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Beaky, My Buzzard FriendSullivan, Dog of InferenceThe Story of CrocJoy, Oh Joy! (Bitsy)The Turtle Who Fell to Earth (Aloha)Dudley and the To Do ListMax, Master of Infinite HopeAgnes AloneGeorge, The Lion-HeartedThree Peaceful Days with BitsieHi, I'm Katie. Are You Gonna Finish That?Duke the Pacifist DogMore readers' tales


Beaky, My Buzzard Friend
By William Patterson
Silk Hope

Beaky came into my life while still encased in eggshell. It was the early 1970s, and I was riding my horse along what is now the bottom of Jordan Lake. The timber had been logged and the shacks and barns had been bulldozed; piles of debris and stumps waited to be burned to make way for the water.

I was riding along an old tractor path when I noticed a buzzard doing the old "I've got a broken wing" trick to lead me away from its nest. Inside an abandoned house, there was a floor plank missing and the hole was surrounded by feathers. I looked down to see two large white eggs on bare ground. I left them alone and proceeded on my ride.

About a week later I was riding along the same trail and noticed that the bulldozers were getting close to the abandoned house, maybe only a day away from demolishing it. I checked on the eggs and saw that one had hatched. The chick, which looked just like Sesame Street's Big Bird, was still sitting in half of his shell. Realizing he was doomed if I left him in the path of the dozers, I took him with me, leaving the unhatched egg. I had raised many birds before and was sure I could do a decent job with the little buzzard. I named him Beaky because he seemed to want to beak everything within reach.

Buzzards feed their young regurgitated road kill, predominately snakes. I was working as a meat cutter during the week, and I now took a weekend job filleting fish for the Chapel Hill Smoked Fish Company. I was able to bring Beaky a steady supply of half-digested sardines from the stomachs of the bluefish I filleted. Beaky soon grew to be a large, healthy buzzard.

For the next year, he hung around the farm. He would wait, high in a tree, at the entrance of my long driveway through the woods for me to come home. As I entered the driveway, Beaky would swoop down over the hood of the car and glide all the way up to the house, occasionally glancing over his shoulder at me.

Beaky was very affectionate and loved to have his head rubbed. He also enjoyed pulling on shoelaces and was forever running up to me, with his wings flapping as if begging for food like a baby bird, to untie my shoes. Once, from way up high, he spotted a road crew doing construction nearby and decided to drop down for a visit. He ran up to the strangers with the idea of pulling on their shoelaces. I got there just in time to save him from being clobbered by a shovel. I explained that Beaky was my pet, and as I drove off, he assumed his position gliding just in front of the windshield and escorted me home.

Then there was the time he almost killed me. While driving through town, I hit the brakes but nothing happened. As I careened through the intersection, I barely avoided being broadsided. Turns out Beaky had snipped all the brake lines on my car with his sharp beak, designed for cutting tendons.

Beaky eventually began to soar with other buzzards, but he always stayed close to home. When I called him—"Beeeeeakeeeey"—he would hear me and spiral down to land at my feet. One day he simply disappeared, probably to raise a family of his own. I never knew if Beaky was male or female. He was definitely an unforgettable animal friend.


Sullivan, Dog of Inference
By Bill Kirk
Chapel Hill

"Ah, she's just a young pup, isn't she! Bet she likes to get outside 'n' run around 'n' play, eh?" I nod and smile; Sullivan and I walk on. Wrong on all three accounts, I could say. But what would be the point? Were I to set the record straight, there wouldn't be much left to say about the dog. The record, set straight: Sullivan, a Shetland sheepdog, is a male, he'll be 13 years old next November, and when he does go outside, which he doesn't like to do, it's neither to run around nor to play. Beyond that, what's left to say?

