Of Mutts and Men

Moving to the country had been one of those sweet, sour things for everyone. Bruce Campbell and his family had made the decision together, considering all the positive and fun things but not giving a lot of thought to the uncomfortable things. For the three children the thought of running in the woods and fields, watching all the garden things grow, watching all the wild animals and maybe even having their own pets.

Mrs. Campbell liked the idea of the quiet and not having to hear sirens, loud trucks, loud machines and loud people. She looked forward to having a place to sit outdoors and be private, early in the morning with a cup of coffee. She had heard all the stories of hanging your laundry outside and how fresh it turned out; something you couldn’t do in the city. She had a degree and did work from home, so that could only change for the better, having less interruptions.

Mr. Campbell’s work had been transferred and his new home was about the same forty-five-minute drive as it was before the move but with less traffic. Less competing with neighbors about landscaping and actually less lawn to care for. Although they had bought the home with twenty ackers, only the area close to the house was landscaped into a lawn. He liked being in the country for so many reasons.

Somewhere around April 23, 1564 a guy, was born, Baptized William and one day would pen,

“All that glitters are not gold”

There were mosquitos, ticks, flies, mice, snakes, spiders and a few more things they hadn’t thought about. Not a lot of sidewalks, winter snow was not all removed like the city. At times the rain covered the roads making them impassable or At least pretty muddy. Hanging out clothes was fine if it wasn’t freezing or windy or raining or a day when there was not enough time to hang them out.

One of the children came up with the idea, maybe we could leave scraps out and maybe, just maybe, see a wild animal. Leaving out scraps for the wild animals soon brought more than wanted. Wood chucks showed up to burrow under the porch. Skunks showed up and the children were told right away, not to shoo them off or make any fast jesters when they were around.  Racoons came around climbing all over everything and leaving dirty paw prints on anything they came across.

When friends came out to visit the Campbells, they expected cuddly little sheep, fresh milk from the cows, horseback riding, and apple pie. Often, they would leave behind, encouraging words like, “we’re really glad you like it out here. It is so beautiful. It just wouldn’t be for us.” 

The neighbors didn’t seem to be in a hurry to meet, “those people from the city”.

Shopping was limited to a few small stores and a lot further to go with less variety.

Bruce decided to fence in the yard as it would keep a lot of the critters out and make some boundaries for landscaping and children’s toys. One Saturday, Bruce went into the lumber yard ordered materials and after some long days and a lot of work, they had a fenced in yard. Naturally some of the critters could climb over, but it made for a generally cleaner yard. Any time they threw out scraps for the animals it was outside the yard.

One day an old dog, or at least she looked like an old dog, came around. She was looking pretty bad with a dirty and raged coat, eyes running and not real lively. There was no identifying collar or other way to know where she came from. She wasn’t allowed inside the yard with the children but they talked to her through the fence.

Immediately the children adopted her, giving her scraps from the fridge while she stood there making noises, like she was thanking them. Night time came and as much as they hated to leave their new friend, bringing her in the yard was out of the question and the children understood.

Their parents had explained that in the country, people drop off animals, which they no longer can care for. Maybe she is too old, maybe they had to move, and couldn’t have a dog or who knows. She is not our responsibility. For now, we can just let her live where she has been living and if she shows up more, we will talk about her and if there is anything more, we can do.

Bright and early, the children were up and sure enough, the dog was back. More scraps and morning after morning the same thing.

Bruce suggested she should have a name and a home. His wife Mary and all the children agreed.

On Saturday they would build a dog house.

Saturday morning the children were up early, eating breakfast and bringing out as many of their fathers’ tools as they were able. Saw horses were set up with an extension cord just as they had seen him do so many times.

First thing Bruce said, “we need to make a trip to the lumber yard”.

Trying to make conversation at the lumber yard, he told about the dog and did anyone know anything about her.

