Petey, The Wonder Dog

This will be the final report on Petey the wonder dog, my tough little Jack Russell Terrier who guarded our truck and slept under my covers for the better part of 16 years.

Petey is gone now. I had to put the ornery little booger down on May 9. It was the hardest decision I have ever made, and my roiled emotions and shattered heart have delayed this column until the present.

I learned the true meaning of tough from Petey. When he was about nine months of age, a Honda Civic backed squarely over his back with both front and back wheels, mashing him down into deep caliche mud which somehow spared his life and enabled him to crawl out unscathed.

Then, when he was barely two years of age, Petey espied some sort of varmint, bird, or offending shadow as I drove east on IH 35 somewhere near the Weidner Road exit. It was early afternoon. I was hitting 65 or 70, and 18-wheelers were rumbling behind me and on the left flank.

That’s when the Jack Russell “Terror” chose to leap head on out of the passenger side window which was rolled down during those times of little money and no air-conditioning.

In my rearview mirror, I saw my beloved little bundle of solid muscle and high-wired energy hit the pavement and bounce like a ping-pong ball directly between two eastbound Mack diesels. My heart fell to the pit of my stomach as I somehow managed to pull my truck over next to the concrete side wall which offered little shoulder for the hot and screaming traffic lane. When I got my truck stopped, I looked back to locate the dead and flattened mass of white and black fur which would surely mark the death site for Petey.

Instead, I saw a very lively little Jack Russell Terrier, somewhat bloody but unbent, dodging 18-wheelers and running like a little white ground missile after my truck. When I managed to get the passenger side door open , Petey exploded into the truck cab, his elbows and feet skinned and raw, and an expression on his Wishbone-like face which seemed to implore: “Come on, Pops, let’s get the hell out of here.”

At the Acorn Hill Animal Hospital on Perrin Beitel Road, vet Don Johnson was checking Petey’s limbs, neck, back, and skull as I related what had happened, and I could hardly believe my ears when the doc started laughing.

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“This dog,” said Dr. Johnson. “There is nothing broken. Absolutely nothing. If most any other breed of dog had jumped out of that truck, you would have had to scrape him up with a shovel. I find Petey here to be rather amazing.”

And that’s what Petey the wonder dog was. Amazing. He was also my friend and running mate who never had the misfortune of seeing me drunk or wired on speed.

I met Petey shortly after quitting drugs and alcohol. I consider our meeting to be spiritual fate. I have had dogs since I was a kid–mutts, catahoula leopard cow dogs, Walker hounds, and a little female fox terrier I called Echo. She was the last dog I owned before meeting Petey, and the loss of Echo was a morale-busting tragedy which was threatening to unwind my emotional main spring for good when my friend Collin Aldrich stepped into the picture.

Those were hard days. I was flat broke and on the second 10-year probation for drug possession when someone stole the junker of a truck I had bought for $700 shortly after leaving jail for the final time. Losing the wheels was a blow, but the real dagger in my gut came when the truck thieves took Echo with the stolen vehicle. The old truck was later found stripped and worthless, but I never recovered my little dog, although I had offered all the reward money I could afford.

Collin Aldrich offered me friendship, help, and the greatest gift I could ever have received, although I couldn’t see it at the time.

Aldrich offered me a year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Petey, free of charge, and with no strings attached. Petey and his father, Collin’s other Jack Russell named Hollywood, were as intent as only Jack Russells can be on the proposition of killing each other, and Aldrich had learned what most Jack Russell breeders and owners already knew–two male “Jacks” in close proximity are a likely combination for mayhem and possibly even death.

“I would come home from work and find them locked onto each other’s throats, blood all over the place,” Collin said. “I knew that one of them would eventually die, and I figured it would be Hollywood. Petey was obviously the stronger of the two.”

Aldrich said, “Take him if you want him,” and that’s what I did. But not without some serious misgivings and doubt that any sort of bond could ever exist between myself and this barrel-chested little reb who planted his feet and growled his defiance the first time I ordered him to drop a huge green beetle he held wiggling between his teeth.

“Drop the bug, Petey! Now!”

I’ll never forget that first clash of wills. He took two steps back, growled again deep in his throat, and swallowed the big nasty bug in one mighty gulp.

As he gagged and dry heaved, trying mightily to get the offensive obstruction out of his innards, I sat down and laughed at him until tears of joy flowed from my eyes.

And there began the Petey dog years, a deep love affair between me and the Jack Russell Terrier who taught me a lot about grit, gumption, raw courage, survival, and the mortality of both man and beast.

Since I didn’t raise Petey from 8-week-old puppyhood, I wondered for some time if a true bond between me and this strong-willed little bruiser would ever take shape. And Petey was certainly no easy sell.