He doesn't play with chew toys, squeaky toys, rag toys; he doesn't chase the stick, the Frisbee, the ball. We have lots of squirrels, chipmunks and birds in our yard; an occasional rabbit; less frequently a fox; and sometimes a few deer across the street. Sullivan ignores them all. Likewise, he doesn't show interest in other dogs we encounter on our walks. He doesn't like to ride in the car; when he does, he's curled up in the back seat, seemingly asleep. He doesn't like horseplay or roughhousing of any kind. He likes petting, ear-scratching and tummy-rubs, but that's about it.

He doesn't chew rawhide and doesn't eat meat-based doggie treats; evidently he was raised a vegetarian. He can't easily go up or down stairs; a sign, I take it, that he previously lived in a one-floor residence. He can manage a flight of five stairs or less only with some deliberation. To get him to go down our front steps, five in all, I must slide my hand under his belly, as if I'm about to lift him, which he doesn't like. To go up these same steps, he lowers his head and shifts his weight from side to side several times—left to right, right to left—then leaps completely over the first step and takes the rest of them at full tilt.

This is Sullivan, dog of inference. He lived with another couple, over in Raleigh, for his first eight years. When they divorced, she didn't want him and he couldn't take him, so Sullivan went to the Triangle's sheltie rescue group, whence my wife and I adopted him.

In order to understand Sullivan, I tried to find out what I could about his earlier life. He was born at a breeder's in Virginia, the rescue told me; then, no, it was a breeder in Raleigh; later, somewhere southeast of Raleigh; and finally, Fuquay-Varina. We had his name, birth date and health certificate; I asked no more about the dog.

Perhaps there is no more. I love you, Sullivan; I love you all the way to the moon and back, and if all you want to do is stare at the Frisbee as it sails across the front lawn and into the neighbors' yard, that's more than enough for me.

Sullivan is certified by Therapy Dogs International - PHOTO BY DEREK ANDERSON

PHOTO COURTESY OF RHEA WORRELL
  • Photo courtesy of Rhea Worrell

The Story of Croc
By Rhea Worrell
Efland

When I found her by the side of a country road, she was stumbling around looking dazed. This cat-like apparition had survived amid speeding SUVs, a host of natural enemies and a shortage of decent food and water.

I coaxed her to come to me. She gingerly stepped over pinecones and gravel to check me out. Her eyes were almond shaped, deep-set and dark. She was very thin and bony, with dry white fur that dropped off in clumps. Her right eye was seeping, and she could hardly stay on her feet. She didn't resist much, so I picked her up and took her home. She was so light, so fragile.

We began taking her to the vet. She was a spayed female, about 12 years old, with a lot of problems: a damaged eyelid that caused continual seeping, several cysts on her skin, a heart murmur, a kidney infection and toenail fungus. We gave her ointment for her eye, antibiotics for her kidney problem and anti-fungal soaks for her toenails. We hoped for the best with the rest, opting against surgery because of her poor health and the misery she had already been through.

She ate and drank a lot and was fine using the cat box, so we muddled through. She always seemed a bit dazed, a bit hesitant, but she kept on keeping on. I complained a lot about taking care of her, but I knew no one else would adopt her. I had rescued her, so she was mine.

Croc gained a little weight and her fur became thick. She began to clean herself some and even played a little. She jumped on my lap every time I sat at the computer, perching in front of the keyboard until I picked her up and held her. She'd get adjusted by clawing at me with her curiously strong nails. And then the purring would start.

We named her Croc because of her calls. She didn't meow like other cats—she croaked like a baby crocodile. For the first year or so, she'd often call through the night. It was an odd yowling sound: "Wow, wo-ow." What did it mean?

She was a strange and unbeautiful kitty. Her face and demeanor were serious, persistent, resigned, dismayed; yet she was affectionate and appreciative. We couldn't help but passionately love her, but we did tease her a lot.