“Too many loose dogs around here”

“If it’s a sick dog, it needs to be put down”

“If it’s any kind of an animal, it will make it on its own. Once you start feeding it, it’ll never leave”

“Just make sure it stays away from my place”

A guy calling himself, Harv, said, “You probably seen that old drunk, Gus on the streets in town. He ain’t never ben anything but a bum all his life, but we give em some clothes and they let him sleep in the old train station when it’s cold. He’s always getting food somewhere and he panhandles out on the highway, most days. Now he’s like that dare dog. You sure wouldn’t want ol Gus comin in yer place an being round yer kids”.

Bruce loaded the lumber and materials he figured they would need. Gave a smile and a see ya, driving away as soon as he could. Little Bruce asked why these people didn’t like dogs and said they sounded mean.

“Well, Brucie, sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand. I bet almost all of those people have pets at home but because they don’t know this one and she has been living out in the wild, they are just afraid”.

Bruce, with the help of his three children, built the dog house. Not just a dog house but a beautiful, warm and roomy dog house. Vivian found an old piece of carpet for the floor and Marie found a flap from an old worn out back pack for the door.

“Now we have to leave it outside the fence and anytime she wants to be in it, it will be waiting for her. You guys can put old dishes out there and put food and water in them. What more can she need? She will be doing great”.

Everything went along fine. The nameless dog would show up every morning, raising its paw like it wanted some food. The children started to put out scraps in the morning, just before they went to school and sometimes, she would be there at night.

This went on for two months and then, one day when the children went out, they found her, just lying there. When they ran for their parents who came right out, Bruce decided to call work and tell them the situation. He would be in late as he needed to take this homeless dog to the vet.

Bruce and Mary talked to the children and tried to explain what the outcome might be. “She might not make it, she is looking really bad and sometimes, well, Sometimes God wants them to come home”.

The children wanted to go along to the veterinarian but Bruce told them, school was far more important. They loaded the dog in the truck wrapped with old blankets and the children were sent in, to get ready for school.

As Bruce was about to leave, Mary came running out.

“Bruce, hear me out. I think this is a good time for the children to take a day off school and go with you. I believe the experience although it might be hard, will do them a lot more good, than one day at school. I will call the school and I know Sally will understand”.

Bruce agreed, apologizing for not thinking of it himself.

The children thanked their parents and even Vivian, who’s birthday it was today, said, she would rather go with dog than to her birthday party at school.

“This dog came wondering onto my property and it is not looking to well” Bruce said to the vet. “It’s not mine and I know she is just a mutt but We feel she should be looked at. I would be glad if you could find its owner and I’ll be glad to pay for whatever it needs now”.

“Well, this sure is no mutt, I don’t see a blue merle Border Collie too often. Kind of rare around here”. Taking him in to the examining room, he motioned Bruce and the children to follow him. An assistant took some blood samples and made several other tests, poking and probing the veterinarian eventually stopped at the foot, with some electric clippers he shaved a small spot on the foot. Taking off his gloves and turning to the Campbells the veterinarian said, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid You brought her in too late. I probably won’t be able to save the dog as it has a serious infection in its foot that by now had spread all over its body. Antibiotics might have worked once but it has gone too far and too long. Said he would keep it and do what needed to be done, when the time came.  I wish someone would have brought her in sooner. It would have been easy to treat than, and she would have been fine by now”.

Bruce just didn’t feel bad, he felt really bad. If it hadn’t been for the children being there, he might be crying right now. “Well, Doc, what could I have done? I had no idea there was anything wrong. She wined at times but we just thought she wanted more food. If I would only have known, of course I would have brought her in”.

“I can see you treated her well”, the vet said. “She has been fed well and her coat looks better than it would if she had been living in the woods all the time. I have been around animals for a long time and the thing too many people do not understand, animals need love. Sure, that might sound silly but they are like humans in so many ways. They can usually find food and shelter anywhere. There is plenty of food thrown out and they know how to crawl in somewhere, to stay warm. If you really care about them and spend time getting close to them, then you begin to understand how they are doing. You start to learn a bit about them and only then can you help them with what they really need. You did the best you could and if there is a next time, either spend a lot of time getting to know the animal and if you can’t, see that the animal goes to someone who has the time to care for it”.

