Cruiser’s personality was a trial to our family, but her sudden death took us all by surprise. Just that night she’d been running from the front to the back of our four acres barking at the deer. It was only as she ran past the house that her growls and barks woke us, other than that, she was harassing the neighbor’s sleep.
Our funeral for Cruiser consisted of me consoling Tim, Sine, and Happy, while my husband prepared the grave. Cruiser lay in the Red Flyer wrapped in an old blanket that had become her shroud. Sine picked dandelions and purple chive. Happy kept pulling at the blanket to reveal Cruiser’s paw or pretty face that Happy would then lick. The powerful bonds of love were again revealed to me through Happy’s reverence for Cruiser, the kindness she paid to Cruiser’s corpse.
What kind of name is Cruiser, you might ask? My brother-in-law named her, and he loved fast cars. He worked at Boeing as a machinist and made an excellent wage that he spent on cars, a black 1980 Trans-Am to be precise. He was given a German shepherd puppy by a friend who was divorcing his wife. She locked the mother and pups in a garage to spite her estranged, soon to be ex-husband. The problem was she also forgot to feed them, regularly at any rate. It’s a miracle they survived, but survive they did, and when the husband could finally get to them, he found the puppies homes as quickly as he could.
Cruiser came to our house, a short legged, six-month old, lanky and thin. She lived chained in our yard until my sister and her husband could finish their house next door and take the dog to their home. It didn’t take long to install the septic, water, and electrical then park the mobile home. They built a deck and moved in, and Cruiser left us.
We already had a dog, a magnificent Samoyed named Mecan, a neutered male, who when Cruiser appeared, began to show signs that the neutering didn’t take. He fell in love with Cruiser, and she liked him, but she was a little distracted as she came into heat for the first time in her life. Mecan had his hands full protecting Cruiser from her amorous suitors, but his size and fabulous white fur gave him a distinct advantage over every mutt that entered the yard.
Mecan was tireless in his role of protector, but after a couple days, I realized that our dog was not sleeping or eating because of Cruiser. What did I do? I complained. I told him that it was time for Cruiser to pay a little visit to the vet. He told me no. He wanted a litter of pups. Cruiser came from a long line of champs, and he wanted to make some money. So Mecan had to endure the heat cycle, and he did. He could not act upon his love, but he became her chivalrous knight and worshipped her with a courtly love that was formal and permanent. It was a bond they shared until his death several years later.
It is no wonder that Cruiser thought she was our dog. She’d lived with us for almost six months. We were always outside. She was the only dog for a ten-mile radius that Mecan would let into our yard. Our house must be her home, was probably how she understood the situation. When she began barking, and not just barking but spit-spraying-gravel-flying-fangs-gnashing-barking at our guests, I flew into action.
I would open the window of whatever room I was in, usually Tim or Sine’s, and scream, “Cruiser go home!”
She would look at me, and her tail would droop. She thought she was home.
I would scream louder, “Go home.”
She would look at me in wonder, the tip of her tail swaying in an attempt at wag. I’d realize my mistake and let her stay.
Again, I would bellow. She would turn in the direction of the empty mobile home next door, glancing back at our home as we apologized for our “neighbor’s” bad dog. It was pretty horrible actually because she was a very pretty dog, despite her short legs. Plus, she loved us. Where’s the harm in that?
I grew more furious, though, each time she greeted my children’s playmates and their mother’s with a frothy, fang-clanging welcome. She really invoked a gut-wrenching fear in those guests who thought they had a play-date only to meet Fangzilla the German Shepherd guard dog.
Then it began. I would race out the front door and scream, “Cruiser, come!”
Cruiser knew I would chain her up, so she would proceed to go home. I would chase after her, knowing that she would reappear and harass our young visitors as they played in the sandbox or ran to the swings, as soon as my back was turned.
Cruiser had no comprehension of what “company” meant. They were intruders and needed to be dealt with. Some of these intruders only weighed forty pounds, so she out-weighed them by thirty-plus. She could not be trusted, and I began to loath my brother-in-law for putting me in this position of apologizing for his dog!
After the $150.00 vet bill and the fifty pound bag of dog food, I realized that Cruiser had always been our dog.
She had known that all along. Once I’d made that decision, we embraced Cruiser as a family. We nursed her through her healing-tail, and she rewarded us with eternal devotion. I learned to catch her before our guests arrived and to explain to her that it was in everyone’s best interest for her to take a break from guarding “her” children, Tim and Sine, from other thirty-five and forty pound toddlers half her size. I don’t think she agreed, but we were all happier without the drama of me screaming so our neighbors a mile down the road could hear.
I didn’t always get to her before the UPS man came driving down the drive, and Cruiser would not be denied that particular pleasure. The driver, Pat, would scan the yard. I told him not to worry. If she had the cojones to take on a UPS truck, she got what she deserved. I told that to Dawn too, but she didn’t take it as well as the UPS man, whose eyes lit up with the possibility of one flattened German shepherd.
Cruiser survived the UPS man, Christine’s Volvo, and my constant explosive outbursts at her mischief, but she didn’t survive the neighbor who slipped her antifreeze (just a hypothesis). We never found out who it was, and Happy never developed Cruiser’s habits of chasing small children, Volvos, or UPS trucks. After the third delivery and no Cruiser, the UPS man ventured to ask.
“Yes,” I replied. He smiled. He wouldn’t miss her. In fact, he lost his frown and wore a big grin every time he drove into and out of our yard, especially once he realized that Happy would not continue Cruiser’s legacy.
Happy tried to muster the fierce bark, the joy of the chase, but it was not in her DNA. She started after the UPS man, the first time he delivered after Cruiser’s death, but she stopped after ten or twenty feet and look at me, confusion in her black eyes. She missed Cruiser’s strong personality, her resolve to protect “her people,” her domain. Happy greeted our guests with a smile and a wagging tail, and she became the babysitter who followed the thirty-five and forty pound toddlers as they made mountains in the sand box, ran to the swings, and rode trikes like Mario Andretti around our yard. The smaller the child, the better she liked them, and she never barked at anyone, except men with full facial hair. She didn’t trust people without mouths, just like small children with Santa Claus, I guess.
We kept our sign, “Guard Dogs on Duty.” I put it up to protect us from liability, in case Cruiser got the better of someone while we weren’t home. It also became a security ploy. I added the “s” after Happy arrived, and even now twelve years after Happy’s death, the sign is still nailed to a tree on our driveway, a reminder of Cruiser, Happy, and Mecan.