My first memory, of any clarity or duration, is that of biting Bucky’s tail.
Oh sure, I have vague memories before that; sitting on one of those long balloons and having only half of it pop and fly away, thinking to myself that this was absolutely the coolest thing that I had ever seen; playing with my older brother in a snow fort built under our front lawn and having him wrestle with me to keep us warm; but these are all pieces and remnants, like a dream you can’t quite remember the next morning.
When I bit Bucky, I stored the scene in my mind from beginning to end.
Bucky was a Hungarian Pointer, a beautiful, towering, silky brown dog. When he walked or ran your eyes were inevitably drawn to him. This breed of dog was fairly rare, and so it was inbred in certain parts of the world so the demand would never outweigh the supply. The practice of in-breeding, although not proper, was done quite often to keep a breed’s availability up.
This was not something my family became aware of until later.
Hungarian Pointers are used primarily as Hunting Dogs. Their size, speed and power make them excellent retrievers. They don’t tire easily and can stay awake for long periods of time protecting their master. Should another animal cross this breed in any way, it is a formidable enemy to have.
Bucky was “gifted” as far as the breed is concerned. On his hind legs, he stood right around six feet and towered over my mother. His speed was “guesstimated” because my father, in an effort to find out what his maximum was, had him run in front of the car one day. Dad got the car up to thirty miles an hour until he decided to quit before Bucky’s heart burst in his chest. He probably could have gone faster. As to his power, well… I know that no one could walk him but my father or Bucky would drag whomever was unlucky enough to be on the other end of the leash off his feet and face first through the grass (or pavement…it didn’t matter). He chewed logs and rocks instead of toys. I don’t mean branches that you see some dogs carry around; I mean LOGS. Huge two foot stumps that you would throw into a bonfire to keep it burning for five hours. These, and fist sized chunks of rock, were his chew toys. Despite the assumed durability, they would usually only last about three days before they were nothing more than mushy, pulpy messes, and we would have to sneak them from him and replace them with fresh logs.
His mouth was enormous. When I was four (and he was three) he could have taken my entire head in his jaws and still have had a fair amount of room left to spare.
You’d think, after reading this description of him, I would have been petrified of going near him but I wasn’t. To me, Bucky was simply a gangly, four legged member of my family. He drooled a little more than my brother and didn’t talk as much but in my mind, he was an equal sibling, sometimes better.
He was more fun to play with than my brother or sisters because he didn’t have so many rules and was usually softer to hug. I often snuggled up to him with his prominent rib cage rising and falling beneath my head and fell asleep, feeling completely safe and protected. He never seemed to mind me there and (looking back now) probably viewed me as a smaller dog that came to him every so often for comfort.
He was my first real friend.
The friendship hit rocky ground when the family was visiting my grandparents in their summer home.
I remember the heat was intense. It was a wet, sticky heat that clung to your body and gave you a tired, sluggish feeling. My parents and my father’s parents were sitting under a slowly revolving ceiling fan at the kitchen table, talking about what ever it was that grown-ups talked about back then (which is, I suspect, very close to what I talk about now).
I was crawling on the floor, being four, making up some kind of story with the few toys that had somehow missed the pass through two generations; toys that nine children and a multitude of grand-children had not wanted. If I remember correctly there were a few battered trucks and about five or six army men, their paint faded and chipped, missing guns, arms, legs and probably heads. You knew that these figures were supposed to be human but it took a real stretch of the imagination to figure out what sort of humans they were.
Knowing myself as well as I do, the game I made up was most likely me running over those few, long dead soldiers with the trucks while (at the top of my lungs) I did a four year old’s best impression of a man being run over by a truck.
Kid stuff… you know.
If you can look back and remember that age, then you will remember that any noisy death game, however engaging, only held your attention for so long. After I had killed the soldiers for fifteen or twenty minutes straight (miraculously without either of my folks screaming “For God’s sake… will you stop all THAT YELLING!!!”) I tired and looked for something new to amuse me. I spotted a much better toy sitting under the sink, sweating and panting heavily.
Over the next fifteen minutes, I broke every human/canine rule that has ever been set down on paper. I was completely oblivious to the hundreds of year’s worth of research that had been amassed to warn me not to do exactly what I was currently doing.