It was a hard lesson for the children and one they wouldn’t forget soon.

The veterinarian stooped down and talked to the children. “Sometimes life is hard. I know you want to cry right now and that is perfectly all right. Now that you have had some experience with Mrs. Dog. You may want to get another one someday. I always have animals that need a home and not just a place to stay but a home where they are loved. I know you would do a great job. For now, say your good byes to Mrs. dog and spend a little time thinking about today before you take another pet. You can say a prayer too, and ask God to give dog a safe journey”.

For Bruce this was the worst thing he could have done. Why didn’t he just shoot the dog or drop it off down the road somewhere and tell the children he just wandered off. Watching the children crying and talking to God while petting the animal was just too much. Slowly he gathered them in his arms and said, we need to go and let Mrs. Dog have a good rest because she has a long way to go.

Driving home, was pretty somber, and passing through town he passed drunk Gus. Waving and moving on, when a thought came into his head. He quickly pulled over and then turned around going back to where Gus was. Parking the car, he had the children get out and together they all walked over to where Gus was sitting on the ground beside the meat market.

“Hello sir”, Bruce said, “I was told your name is Gus and felt it was time we meet”. He held out his hand but Gus didn’t respond.

“Gus”, Bruce started in again, “My children, Marie, Vivian, Brucei and myself, are just coming back from the vet where we left a stray dog that he doesn’t think he can do anything for. We all said our goodbyes to Mrs. Dog but we feel terrible. Mrs. dog was homeless, just like you and it looks like we didn’t do enough. I know this sounds crazy but I just thought, I just thought well, maybe you could say something to make us hurt a little less.

Gus sat there not moving, as though he was dead drunk, frozen or just didn’t want to hear what Bruce was saying.

“I’m sorry we bothered you” Bruce said and motioned for the children to get back in the truck.

You cared”, Gus said. Almost under his breath.

Looking back, “What did you say?” Bruce asked.

Motioning for the children, Gus turned to them and waited for them to gather around him.

Children, don’t spend too much time crying about the past. Use what you learned and be ready for tomorrow. Caring is a special gift and if you don’t use it, it will be taken away.”

That was all they were going to get out of Gus and as they drove away, some of the town’s people looking on, Bruce wondered what had gotten to him to stop. Still, the three kids seemed to be in better spirits and when they got home, telling their mother about what the vet had said, went easier than Bruce would have thought.

“You know Mary, in some ways, Gus is a lot like that dog. He is homeless or so it seems, has to scrounge for food but the only thing he really needs and should be so easy is, someone to care. I’m not ready to move Gus in with us so don’t think that was where this is headed. On the other hand, I wouldn’t fence him out like we did with Mrs. Dog. If we could find out where Gus’s problem really is, well. Let’s all keep Gus in our prayers and ask for guidance. Maybe there is something we can do. Maybe we can find a way to Care.

A couple of days later Bruce was in town and spotted Gus walking. He waved and passed by going directly to the restaurant. Two coffees and two pieces of pie to go please. Can you put in a couple of plastic forks and some cream and sugar on the side?

Going back to where he had seen Gus he stopped and hollered at him. Gus came over and Bruce invited him to sit on the truck tail gate with him, sharing the pie and coffee.

I wanted to thank you for what you said to my children Gus. I’m not saying they forgot about the dog they gave up, but It made a difference.

Gus stopped eating his pie for a minute saying, “we never know if what we say will make a difference but as long as we are sincere, we must keep trying without waiting for the results.”

Gus finished his pie, grabbed his coffee and headed off in the same direction he had been going when Bruce had called him over.

One day, on her way in to town, Mary seen Gus, introduced herself and thanked him for his advice to the children. After that she would always wave when she seen him. Bruce would repeat the coffee, Pie thing when he could and sometimes there would be variations bringing something baked or left over from home.

