Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who is this child, and why should we care?

Well, it was ten years ago today that the U.S. Ministry of Justice, under the guidance of Janet “Waco Babe” Reno and Eric Holder raided into a Miami bodega to “liberate” a six-year-old child named Elian Gonzalez. Some of you may remember him. He was a refugee who watched his mother drown as they attempted the perilous swim between the island of Cuba and Florida.

The affair grew into an international incident, with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro taking the world stage to demand father’s rights for Elian. As the boy’s surviving parent, and a loyal citizen of Cuba, it was deemed to be in Elian’s best interest that he be returned to his daddy immediately. No attention was to be paid to the mortal price that Elian’s mama paid for wanting a better life for her son and herself.

How quickly the decades pass when you’re having fun! Al Qaeda was a blip on the radar, it was an election year, and Americans were still debating what the cunning linguist who occupied the White House meant when he said “that depends on what the meaning of is, is.”

How strange and twisted the world has gotten that those unsavory days seem almost innocent compared to the moments we are living in!

At the time, I recall sitting down at an old-fashioned electric typewriter and banging out a mediocre parable titled “The Slave Catchers.” I drew on some little-known history; in the antebellum South, when slaves deserted a plantation, bounty hunters were called in to track them down and return them. In the story, names, races, and circumstances were changed, but the premise was the same. A mother, wanting freedom and a better life for her young son, headed north. She drowned as they crossed a river—shades of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it was Eliza on the ice floes!—but the boy made it to the haven of a free state, where he was taken in and cared for by relatives.

Two slave catchers showed up, demanding custody of the child. They were cursed and pelted with horse dung, as was the custom of the time. Guns were drawn, and under the color of federal law—which was reality at the time—the escaped slave child was seized and returned to his master.

My writing has improved slightly over the years, and I’m glad I don’t have a copy of the story any longer. At the time, it was a way of venting my shared outrage at seeing the infamous photo of Elian in the arms of that Dalrymple fellow, the fisherman who had saved him from the water and happened to be on-scene when the INS stormed in. You might remember that photo; Elian and Dalrymple were sheltering from the onslaught in a closet, and a SWAT soldier had a submachine gun thrust into their faces.

A subsequent lame explanation by the Ministry of Justice pointed out that the cop’s finger was indexed on the trigger guard, indicating he didn’t intended to harm anyone. I have had guns pointed at me, and always understood the intention as being that of mortal peril. Still, after an FBI sniper killed Randy Weaver’s wife and fourteen-year-old son at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and other federal agents had burned dozens of people to death in Waco, Texas over misguided religious beliefs, I guess the powers-that-were had to say something to mitigate their behavior.

I broke with personal inhibitions and showed my fictional short story to a Cuban friend. The next day, he pestered me for permission to send it to a local publication catering to the Cuban expatriate community in Little Havana. I shrugged and told him “Why not?” If “The Slave Catchers” still exists in any form, it might be in the archives of whatever magazine Paul sent it to. It wasn’t a particularly good literary invention, but it was rife with symbolism and comparisons between the ante-bellum plantation system of the Old South and modern-day Communist Cuba. The fact that I would let a manuscript out of my control is your best indication that I thought I had something meaningful to say, no matter how poorly it was stated.

Elian is sixteen years old now. A recent picture portrays him in a khaki uniform, displaying a Cuban flag. Sixteen is tantamount to manhood in Third World countries, and the glories of collectivism have frozen Cuba into stasis as a Third World nation. I wonder what he thinks these days. We begin to get a few clues about the nature of the world at age sixteen. Is Elian a pawn of the state, as his father was, or does he remember his mother in the water, dying to get him to a better place than the tropical paradise where he now resides?

Communism, collective thought in general, and socialist tenets are hip nowadays. You have to look no further than the White House to see this. It is arguable that we made Castro what he became, by refusing to accept him as one of “our” proxy dictators during the cold war. The 1960s fervency of anti-communism was somewhat laughable, but as time goes on and the world evolves, my respect for those stodgy old Cold Warriors increases.

At the time, Elian was the poster child for the escaped slaves of the communist system who sought a better way of life. Would he be any better off today, selling used cars or working at Mickey D’s in Miami? I think so, but like so many others, I am not allowed to ask him. He remains on the Cuban plantation, a man now, wearing a uniform and a state i.d. card that is eerily precognizant of Obama’s plans for AmeriCorps, should our one-trick pony be allowed to continue running plays from his Manchurian Candidate manual.

