by | Jun 7, 1998 | Creation

Shep looked big as a car to a four-year-old. He belonged to the people across the street from the Clarks who lived three houses down from us towards Oak Park. They didn’t really own him. The way we looked at it, he was the property of all us little brats that lived on Oak Park Avenue during the war. My mother said he was a German Police Dog and anything German or Japanese was bad back then. I would always bring it up that we were German and she would say, “Go on outside and play.”

Looking back, Shep was a pretty smart dog. He could chisel you out of most of your sandwich, cookies, or whatever you had, but he couldn’t get much of our Fleer’s Double Bubble gum. It had just been invented and sold for a penny a piece. When Plemon’s store had it, they would only allow one piece per person from a shipment. I guess sugar rationing was still on. We brats in the neighborhood — guess there were ten or more of us — remind me today of Our Gang, with me playing Spanky. I was always into deep doo for something, however good or bad it might be.

Most of us had Radio Flyer wagons that we could pull around.

They were all in different stages of disrepair, but we had figured out how to jam a stick into the spot where the handle joined the front wheel yoke and the handle would stick up about the heighth of Shep’s back. We would tie a rope to this, then put a loop around Shep’s body and he would pull us around like the stagecoach horses in the movies. We would all take turns riding when we would go to Oak Park. Each of us would get to be pulled five or so house lengths then another would get in for their turn. Seemed like this went on for the longest till one day we brats found out that the neighbors that owned him were moving and we inquired if they had kids where they were moving to for Shep to play with. They said that they wouldn’t be able to take him with them and were going to give him to the pound. Talk about a bunch of unhappy kids, but when we found out that they kill dogs that are there for a few days and aren’t adopted, a bowl of of Prozac for breakfast wouldn’t have made our spirits any better.

A new family was moving in down the street. I had seen them for a few days now, going back and forth in and out of the house carrying stuff from a little trailer behind their car. They had a little girl and I noticed that she was always sitting on the porch or in the shade of a tree in the front yard and her mother carried her everywhere. Being the nosy type, I went and started asking questions, introducing myself and the rest of the gang. Then I asked if the little girl – she must have been my age – could go to the park and play with us. We all had permission to go and the mothers between here and the park watched as we made our journey to play, then returned. She told us that she had to carry Gloria everywhere because she had had polio and that she couldn’t carry her that far. Bingo! We went and got a wagon, hooked it up to Shep, and rode up like Roy Rogers to save the day. We took her to the park every day, put her in the swings, pushed her on the merry-go-round, and did doubles on the seesaws because she couldn’t use her legs.

Then the dark day loomed, the folks were moving the next day and we didn’t know what to do. We just sat around moping, sometimes crying because we were going to lose Shep. Holy Cow, they were going to kill him. We all begged our parents till they threatened us with our lives to let us adopt Shep, all to no avail.

We were all sitting on the curb in front of my house, in total tears and runny noses, watching the people loading the last of their stuff when I had this brainstorm. “Let’s go sneak a bunch of groceries from our houses, put them in a wagon, hook Shep up to the

wagon and take them to Gloria’s house, then tell her mom that if she will adopt Shep, we can keep playing with her in the park and we will furnish all his food.” Her mother looked us over in silence; I guess looking at our dusty, tear-streaked faces from our sitting by the street all morning crying. I could see tears starting to well up in her eyes as she looked at the wagon piled up high with food. Cans of everything imaginable, Spam, spinach, corn, packages of bologna, loaves of bread, just everything. Shep just stood there, waiting for a command to do something. I finally said, “They are going to kill him if you don’t.” “Then we won’t be able to take Gloria to the park and play with her either,” someone else chimed in.

She said, and the words hung like a dark cold cloud over us as she paused, “I guess we’ll just have to keep him then.” Hooray! We all started dancing around, shouting and carrying on. She finally said for us to take the food back home, that she would get

regular dogfood for Shep. Several of us said we didn’t want to because we didn’t like the stuff anyway, but she insisted.

Well, time rocked on and, lo and behold, Gloria’s father came home with a puppy that looked like a little Shep. He said that older dogs train younger ones to do things easier than people do and they have a better attitude toward their work when they learn from

other dogs. It must be true because it wasn’t long before “Miss Doogey” and Shep were competing to get hooked up to pull Gloria or any of us in the wagon. Mr. Sullivan built a miniature buggy in his garage, just like in the movies, to fit on a sidewalk. It had two poles and traces to hook up Shep and Miss Doogey, and they would bring Gloria everywhere we went so she could play with us.

I have some pictures of that somewhere, probably in my mother’s old cedar chest. I think I’ll get one out and frame it. Might remind me from time to time why I always take food and stuff to P.A.L.S. where they save animals instead of killing them.

Mark Crider