I was a little surprised when Mom and Dad didn’t rush out to find a new dog after the death of the legendary Ringo. But with me out of the house, they were doing a good deal of traveling, and they didn’t care to take on any more complications.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t dogs in my life. In 1983, I was living with a houseful of lads and a girl in the Five Points neighborhood of Huntsville. It was an agreeable slum in those days, where you could easily score a four bedroom house for 300 bucks a month. Maybe half of the houses were vacant or abandoned, including the one across the street from us.
One overcast day in January, my pal Bill and I were on the way to the grocery store in his Buick Special convertible. In one of the utility alleys along the way, we spotted a black Labrador, trotting parallel to our heading. I opened the door, and he hopped into the back seat, sitting up ramrod straight to see where we were going. He hung out in the car while we got groceries.
When we got back to the car, Mr. Dog was watching traffic go by, enjoying the cushiness and elevation of his vantage point. We didn’t have anything better to do — we rarely did — so we decided to give him a spin around the neighborhood. We drove up to Monte Sano State Park and back, stopped at Zesto’s for milkshakes, then headed home, dropping him off where we picked him up. We saw him a few times after that, but he never needed a ride.
The first dog to be officially mine was Bandit, who came to live with me during my failed marriage attempt in Memphis, on Easter weekend of 1984. A neighbor was bringing up an adorable Basset hound puppy named Barney, and I naturally interpreted this to be the universe telling us that we too needed a Basset hound. Scouring the newspaper, I saw, “FREE to a good home. Basset-Pointer mix.”
We made the drive into the country, where we were met by a lovely, gracious, perfect Basset hound. As we returned her greetings, the owner said, “Oh now, that’s not Bandit. That’s Bandit’s mama.”
As if on cue, from under a tool barn, there emerged a slug-shaped creature the color of red clay, baying.
“Now, that’s Bandit. Now Bandit, he ain’t nothin’ but a ol’ pet.”
Looking at Bandit was sort of like coming out of a matinee movie into sunlight. You needed time to adjust. He was funny-looking, for sure. But we’d driven all this way.
On the way home, Bandit stood on the floor, his front paws and head buried in my lap. He had never been away from his mama or his backyard, and he was nervous to the point of delirium, panting and trembling.
I gave him a nice warm bath, which settled him a little, and made for an astounding discovery. Bandit was WHITE! He had some light-brown markings, but the all-over red clay color was just a stain, and it came off with a few applications of dishwashing liquid.
After his bath, we gave him a hearty meal and set him up with a bed of his own in the kitchen. I was working on a research paper, and I soon learned that Bandit did not like to be alone. He sat by me at my desk, too anxious to lie down. Even as his eyes drooped and batted shut, he would not allow himself to risk sleeping, or even lying down.
After what seemed like a long time, I finished my work and settled on the sofa to watch TV. Bandit hopped up with me, rested his head on my lap, and instantly dozed off, snoring quietly.
This was my first opportunity to assess him in detail. Upon inspection, the characteristics of his breeds were as distinct as bacon from an egg.
His tail was a bird-dog tail. It was slender and sparsely-furred, in contrast to the thick and comparatively furry tail of a Basset.
His legs were short, but they were short pointer legs, not hefty Basset limbs. His paws were small, almost dainty, unlike the hams sported by his mama. His torso displayed no expansion of his chest or slimming of his abdomen. He was shaped like a knockwurst.
His face was the payoff — a beautiful bird-dog visage, framed by long, eggshell-thin ears. They were his crowning glory, absolutely irresistible to anyone who had even a nodding acquaintance with canine quality. Too marvelous a creature to be identified as a mutt or a mixed-breed, he was introduced to inquirers, and they were many, as a Bointer.
After reading up on Bassets and Pointers, it was clear that Bandit’s mixed parentage showed in his behavior, as well as his physiognomy. He had solid pointing instincts, but the Basset hound in him was bred for tracking hare and deer.
Accordingly, he would point at just about anything, depending upon his state of mind. Pigeons, an upright-standing stuffed bear, a feather duster, a tetherball, a manhole cover, a taxidermied squirrel, a very confused real squirrel, kangaroos lounging off-duty at the zoo, and, upon his first encounter with a floor-length mirror, himself.
During seminary, as I had all my life, I doodled relentlessly. With the arrival of Bandit, my quest was to create his reasonable cartoon facsimile. After a few weeks, I got him codified, and thereafter I would draw him dozens of times a day, in class and, indeed, any time I had a piece of paper in front of me.
In the Eastertide of 1984, Ol’ Pet Bandit was beginning a long, fruitful career as muse, confidant, comforter, and, in due course, matchmaker.