The Old Timer's First Dog
His name was just plain “Bill”. There was no middle name, initial or last name. The one name was all he needed. It identified him when discussing his exploits, it usually brought him running when you called and was easy for a kid to spell! Bill was my first dog and probably the most intelligent of the few that I later owned.
Bill treed ‘possums almost before Clifton and I knew what a ‘possum was. He was an expert in driving the cows to the milking lot. My dad sometimes told me to take old Bill and bring the milk cows in. They were often a half mile away across the north field but were plainly visible. I would climb the dirt mound covering our cellar and call Bill. He would come running when he heard his name. I would put my left arm around his neck and point toward the cows that were visible from the height of the cellar mound. Soon his eyes focused on the cattle and he understood that I wanted him to bring them in. All I had to do was say, “Go get’em Bill” and he would take off at a fast lope across the field. In a few minutes he would have the milk cows in the lot and would stand in the gateway grinning like a fresh fed pig!
Bill ate our table scraps and I insisted on feeding him. I looked for biscuits and other tidbits that I could throw into the air and watch him catch and eat them before they hit the ground. He was always a good playmate. If a game got too rough for him he walked away without displaying any frustration or anger.
Of course he wasn’t perfect. He felt that he had to chase every car that passed our house or any vehicle that drove away. He ran fast enough to catch the cars but never tried to claim the ones that he caught. He liked to ride on the fender of a Model T or any automobile that had fenders. When someone left our house in a Model T someone had to hold Bill until the car was out of sight.
Bill was a good hunting dog but we were not old enough to appreciate his ability. A few years later we could have used him to find more ‘possums and increase our primary income, the sale of ‘possum and skunk furs. He liked to chase rabbits but seldom caught one. If there were a squirrel in a tree he ran around the trunk and barked. If we had been old enough to carry rifles when we hunted we could have brought home a sack full of squirrels.
We had finished supper one night and we had retired to the front room to wait for bedtime. My mother was playing the piano and my dad and I were listening. Sometimes Bill would make himself comfortable on the front porch and appear to be listening to the music, but tonight he was not out there looking through the open door. Suddenly we heard him barking and growling in the yard. My dad grabbed the 10 gauge shotgun and hurried toward the door. My mother lit a lantern and followed. The loud barking and angry snarls continued and the unmistakable buzz of an angry rattlesnake was almost as loud as Bill’s barking. By the dim light of the lantern I could see that Bill was circling the snake waiting for an opportunity to grab it and shake it into unconsciousness. The snake was striking at Bill but he was dodging the attacks.
Bill’s angry chatter changed to a pitiful “yelp” as he failed to dodge quickly enough and the snake bit him somewhere on the left side. He retreated a safe distance and continued to complain. My father managed to fire the shotgun and, in spite of the poor light, the shot mangled the snake’s head. Bill ran toward the open cellar door and jumped in the opening. I hurried to the cellar and saw that Bill was already somewhere in the dark interior! When I took the lantern and entered he was in a corner whining. I knew that he was in great pain since I remembered my rattlesnake bite of a few years before. My father said the same thing for Bill that he had said for me, “If he lives until morning he’ll survive!”
When I ran to the cellar the next morning Bill’s body was swollen and he was very still. For a moment I thought he was dead, but I saw he was breathing. He ignored me when I approached and patted him on the head. But he was alive! I carried the good news back to the breakfast table and I was assured that he would recover. I took food and water for him for three days before he was able to climb out of the cellar. He had survived.
Not long after this we heard him barking in the vicinity of the road. I ran outside to see what he was barking at. An automobile was passing and he was chasing it. This was not unusual, but when he managed to jump on the running board and the car kept going I was concerned. When I told my mother she said that he would be back.
We never knew where Bill went and he never returned. He left a beautiful memory!