Old Butch

The day he wandered into our place he didn't look like much of a dog. Skinny from not being fed he was long and tall, black and brown. Sort of a mixed breed. His mama might have been a hunting dog and his daddy from a good neighborhood.

We named him Butch.

Over the years that old dog taught me many lessons about life and death, about caring, loyalty and most of all to never give up.

One day Dad was cutting hay with an old sickle bar mower. Well, old Butch scared up a rabbit. That rabbit ran straight at the mower. The rabbit jumped the sickle bar but Butch didn't make it.

Dad hit the clutch, but it wasn't in time, old Butch lay there with one leg cut off!

Dad jumped off the tractor, bundled him up in an old rag, and headed for the house as fast as he could go.

By the time they reached the house Butch had lost a lot of blood. We tried to make him comfortable under an old shade tree. The veterinary came and took a look at him and told us he didn't have much of a chance to live. He sewed the wound up and told us to keep saltwater handy for the dog to drink. The salt water would help replace the lost blood, if he lived.

Between chores I sat with him under that old tree. After a couple of days old Butch started to revive a little. It wasn't long until he attempted to stand for the first time! Several days later he was back to his old self, minus one leg.

We moved that year to another farm several miles away. Dad had caught the landlord stealing from him so decided it was time to move along.

The new place was not as big as the old one but it was closer to town and Mom and Dad were trying to buy it. And that's another story for another time.

Living closer to town had it's advantages, but there were a few draw backs. A set of spur line railroad tracks ran not far from the house on the other side of the road. Trains were not a bother as they only operated one or two times a week and that was during harvest season. 99% of the time they were as deserted as a church on Tuesday morning.

The little town had a pack of wild dogs that liked to roam out along that track and wreak havoc at the various farms along the way. Just like a bunch of today's gang bangers they had no purpose in life other than to cause someone else harm.

We heard the noise from the fight that night. Dad ran out the door with a shotgun but the wild dogs were gone before he could get off a shot.

And there old Butch laid in the yard all bloody and chewed up. Dad picked him up and brought him into the house. (Letting an animal in the house was something that Dad just didn't do.) By the light on the porch we could see he was in bad shape. In fact, his tongue was entirely gone!

The folks let me stay up the rest of the night with me holding him in my lap and gently wiping away the small amounts of blood leaking from his mouth. Dad had filled his mouth with sugar that then congealed in the blood creating a kind of "scab" and effectively stopped the worst of the bleeding. We had already washed his other wounds and covered them with "stock salve" a strong smelling concoction that seemed to fix about everything but the heartbreak of psoriasis.

With dawn came a call to the vet and once again predictions that he would not live. A dog eats and drinks with their tongue. Thus began another regime of hand feeding him water and food. He didn't have much of a problem with the food once I got it in his mouth, but the water was another issue.

It appeared that if he was going to live, someone would have to give him water the rest of his life.

The food got him back on his feet in a couple of days and the tear wounds in his hide started to heal. And then it happened.

He had gone around behind the barn out of sight and I went looking for him. And there he was, balanced on his one hind leg, his front paws on the edge of the stock tank and he was dipping his head under water and throwing it backward while the cool liquid ran down his throat! Old Butch had learned to drink without his tongue.

When he spotted me he dropped down off that tank and came hobbling over with his tail wagging ninety miles an hour. I swear he had a smile on his face and was real proud of what he had accomplished.

He was pretty much whole again except for his hind leg and his tongue. Losing the tongue also changed the sound of his bark. It became more of a gruff howl. You sure could pick him out of a crowd.

We were buddies in every sense of the word. One of our favorite things to do was walk down to the river about a mile away from the house. I'd take along my 22 rifle and shoot an an occasional hedge apple or some other inanimate object that looked like it needed shooting.

It was winter and the river was frozen solid. The wind had blown away most of the snow except for a small little drift that ran from the shore to about the middle of the river. The day before the weather had been warm thus the snow had melted a little then refrozen during the night giving it a surface that provided good traction as you walked on it.

I was testing out the snow when, all of a sudden I heard old Butch let out one of his trademark barks. Out of the brush on the riverbank charges a big old cotton tail rabbit with Butch about three feet behind.

I guess the rabbit didn't see me since I was standing very still so he made for that strip of snow apparently with his mind on getting to the other side of the river.

They flew past me like the City of Denver zephyr train. With the rabbit still in the lead, but old Butch gaining they headed out across the river on that spit of snow. Something must have told that rabbit he was about to become a meal for a three legged, tongueless, mixed breed dog as just a few inches before reaching the end of the snow he hooked a real hard left.

Old Butch went a step too far. As his front feet hit that mirror slick ice his one back leg came right up to meet them and he tumbled and slid down the frozen river for what seemed like half a mile.

When he finally stopped sliding, he picked himself up, shook off the snow and ice crystals he had picked up during his "slide for life" and then ever so gingerly started hobbling back toward me. His gait was slow, his head was low and his tail was down where, it would have been between his hind legs if he had two of them.

Dogs probably can't blush, but I swear that old dog's face was as red as a beet!

Me? I was laughing my head off.

I sat down beside him and rubbed him on the head and after a while I guess he figured everything was all right as that old tail started to wag. He couldn't lick me on the cheek so he did the next best thing, nuzzled me with his cold, wet nose.

That was the signal that God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.

We had many adventures together. He was my friend and companion. It may sound silly to someone that has never had a good dog but I used to tell him all my secrets. When things weren't going well I could unload on him, stick my face in his warm fur and cry until it was out of my system. He'd just stand there for as long as I hurt. Then it was a nuzzle on the cheek and we would head back to the house.

Then one summer morning he didn't come to the door like he always did when he heard the old hinges squeak. We called and called for him but he never showed up. I first went to the road to see if maybe he had gotten run over by a car during the night but the road was bare.

A search of the barn and the hay shed turned up nothing. I spent the entire day looking for him. For the next few days as soon as I got off the school bus after school I continued the search but to no avail.

Then one evening I was out in the pasture preparing to bring the cows in for milking when I happened to look across the fence in our neighbor's field and saw something white laying on the ground. It was about the right size to be a dog.

Scrambling over the barbed wire fence my heart was racing as I made my way to that clump on the ground. Hoping against hope that it was not him but some other animal that had perished my eyes filled with tears and my heart broke as I realized it was old Butch.

Dropping on the ground beside the lifeless carcass I gently lifted his head and there, nearly perfectly between his eyes was a bullet hole. The trajectory lined up dead center on the neighbor's back door. My faithful friend, companion and good buddy had finally lost his life to a bullet fired by an arrogant man that didn't like animals.

Old Butch taught me a whole lot about life, about love, devotion, loyalty and just how mean, ugly and uncaring some humans can be. But most of all, he taught me not to give up. If something gets in your way, find means to work around it, over it or through it. As long as you are still breathing air there is hope. The challenge will make you stronger.

The only thing old Butch couldn't beat was a bullet.


Copyright©2009 Jim Ross Lightfoot All rights reserved