Life comes down to personal minutiae, and I can only hope that Elian Gonzalez is finding some happiness where he’s at. It tore my heart out to see that child terrified and seized by thugs in full-dress battle uniform. Today’s reminder of that incident, and seeing the pictures, makes it all come rushing back.

Elian, the door is always open, and I will personally take you to Disney World if you want to try the Florida Strait again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Items of apparel

The nerve of Those People!

(I remind the occasional reader that “Those People” was a polite term used by Robert E. Lee to describe Damn Yankees. They were regarded as the enemy during the War of Northern Aggression, and called far worse by the troops that fought for Lee and the Confederacy. A devout Christian, Lee set an example for his men by refusing to fall into the vernacular, calling his opponents nothing worse than “Those People.”)

I should be as genteel as General Lee. What I saw the other morning set me off like a bomb, questioning the parentage of Those People, uttering profane references as to their sexual conduct with their mothers.

Background: Miz Possum told me the other day that the food pantry—an auxiliary of her workplace—received a donation of tea bags. They were individually wrapped, but removed from their original box, thus rendering them unacceptable for distribution. Yesterday, I asked her to bring them home.

Over the past few months, I have become accustomed to liberal apologists tossing slurs around referring to “tea-baggers.” That term—“tea-baggers”—is a derogatory sexual innuendo. Being a jaded Internet porn surfer, I know what it means, but we won’t go there.

I didn’t think about the misuse of the term to denigrate righteously angry Americans until a double whammy hit me Monday morning. It’s a standard tactic of The Left to demonize or attempt to marginalize dissenters by whatever means necessary, so I dismissed their childish rhetoric as the equivalent of six-year-olds saying things about boogers, cooties, and “Yeah, but what are you?”

So much for background. Miz Possum—who does not like to be mentioned here or referred to by that moniker—got some loose tea bags at work the other day. The significance of this will become evident momentarily.

If I am pressed to define my political leanings, I will say by form of abbreviation that I am a conservative Libertarian. My secular, political moral compass is tuned to the original thoughts of Ayn Rand, not to the ideology of the currently established Libertarian Party. I consider them to have strayed from the original philosophical teachings in a variety of ways. I can’t be a Republican, because I don’t believe in legislating morality. I can’t be a Democrat, because I abhor collective thought and hypocrisy. I believe in the individual’s right and capacity to formulate their own spiritual, moral and ethical values. This is sometimes giving more credit than is due to a person’s ability, but I have this crazy idea that even dumbasses know the difference between right and wrong, and hazily know what’s best for themselves.

In short, I belong to what has been the Third Party in American politics for the last forty years. Given my ‘druthers in any given election, I’ll trust and vote for a Libertarian rather than any candidate fielded by the Big Two. Pollsters call me an “independent” for their purposes.

I’m not sure what this much-ballyhooed, new-fangled “Tea Party” is all about. I’m trying to figure out what their core philosophy is, but I know one thing for certain:

They are a bunch of pissed-off Americans.

Even liberal idiots who want to teach our kids in state schools that American history started in 1866, and discard Paul Revere for Oprah Winfrey, have to acknowledge that angry Americans are not something to be trifled with. There are still a few German and Japanese folks around who can give firsthand testimony to that notion. My British friends reliably inform me that they are still rubbed slightly raw by our leaving the empire’s fold 234 years ago. Government by fiat got us pissed off in 1776; it rolled back around with arrogant challenges in 1812, and we dealt with the rest of history’s abuses and malfunctions from then on. We weren’t always right, but we made it up as went along, and God help anyone who was morally wrong or stood in our way when we were right.

I knew Osama Bamalama was a bad pony right out of the gate, even before the late Ted Kennedy gave me the inspiration for Obama’s nickname. The last nail was hammered into The Manchurian Candidate’s political coffin the other day when he bowed, scraped, and said “like it or not” America is a super-power.

Indeed? And we have to apologize for this because…?

Then, after a year of denial and verbal abuse by Those People, I have to wake up to a desperate Democrat urging her followers to “grasp the passion” of the angry Americans she referred to last year as “tea-baggers”. Her admonition was on behalf of her re-election campaign, which is sagging because Barbara Boxer was one of the people who sold us down the river on the recent health-care fiasco. Before I could catch my breath from a cussing fit at her audacity, I’m treated to “Turbo-Tax” Tim Geithner spouting lunacy to the effect that “the Tea Party is a lot like us”—Those People—“because they want to balance the budget.”

Huh? Care to explain that?

And all of this was at the end of the lit fuse leading back to The Red Herring, who proclaimed the other day that Tea Party people “amused him” and should be “thanking him.”

