Note: Our treatment of the dog in this story may seem harsh, but sometimes, in the country in the 1950s, we had to do “what needed doing.”
One of our neighbors, Marion Gray, had a big yellow dog that, one autumn, took a notion to adopt our place as a second home. He would show up, hanging around the house and outbuildings and making a nuisance of himself. We didn’t feed him (we knew that would be a big mistake,) but he was a good enough scrounger that he was comfortable hanging around for days at a time. We would chase him away – I pummeled him with fallen apples or clods of clay several times – but pretty soon he would be back.
Then one morning Old Yeller went too far. Dad and I had just finished milking our cows and were walking to the house when the dog tried to sneak up and stick his nose in the bucket of milk Dad was carrying. I jumped in and chased him away at the last second; Dad didn’t say anything, but I could tell that he was fed up with that dog.
Mom always had a hearty breakfast ready for us when we had finished the morning chores and Dad ate without saying a word – he was deep in thought. When he finished, he stood up, announced “I’m going to get rid of that damn dog once and for all,” and walked out of the house. Mom and I exchanged startled looks. Dad, a devout Baptist, used strong language only when he was really upset, so we knew “that damn dog” was in trouble!
Dad returned shortly, carrying a small tin can. As he walked in the door he said, “Gary, go get a couple of shotgun shells.” As I walked away I began to worry: “Dad wants me to shoot that dog!” When I got to the closet where we kept the ammo I rummaged around until I found a box of low base #7½ birdshot loads, thinking, “Maybe if I shoot wide and just nick him with a couple of small pellets . . . “
When I returned Dad was sitting at the kitchen table. He said, “Take your pocket knife, open the crimps on the shells, and pour out the shot.” Now I felt better, because I concluded that Dad wanted me to shoot blanks at the dog. When I had removed the shot from the shells, Dad handed me the can and said, “Here, fill the shells with this and re-crimp them.” “This” was rock salt and when I saw it I understood Dad’s plan. One salty dog coming up!
When I finished loading the salt shells Dad said, “Now get The Twenty (our 20-gauge shotgun) and go shoot that dog! But don’t hit him in the face.” When I went outside the dog was digging in our fallow garden. I walked toward him, stopped and quickly mounted the shotgun, aimed at his hip, and pulled the trigger. The result was spectacular! The dog did a double barrel roll and came up kicking dirt in all directions. As he began to run away I fired the second shell at his rear end. That turned him from a lumbering mongrel into a streaking greyhound. I swear that he was still gaining speed when he disappeared over the hill, 200 yards away.
When I went back into the house, Dad had a satisfied smile on his face. Mom had watched out the window and told him what happened. The dog never came back.