Whenever we took her outside, she'd immediately head for the woods with a zombie-like determination. Watching squirrels and hunting lizards didn't interest her. She paid no attention to our catnip plant and didn't even sniff the air. We knew that the woods meant more suffering and a slow death, so we tried to give her what she'd never find there—tasty food, fresh water, a comfortable place to sleep and a lot of petting. She responded well for two years.

Two weeks ago, Croc nearly stopped eating and drinking. She would lie down in odd places and breathe heavily. She was struggling to get enough air and had no energy. Her heart was failing. After discussing the options with our vet, we decided to let her rest. She was about 14 years old.

Now that she is gone, the two years of hassles taking care of her have evaporated. We are so lonely without her....


Joy, Oh Joy!
By Janice A. Farringer
Chapel Hill

My dog flies. Yes, she does.

She flies down the stairs once I open the door to my room, where she has been patiently waiting while I work. She comes to a skidding halt, hitting her bottom on the hardwoods in front of the refrigerator, tongue hanging, eyes shining.

I drop my keys and purse and grab the oversized leash that is far too thick for a mere 22-pound dog. I click the big brass buckle and say, "Outside? You want to go outside?"

No reaction. Pause. I ask again, with more excitement in my voice: "Outside?"

Standing now and backing up, Bitsy faces me and snorts mightily. She shakes her head from side to side, flapping her ears; another snort, a definite "No."

Down to the hardwoods again, pointing the frig. "OK, are you hungry?"

Joy, oh joy! Sneezing, jumping and yipping. I have guessed right another day. I am home.


The Turtle Who Fell to Earth
By Frank E. Guenzel
Pittsboro

Are turtles smart? Their brains are small, but they have been wise enough to exist for millions of years.

This is the story of Aloha, an Eastern Box Turtle who was brought to me five years ago seriously malnourished and dehydrated. Found under a slab of barn board, in an arid pasture, during a drought summer, Aloha's chances of survival were minimal. Since I have a reputation of being a turtle hobbyist, it was assumed I could revive this lethargic, nickel-sized hatchling Terrapene carolina carolina. I, too, figured I could resuscitate the rascally reptile ... I just hadn't figured exactly how.

I placed Aloha in a sweater box, with moist peat and a water dish. My little friend spent all his time in the water, attempting to absorb the liquid like a sponge. He refused any and all food. Just when I began to accept Aloha's inevitable doom, he slurped a small earthworm. Then he devoured a sliver of chicken. Next, a pill bug, and even goldfish pellets. As long Aloha could mimic my childhood eating habits—avoid all veggies—his hunger strike was over! The little carnivore, once ready to be added to today's staggering box turtle mortality statistics, was now prepared to grow into a carapaced knight in scuted armor.

Half a decade later, Aloha is 6 inches long, and he is an artist's burst of yellow, white and red on a canvas of earth's most basic tones. Right now he is nipping at my boots. You see, on days when my dog does not work with me, I often tote Aloha along. I toss him bits of turkey from my sandwich, and the beast gobbles them ferociously. The miniature dinosaur follows me as well as he possibly can. Obviously, Aloha is too slow to keep up with my pace, but one day he "sprinted" some 60 feet, clambered across the pond dock and stepped onto my foot. Peering up at me, his ruby irises seemed to say, "Howdy, human." As is my habit, I reinforced that behavior with a freshly caught bullfrog tadpole, a favorite menu item for the boxie.

Is Aloha smart? I guess not. I doubt he has any ability for abstract analysis. But he does recognize who feeds him, and he does react to my voice. If he is placed in an enclosure, he will, without utilizing trial-and-error, invariably go to the most likely point for escape. He just looks and sees. Just looks and knows. Nice and simple. I know, given the chance, Aloha would wander off without even an aloha, but I wonder....

Does surviving since prehistoric times signify a lack of intelligence? Does ignoring all sorts of complexities mean Aloha is stupid? Does not having the capability to drastically alter his surroundings demonstrate dumbness? Aloha's acorn of a brain is wired solely for species continuation. Is my turtle's mind as slow as ... a turtle?! Or is Aloha smart?


