A Rascal’s Choice

By Sally Gosen Case

The dog was enraged. He advanced stiffly toward me, snarling and barking, hackles raised. He was clearly defending this territory; I would have to leave or risk an attack. I didn’t know where to go. I was in my own front garden.

Thus began an uncomfortable association with a very determined creature. I often came upon him while walking my mild and perpetually confused whippet. He always took great offense at our appearance and ran back and forth, roaring his outrage. I planned our walks to avoid his favorite streets, but he found us anyway.

No one knew where he had come from or where he lived. He was short and solid with a large mouth and strong lungs. He looked like someone’s earnest attempt to fashion a corgi without having actually seen one. His black and tan coat was thick and fuzzy like a wooly bear caterpillar. Wiley and quick, he had a way of appearing suddenly, making a huge fuss and then disappearing just as abruptly.

As the months passed I grew increasingly annoyed with the irresponsible owner of this aggressive animal. Finally the day I had been hoping for arrived: I spotted him in a neighbor’s front yard, sitting next to a woman as she pulled weeds. He jumped up and began his usual tirade, but this time I began mine, as well.I accosted the weed puller. The small, sweet-faced woman stood to greet me. I proceeded to set her straight. I informed her of leash laws. I mentioned lawsuits, danger to children and lack of consideration for others. She listened quietly. Finally she spoke: “That is not my dog. He is a stray.”

As if to crown my humiliation, my husband decided that he actually liked the dog. He wanted to take him in. We began filling our pockets with dog treats before every walk. We spent hours sitting on the parking strips outside strangers’ houses, feeding a dog that didn’t belong to us. He decided to allow us in his neighborhood after all. Then came the day when we brought him home. He slipped out the door, scaled our four-foot fence and disappeared, only to return later. After all, we had food.

We called him Rascal, since he had heard the word so often he thought it was his name. Weeks passed, filled with vet bills for a dog that wouldn’t come near us. It looked as though he would never be tamed until I got a terrible case of the flu. I lay awake day and night, suffering. To avoid exposing my family, I made myself a bed in a corner of the living room and lay in my sleeping bag, coughing and shivering, for days. I woke early one morning to find him watching me in a quiet, steady way that was to become familiar. Finally, he made his decision. He crawled into my sleeping bag and snuggled close against my body. Clearly, someone had to take care of me. This family needed help. He adopted us that day, committed for life.

It took time for him to accept the normal trappings of a dog’s life. Leashes, schedules, dog kibble – these were bizarre concepts to such a free spirit. One by one, he decided to adopt our strange traditions. I began brushing his thick fur and filled bag after bag with loose hair. No longer a wooly bear, he became as sleek as a seal.

He did his best to teach us common sense. He knew all the best porches to crawl under if it rained during our walks, but we were too stupid to comply so we all got wet. He would happily fetch a ball the first time and willingly bring it back the second throw. The third time he would take it away and hide it, since we were unable to take proper care of it.

He had an amazing capacity for learning human words and was quick to analyze a situation. This made him a tireless babysitter, patient and forgiving with our human puppy. His only weakness was for Legos, which he found delicious.

He proved to be a boundlessly joyful creature that loved the outdoors and often took us camping. He supervised the packing, bright-eyed, laughing his breathy dog laugh. Of course, we did the actual setting up, but he took responsibility for every aspect of the outing. I would wake before dawn to find him shivering at the foot of my sleeping bag, guarding the tent door. He would never consent to sleep with us; he had to take care of his family.

He tended his people for many years, until the day his health began to falter. The vet said, “There is nothing you or I can do; this dog has made up his mind.” It was true. I had seen the quiet, determined look in his eyes. His proud heart was going to stop.

Rascal’s Garden fills a corner of our property. It is planted with euphorbias, crocosmias, cornflowers, and other enthusiastic plants, the ones with no social graces but great optimism and sturdy constitutions. Considered thugs and weeds by many, the lawless plants weave a glorious, messy tapestry over his grave. Like him, they just need room to make their own choices.

About this writer

  • Sally Gosen CaseSally Gosen Case lives and writes on the beautiful Oregon coast. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Horticulture, Mary Jane’s Farm, and The Storyteller. Sally and her son coauthor an Oregon travel blog, casingoregon.com.

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2 Responses to “A Rascal’s Choice”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Sally, your story resonates with love, and your ending is beautiful.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    Kudos to you for finding the loving creature inside that dog and giving him a chance to belong. Nice essay!

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