I had always been good with kids and dogs for that matter. I had managed to train Vinyard very early in life. When he was three months old he was going to do and crying when he needed to go out. He also came when I called him. If he was ever venturing off too far from where we were all it took was two claps and he would be back in arm’s length. He could be in the next county and two slaps of my hands would get him home. It was simple. He was a smart dog but not to sound like I’m the Dog Whisperer or anything, but I was a good trainer. The only places Vinyard lacked in training was in begging and chewing. He was a Lab. He chewed everything up until he was a year and a half old. It’s inevitable. There is no fixing it in Labs and his begging, I did. In his early years, I would be working on the computer or watching movies and any dinner I cooked, he got some of.
Deja…. Well, Deja, I’m not sure I know where I went wrong with her. Mandi and I didn’t live together for her first three months of life and she was not given the ‘Door Treatment’ I had always practiced. Deja would piss and shit on the floor, get nailed and somebody would clean it up. She was never really taught that she needed to go outside to do it. When we arrived in Orlando, things would hopefully change. We did not get any house we were looking for for two reasons:
1. Nobody would rent to us with a pitbull
2. Nobody would rent to us, because Vinyard was over a hundred pounds.
We, (I), was not getting rid of my dog for an apartment or house we may not stay in. We ended up in a shitbox apartment off Forest City Road. It was a busy street. There were kids everywhere, so the dogs were required to be on a leash. Three to five times a day, I would walk these guys around the building. Deja would manage, (of the two craps a day,) to do one of them outside and one inside. Never failed. I would scold her every time. And in all her life, I only caught her in the act one time. It was probably the roughest scolding I had ever done to any dog. I felt horrible, but I felt it had to be done to stop this epidemic. After that, it didn’t change with the exception that she never let me catch her. Sometimes she would go so far as to going to the back closet to do it while I was in the kitchen or when I sat down for my afternoon squat, she managed to do hers too.
Besides this issue there was only one other incident where she chewed up eight of my DVD’s, but even then, we were unsure if it wasn’t a tag team effort. I chose to think not, catching her two more times with DVD’s in her mouth and Vinyard being past the chewing stage I seemed to think it was a loner job. She had never been given any other privileges to mess up. She was only let off the leash when we went to the dog park and Mandi would have to chase her all over the place, because Deja would bother other people and dogs. While we were in Orlando, poor Deja spent half her days in the kennel from making the same mistakes: Shitting on the floor and chewing up stuff.
Vinyard hated her at first. She would try to play with the overgrown stoner and Vinyard was sometimes just not into it. She would breeze by him and snap at his saggy skinned trying to provoke him into fighting, but it took nearly twenty minutes of this for Vinyard to give so much as a growl. Occasionally, he would get excited and the fight was on. In the early days, Vinyard would not fare so well because of Deja’s speed and took a beating quite a bit. Most of the time he would wear himself out trying to get a hold of her, but as the months rolled on, Vinyard learned how to use his weight and muscle and changed up his style to compensate for her speed and it then, was only a matter of time before, again, Deja was on the losing end of those scoldings. Deja on the otherhand, loved Vinyard. He had been around her whole life and she worshipped the ground he walked on. If he walked, she walked. If he sniffed a bush, she sniffed a bush. If there were doggy decisions to be made, she waited for his plan. I always used the analogy that she was like that little fish that swam along side the Great White Shark. I had grown to love Deja, even if selfishly, I thought she was just not a dog I wanted to have. We had never clipped her ears and she had just never grown into the ears or grown into a prototype of her beautiful mom, but nevertheless, I felt with Mandi and I both working long odd hours, Deja and Vinyard could keep each other company in those boring hot days of staying in a small apartment in a shitty area of town.
We returned to North Carolina a little over a year later. Mandi and I had become pregnant and her Mom had pulled some strings to have us move into a little basement apartment at her friends house. It was a cute little place. It wasn’t somewhere we would stay long, but it was cheap and would do the trick for a transition. The dogs would not be very happy, nor would we. It was two rooms conjoined together and I’ll be honest, It was the coziest place I had lived in for the last seven years and was the perfect and I mean perfect bachelor pad. But for two big dogs and two people rapidly gaining weight, it was way too small. The house sat on 2 acres. Our apartment opened up to the back of the house where 99% of those acres were. The front of the house sat about ten yards off of one of the busiest highways in the county so even with all that room, I would walk them on a leash.