Huh? Care to explain that?

Thank you for what, Mein Fuehrer? The government takeovers, the coming hidden taxes, the daily doses of propaganda, the lies, the coercion, or the further disregard of what us ignorant little shits believe to be right for us?

I thank God for every day of living. I don’t thank you for making it any easier, Mr. one-term-president. I thank my Maker every day that I was fortunate enough to be born a citizen of the last super-power on earth, but that gratitude doesn’t make me a slave of the state. I bow to no king, and bend my knee to no authority but the Higher Power. Like it or not.

The arrogance! The nerve of Those People!

I’m a high-school dropout, and the first to admit I’m not the sharpest pencil in the jar. Whatever animal cunning got me this far in life is totally inapplicable to the real, nuanced world of politics. I’d like to be dispassionate and dismiss people’s “feelings”, but it ain’t happening.

People today feel that something is wrong in America. They are waking up to the realization that they’ve been hoodwinked. Like Howard Beale in “Network”, they’re mad as hell, and not going to take it any more. Skilled con men rely on the guilt of the victim—the shame of being duped, and the duplicity of their greed—to carry off whatever scam they’re perpetrating. Shame rapidly turns to anger, and people are taking to the streets to display their displeasure. The “Tea Party” is a culmination of that anger; an outpouring of rage that government of, by, and for the people has become an arrogant, unresponsive bureaucracy that borders on despotism. People who have never experienced the rush of political activism, who never gave a passing thought to protesting the status quo, are suddenly motivated to publicly express their outrage at the direction their country is being forced into. The so-called “Tea Party” took their name from an historical act of protest, and launched as a spontaneous expression of disgust with what thirty years of “political correctness” has brought us to. The Tea Party opponents grasp at the guilt of the victim: anyone who disagrees with the current administration is labeled as a racist or a potential terrorist of the Timothy McVeigh ilk.

Ayn Rand died in 1982, and her successors have not done well with promulgating her philosophy. It has long been a standing joke amongst our detractors that Libertarians, by the nature of our independence-mindedness, can’t get organized enough to win against the Dems and Republicans. Nevertheless, we have made significant inroads in the political spectrum in the last thirty years, and today more people than ever are becoming aware that we stand for traditional, timeless values despite our diverse pragmatism.

So, Miz Possum got a-hold of some tea bags. So what?

So this, Buckwheat. I ain’t joining the Tea Party—and they need to change that handle if they want to be taken more seriously—but I intend to get my hot little hands on some of those tea bags. They may not be deemed suitable for consumption as a beverage, but I intend to wear one in public as a symbol of solidarity with the movement. Not because it’s a cool item of apparel this week, or because I used to be a hippie with my fist in the air chanting “Power to the People!”, but because I feel this semi-organized bunch of righteous citizens are seeking positive change in America; the same kind of change I have been seeking for most of my adult life.

I have a small silver chain that fits my pencil-neck. I intend to clip the label from a tea bag, tie it onto that chain, and wear it proudly in public. If anyone asks what it means, I’ll try to tell them what you just read here, in 25 words or less.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I get mail...

I have a bit more to say about this, but the following exchange seems to say it all:

-------Original Message-------

From: Lowell Dempsey
Date: 04/13/10 13:35:01
Subject: Following up on my last email

Hi again Robert

I sent you an email last week and I didn't hear back so I wanted to try you again. I'm reaching out to ask if you would help spread the word by posting about the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial on United Possums International. This month of April marks the 42nd anniversary of the death of Dr. King and we are commemorating his life and work by creating a memorial in our nation's capital. The Washington, DC, Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial will honor his life and contributions to the world through non violent social change.

I've put together this micro-site to help get the message out - there are videos, photos, banners, and even a web toolbar that, when used, donates money to the creation of the memorial:

After many years of fund raising, the memorial is only $14 million away from its $120 million goal. If you are able to post or tweet about this please let me know so I can share it with the team. If you have any questions please pop me an email. And if you are able to help, thank you so much.


On Wed, Apr 14, 2010 at 3:43 PM, Possumtrot wrote:

At the risk of being branded a racist, I do not currently have any interest in the further deification of Dr. King. He has a national holiday. My hometown of Atlanta is home to the King Center. There are countless schools and streets named after him across America.

I respect and admire Dr. King's contributions to American society, and regret his premature murder, denying him the full realization of his dream. (My childhood memories include the segregated "Fun Town" recreation park referred to in his historic speech.) If you search the archives of my blog, you will obtain the details of how a black man saved my life in Vietnam, and how dating a black girl in high school resulted in vandalism and violence directed at me personally. ("Just Another War Story" and "The Nigger Lover.") Being a son of the south, I have fought all my life against the stereotype of the ignorant, racist redneck. I am truly "color-blind", and given my background and upbringing, that in itself is a glowing testimony to Dr. King's legacy.