He was never a lick-the-master’s hand sycophant who would jump through hoops and cower for crumbs of affection. Not this little Jack. Petey was a fierce competitor who bloodied me on numerous occasions as we rough-housed in tough love play. He was 23 pounds of twisted steel and panther piss, as they would say up on the South Llano River near Junction, and he would fight a circular saw and tell you which tooth of the blade hit him in the butt as he sailed through the door. Petey would sink his fangs into a tennis ball, and hold on with the tenacity of a vice as I swung him in circles above my head. Dobermans and Rottweilers failed to impress this little Jack Russell, and I do believe Petey would have bowed up and attacked a grizzly bear had one of the big bruins crossed his trail. He hated thunder and Harley Davidson motorcycles with equal intensity, and his prowess as a hunter was without equal.

Petey caught and killed cottontail rabbits before they could get out of our rural yard near Bulverde. He chased raccoons, possums, lizards, low-flying birds, butterflys, and “boogers” that appeared in the night. Petey located and bayed every single scorpion that ever invaded our Bulverde cabin. He would grab the stinger-ready scorpion between his teeth, pitch it into the air, and repeat the process until I arrived to stomp on the dangerous insect. And he would kill wasps that ventured close enough for him to grab them.

The city home I also occupy with wife-to-be Sharon was also Petey’s domain, and there were some hairy fang-to-fang encounters between the Jack and Sharon’s cocker-mix pound refugee Princess, whose unlikely name belied her street dog nature and vicious survival instincts.

Male dogs don’t usually attack females, but Petey made exceptions to this dubious rule of general dog society any time Princess even thought about getting near his food. In retaliation, Princess almost chewed off Petey’s hind foot on one occasion, but the worst encounter of all came when the female ventured too near the burial site of a squirrel which Petey had killed and stashed for future use. He damn near snuffed her on that occasion.

The closeness between Petey and me was first made manifest by his territorial dedication to guarding the truck in which he rode with me almost everywhere. I noticed that he was following me to the bathroom, and sitting patiently by the door until I emerged. Petey had the uncanny ability to sense when I was sick or upset, nosing closer and closer to me during such times of pain or stress, and only Petey and I really knew that he could understand the English language when he wanted to listen. There was a spiritual connection I cannot explain.

Denial, they say, ain’t a river in Egypt, but I refused to toss in the towel as Petey began to decline. Two years ago his liver failed, but we got a reprieve through numerous medications and a lot of sheer determination on his part. His hearing went, his joints ached, and his hindquarters began to sag as the onetime jumping bean and lightning-quick varmint killer struggled to get over even the shortest door stoop.

With the failing liver came a cardiac cough which only steroids could control, and when I wasn’t poking liver pills and steroids down my little old fella, I was dosing him with baby Tylenol and Robitussin to help with the cough. I had to lift Petey into the truck, and up onto the couch, and into my bed. And as he began to lose control of his kidneys, I covered the bed with with an old rain slicker to deflect the dog pee as we continued to sleep together as always.

Someone asked me if I wanted my dog to live forever.

“That,” I said, “is exactly what I want.”

The person who asked the stupid question turned and walked away.

Sharon and I never knew Princess’s exact age, since she was a refugee from the city pound. But we had her almost as long as I had Petey, and her death from cancer in March both shocked and saddened us. Then, just two months later, Petey’s time came.

I knew the days were numbered, and I prayed that I would get some sign when the last day arrived. And I did, but just five days before his death, the mighty little Jack Russell hobbled out of the back door and came back into the house with a baby possum scrunched between his gray jaws.

“Hot, damn, Petey,” I cheered. “You still have it.”

He couldn’t handle an adult possum, but he did manage to crunch a miserable infant marsupial which I had to mercifully finish off with a stick.

Then my prayer was answered. Petey walked out the back door and sank to the ground. He couldn’t rise, and the sad, almost apologetic look in his eyes seemed to say it all–I’m sorry, Pops, but I believe I have hoed out my row…caught my last rabbit…cornered my last scorpion. I guess I’m ready to go.

I held Petey and tears flooded my face as Dr. Johnson administered my dog his last shot. Petey stretched, seemed to sigh, and then he was gone.

It took some praying, bawling, and deep reflection and self-searching before I was fit to write this piece.

Petey and Princess were both cremated at the Paws In Heaven pet crematory in Sattler, and their remains now sit side-by-side in two little white jugs on our den bookcase.

Life goes on, too, as sure as death will catch up to us all, and the new lights in our lives are two wild-assed Jack Russell rocket puppies named Henry and Annie.

No dog could ever replace Petey in my heart. But there are spiritual things I could never hope to understand. The new male pup bites blood out of my arms, holds onto a tennis ball as I hoist him almost belt-high, and he sits by the bathroom door every time I visit the donnicker. I’m waiting now for him to corner his first scorpion.

And then there was my recent discovery in the weeds out by the Bulverde cabin.

I poked at one of Petey’s last dried-out old calling cards with a stick as a tear rolled down my cheek.

Many people could never understand, but there are a few animal nuts out there who know how a grown man could cry over a crumbly old dog turd.