Barney and Caesar

My father loves dogs. So much, in fact, that he would raise them and take them to dog shows. And he would win a number of these shows, mostly local and regional, but still. I remember growing up as a kid, seeing all those trophies and ribbons and asking about the names of the various dogs my dad owned. I remember that it was something of a taboo subject with my dad, because he had grown so attached to these dogs that when they died, it was much like losing a close relative or sibling. I think after a time, it got to him too much, because while he still loves dogs, he doesn’t own any since the last dog we had needed to be put to sleep because of an ailment.

I grew up around dogs and my dad taught me how to handle them. Early on, I was taught how to command them and train them to do stupid shit like sit and roll over, walk, bark, etc. I mean, if you watch the dog shows on TV, it’s pretty much about being able to control the dog and tell it what to do. I think it goes without saying that while I loved the dogs in our backyard, I wanted a pet that had a little more independence and so I became a cat person (much to my dad’s dismay).

We had two Belgian/German Shepherd crossbred dogs, Oso and Sheba. Oso is Spanish for bear, and that’s because he looked like a big black bear. Apparently, Oso and Sheba had a lot of brothers and sisters, because every now and again, relatives would come over and bring their dogs and my dad would point out the relations to me. I remember I had a cousin who had Oso’s brother and for the life of me, I can’t remember what they named him. But I remember thinking that they probably missed each other very much, and I took the other dog to the backyard and they started fighting for no reason (that I could perceive). My dad yelled at me for doing that, and explained that dogs were very territorial about everything.

I was like six, so I just put it together in my head that maybe Oso was just jealous that I was handling another dog besides him or Sheba. Yeah, that had to be it, right? Anyway, when I got older, it got easier to deal with the dogs and then when I was seven, Oso died. Sheba died two years later. So, we didn’t really have any dogs after that, because my dad and I mourned them. He and I were the ones who looked after them, fed them, cleaned up after them (well, that was one of my sole responsibilities… thanks, Dad). Anytime my sister mentioned getting another dog, it was met with resistance; it was way too soon about getting another dog, yet.

Things have a way of working out differently.

A different cousin of ours gave us a couple of tiny little dogs. They were from the same litter, making them sisters. But these little dogs were nothing alike. One looked like a Chihuahua, the other looked like a black shoe buffer with legs. So, I got to name one and my sister got to name the other. I named the Chihuahua looking one, Lily, after my favorite comedian, Lily Tomlin. My sister named the other one Shadow, because she would always follow Lily around everywhere she went. Lily and Shadow pretty much hung out with our family until I was well out of high school and into college.

During my eight grade year in middle school, my dad came home, all excited. We were getting a purebred dog from a family friend who raised Rottweilers. I never really cared for Rottweilers or Pitt Bulls, but my dad wanted to try his hand at training the dog again for future dog shows. It had been quite some time since he had done a show, so I think the family was willing to concede and see if he could do it again. After all, Oso and Sheba dying hit him hard and it was good to see him getting on afterward. I don’t think he ever really liked Lily and Shadow all that much, but it was a little start (no pun intended). Also, we had neighbors who owned Rottweilers, too… so, I think he thought it would be a good talking point. Like-breed dog owners tended to form a little community for some reason.

So, my dad and I rode out to the ranch where they were raising the pups and we got one. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a Rottie pup, but they’re big. Huge dogs. Not Great Dane big, but still… when my mind conjures up the word ‘puppy’ it’s generally like a cute little furry puppy. He was neither cute nor little. He was huge. It took both arms to lift him up to put him in the truck… and by the way? His method of saying hello was to piss all down the front of my shirt.

“That means he’s happy!” exclaimed the friend. I thought, “Great, what does he do when he’s angry? Shit all over you?”

It was apparently a good thing that this pup was happy, because even at his age, he could do a lot of damage to someone. Now, if you also don’t know about this.. Rotties have a tendancy to be used as attack dogs, land protection.. I mean, that’s what they were bred for. My dad briefed me on their danger on the way home and when he mentioned their ability to crush things with their jaw, I kept glancing in the back seat wondering, “And you thought this was a good idea because… ?”

Oh… his name was Barney. We didn’t name him. That’s what the ranch owners named him. And it stuck. We couldn’t get him to answer to anything else. So, now… we were stuck with a possibly ferocious animal with over two thousand pounds of jaw pressure at his disposal… named Barney.