However, I will mention your project in an upcoming blog post. I suppose another statue dedicated to Dr. King won't hurt. My concern for humanity is that now that the playing field has been leveled, so to speak, we have elected an incompetent socialist as our first black president, and anyone who disagrees with his policies is reactively deemed a racist by the liberal Left. Dr. King's aims were truly humanitarian, and not necessarily linked to the politics of the moment.

I wish you good luck with your project, and I will speak positively of your goal when I get around to writing a blog post about it. I write painfully slowly, and procrastinate about checking and answering my e-mail. That is about all the assistance I can offer; I hope it's sufficient.

-------Original Message-------

From: Lowell Dempsey
Date: 04/18/10 13:11:30
To: Possumtrot
Subject: Re: Following up on my last email

Thanks for getting back to me Robert. I respect your opinion and appreciate your willingness to help us spread the word. Feel free to use any (or all) of the information from for your post. You can copy and paste directly from it. If you can, please send me a link to your post once it goes up. I'd like to share it with the rest of my team. Thanks so much!


From: Possumtrot
Date: 19-Apr-10 5:28:48 PM
To: Lowell Dempsey
Subject: Re: Following up on my last email

What I really meant to say, and didn't, was this:

Wouldn't it be more in the spirit of what Dr. King believed in if you spent the money collected for yet another shrine on those people and places who need it, i.e. the disenfranchised among us? Christian humility suggests that we do good for our fellow men, and if anonymity can be evoked, so much the better. Dr. King has been honored in the public square beyond his wildest imaginings; I think gazing down upon us from the afterlife, he would nod approval if money collected for another memorial was spent on community service. There are plenty of people who need help with taxes and mortgages; why not an endowment in his name? Drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and the "gangsta" way of thinking are rampant in the black community; why not community centers and counseling giving tribute to MLK and what he stood for?

The dream of equality and justice is 95% realized; why not carry it the rest of the way by righting societal maladies? I think that would be a greater tribute to Dr. King, were it done in his name, than all the statues in all the town squares in America.

Obviously, your cause and letters have provoked some thought on this end. I thank you for that. Our nation has a checkered history when it comes to racial equality, with both the Native Americans and African-Americans. I saw the last bad parts of that history unfolding in the South before I was old enough to read; drinking from a "Colored Only" water fountain at the age of four earned me the only slap my grandmother ever delivered. I knew then that something was wrong, and ignored redneck upbringing from then on.

I know that community centers, Clinton's "midnight basketball", VISTA and other social experiments have been tried repeatedly in the past. Many have failed. Still, I think a greater legacy that would serve the memory of Dr. King better is contained in the suggestions I've made here.

When I write my blog post about your worthy cause--including a link to your site--I will ask the questions that your original solicitation has brought to mind in the context of the article. As a white man, I am "politically incorrect" to address issues that overwhelmingly concern the black community. As a human being, in the true sense of "color-blindness", I don't see how I can do otherwise. My skepticism about another memorial for Dr. King arises from this general concern for humanity. My wife works for a community service agency, so I am acutely aware that there is much wrong in the world, and people are hurting. Although it may be putting band-aids on a traumatic amputation, I think your funds might be better spent offering assistance in whatever form you might deem best to those who need it. Building a shrine to a man who articulated great ideas is a noble cause, but there are other, more immediate issues that need to be addressed. With your funding, you are in a position to help.

Should you wish to continue this--hopefully--mutually enlightening dialogue, please e-mail me when you can spare a few moments. I wish you good luck with your endeavor.



Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Cat Food Question

As promised, I want to update anyone who might be concerned about the issue of contaminated pet food; specifically, dry cat chow. This stuff was suspected in the sudden, shocking death of Sammy Dammit the Wrong Dog.

After calling in sick for two days so she could deal with her own grief over Sammy’s death, Miz Possum went in to the local community service agency. She obtained a bag of the questionable cat food from the same lot that had been donated, and brought it home that evening.

The brand name of the food was “9 Lives”. The next morning, I called Del Monte Foods, the parent company. I got hold of someone who knew what he was doing, and we spoke at length. I gave him the lot number and expiration date on the bag. He, in turn, gave me a detailed explanation of the contamination of certain brands of cat food leading to their recall. 9 Lives was not among those involved in the recall.

