sigh and then did the puppy waddle to check me out. After doing the 360 degree sniff around my perimeter, the pup came back and sat down in front of me, looking at me as if to say “Now what?”.

I took a look at my friend who was talking to the guy while they watched the bumper puppies. I called over, “How much for this one?”.
“250.00”.
I looked at my friend who just shrugged.
I said, “I only have 200 dollars.”
The guy looked around and simply nodded.

Paying for a dog was then, and still is, anathema to me. BUT, I knew the home I could provide for the dog would be better than his current surroundings. I also knew that with me, this puppy would have a pretty good life. As I sat there looking at this little Rottie I realized I had no choice. To me, it was a form of rescue.

So, I stood up, reached into my pocket and counted out my money. Borrowing a trick my grandmother had taught me, I had money in both front pockets just in case I had to haggle. I counted out the nine 20 dollar bills and just as I looked up at the guy to say that was all I had, my buddy chimed in “Oh here dude, I have twenty bucks.” I handed the guy the money and walked over, scooped up the puppy, who seemed rather nonplussed. The momma Rottie followed us out the front door and sat down on the porch as we walked back up the dilapidated stairs to the yammering of the German Shepherd and the ice cold stare of the daddy Rottie.

I put the puppy in the back seat and I got in to drive. We made it about 1/4 mile and then we heard whining so I pulled over and told my friend to drive and I got in the back. I tried to rationalize with the young dog what was gonna be happening. I’m not entirely convinced it registered, but the whining stopped.

We made a stop at the pet store to get a collar and toy. My friend took the photo at the top of this post as I was going into the store. I came back out and got back into the back seat. As we left, my friend said “Dude, you gotta work tonight right?”
“Yeah.”
“What are you gonna do?”
I didn’t think about it too long. I lived around the corner from my parents.
“I guess I’ll ask my parents.”
Mom and Dad to the rescue…again.

I dropped my friend off at his car and the pup and I went over to my parents house. It was late afternoon so my folks were still at work. I let myself in and their two dogs greeted me with their usual enthusiasm. I put the pup down and let the three of them get acquainted while I went to the garage and got their old dog crate. I set it up in the basement with some paper and the squeaky stuffed shark toy I had gotten at the pet store. I still had to go home, shower and get ready to go to work, so I went back upstairs picked up the pup and brought him downstairs. I put him in the crate and once again tried to explain what was going to be happening. He sat down and stared at me. As I stood up to leave, he quietly started to whine. And while it broke my heart, I knew I had to go to work . I also knew that he was in safe hands with my parents. Closing the basement door, I heard the squeaking of the stuffed shark. I told myself that the little bugger understood it was gonna be OK.

I walked upstairs and left a note for my parents:
“Hi Mom and Dad. Please go downstairs immediately. His name is Duke.
Love, Keith.”

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