The first time I saw him he was lying on his back in my neighbor’s backyard with his tongue hanging out. A few minutes earlier, Mrs. Haddock had knocked on our door and begged my mother to help her.
“It’s Jimmy!” she had said excitedly. “I think he’s had a heart attack.”
My mother, never having met the new neighbors who had moved into the neighborhood the day before, was shocked at the news. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
Mrs. Haddock shook her head. “No. Just come with me. He’s in the backyard.”
When my mother discovered “Jimmy” was a dog, a huge Saint Bernard, she was reluctant to check on his status. I was eight years old at the time and had no fear of dogs, but this canine had a head like a buffalo. His mouth was open as wide as a drawbridge and his eyes were closed. He looked dead. But when I took a timid step closer, he leaped up and knocked me to the ground.
Then he slobbered all over me and my mother screamed and Mrs. Haddock tried to pull him away. But I was not afraid. I could see in his big brown eyes that he meant me no harm.
When I finally pushed away his head and got to my feet, Mrs. Haddock apologized and said Jimmy liked me. The feeling was mutual. I loved that big dog at first sight. But it surprised me that he was only two years old. Heck, he already weighed nearly 170 pounds.
Anyway, I helped Mrs. Haddock tie Jimmy to a tree. A few minutes later, he snapped the rope as easily as a piece of thread and took off after a gaggle of little girls. That dog sure loved kids. As the days passed, parents became concerned with his habit of knocking their little tykes on their keisters.
I always knew when Jimmy had broken loose; I’d hear a neighbor scream. For some reason I felt it was my job to get to him before the police did. Eventually the Haddocks chained Jimmy to a doghouse that was about the size of my dad’s DeSoto. They were certain it would restrain their dog from terrorizing the neighborhood again. Sadly, however, they underestimated the strength of a large Saint Bernard. Jimmy dragged that huge doghouse up and down our street as if it were a tin can on a car bumper. The Haddocks then built an even larger doghouse. Sadly, the result was the same. Finally they opted to enclose Jimmy behind a heavy wire fence, cemented into solid concrete. But it didn’t take long for Jimmy to figure out that the wire door was the weak link and he crashed through it easily, leaving his chain and doghouse behind.
One time he bolted free and followed me to school. He emptied the school yard in record time. Screaming kids huddled behind barricaded doors and one teacher hollered, “Take that beast home!” So, I got on Jimmy’s back and rode away, much to the envy of every boy in school.
Another time I made the mistake of tying Jimmy to one of our front porch posts so I could go inside for a cool drink. As fate would have it, Mrs. Muldoon, whom we kids called the “Cat Woman” because she had a mess of stray cats living with her, sauntered by. The cat scent must have driven Jimmy to distraction. He lunged and our entire house shook as if from a violent earthquake. My mother rushed to the front door and shrieked, “He’s pulling down our house!”
Before I could get to him, Jimmy snapped his chain and with a loud baritone Woof! Woof! galloped off after Mrs. Muldoon. She went screaming to her house, but when she opened her front door a column of cantankerous cats rushed out, hissing like mad vipers.
Jimmy braked to a stop, took one look at the cats, and then hightailed back to me.
Over time, the big dog matured and settled down somewhat. However the “aroma” that came from his coop proved too potent for the neighbors, especially in the summer months. It annoyed my mother the most because she enjoyed picnicking in our backyard. Finally she sent my father over to have a talk with Mr. Haddock about the odor. As a goodwill gesture, my father took along a piece of cooked liver for Jimmy.
Mr. Haddock was sitting on his front steps with Jimmy when my father gave a friendly wave and approached. Jimmy must have smelled the liver in my father’s pocket because when my father reached the first step Jimmy opened his big mouth wide and then clamped down on an area right between my father’s legs and wouldn’t let go.
My father was a pipe fitter with big strong hands. So he punched the dog in the snoot and Jimmy pulled away a little dazed and confused, but in the process he had given my poor dad an embarrassing injury. My father limped back to our house holding his groin and headed upstairs to the bathroom. My modest mom asked me to check his injury and report back to her. I respectfully declined, stating that if he were severely damaged the sight would no doubt traumatize me for life.
Thank heaven the doctor arrived and assured my mother that my father was fine.
Still, I recall my mother crying for weeks after that episode. Or maybe it was laughter.
My last recollection of Jimmy again concerned his love for playing possum. We had this small dog. One day he was run over by a car. Tearfully, my mom and I carried him to the backyard and then waited on our front porch for the men from the city’s animal control department to come and pick him up
The men arrived and my mother motioned where the deceased was located. One of the guys took out a small shovel and went around our house. After a few minutes he came back and told his buddy, “We need a bigger shovel.” They talked for a while and eventually opted for a large piece of canvas and long rope.
My mom and I were a bit confused until the two guys came racing across the Haddocks’ front lawn screaming, “That dog ain’t dead!”
Momentarily amused, we watched them bolt into the cab of their truck with Jimmy close behind. The two men’s faces turned white when the big Saint Bernard pounced upon their truck and began rocking it back and forth. We had to laugh because the driver couldn’t find the ignition key fast enough and the other guy looked scared to death. Eventually they did get the truck started and peeled away, never to return for the canine corpse behind our house.
After four years, the Haddocks got tired of all the complaints about their big dog and moved away to a farm.
They wrote to us that Jimmy enjoyed playing with the cows, because they were similar to his own size.