The person I talked with explained that melanin—or “melanine” as he pronounced it—is a plastic [petroleum] derivative that was used by the Chinese as an additive to artificially inflate the protein content of pet food, thus bringing it up to American [FDA] standards. The widespread contamination of products bound for America occurred in late 2007. After numerous pet deaths, the products were recalled by the FDA in September 2008.

The expiration date on the bag I possessed was 5 March 2010. Extrapolating from this, it was determined that it had been manufactured no later than fall of 2009, some 18 months after the initial adulteration of the Chinese cat food.

During the conversation, I bore in mind that the company spokesman might be tacitly considering liability litigation on my part, and so might be lying to me. I did my best to assure him that I am not an adherent of lawsuits, although when I said I was going to post my findings on a modest blog, his voice grew shaky. Sammy’s veterinarian is supposed to be independently verifying the dates and lot number of the cat food, but as of this writing, he has not contacted me.

As far as can be determined, 9 Lives cat food, and the Del Monte Corporation, bear no fault at all in Sammy’s death. They do not, and have never purchased products manufactured in China for use in their pet foods. There is nothing wrong with 9 Lives cat food, and I want to totally exonerate them from any suspicion related to Sammy’s death. Lupe the Ninja Terrier ate some of the same cat food, and despite being four years older than Sammy, she suffered no ill effects from consuming the same food from the same bag.

To their further credit, the folks at Del Monte are sending me a pre-paid envelope in which to return the remainders of the cat food in question, which I almost tossed, but set aside at the last minute. They will send it to their Quality Assurance lab, where it will be tested for mold, fungus, or any other outside contaminants. A Constant Reader told me a horror story about a friend of his whose dog ate food that had absorbed antifreeze by osmosis during shipping; it was stacked on cardboard instead of wooden pallets in a trailer where a previous shipment of antifreeze had leaked onto the floor, soaked through the cardboard, and ultimately through the paper sacks of dry dog food on the bottom of the pile.

Such things happen, and if I was an actuary, we’d have to call that an act of God.

In conclusion, there are several warnings I’d like to repeat:

Read your labels, and if something is past the expiration date, even if it’s dry pet food, don’t take a chance. Toss it.

I already knew about the dangers of automotive antifreeze, but if you don’t please be advised: antifreeze is sweet-tasting to animals. It is also deadly poison, and a small portion will kill them. If you change your antifreeze at home, make sure you dispose of any waste or excess in a manner which will prevent pets from getting at it. One or two slurps are all it takes for your pet to die an agonizing death.

Do not cross-feed. Most cats won’t touch dry dog food; they consider it bland and unappetizing. However, dogs will lap up cat food. Being a redneck, I’m quite familiar with the phrase “What do you mean, the dog won’t eat that?” Nevertheless, I’m advised that cat food, in addition to being more pungent—cats don’t have the sense of smell that dogs do—is generally of a high enough protein content that long-term consumption by dogs is harmful to them. In a pinch, a handful of cat food is probably okay for the dog, but do you want to conduct long-term home science experiments with your beloved pet?

In this age of conspiracies, governmental lies, and cover-ups, I don’t think Del Monte Foods is part of all that. 9 Lives cat food is harmless, and probably good for your cat. Miz Possum can stop beating herself up for bringing the stuff home; it was coincidence that Sammy ate some before he took sick and passed.

If anyone obtains further information, or anything clarifying what I've put forth here, please contact me at once.

Sammy's eulogy

I re-titled the previous post. It was really an obituary, not a eulogy. I was reminded that a eulogy is what you say at the funeral, and an obituary is a death notice and brief history of the deceased. What I wrote the day after Sammy died was an obituary.

What I said over his grave, with others in attendance, was as follows:

“While wasting my time one day, the Jehovahs became quite adamant that animals don't have souls, and are not candidates for Heaven. I told them this…

There was a feller and his dog. They were out riding in his pickup truck one day, and got into a fatal wreck.

So, this feller and his dog turned up at The Pearly Gates. St. Peter was on a break, but the angel at the desk checked his list and told the man he was expected. As the man started to enter Heaven, the angel stopped him. ‘You can come in,’ the angel said, ‘but dogs aren't allowed.’

The man scratched his head and sighed. ‘I guess we'll just walk on for a while,’ he informed the gate keeper.

The man and his dog wandered along for a while on the periphery of Heaven, and eventually came to another gate. St. Peter rose to greet them. ‘We've been waiting for y'all,’ he announced.

The man pointed back the way they'd come. ‘Yes, but that angel at the other gate said no dogs are allowed in Heaven.’