“Listen Gus, I didn’t pay enough attention to Mrs. dog and failed to head off something that may have saved her life”. Bruce said one day. “I would like to ask you a few questions and I won’t be offended if you don’t want to answer. I have been talking to you for some time and I feel I should know a little more about you, but I don’t mean to pry. My wife and my children like you and want to know you a little better but maybe we are not supposed to.”

Without saying a word, Gus pulled out an old dingy leather wallet, opened it, removing a worn and tattered news article.

War hero’s house is burned by mentally ill protester. Three left dead.

Bruce noted the date as he read what he could from the tattered page. The story was clear enough that he didn’t need the faded and missing words to get the story. He carefully refolded it, handing it back to Gus.  They both just sat there for a long time saying nothing. Finally, Gus got up and walked away.

Bruce sat there, watching, his head spinning with distraction and wonder. What could he do? Should he be doing something? Of course, this was real but,,,, but what?

At home, telling Mary, they decided to do a little more investigating knowing pretty well what they would find. Gus had probably just walked away, the only way he could deal with it. Mary had friends with access to old newspapers and libraries and without telling them Gus was living here, ask them to do a little research for her. Bruce had remembered the date of the article, Gus had shown him and the city, where it had taken place, several hundred miles away.  In the next couple of days, by way of email, they had received copies of several newspaper articles. 

Stopping by the lumber yard became a part of Bruce’s Saturday. He would think up some reason to stop there and after buying what he needed, spend time looking around like he might be in the market for something else they handled, all the while, keeping an open ear for the local gossip.

He told Mary, that he was sure that the towns people knew nothing about Gus’s past and they should ask or try to convince Gus that this was something that needed to be out in the open.

After much coaxing Gus agreed and Bruce hatched a plan, discussing it with Gus. This seemed to put a whole new face on Gus, filling him with a kind of energy no one had seen before.

 “We will keep this quiet for now and let it unfold the proper way”. Gus agreed.

One day when Mary was home, a knock came at the door. Surprised because it was rare for anyone to come to their door.

“Hi, I’m Francene from next door. I have a letter here and I believe it belongs to you. I must apologize because You have been here for months and I don’t even know your name”.  

“Please come in. I work from home so I am glad for a break and a chance to have a cup of tea and some, not made by me, cookies”.

A little reluctantly, Francene came in and in a short time a friendship had been born with a lot of apologies and if only I had known and so on.

When Bruce came home, Mary was so excited to tell him about her new friend that she almost forgot the letter. Eventually she remembered.

Handing the wrinkled envelope to Bruce, “Would you believe, they didn’t even know our name? I guess we have to go out and meet our neighbors, one of these days soon”.

Bruce opened the envelope pulling out the letter.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

Hi, this is John Spivey, the guy you bought the house from. I know this is a long time, but we are missing our dog. She is a blue merle Border Collie. When we moved, we thought that she was with someone else who lives out that way. We used to leave her with them when we went anywhere and right after the move, we had to rush to Europe to see our daughter who was very sick. After a long serious illness, she is finally much better and we were able to bring her back with us. She has been asking about Misty.  When we came back and called the Jennings, they said they had not taken her and they thought we had taken her, to our new home. We really love that dog and because of the emergency with our daughter, Misty was overlooked.  I know there are no excuses, I should have watched her better. I am hoping she might have shown up there. I am sending this to the neighbor’s address, because the post office out there gets confused when people move. Sometimes it takes a while for new residents to get their mail.

Be well, John Spivey.

Bruce immediately called and John answered.

 “John, Hi, Mr. Spivey this is Bruce,,,,,,,,,,.” 

Immediately he was interrupted by John.

“Bruce, you won’t believe this. Misty came home. I can’t imagine how she came this far and I don’t believe all those stories about animals walking thousands of miles to find their owners, even if she is a Blue Merle Border Collie, but anyway she is here and doing fine. Thanks for calling back and one of these days we would like to come out and see our old place,,, that is of course if it is all right with you. I won’t keep you but call anytime”

Bruce hung up the phone and just sat there for several minutes. Mary came over to him, “What’s up”?