I rose up to my hands and knees and crept towards Bucky on all fours, making sure to keep my eyes locked with his the entire time (Rule #7). The look on his face clearly said “I’m too hot and tired for this crap small being. Do NOT mess with me!” Unfortunately, I missed the message.
When I was two feet away I pounced on to his back (Rule #147) and almost slid off due to the slickness of his coat. Bucky began to growl softly.This felt very funny under my bum so I bounced once or twice on his back (rule #147: Subsection 12), giggling at the way the sound cut off and then back on again. He continued to growl softly and sounded like a car that was having trouble starting on a cold day.
I threw all my weight down on to his head and hugged him as hard as I could, cutting off his air supply when my arms dug in to his throat (Rule # 11). When I let go, the growling increased in speed and intensity. I gently slid off his back and crawled in front of him. I began to play face games with him.
Rule #1… WARNING… WARNING… RED LIGHT!
Face games, for the uninitiated, are where you mold someone’s or something’s face in to what ever shape you find amusing at the time. I played with the flaps of his lips, stretching them out as far as they would go and then wiping my hands on my pants in disgust to rid myself of doggy drool. I tried to tie his whiskers up on to the bridge of his nose, which didn’t work because I wasn’t too cool with my knots until I turned five. I played with his ears, scrunching them in my fists and then yanking them straight up in the air, so he looked like a canine version of Mr. Spock.
Bucky’s growling became noticeably louder and he bared his teeth. My last rational thought was “Neato!!! I didn’t know that doggies could smile.”
It was just a few seconds before I realized that they can’t.
If you have ever been bitten by a dog at a young age, especially if it was a pet and you had never feared it, then you’ll get what I’m saying. If not, trust me. You don’t feel the pain right away. You feel pressure as if your hand is trapped between two heavy concrete blocks. It’s not enough to crush, but enough to make you immobile. I sat there for a moment, trying to yank my hand from Bucky’s smiling mouth with my upper arm flapping like I was a muppet.
Bucky would not let go.
I felt the pain at the same instance that I noticed a thick streak of blood coursing its way over Bucky’s lower lip and down the side of his jaw.
This is the only point in time where my memory of the event is a bit… hazy. I think my mind smoothly slipped from my head as a defense mechanism the moment I realized that I was trapped with four huge canine teeth stapled through my hand.
I sat on the kitchen floor screaming but Bucky would not let go.
My mother and grandmother were running around the kitchen screaming, but Bucky would not let go.
My father was whacking Bucky’s back end as hard as he could, forcing his back legs to skitter across the linoleum and pushing a growl from the depth of his throat, into the bone of my hand and therefore up my arm, making it tingle like I had an electric current from wrist to shoulder, and Bucky would not let go.
Finally, I saw my grandfather’s oversized, liver-spotted hands slip almost casually down to the hinge of Bucky’s jaw and pry the upper teeth from the lower.
Bucky let go.
Through my tears and holding my wounded hand to my chest, I looked down at him wondering why my best friend had caused me so much pain for no reason. The thought that I had done something to provoke this attack never even entered my mind. I was just playin’.
“Bad Dog!!!.” I hissed at him, for the first of two times.
Everyone piled in to the family car (except Bucky) and we got an unplanned visit to the hospital. Bucky had received all his shots but I still had to have a needle about as long as my arm. The doctor bandaged my hand and put my arm in a sling.
For the first day or two at home, Bucky and I walked around each other in very large circles; myself mostly out of fear and he, I think, largely due to shame. Anyone who has ever owned a dog has seen that look on their face when they know they’ve done something wrong. They are ashamed, pure and simple.
Over the next few days, my fear began to dissipate and was replaced with anger. My arm hurt where the doctor had jabbed the needle in me because- Bucky Bit My Hand. I was rolling onto it each night and waking up from a stab of fire because- Bucky Bit My Hand. I couldn’t go outside and play with my ball or climb the tree in the front because –Bucky not only Bit My Hand, but he bit the right one and I’m a complete clod with my left.
Finally, he and I weren’t friends anymore, all because Bucky had bit my hand.
Almost a week after returning from my Grandparents, I woke up at two in the morning and decided enough was enough. I’d bolted up in pain for the fourth night in a row after turning on to my right side and trapping my hand under my body. It was time to make things right.