St. Peter waved his hand. ‘Oh, that was just a test. You see, if anyone tried to enter Heaven without their dog, we wouldn't let them in.’

I’ll see you later, Sammy. I know you’ll be waiting by the gate.”

I miss my dog. It's too quiet around Scorpion Hill.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Canine Obituary

Sammy Dammit the Wrong Dog passed away at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Good Friday, 2 April 2010, after a brief illness. He was six-and-a-half years old.

Sammy came by his first and middle names quite naturally. It was what you’d holler when you discovered the chewed-up glasses, CDs, Mama’s needlepoint cushion, or the puddle of urine on the floor.

“Sammy! Damn it!”

Then you cleaned up, repaired what could be salvaged, or replaced the proverbial stuff. Dogs will be dogs, and they get over with quite a lot when they give you that guileless look that we sometimes refer to as “hang-dog.”

Sammy—named after Miz Possum’s cousin—came by his last name through circumstance.

On 1 October 2003 or thereabouts, in the late afternoon, Lupe the Ninja Terrier went nuts inside the Possum Den, barking and scratching at the front door. I went onto the front porch to investigate. Two tiny puppies—one light brown and one jet black, were trying to climb the impossibly steep steps.

Miz Possum called out inside the house. “What’s going on out there?”

“Hey!” I replied. “We got puppies!”

“What are you talking about? What puppies?”

“Come see!”

I was out of my wheelchair and butt-bumping down the stairs. Miz Possum came out, carried the pups onto the porch, and I rejoined her in short order. As she stroked them and we speculated where they might have come from, she looked at me. “We don’t need puppies. We have a dog, a three-legged cat, and a box turtle.”

“You want I should take them off in the woods and abandon them?”

“Shut up!”

(I knew then that the battle was half-won.)

An examination showed the brown one to be a girl, and the black one to be a boy. While I checked the plumbing, Miz Possum prepared warm milk and some of Lupe’s food for the foundlings. “We’ll keep them tonight, and find out where they came from tomorrow,” she said, as she put the bowls down for them.

(I knew then that the debate was over. I never argue with my Significant Other, but every once in a blue moon I can slip one over on her. The pups actually won this one, just by the sheer cuteness of their beings.)

I prepared a box for them on the porch. We didn’t think they’d try the front steps, as they were quite intimidating to small critters. They were fed, and subsequently sleepy. They’d be fine.

The next morning, the puppies were gone. I had scarcely announced this when Miz Possum had me down the front steps, wheelchair and all, and into her car. We were off on a puppy hunt. We stopped to quiz strangers enjoying autumn walks along the roadside. We discovered secluded housing projects we didn’t know existed on the far side of Mull Mountain. I hung out the passenger’s window, calling, whistling, and scanning the ditches. We went as far as Jonica Gap, which is a considerable spit-and-whistle from the former Possum Den at the base of Mull Mountain. We found nothing.

As we were driving home in despair, Miz Possum suddenly whipped a turn into the front yard of a modest house. “Look!” she exclaimed. “Puppies!”

Two little black pups were frolicking on the lawn with their light brown baby sister. Nearby, a medium-sized shaggy mutt and their mama lay watching. I recognized the adult dogs; they belonged to our former next-door neighbors, Jeff and Dawn.

Miz Possum was out of the car and checking out the puppies when Dawn came out of the house and approached the car. I brought Dawn up to speed on our doggie visitation of the day before and the afternoon’s frantic search, whereupon she laughed and said “We ain’t exactly dog-poor. You see one you like, help yourself.”

Miz Possum brought one of the black puppies back to the car and deposited him in my lap. As she stepped away to chat with Dawn, I stroked the dog and noticed that his fur was more fluffy and less shiny than I remembered it to be. When Miz Possum and I headed home—about a mile away; a considerable odyssey for six-week-old pups—I remarked that we might have the wrong dog.

“You’re nuts,” she said. “This was the only boy dog there. The other black one was a female.”

When we got home, we fed him, and I again speculated that we had the wrong dog. At a loss to explain how this might be so, I accepted a mild rebuke and hushed up.

The next morning, I fed the dog on the front porch, and watched him carefully. There was something different going on here. He ate differently, and when he was finished, he moved to a place on the porch and assumed a different posture than the other black dog. (The day before, we had named the other black dog “Spike”, in honor of film director Spike Lee, who was making a fuss about Ted Turner naming one of his networks “Spike TV.” It seemed like the thing to do at the time.) I became more convinced that the dog I was keeping company with on the front porch was not Spike, and when I went back inside, I reiterated to Miz Possum that we were in possession of the wrong dog.