PHOTO COURTESY OF ANTHONY CORRIVEAU
  • Photo courtesy of Anthony Corriveau

Dudley and the To Do List
By Anthony Corriveau
Cary

Dudley Dooright is a big Golden Retriever mix, an eager working dog who will find a job to do if not given one. When I first got him as a puppy, he kept himself busy by carrying my shoes through the dog door into the backyard, where he would toss them around and eventually chew them to pieces.

He was a pretty smart though, because when I showed him the shoes and said "NO," he understood perfectly that shoes were not to be carried outside. So while I was at work the next day, he dutifully proceeded to relocate the floor mats to the backyard. This pattern continued with pillows, blankets, lamps, clothes, bags, etc. Every day I would come home to find something new that had been dragged outside and ripped to shreds.

I didn't want to keep Dudley locked up, so instead I tried to keep him away from any object that might fit through the dog door. But when I removed everything from the floor, he started taking books from the shelves. When I blocked off the other rooms with gates, he started taking things off the kitchen table. I learned to keep that clear too, but he still managed to reach things.

One day I came home to find torn pieces of note paper scattered all over the backyard. As I stooped down to pick up the mess, I cursed the dog angrily: "This is the last straw, Dudley." One scrap, however, caused me to stop and laugh when I realized what it was and where he had gotten it from. On it was written:

"TO DO LIST:
1. Find way to keep Dudley off the Kitchen Counters."


Max, Master of Infinite Hope
By Elizabeth Selby McCarthy
Raleigh

My relationship with Max was one of infinite hope. He came into my life just when I needed him, on the heels of many losses. Mostly legs and mostly black and tan coon hound, he was an ungainly puppy, goofy and loud. We battled over territory and who would be the alpha dog. After a bite that sent me to the doctor got him on Animal Control's bad dog watchlist, I knew I was in for the long haul. That was new to me, and I embraced it.

Although Max ate, among many things, a twenty dollar bill, a roll of 100 stamps and a Prayer Book, I was hopeful, patient and just knew he'd grow into a calm, reliable friend. I had faith in him and he in me; just what I needed, as only a dog can provide.

When my now husband, Jimmy, appeared on the scene, Max decided that Jimmy was his human. How could I not fall for a man who accepted me and my 80-pound house pest? We had to be sure that anyone we had over was a dog person because Max would sniff out the non-believer and go on a mission to make a convert. Paws on the shoulders of his prey, he'd go into evangelist mode: Love me, though I smell.

We learned we had to spell W-A-L-K, and walk we did—while I was in labor with my first child, the three of us roamed Oakwood, stopping for me to catch my breath. Max's daily treatments for ear infections, his night pacing and his need for constant positive reinforcement prepared me for motherhood. I had to be vigilant never to leave him alone with our blue-eyed son, but Max remained our "best brown-eyed boy in the house."

Max welcomed two more children into his pack before, last summer, losing a leg to bone cancer. We wasted no time in deciding to go full steam ahead with treatment. He deserved a fighting chance after all he'd done for us. He walked fine on three legs, and we were hopeful that chemotherapy would work.

We spent $5,000 we absolutely did not have and countless hours to and from the vet, three children in tow. We hand-fed him; Jimmy slept on the couch for six months to be near him as he shuffled in the night; and, toward the end, we carried his considerably lighter frame in from the yard when he couldn't make it alone. In return, Max taught us to revel in the good days, appreciate the moment and hope for the best.

We had Max put down last September. He taught us, as only a dog can, about love, sacrifice, patience and faith, and the simple joys of lying in the liriope grass and going for car rides. His gift to us was our knowing that, in a dog's world, we must have faith that the food bowl will always be full and someone will scratch us just the way we want, and that those things are small wonders to hold onto.


