He wasn’t much of a dog to look at. He was a short yellow lab mix with a habit of getting into trouble. We had him most of my grade school years up into high school.
He had two things he enjoyed doing.
The first was he loved to escape and run off. The other thing he loved doingh was laying in the sun and hanging out.
He knew a lot of tricks but was rather bull-headed and refused to do any of them for us.
The one thing you could say was that he had a rather happy disposition. When you would say his name and talk to him he would scrunch up his upper lip and grin at you. He would do it so hard and so long that it would tickle his nose and make him sneeze.
So I would stand there talking to him while he alternated between big smiles and loud sneezes.
His name was “Gilbert”.
The name came from a family friend. As a child it sounded sort of funny to say so the name stuck. You see he wasn’t a heroic dog, but more of an ornery dog. The kind of dog who was always looking for a cool spot in summer and a warm place to snuggle down in winter. His favorite time of day was supper time. He normaly was fed the cheapest dog food dad could find at Walmart. Mom and Dad were old school so the animals were expected to stay outside and eat whatever was on sale at the time. They also believed in feeding the leftovers to the dog after dinner.
I know that most people think that is unhealthy for dogs, but he never seemed to complain and lived a pretty long life.
Gilbert had a bad habit of escaping any confinement he was placed into. At one parsonage we had a fenced portion of the back yard where he stayed, but he learned quickly to climb over the fence. Dad ended up having to attach a second roll of chicken wire along the top of the existing fence to try and keep Gilbert inside. The whole contraption was held up with aluminum tent poles borrowed from the camping gear.
Gilbert was not much to look at. He didn’t have a noble look about him. You never got the feeling that he would protect you from a bear. In fact, if we ever encountered a bear, the biggest danger would be Gilbert tripping you as he ran away, from the bear.
Gilbert seemed to love church. He would, most Sundays, at an opportune moment of silent prayer, decide to begin barking loudly at a passing stranger or cat. The Methodist Church doesn’t normally involve dogs in the Sunday service. Dad would continue with the service despite the uproar and barking from the parsonage next door.
My guess is he was thinking about whether duct tape wrapped around a dogs snout would be considered abuse. Of course he never tried such a thing, but I know he had to get frustrated by the noise. Several towns we lived in had noon sirens that went off at 12 to let everyone know it was noon. All it took was a siren or any high-pitched noise to set Gilbert off in a chorus of loud howling. Many times the howling was louder than the distant siren that set him off.
Sometimes it would be quiet for an extended time and mom would come in the room and ask where Gilbert was. I would go out and sure enough he was gone. I’d look around the fenced in area and see no indications of how he got out. I enjoyed imagining that he had constructed a crude hot air balloon from trash bags which he had been hoarding in his dog house. He then used the hot air from the dryer vent to fill them and float from the yard. He was probably miles away looking for an unsuspecting family to land on about supper time.
The other possiblity was that he had taken the aluminum tent poles which held up the extra high fencing. He’d screwed 4 of them together to form about a ten foot long pole vaulting pole.
There was a sidewalk across the dog pen area. He probably grabbed the end of his homemade pole vaulting pole and ran toward the gate. He plunged the end of the pole into the dirt beside the side walk and ………B…O…I…N…G……up and over the fence and onto the green grass on the other side. He then sauntered off in search of dinner at an as of yet determined house.
All the neighbors knew Gilbert. He was sort of an odd looking dog and everyone knew he was the preachers dog so they always claimed he wasn’t a bother, but I suspect that at least some of them were just being polite.
The towns we lived in had leash laws, but he always seemed to elude them. Again, I suspect they knew he was the preachers dog and didn’t mess with him as a favor.
As a friend, though, Gilbert was the best. He knew when you were unhappy and would snuggle his way up beside you. He’d lick the tears from your face and let you know that no matter how blue you felt, there was at least one friend willing to make you feel wanted.
I wouldn’t have changed him or his funny name for anything.
I’ll never forget the Christmas of 1978. I was so excited about what was going to be under the Christmas tree in the morning. Mom was pretty good at hiding stuff until Christmas morning. She didn’t believe in spending money on wrapping paper so most of our presents on Christmas morning were wrapped in newspaper. Each one had a piece of paper taped to it that said who the gift was for and that it was from Santa. Of course Mom and Santa’s handwriting were very similar. Mom had a lifelong habit of printing the letter “J” backwards. Oddly enough, Santa had that same writing quirck.
On this particular Christmas I woke up extra early. The sun wasn’t even up yet. I noticed a loud commotion out in the kitchen and got up to see what was going on. I could see it was snowy and bitter cold outside.
Dad was standing by the kitchen table and holding Gilbert. It was good to see Gilbert because he had been off on one of his excursions for the past couple days. Gilbert wasn’t doing well, though.
Gilbert was very upset and whining. Daddy had sort of draped a blanket over him so at first I couldn’t see why he was whining. Daddy pulled back the blanket and you could see a large leg-hold trap attached to his rear leg. It had a short length of chain attached to it. Apparently after Gilbert got his leg caught in the trap he had managed to pull it from whatever it had been attached to. It was very sad to think how far he may have walked with that trap on his leg to get home.
When anyone would touch the trap or Gilberts leg, he would growl and snarl at you. The normally well-mannered dog was in a great deal of pain. He sat there yelping in misery and wanting the pain to go away.
It was obvious that Gilbert wasn’t going to let any of us get the trap off his leg, so Mom and Dad had to decide what to do.
We happend to live about 20 miles from Kansas State University in Manhattan. K-State had a large school of veterinary science with an animal emergency room. So, with Gilbert wrapped in the blanket, Dad left with one of my sisters and drove to Manhattan at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning.
Luckily for Gilbert and us, K-State had staff on duty that could sedate Gilbert and take the trap off his leg. The leg turned out to be broken and so it was all bangaged up. When they got abck about mid-morning, we finally got to have Christmas and open our gifts. Gilbert was the guest of honor. He got to be an indoor dog and Momma made him a pallet with blankets where he slept off the pain shots they had given him. When he woke up he got treated to Christmas leftovers and candy.
Gilbert must have known that even though he was in terrible pain, if he just made it home, he’d find love and caring. Everytime he took a step and moved that trap with the chain dragging behind it, he must have suffered such anguish that I can scarcely imagine it. Something moved him along and pointed him toward home. Something helped him along, through the dark of night and the bitter cold.
Gilbert knew where he could find help. He just had to endure the severe pain of pulling the trap from its anchor point and chain while his broken leg was dangling in pieces. It was amazing that he had the strength and perseverence to make it home.
He was more than just a hurt dog, he was a member of the family and to us, the Christmas Miracle!