When I was about ten, a couple of the guys and I in the neighborhood decided to make a couple of bucks selling lemonade up the street. I had the brilliant idea of taking our fairly new Cocker Spaniel with us. The first car that passed, the cocker chased and I watched this dog get mauled by the front right tire. I still remember how it sounded and remember running her back to my yard as she lost control of her insides on the way. It scarred me, so the only fear I have with my dogs is to have them hit by a car and me either seeing it or having to pry them from the road afterwards or the worst of all, living through it only to die an hour later. I was overprotected and scared sick of busy roads and my dogs. Mandi, had become tired and lethargic during her mid months of pregnancy, so she began letting the dogs out without a leash and just watching them and calling them as they would steer astray. It apparently worked OK. I didn’t trust it and Deja was crapping all the time in the house, so I continued to walk them to the edge of the woods. During these months in the “cellar,” against my decision Mandi decided to get Deja impregnated. She was a great bloodline and Mandi looked at it as a way to make some cash for when the baby arrived. I just knew this was going to end up being a problem, but what could I do… Both my bitches were pregnant, so I just waited for the disaster to happen. With the pressures of parenthood closing in and our living situation, I began to become real annoyed with Deja’. She was a dirty dog. She chased squirrels, dug holes, wallowed in shit and crapped and pissed wherever she felt like it. I was cleaning shit at least every other day with Mandi doing the other days’ shifts. I had almost given up on it. I assumed that she was such a stupid dog that she just didn’t get it and she wouldn’t shit outside because she was so used to getting scolded when we spotted her crap in the house that she wouldn’t dream of doing it on a leash in front of us.
Then Deja and I came to our first understanding. This one incident would change my thoughts on her forever. The day we were moving into our new house, Deja began giving birth to her puppies. I thought, “how fitting this all took place at the same time. I will have piss, shit and placentas to clean up now.” But Deja’ impressed me. With every passing day, she protected those puppies, kept them in a consolidated place, and ALWAYS cleaned up after them. I had been a doubter. I thought it would be a huge mess and it never was. She was torn up after we began selling those puppies off and before she knew it, her offspring were gone and she was back with Vinyard doing the things she normally did. I had grown more fond of her and made extra attempts to give her love I had not given her before. That period slowly died as we prepared for the baby to arrive and she continued her onslaught of piss and shit and being conieving enough to find ways into our bedroom to camp out on our bed. The piss and shit situation had really began to wear on me again. I was working in Charlotte at the time and was getting up extremely early in order to cook breakfast, clean myself, and get them… Get Vinyard out to do his thing. Deja didn’t ever need to go, because I could count on her to leave me a nasty load to clean up after eating my eggs. To make matters worse between us, she was doing it underneath my office desk where all my computer chords were. Then I could always count one to clean up upon returning home, if Mandi had been working that night. Things were bad. She was spending more and more time in that kennel again and because she chewed the floor out of it and every blanket I spread out, she got the nice soft steel bars to curl up to. I didn’t give two craps despite her giving them back to me. I bought Vinyard a comfortable bed and would shove her off it every time she tried to hunker down on it. The war was on.
Mandi was to the point of wanting the dogs gone, but I fought for them. I knew by the end of the year we would be in our own house and the dogs could have a yard with an electrical fence, doghouses and everybody would be happy. Payton was born and the dogs went from full attention from me to half and if Mandi had given them any in the past four months, there was none now. She despised them and at any given second, would scold them for stuff she had never scolded them for before. With me being gone nearly twelve hours of the day, I feared they were miserable considering they were getting no attention and Mandi had this grueling vendetta against them. With Payton being a newborn, Mandi didn't have the luxury of spending twenty minutes in the yard with the dogs so began practicing her, "Open Door Policy." It apparently worked again. It worked better when it was just one of them at a time, but what ever it took to give them a little time out of the house. Again, I didn't trust it. With the new house we had upgraded--- Some. Our backyard was probably 60 acres deep. Our front yard ten yards to the third busiest road in the county. After ruining two pairs of shoes guiding the dogs around the yard, I got lazy as well. I had to let them go sooner or later so I began letting Vinyard and Deja out off the leash. I would stay near and call them when I thought they were getting too far away. This worked great. All I had to do for Vinyard is throw him a stick. Deja was a little harder, but would come inside the minute you called her. It seemed as if it were to work out good for everybody. Then something happened. Deja began getting further and further away from the house and apparently with every step began losing her hearing a little more. I couldn't contain her. She would end up down in the neighbors yards, chasing shadows and she would literally act as if she did not hear me screaming her name. I began to get real frustrated because how could we have had it so well and do nothing differently and everything change. Mandi insisted I put her back on a leash. I did not want to do that. I was on the thought that if Vinyard could do what I asked what was that fuckin' dog's problem? I ignored it, giving Deja the benefit of the doubt over and over. The dog had no idea how close she was to dying not but three weeks ago when we were out in the yard and I had called her and she was in route to me when she stopped, saw a dog almost eighty yards down the yard. I called Vinyard. He looked a minute and then came up to my side. I called Deja. She looked a minute. A minute more. The second I said, "Don't you do it, bitch," she was gone. I was late to work that day from trudging down in the cow fields to find her. I carried her halfway home by her neck. After that Deja and I's relationship ended. I arrived home from lunch one day after putting the dogs out in the kennel for the morning only to find Vinyard on the front porch and Deja in the front yard. They had managed to break out. How I have no idea. That little bitch probably squirmed out and opened the door.... Kidding. Vinyard seemed fine with a little added dirt on his nose. Deja on the otherhand, had a chunk of ear missing, teeth puncture wounds and blood everywhere. At night, she would immediately take off and I would just keep going out there from time to time until she would show up with her ears down and hole herself up in the kennel, refusing to come in. I had given up on her, Vinyard and everything. Mandi and I fought three times a day about the dogs and honestly, I was a busy guy. I had devoted my life and most of my spare time to this family, dogs included, and Deja was the only dog that just didn't seem to appreciate any of it.