Agnes Alone
By Veronica Noechel
Raleigh

"Allergies." "Moving" (apparently to some place where all pets have been outlawed). "My 4-year-old won't feed, clean up after and drive the pet to the vet all on her own." Despite running a rodent rescue, the intake stories are very similar to the ones I heard working for dog and cat rescues. Though you likely wouldn't think it, we are even contacted about strays.

The caller was a mother whose son had just returned home with a rat. As startling as that would be for any mother, this rat wasn't even the prettiest of her clearly domestic species: She had a growth almost as large as her body attached to her side. The family wasn't particularly fond of rodents, yet the mother had already called a vet and been told the surgery would run about $800. If it was possible, and it probably wasn't. The mother begged us to take the rat.

As you might imagine, donations to Raleigh Rodent Rescue (www.raleighrodentrescue.org) tend to be small and infrequent. My thoughts went to our bank account, and how this surgery could empty it in one fell swoop.

"Where did your son find the rat?" He saw her at the park near their house. People think a rat, mouse, guinea pig, etc. will instantly know what to do when left on the side of a road, as if colonies of wild rodents were just waiting to accept the newcomer and teach her the ropes. Because as far as she knows, tiny bowls should just appear in front of her any time now, filled with food. This rat, like most others, stood exactly where she saw her so-called caretaker's car speed away.

There are many predators that rodents face when abandoned outdoors. This little girl, unfortunately, met with perhaps the most brutal of all—the roving pack of boys with nothing better to do than hurl sharp-edged stones at her, to watch her cry and dodge them in confusion, dragging a veiny tumor, learning more about us than any animal ever should.

She must have looked like the last thing on earth anyone would want to touch. But the woman's son did. Pushing through the pack, he scooped the rat into his arms just as a small fist had raised a brick to smash her or the growth, whichever didn't move fast enough. I can only imagine what this mother must have thought upon seeing her son, who had run all the way home, reveal from beneath his coat a circus-oddity of a rodent.

How could I say no?

Agnes was brought to our intake vet, who performed pro bono the delicate surgery that saved her life. Our vet's research stated that this surgery should have been impossible and had only previously been performed during necropsies. When Agnes woke up for the first time in who knows how long without her fleshy anchor, she climbed everything she could, including humans, celebrating her freedom. She was adopted into a good home and lived the last 6 months of her life happy and loved.

In the end, I hope Agnes knew humans not just for our neglect and brutality, but that even the smallest of us will care for the littlest abandoned creatures.


George, The Lion-Hearted
By Tom Hawkins
Raleigh

George arrived after we moved into a new house, several years before my younger sister was born in 1954. As a puppy, he looked like a small puddle of tar, shiny black with floating, dark brown eyes. My dad had adopted him from our next-door neighbor at the old house, who had already docked his tail. George was half cocker spaniel and half springer spaniel, with a long, wavy coat and long, floppy spaniel ears.

His litter was a very mixed group, with some of the siblings being small, calm dogs kept on those leashes that ran along a plastic clothesline. Not so George. A spirited puppy, he soon demonstrated an ardor and raw strength that I would not associate with even a springer spaniel, much less a cocker. He never weighed more than 50 pounds, perhaps not quite that much, and it was always surprising to pick him up because his body weight was so much less than the force of his pulling power on a leash. His shoulders and hindquarters had a startling, explosive energy.

My dad decided that George's dog-power might be harnessed, so he made him a padded harness out of rope wrapped in canvas and hitched him to a small land sled, similar to a skateboard but designed to be ridden seated. A cousin and I were test pilots.

Off George went with ease. Two gangly kids rolling along behind him barely drew George's notice. He rambled down the sidewalk, chased a squirrel, stopped to sniff and took off again. We hollered. This went on until the sled became lodged in some bush or sidewalk edge; George then took note of us, and came back to sniff and nuzzle until we freed up the sled, then off he went again.

