For a while we got into Brittany Spaniels. My son was just a toddler, and we answered the ad with every intention to bring home a male dog. The boy took one look, latched onto the one he liked, and cradled her in his arms. We were in the dog business. He named her Fancy right on the spot. The name stuck.
The dog was aptly named. She was very regal and proper, but not a bit spoiled, a wonderful pet who stayed close to home and played in the yard with the kids. The night she died was hard on all of us, but especially so for Tommy Jr., who was a teenager by then. I knew, and the vet confirmed that no more could be done, but that boy sat up with the dog all night.
‘Fancy’ was the only registered dog we ever had. She was such a fine animal, and dispelled every stereotype about purebreds as nervous and ill tempered, so we decided to let her have a litter.
She had six, and all of them found good homes, except one little rascal we couldn’t give away. While the other pups would nurse quietly, this one ran around in circles and had to be bottle fed half the time to survive. My wife saw it coming. “That dog ain’t right,” she said. Marfar named the dog Rorschach, after a big ink blot splotch on his back. It was prophetic- the dog’s only distinction was a bizarre personality that would have intrigued Sigmund Freud.
Names often tell a lot. If you wanted a hero dog in a story, you would never name it Rorschach. You’d go for a name like “Ranger Dog.” Try this sentence out. ‘Ranger Dog jumped in the lake, nuzzled the child by the nape of the neck, and pulled her to the safety of shallow water.’ Makes you want to cheer. Try that with “Rorschach.” It doesn’t fit. In fact it is laughable, and so was Rorschach if he hadn’t been ours.
What Rorschach lacked in brain activity, he made up for in sheer power and determination. As he grew into his full size this became apparent, and the kids shortened the name to “Sharky,” a name they could take some pride in. (But mama, who’d want a dog named after crazy folks?)
Rorschach couldn’t stand to be penned up for a minute, and loved to roam. One night he broke away and I had to go deep in the woods to find him. It was cold and I was tired. I could hear his lonesome howl off in the distance. The only bright spot in the adventure was a full moon that illuminated the woods so well I almost didn’t need a flashlight.
I found him where he’d run under a fallen tree. The stake he had pulled up trailed behind him and had wedged in behind the log he’d run under. All the knuckle-head had to do was reverse field and go back under the log, but no, I had to troop around half the night to find him. When we got home, the kids petted the dog and snuggled up to him. “Oh Sharky, we were so worried!” I went and took a shower.
We even tried an invisible fence. After a few shocks, the crazy dog learned to back up several paces to get a running start. He’d put his shoulder down like a fullback, and then run headlong into the electric field. He’d make it through to the other side, yelp at the top of his lungs, then realize he’d made the jailbreak and the high-tail it for the woods.
When Sharky would go missing, the first place I’d check was the farm just down the road. Sharky was a bird dog, and he’d get into Farmer Wilson’s chickens. I guess you can’t get above your raising and it was natural for him. I’d get out my wallet and pay up for the losses. It was a regular ritual, like bail for a drunken Otis Campbell on Saturday night, and then I’d take him back home to the children. Wilson was fair about it. He never exceeded market price even though he had me over a barrel. He had grandchildren, so I guess he understood. “Besides,” he’d say. “It beats all the work to take ’em to market, Doc.”
One winter Sharky had an abrupt change in personality. He didn’t try to break through the electric fence, and seemed short of breath when he walked. When he has content to lie by the fireplace to stay warm, I knew he was in trouble. The vet confirmed the diagnosis of congestive heart failure, and Sharky didn’t make it through the winter. But while he was here he burned bright and found his way into the family history book as our most eccentric pet.
Sharky was a good’un, but here is my advice. If you have one in the litter with a big ink blot on his back, name him something like “King,” give him to a farmer, and tell him you can guarantee the dog will chase the crows out of his cornfield with inexhaustible contentment for all his days. It’ll be the truth, and you and the dog will both be better off. Some critters just aren’t born to be domesticated, and Sharky was one of ’em, but we did the best with him we could.