*Trigger warning – even the family dog wasn’t safe from family trauma/darkness*
Many, many years ago, at my childhood home, when there were too many mouths to feed and not enough sanity to go around we got a dog, anyways. 8 children. Yeah, let’s get a dog. I was very young and don’t remember where, exactly, the dog came from but I am guessing the local shelter. He was cute, all marbled brown except for the white teardrop shape on his forehead, white splash on his chest and white tip of the tail. Maybe a Beagle/Doberman mix. He stood about 2 feet tall and had short soft fur. My older brother named him after himself – PJ. Short for Paul Junior. He was the cutest puppy and loved to chase us from one end of our ranch to another. We (my two younger sisters and I) would play this chase game over and over until we were told to stop. I don’t see why three screaming mimi’s and a puppy running through the house every couple of minutes would be a problem… 😳
Soon after we acquired him, PJ was made a wooden doghouse, outside, against the back fence, in the corner of our backyard, the furthest point in the yard, from the backdoor of the house. And equipped with a collar and a long, prob 20 feet, metal chain. He spent his days lounging on the grass, in the shade of the pear tree or along the fence under the evergreens. I would visit him often, just about every time I went outdoors. I never observed anyone else going to pet him. Maybe my younger sister, on a rare occasion. 😔
How sad. We’d even fight over who’s turn it was to feed him. No-one liked the task, especially when it was 5 degrees, winds howling and snow blowing sideways. You’d get your boots on, wrestle with the frozen-shut back door, push snow off the back deck to find the stairs and hopefully not break your neck on the way. His house was probably 50 feet off the back porch. If the snow was deep, it would fill your boots. Hopefully you wouldn’t spill ALL of the food by time you reached him. Some days he refused to come out of his house because his desire for warmth overrode his desire for food. This broke my heart, knowing I would have to leave the food IN his tiny house and he’d prob step in it and spill it all in the area he had to sleep in. I would occasionally leave the food outside only to find it frozen solid in the winter or crawling with bugs the next morning in the Summer.
Actually, spilling it on the way would have been a great idea. You see, he rarely had “dog food”. We gave him “people food” and I use that term loosely. My Mother would clean out the fridge of everything that was “on it’s way out” (no longer fresh/spoiled/moldy) and put it in a bowl, pour some cornflakes on the top or leftover oatmeal and at the end, crack an egg on the top. If it was a particularly dry looking pile- she’d pour some milk over the top too. PJ ate everything like it was his last meal (he prob never knew if we’d be back).
When I think about it, I am quite sure that he went many-a-day without eating (or drinking) 😩😩😩 simply because we each thought another family member had fed him or – more likely – some days we forgot we had a dog.
I would trudge back to my house, reporting the horrible conditions for him and protesting how he was treated. It was like my ideas were craziness. Falling on deaf ears. My younger sister and I trudging back out to nail a piece of rug to the opening on his doghouse – to keep the rain, snow, wind out. That poor thing. He would shiver so much. My mom agreed to us getting an old blanket to put inside his house. One year she even agreed to getting a hay bale and stuffing some hay inside there with him. Breaks my heart to remember this in detail. He was such a sweet, sweet animal. Always had his tail wagging, licking everyone to death.
On particularly frigid days/nights we convinced Mom to bring the dog into the garage. God forbid she let the dog into the HOUSE. Look… we took what we could get. The garage was not insulated and was like a big, glorified dog house. At least he was out of the wind and the snow and his feet were slightly warmer. I remember begging my mother for permission to sleep out in the garage with him, she always said NO.
One day in the Summer, windows down in the house, we heard this noise coming from the backyard. When we went outside we saw PJ, on his chain, sitting and coughing a deep cough like a human with bronchitis. What did my mother suggest? well, cough medicine of course. Cheracol, cherry flavored. On a spoon. Very efficient. 🙄And safe🙄 He continued to cough for about a week and then it cleared up. NO VET, NO Animal hospital. Just more crazy-ass treatment.
A while later in the Fall, PJ’s chain was just long enough to reach the rose garden. He usually didn’t bother much with it. Underground, some hornets were very busy making a huge nest for themselves in the midst of the beautifully fragrant roses. PJ somehow got into the underground nest plans, getting stung many, many times on his face. I can still see him rubbing his face with his paws. So sad, these memories. Vet visit? absolutely not. My crazy mother gave him baby aspirin, dissolved in a little water on a spoon. PJ always took these “remedies” without hesitation because I am sure he was always starving. He was fed one time a day, IF no-one refused their “turn” OR if we remembered to have such a conversation about the dog outside that no-one saw.
PJ really did not get any exercise. He wasn’t “walkable” – I truly don’t think he knew HOW to walk. When we would let him “loose” from his collar/chain (we had to get permission), he would run – I mean, tear-ass across the yard in a blur and get gone from sight for at least 30 minutes or so. He would run, and run, and run, and run and run. It was like he had months of pent up energy in his body that he had to discharge. He had shit to do and was free from that MF’n collar. It was quite a feat to retrieve him as you could imagine. My brother had this special whistle he used to call PJ. I learned how to do this and he would always respond and return to his own yard but you had to give him some time to run first -and- entice him with some yummie meat so he could be corralled.
My fondest memories were to sit with him (after he finished going ballistic from seeing me) and put my forehead to his, feeling the warmth of his head, on my forehead, from the sun. Mmmmmmmmm I would sit next to him and hug him – despite the fleas he had (they seemed to like him better). I would secretly let him out of his collar/chain and say he escaped – so I wouldn’t be punished. I also liked to play tug-o-war with him with an old shirt or towel and throw him a popped ball he would sink his teeth into and shake like crazy. I felt like he was able to take in the interaction and got to play a little.
PJ lived, believe it or not, for 14 years – even with all the craziness and intermittent neglect. I would love to tell you that he died of natural causes. But no. My psycho mother thought he lived long enough so she told my older brother that he needed to be put down. This is what happens when crazy is at the helm 😡.
Today, for some reason, more than ever before, he is in my heart. All of this sadness resurfacing, vivid, painful. Me wanting to give him the life he really deserved. Me, wanting to hold him forever, bathe him, keep him warm, give him nutritious food, do Reiki on him. Me, wanting to put my mother out on that chain, crammed in the little doghouse, alone, not knowing if she’ll see a human or be fed, out in the bitter cold, wind, rain, snow, for 14 years…
Someday, I will have a dog. I might even name him PJ – but none of the other details will be true.