Transportation was not George's only enthusiasm. We took him often to the Forest Preserve, where he could better exercise his considerable energies. On his very first trip, he discovered the Des Plaines River. His powerful limbs propelled him through the coursing brown water, and there was no greater joy for him than to go after sticks hurled well out past the middle of the river.

This was great sport in the spring, summer and fall, but we most admired his winter swims, when—with a huge, toothy, crazy grin—he would plunge headlong through the ice and churn merrily through the sloshing water and cracking ice like some kind of zany bear. If you dared stop the game, he'd sashay up and shake a gallon of icy river spray all over your coat and face, so it was smart to keep those sticks flying toward the river.

When he was wet, you could see there was nothing to him, his flowing fur merely a robe pasted to his defined ribs; no fat keeping him warm, just elemental fire, the spirit blazing through the eyes.


PHOTO COURTESY OF BARBARA MAROTTO
  • Photo courtesy of Barbara Marotto

Three Peaceful Days with Bitsie
By Barbara Marotto
Rougemont

Bitsie came to me when I was living in a cold Northern state. She found herself homeless, left in a park, during a January cold snap. And a cold snap there meant snow, below zero weather and biting winds that made cold weather seem colder. Of course I could not leave her to suffer the elements. In a short time Bitsie was finishing a homemade meal and taking a long, warm nap on my lap.

It was the only three peaceful days I had with her. She was my first cat, and I came to the relationship without knowledge of the ways and lives of cats. Bitsie, I was told, was about a year old. She was a small cat, when not overweight, with a boxy body and short legs. She had long, silky, black and white fur and a little mustache under her nose.

After her short and pleasant recovery phase, Bitsie's true personality and preferences began to emerge. She was an outgoing cat unafraid of people, but she did not like to be held or petted. She did not sleep on laps, and she did not appreciate restrictions on her freedom of movement, whether that meant picking her up or keeping her indoors. She spent a considerable amount of time during the early days hissing, swatting and nipping me in an effort to create a living situation more to her liking. Not having had a cat before, I had no expectations and did not realize they were not all like Bitsie. Maybe that was best.

This crotchety little cat had such spirit and so little grace. I had been under the impression cats were elegant and light-footed, able to jump distances with ease. Not my little cat. She would plummet to the floor trying to jump from the toilet seat to the countertop; she would fall off the sofa while napping; and she stopped visiting me at bath time following an incident where she fell into the tub. On these occasions she would quickly run 10 feet, look around to see who had witnessed her mishap, swish her tail and begin licking her fur as if nothing had happened.

Despite her lack of gracefulness, she was good at stealth. That she used to catch little creatures, especially flies, and to sneak outside. We had a daily battle in which she would patiently wait until I had my arms full or was otherwise distracted coming or going from the house, and then she would dart past my feet to freedom. Considering her dedication she did not get out that much, but it was always a nerve-wracking experience for me.

Age and food mellowed Bitsie out. She became plump and accustomed to her life with me. We had 15 great and adventurous years together before old age and illness took her. In the years since I have had the pleasure of knowing many other wonderful animals, but I never stop missing that silly little cat.


PHOTO COURTESY OF JANE BOZARTH
  • Photo courtesy of Jane Bozarth

Hi, I'm Katie. Are You Gonna Finish That?
By Jane Bozarth
Durham

Katiebelle never met a stranger, mostly due to her belief that anyone, anytime, could happen to have a pocket full of, oh, potato salad for her. The most food-oriented cocker spaniel ever born, Katie once created a shrine from—and then slept in—an old pizza box; chewed the breast pocket off the shirt my husband wore at our wedding to get at an old gum wrapper; and, as a barely month-old puppy, trampled her littermates and bypassed canine breast milk to rob her own mother's bowl of adult Alpo.

She could even build and use tools in an effort to satisfy her relentless hunger. You can disbelieve all you want but we watched her—watched her, I tell you—move a kitchen stool closer to a counter, then climb up to get at a bag of leftover chicken bones.