“You are insane,” she assured me.

I wagged a finger. “Just wait,” I said. “In another hour, Spike will turn up. That ain’t him.”

It took about three hours, but eventually my faith was rewarded by Spike laboring up the front steps to join his brother. I called Miz Possum onto the front porch, and proudly announced that we now had two new dogs.

When she had transcended her disbelief and accepted the fact that we now had a pair of canine bookends, I examined their paws for a size estimate.

“How big are they going to be?” she asked.

“Big as a house,” I chortled. “Bigger than Volkswagens.”

“So how are we going to feed them?”

“I’ll do without jelly to go with my peanut butter,” I replied. “What, are we gonna take the ‘wrong dog’ back and say we don’t want him?”

“Shut up!”

A good winner knows when to shut up and be gracious.

When the blessedly mild winter arrived, the pups got to live inside. Lupe is a small dog, and they constantly approached her for attention. Having never raised puppies of her own, Lupe responded with warning growls of dismay that she was no longer the only dog in the household. A new pecking order was eventually established. Spike remained “just Spike”, but Sammy became known as “Sammy Dammit the Wrong Dog.”

One fine day in the early summer of 2004, when Spike and Sammy were half-grown, I drove down to the mailbox a quarter-mile away on the corner. Coming back up towards the house, I saw the dogs taking off after one of the many deer who would wander into our spacious yard. I thought nothing more about it, but when they didn’t come home that night, Miz Possum and I grew worried.

The next morning, Sammy was waiting beside the front door for someone to come out. He had a large diagonal gash across the top of his nose. It looked like a claw mark. His manner was subdued, as though something had frightened the bejabbers out of him.

We never saw Spike again.

We made up photographic posters and plastered them everywhere. We checked with Jeff and Dawn, and made phone calls. We crawled the roads between Jonica Gap and Blue Ridge to see if Spike had been hit by a car if they’d made it to the main roads. This time, there was no happy ending. Our best conclusion was that Spike and Sammy had encountered something large and fierce on the woods, and Spike gave all so Sammy might escape. This is mountain country, and the denizens include black bears, panthers, red wolves, coyotes, and bobcats. Sammy took a bodacious swipe across the face from something, and it changed his demeanor for the rest of his life.

Sammy grew into a very large dog. I used to joke that Lupe could stand under him in a rainstorm and not get wet. He had a head like a bear, legs like a horse, and the lean body of a blue-tick hound. For all his rambunctious behavior—stampeding through the house like a herd of buffalo, and inadvertently knocking stuff off tables with his tail—he had an amazing delicacy when accepting treats or asking for attention from strangers. He once stole my glasses off my face without waking me when I was snoozing before the TV. Even though he grew to be three times Lupe’s size, he never growled at her or threw his weight around. Although he was primarily “the yard dog”, he got to come inside on cold winter nights and sleep with me. He and Lupe would share the bed without fighting—with one notable exception—and he always lazed around like a huge, oversized puppy at those times. I have serious regrets that I never captured one of the Kodak moments when he and Lupe were snuggling beside me.

He had a bark like a cannon going off, and was never shy about giving voice to other dogs in the neighborhood or sounding off if a critter ventured too close to his fenced yard. He also had a mournful howl that he would deploy on occasion, usually when the moon was full. He had the full dog’s vocabulary of 400 words of English, and I understood the nuances of his barks to a tee. He’d never win a dog show competition for obedience, but his exuberance and loyalty overcame what more sophisticated owners might regard as flagrant disregard of propriety.

Two weeks before Good Friday, Sammy became disdainful of food. Then, he stopped barking when Miz Possum would leave for work, or other scheduled visitors would arrive. We changed his food back to his favorite kibble. We put Lupe out into the yard with him for companionship, thinking he might be depressed or on a hunger strike. Nothing worked.

Finally, we brought him into the house for observation. He seemed distracted, and still refused food. We checked his teeth. We gave him a worm purgative. Nothing. In the last week, he lost one-third of his body weight.

On Thursday, 1 April, we dragged him to the vet. I will come to cherish that car ride, with him sitting between my legs and staring eagerly out the window at each new sight, sound and smell. Right now, it just makes me start crying again. The vet took blood and other samples, and said they’d call. We were given antibiotics to administer every twelve hours. He got one upon arrival home, and another one that night. Even though the weather was warm, he got to stay in.

