I grew up in the age of free-range children and dogs, each of which species met up and roamed together. That’s how our dog got pregnant — twice. Whether my folks didn’t consider spaying or weren’t aware she was in heat, I can’t say. Anyway, all the puppies were quickly adopted by upstanding families and grew up to be upstanding dogs — except the funny-looking one in the second litter. To my parents’ dismay and our pleasure, we got to keep him.
We named him Hubert and began training him, In a few short days he’d learned to come, sit and stay. Then we taught him fetch which he did OK a few times. But something went wrong the following week when we taught “lie down.” I think he blew a fuse. He’d look at us, tail wagging and tongue hanging out, and didn’t respond to anything we’d taught him. Later when we saw him pick up a ball in his mouth and then hover helplessly above his food and water dishes, we knew he’d completely lost it.
One day my mom left Hubert sitting in the driver’s seat looking nobly out the front window. When she returned from the store, the woman getting out of the next car over said, “What a handsome dog! Mind if I pet him?” My mom opened the door and Hubert jumped out, revealing his disproportionately big head. The woman gasped, quickly patted him and scurried away.
I’m afraid we weren’t sympathetic enough about Hubert’s plight: He still lived with his mother. He slept in the closet where he was born. And if he encroached on the window seat from where his mother oversaw the front yard, she cruelly nipped at him until he skulked back to his closet.
But Hubert had his day in the sun. In 1967, Chicago Daily News, satirical columnist Mike Royko held a “new kind of dog show” that featured mutts. My siblings, friends and I took Hubert to the 1st (and only) Mongrel Show at Soldier’s Field in Chicago. Hubert met the qualification of looking like three different breeds. The many contests included prize for “Dog that Barked the Longest.” that indeed went to a dog that hadn’t shut up the entire day. Imagine our excitement when the loudspeaker announced Hubert had won a first prize! It was for Dog Looking Most Like [then French president] Charles deGaulle.
Years later I was at my folks’ house dog-sitting while they were away. As usual, I let Hubert out in the evening.. He didn’t come back. I walked up and down the street calling him and checked with the police to see if they’d found him. My mom was going to kill me.
In the morning when I phoned the police again, they said, “We found a very old dog.” It seems Hubert had traveled a half mile to an apartment building where lived a miniature poodle in heat. The police said he jus stood in the parking garage staring at the wall and wouldn’t budge until they lured him into their car with chocolate chip cookies.
After that last hurrah, Hubert would just stand for hours, staring at the wall, as though recalling the moment when he’d been so close to scoring with a French poodle. Now I wonder if his prize had gone to his head.