The night this whole story is getting around to was last Wednesday. I was to actually go record a voice over for a commercial, but could not manage to find a babysitter. I arrived home at 7:00. Six 'o clock and after was always a little touch and go with Payton. Tonight was no exception. Deja had actually gotten much better in the last week. She had stayed pretty close, so when I opened the door and let them out when I got home it was pretty routine. I put up the car seat, the diaper bag, pulled out my skillet and went out and called the dogs back in for their nightly treat. Vinyard came immediately. Deja' did not. This was nothing new anymore. When she did take off it was usually down in the pastures and she would come back reaking of where a skunk sprayed her, but she nevertheless would come back home. Payton needed to be fed and put down and I needed to feed the dogs and myself as well, so 'Deja' Hunting' that night was a nil, nit, goose egg. As I cooked dinner, I would about every ten minutes go out with the flash light, call her name and see if I could get a little idea of which direction she had gone. She had never gotten in the road but once and the only reason she had was that there was fresh roadkill right in front of our house on it. The good thing about the busy street in front of my house was that it was very flat. If the dogs did not dart out in the road, cars would see them and be able to slow down or get out of their way if I weren't around to round them up. She was nowhere. It was dark. She could have been on the side of the house. She wasn't coming to me anyway. How would I know? Then as my hamburgers sizzled from grease in the skillet and Payton practiced her best Axl Rose impression I recall Vinyard looking up dead set on the cooking of burgers. He, out of no where, turned toward the living room which rests on the street side of our house and let out two big barks. I wondered where that had come from, but did not think much of it. I fear now, that was the point Deja' had darted across the road and been struck by a car. Fifteen minutes later I was eating, occassionally walking outside to call her name. I knew something was terribly wrong when I had finished the dishes and she was still not hanging out in the kennel outside with her ears down.
I took the flashlight and this time I walked out in the front yard. I saw nothing. My eyes scanned the straight away of road and then something... My eyes adjusted. It was Deja'. I couldn't see anything but a white lump of her backside and the brown brindle patch resting about a quarter of a mile down the street. She was right on the side of the road and it was too cold and too far to take Payton. I froze. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go down there and see her dismembered or even worse, still alive and suffering. I called my Sister in Law and her and my Brother in Law showed up to help with all the chaos. Travis walked out to the road first. His reaction was enough for me to know she was in one piece. I walked over to her and she was relaxed. She looked like any other dog laying down after a long day of running. Her eyes didn’t look set. I couldn’t bare to look, but had to get her in the back of his truck to figure out what we were going to do.
I was sure she was dead, but couldn’t tell. Travis agreed she was dead but I kept talking him out of that decision. We found ourselves forty five minutes later driving her to the ER Vet hospital. The Vet on duty didn’t even have to use her stethoscope. She flipped the towel over and said, “yeah, she’s gone. That’s it.”
I was relieved in a sense that she had been dead and hadn’t tried to hang on for the hour it took me to get her to this point. I was a little torn up that night. Mandi even showed a little remorse for her. I had begged that dog to listen to me over and over. I know they are dogs and don’t get it, but I remember telling her once that I was trying to teach her to come for her own good. I said there is a point to all this. "If you don't listen to me you are gonna' end up in that damn street--DEAD!" She must’ve never understood. I began feeling neglectful for not going after her in the yard. I felt neglectful for not hearing her get hit. I felt angry to know that in our small community, a full bred dog with a collar gets nailed in a neighborhood and nobody stops or even helps. I was sad for Vinyard who’s life, beknownst to him was about to get that much more uneventful. I missed her. I still resent myself for being so tough on her. I remember those good days and how excited she would get when I would pet and praise her for listening to me. I remember days before her death, Payton crawling over to her on the floor and putting her arm around her skunk smelling neck and as gentle as she could be, giving her quick kiss to the face as they both looked up at me. She was so good with our little girl and through all the scolding and favoritism she took she stayed positive and loyal. I’ll miss that dog more than I ever thought I would. Bless her heart. She had a rough life and it ended way before it should have.
If you don’t get anything out of this long story, be good to your dogs. Take time with them. Teach them, train them and love them. They are only as safe as you make them.
Deja’ Ray Drum, I will miss you little girl. I’ll miss the extra paper towel and potpourri purchases I would have to make. I’ll miss the floor underneath my desk smelling of ammonia. I’ll miss watching you attack Vinyard’s loose skin under his collar and most of all, of all the annoying things you did, you were still the sweetest dog I have ever had the pleasure to be around. That's what I'll miss most. I love you and I hope you are looking down now, so you know why I stressed so much to you your whole two and half years how important is was to listen to me. I'll see you again when we all come back as skunks.