That night, he was too weak to climb into my bed. Nevertheless, he slept on the floor beside me until dawn. He had looked better at bedtime, and before I rose that morning I heard him lapping water from Lupe’s bowl downstairs. Once I was up and about, he kept coming to me, not with whines or whimpers, but wanting nothing more than an ear rub, which I gladly gave. Still, he refused food or water, preferring to lie on the living room rug or walk up to put his head in my lap.

Shortly after 4:00 that afternoon, Miz Possum helped me poke another antibiotic tablet down his gullet. She left the room. At 4:15, he sat at the open door onto the deck, and stared into the distance. I opened the screen and invited him outside, but he refused. We anthropomorphize our pets, but I wonder now if he knew what was going to happen. A few minutes later, he lay down beside my easy chair, where I had moved to watch TV. He looked like he was going to take a nap and gather his strength. I had a chicken patty cooked, cut up and ready for him in the kitchen, should he get hungry enough for it.

The TV was not loud. I heard him take two thready, rattling breaths. At the third one, I looked over at him. They were not sighs. He was not breathing. I came out of the chair with loud wails and went to him. Miz Possum tried to do CPR while I cleared his airway. He was gone.

I have had a succession of dogs in my life; they have been my constant companions. I have outlived them all, save Lupe, and known the pain of losing them to the inevitable. My neighbor Tom, who helped with the burial today, lost his canine companion of ten years a short time ago. He says he won’t have another. I have watched people die, and known the unique agony of the murder of a parent. I know my father understands when I say that this loss, at this moment, hurts more than I can describe. He was a Beagle lover; I’m just a large-dog aficionado. Labs, Retrievers, Dobermans, Alsatians, mutts, and since I became a wheelie, Lupe the Ninja Terrorist/Terrier.

Sammy’s mother was a “rescue dog” who was taped into a cardboard box and tossed in a local river to die, after a childhood of abuse. She survived, and eventually gave me the gift of almost seven years of companionship with her offspring. Sammy was middle-aged by human standards, and died far too young. I am wrecked with wondering if I could have done more for him.

According to the vet, Sammy died of acute kidney failure. This was possibly due to a genetic defect of his mixed parentage, which was ecumenical, to say the least. His system was so poisoned, and so many things were out of whack with his electrolytes and blood chemistry, it’s doubtful that he could have been saved if canine ICU treatment had been applied immediately.

There may be a legacy for Sammy beyond my donations to the local no-kill shelter. At about the same time Sammy fell ill, Miz Possum brought home a bag of cat food. She works at a local community service agency/food bank. People rarely donate pet food, but a couple of weeks ago someone brought in bags of dry pet food. Miz P. brought home a small bag of cat food, not for Roxie the three-legged cat, but as a supplement for the dogs’ food. I gave Sammy one straight bowl, which he enjoyed tremendously. Thereafter, I put a handful onto his regular dog chow as spice, since cat food is more pungent and spicy than dog ration. The veterinarian assures me that a single bowl of cat food could not have caused the kidney damage, although you should be advised that long-term cross-feeding of high-protein cat food will significantly harm a dog.

The vet also reminded me that several years ago, dry pet food manufactured in China was recalled because it contained melanin, which causes renal failure and death in domestic animals. The product—under several different names—was recalled from the shelves. However, as Miz Possum has mentioned on several occasions, people donate human food to the food pantry which is beyond its expiration date. Although the staff members are diligent about checking the quality, security of packaging, and expiration dates of people food, no one has yet thought to check the labels of rarely-donated pet food. This will change on Tuesday, when Miz Possum will obtain a bag of the questionable cat food, and we will have the lot number—and hence the place of origin and other data—of the dry product. There is a chance that this is something left over from 2008, which is the date the vet cited as the time of the importation of the contaminated Chinese pet food. For his part, the vet knows where to look this up online, and will be waiting for my call once I have my hands on the label, brand name, and lot number of this wayward pet food. We will cross-check this, and the results will be published here and elsewhere, regardless of whether there is a threat. Other pet owners need to know, one way or another.

Sammy rests now beneath a huge short-leaf pine on the up-slope of Scorpion Hill. That is now “Sammy’s Tree”; he will go back to nature, and become part of a living thing. Thus it is with all of my critters, thus will it always be.

If there is still some of this contaminated Chinese crap-food still out there, and if diligence after-the-fact of Sammy’s death can save even one other pet owner from the emotional train wreck I am having, then this gentle, special dog will have served a noble cause with his too-short life. Don’t cross-feed, check your labels, throw out the expired stuff, and stay tuned for news if there is still poisonous stuff in circulation.

Sammy, I’m gonna miss you, buddy!