Our house was built on two split levels with the entrance way opening up between them. As soon as you came in the front door and took your coat off (hanging it neatly on one of the pegs by the door if you knew what was good for you mister) going up would find you in the kitchen or the three bedrooms. Down was the family room where all the kids played. Tucked snugly behind the family room, nestled beyond the prying eyes of visitors was our laundry room which was usually filled with a mountain of dirty, kid’s clothes.
If you came in to the house at …ohhhh let’s say, two in the morning, you would trip over Bucky and fall flat. Then, you would find yourself pinned under one hundred and fifty pounds of prime, lean guard dog. You would probably wonder “How much will those two inch teeth hurt my face?” just before you wet your pants. The odds of you loosing an eye were favorable. Only one if you were lucky.
This was Bucky’s vantage point. From the front door, he watched the rest of the house carefully and took quick naps. The entire family was aware of this.
I crawled out of bed and slipped carefully past the other bedrooms. I paused for a moment at the top of the stairway and looked down. Bucky was sleeping peacefully on the landing. I sat on the top step and slid gently down the others on my backside in that slow methodical way that kids have. The only sound was my pajama bottoms whispering against the soft shag carpet.
When I was on the bottom step, his tail flickered back and forth, gently slapping against my inner calves and I carefully picked it up in my left hand. Clod or not, there were still some basic things I could do with it.
I paused for a moment and watched Bucky snore lightly. His back leg twitched a bit in his sleep and I knew I was seeing “The Rabbit Dream”. My grandfather had mentioned it but until now I had never seen it. I’d have to remember.
“Bad DOG!” I whispered for the second time.
Then I bit his tail as hard as I could.
The sound that came out of his throat was like nothing I have heard since. It soared and spiraled up so high that, in the end, it slipped past my limited audio capacity and got lost in the clouds.
Possibly other dogs heard it and thought “Ohhh Sweet Jeeeesus, what was that?” but it may have been too high for them as well.
Bucky flew off in to a corner somewhere, snaking a thin trail of blood behind him. Everyone else snapped from their sleep, bolted from their rooms and screeched to a halt at the top of the steps.
My father drank in the scenario. Bucky was hiding under an end table, licking at the bent stump of his tail with blood pooling around his butt. With each flick of his tongue, a strangled little whimper escaped his throat. I was sitting on the bottom step with blood smeared around my mouth, like a clown’s grin, while a little more of it dripped down my chin and off my left hand.
“What the hell…..” Dad took those five steps in one jump. He picked me up and turned me every conceivable way, looking for the puncture wounds that he was sure must be evident. When he found none (and clued in to the fact that I wasn’t crying and in no way harmed) he asked: “What in HELL is goin’ on here???”
I gave him the only answer I had. It was perfectly logical and reasonable and indicated that everything was good again.
“Bucky bit me… so I bit Bucky”
Thus, having shared with them the depth of all logic and knowledge I had accumulated in my four long years, I walked past them up the stairs, washed the blood from my hand and face and crawled back in to bed. I fell sleep immediately (man… was I wiped out) content in the knowledge that Bucky and I were even-steven and could pick up our former relationship. I left my family the task of cleaning up.
Bucky didn’t come out of hiding for the rest of the night, as my folks have said while repeating the story over and over with an odd sense of pride in their voices. The vet had to amputate the last three inches of his tail. It wasn’t necessary for him to cut much as I had bitten almost clean through it. The most satisfaction I got was when I heard that Bucky had to have a huge shot. The human mouth is filthy and he needed protection from the germs.
I would like to say that after this, life pretty much went back to normal. I would like to say that, but I can’t.
As I mentioned, we found out years later how frequently this particular kind of dog had been in-bred. In-breeding has a direct effect on the dog’s mental well being, making him more aggressive as the years pass. By the age of three or four, Bucky was no longer able to discern right from wrong. He lacked any control that we might have tried to instill in him and he’d already snapped once.
After me, he bit the mailman, the paperboy, some cleaning lady from down the street who had tried to pet him and last of all, my grandfather.
None of them thought of biting him back.
They just put him to sleep.
When I found out, I cried. It didn’t matter that he had hurt me once. We were well past that and had treated each other with respect since. I didn’t understand at all, of course, I didn’t have a child of my own then either.
The only thing that mattered was that he had been my first dog. I’ve had others since but it’s the same with any other “first” in a man’s life.
He will always be remembered with nothing but love.