This was no purple dinosaur, folks.

I was automatically placed in charge of his feeding, walking, cleanup, and training. Now, let the record show that I did not, at any time, request another dog. I never begged my dad for one. I didn’t plead for one. I didn’t go looking for one. All of a sudden, we had a big dog and now I was cleaning up Mountain Lion-sized turds out of the backyard because I was placed in charge of it. I’m guessing this was some family tradition or something like it, because my dad got a big kick out of making me responsible for the half-pissing-fountain-and-shit-factory roaming around the backyard.

If Barney barked too loud, I was woken up to deal with it. If Barney pissed all over the place, I was to hose down the sliding glass doors and patio (this happened daily). If Barney’s monster turds stunk up the backyard, I was to go back there, throw on a hazmat suit and deal with it. All the while, I’m wondering what the hell I did to deserve this.

Walking Barney was probably the best part of the collateral duties. He was a big dog and needed space to run around in. Problem was, walking him out when there were people required two hands because Barney thought EVERYONE was a threat to him or me. So, he would scare the shit out of everyone he met. It wasn’t just the barking, either. Fangs would come out and drool followed, so you had the complete image of a guy looking right at him and then up at me, and I’m yelling, “No, Barney… bad dog!” All the while pulling on his leash and trying to hold him back as he kept rearing up and wanting to give chase.

I am so lucky he never broke free, you have no idea.

In order to walk him without having to worry about him killing anyone, I woke up at 3:15am every morning. I got him out of the backyard, and on my bike, I would run him around this park that was nearby. Technically, the park was closed, but no one was up, so it didn’t really matter much. This was back in the days when even the gangs would sleep at night. I did this pretty much every morning through high school. Then, when I could see sun streaks, I would steer him home and put him in the backyard and he would sleep after a full hour of running. It was a great setup for me, because I got my exercise and so did he. And I didn’t have to worry about him barking all through the night because he was walked properly.

I basically told you all this to tell you this story:

One Saturday morning, my dad woke me up and started screaming at me. “Barney’s loose! Go get him!” Of course, knowing that and understanding the sheer liability having a loose dog running around the neighborhood, I snapped awake and threw clothes on. I was out the door and scanning up and down the street quickly. Frantically, actually. I sprinted down the street one way and when I didn’t find him, I sprinted back the other way.

And then I saw him.

There he was, laying down in the front yard of our neighbors, across the street, like nothing was happening. So, I went over there. Fear was replaced by anger. “Barney!” I shouted at him. “Come here!” Barney got to his feet, but he did not move. That just pissed me off some more, since now it wasn’t just a matter of him being loose and running around, now he was just being a defiant little shit.

I repeated my command, more forcefully and more angry. Barney looked at me and took a step toward me, but then took a step back, like he was afraid of me. I decided, enough was enough. I was going to grab his collar and take him back to the house. As I approached to do so, Barney growled at me.

I was surprised. And livid. I really started shouting now. “Barney! No! Bad dog! What is the matter with you?!” I was really letting him have it. Everytime I yelled, he looked at me like I was crazy or something. Barney was not the brightest of dogs, I can tell you. He was, I think, what happens when you inbreed a little too much. You get inferior genes and it just doesn’t bode well later on down the line, you know?

Anyway, so there I am, in the front yard, yelling at Barney. Who won’t listen to me. Who won’t do as I tell him. I think my head looked like I was about to explode because my neighbor, who had been watching me from the window, came outside. He said hi, and I said hi. He asked me what I was doing, and I said:

“Sorry about the yelling. I was just trying to get this dumb dog back into my house, where he belongs.”

He chuckled. “Yeah… uh, that’s not your dumb dog. It’s my dumb dog. That’s Caesar.”

Anger was replaced by fear as I looked back at the dog. He looked exactly like Barney, even had the same chain link collar that we got for him, and his eyes looked like Barney’s, too. “Are you sure?”

“I think I know my own dog.”

“That’s Caesar?” I looked back at the dog, and I swear… he looked back at me, grinned and nodded, as if to say, “Yes. I’m Caesar, you dumbass.”

I ran.

As I came to my front door, it was open. My dad was standing to the side of it, laughing his ass off. It would have been very disrespectful of me to tell him to fuck off, since that would have garnered me an immediate ass-whipping, so all I could do as I ran by was shout:

“That’s not Barney!”
Now playing on iTunes: Foo Fighters – Learn to Fly

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