Anyway, like I said, Katie never met a stranger. At 28, I bought my first home, a place my father described as "a half-acre of poison oak with a house on it," and realized too late that I should've negotiated a paint job into the closing costs. I began interviewing painters, a process that quickly fell into Goldilocks territory: This one was too expensive; that one too creepy; another one couldn't start for months.

Then one day I met with the last possible choice, the highly recommended cousin of a coworker. He was accommodating. He underbid the other painters by over $500. He could start right away. The only thing was, Katie wouldn't even look at him. Wouldn't come off the porch to say howdy. Wouldn't wag her nub of a tail. Wouldn't prostitute herself for the bag of leftover Fritos or package of orange Nabs likely sitting on the front seat of his truck. I'd never seen the likes of it, and it nagged at me for days.

Finally, I turned the cousin down and hired the next-most-expensive painter, to the contrary advice of friends and the concern of my Great Depression-surviving father.

And six months later, on the front page of the paper, there he was: The painter I didn't hire—only because Katie didn't like him—had been arrested for robbing, in a two-week blitz, every house he'd ever painted. He knew the residents' schedules, where spare keys were stashed, where electronics and silver and jewelry were kept. And, as a familiar visitor, the dogs at those houses weren't concerned about his presence.

So at 28 I learned a good lesson: Sometimes, in the face of all logic, you need to listen to that little dissenting voice. Even if it belongs to a ravenous cocker spaniel.

Katiebelle, we miss you every day. And we think of you whenever we eat.


Duke the Pacifist Dog
By Perry Deane Young
Chapel Hill

The first time we saw Duke, he was riding a bright red surfboard into China Beach in front of the general's beach house across from Da Nang.

The heavily guarded military compound, with high walls topped with razor wire, was right next door to the Pink House, a busy little operation where the Mama-san could get you just about anything you were willing to pay for. It was our own private little press retreat on the beach. There had been a big lull in the war that summer of 1968—dog days even there—after all the excitement of Tet and Mini Tet earlier that year. My news buddies and I reacted instantly to the surfing dog: Great pictures. Great story.

I interviewed three of the Marines who had been wounded enough times to get reassigned to the beach house but not enough times to get sent home. They said they'd rescued Duke. He was a combat dog who couldn't hack it with all the killing.

Like Duke, they had had enough of the war, too. They worried that Duke was going to get left behind when they finally got shipped back to the world. A photographer took some great pictures of the young Marines and good ol' Duke riding the surfboard, and I quickly dashed off the story and sent it into UPI/Saigon.

I had been in the war for several months at that point, but nothing I wrote about human beings killing each other got near the play this story got. The story of "Duke the Pacifist Dog" must have been printed in nearly every paper in the country.

The response was overwhelming. People sent money into UPI's New York office. Jack Parr said on his show that he'd pay whatever it cost to bring home this noble warrior dog. People were outraged that a patriotic American dog had been trained to serve his country but was being abandoned once he'd done his duty. Some people were also surprised the Marine general even had a beach house in the midst of a war.

Great story, it turned out, but not quite true. A bevy of Marine information officers summoned me into their office in Da Nang. They clearly wanted to lay into me the way they'd verbally attacked the three Marines. With great restraint, they explained that I should know that these combat patrol dogs could never be de-trained. When they were no longer good for service, patrol dogs were euthanized on the spot. Furthermore, Duke was not one of these American-trained dogs, he was a native Vietnamese dog!

The story went on for several news cycles, and the Marine command grew more and more mortified with the inquiries from back in Washington. Finally, they called in the three Marines and told them they were all being given an "early out," being shipped home weeks and months before they were supposed to leave. "And you WILL take that goddamn dog with you." (They also quietly closed down the general's beach house.)

Three very happy Marines stopped by to see me at the UPI office in Saigon on their way home. One of them said Duke would live out his days with his family on Long Island. Would that all my war stories had such a happy ending.

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