“That was John Spivey. The dog we thought we had, well, apparently it is not the same as John’s. His dog that he lost is back and he can’t imagine how it got there.

Here is the strange part.  I called the vet some time ago to see if Mrs. dog was still hanging on. He told me; the dog had disappeared the same day we dropped it off. No break ins, not easy escape, just gone and no good reason for how of why”.

“So maybe he was taken by someone who worked there”. Mary said.

“I know this is crazy and coincidences usually have reasons but,,,,,,,,, Please stay right here. I need you for this”.

Calling John Spivey back, Bruce said, “Sorry to bother you again, I just wanted to tell you how much we appreciated our, well your old home. It has turned out to be a blessing for us in many ways. While I am at it, how is the dog doing and did he have any injuries when he came back?”

“Funny you should mention that Bruce. She has a spot on her foot that looks like someone shaved it. Like a vet would shave something to do an operation. Other than that, nothing. She looks pretty good to have been gone that long. Someone must have taken her into their home and cared for her. I bet they are missing her now. I wonder if I will ever find out the whole story. For now, she is not talking but we love her just the same.  We will always remember May 27th, the day Misty came home”.

His voice shaking, Bruce said, “thanks John, we will be talking soon”.

Mary said “I heard that”. “That is the day”,,. ” Yes, that’s Vivian’s birthday”. Together they said, “The day we took Mrs. Dog to the vet”.

“There is no way she could ever get that far that soon”. Bruce said.

They would not tell the children now but sooner or later they would have to discuss it with them.  If John Spivey decided to come out with his family and this dog looked anything like ,,,,, For now it was just put back, although not something one could put out of their mind very easy.

It was time for some action on the uncle Gus operation. By now, he was uncle to the children, with no complaints from Gus. With Mary and the children’s help, they put together a plan. This was to be a clandestine type of operation, which made it even more exciting for the children. They couldn’t tell anyone of their friends or people at school until the time was right but they could use one of their mother’s computers to gather information.

On a given day, Bruce, dressed in his best suit, Drove over to the lumber yard. He had already called the town newspaper, asking them to come to a meeting at the lumber yard at 9am.

He knew there would be plenty of curious people and by now, the men milling around the lumber yard were just a little suspicious of this city slicker.

When he felt he had a sufficient number of listeners, Bruce started in.

“Folks, you have a fine town here. I moved here for the country and I really like it”. He paused. “But people, you are going nowhere. One of these days this town will be paved over. You have very little business. It is not convenient to anyone and your children will all move away”.

Now the crowed started to get a little rowdy swearing and telling Bruce he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Please, Listen up for just a few minutes.

Opening a brief case on a pile of lumber he pulled out a stack of papers and handing them to one of the closest men, asked him to hand them out.

By now it was pretty noisy and then it started to become a little quieter.

A few holy !#$%. Some reading out loud. Some, listen to this. Some of the men taking off their hats.

Looking at Bruce one man said, how can this be? These are all different articles out of different papers. Can there be any mistake. By now, ten minutes had elapsed and men were crying.

The stories from more than twenty-five papers told about the heroics of Gus McDonald and about all the lives he had saved on several missions. They also told about the tragedy of the fire, set by a mentally ill war protester, that had taken Gus’s wife and two children.  When Gus disappeared, a note was left with his signature.

“Do not harm the man who did this. Enough has been done already”.

Now, Bruce, had the attention of all. In that short time, they had all been brought low. They were ashamed and sorry. Like so many, they had acted and said things without knowing any of the facts. They had cursed someone who had lost everything, while in reality, Gus was making their lives safer and better.

One man sheepishly asked, “what can we do”?

“As you can see”, Bruce said, “the newspaper has sent over someone to hopefully publish a story. My wife is addressing the women’s committee as we speak. It will be up to this town to come up with the story. I have given you something to start with”.

By now you could hear a pin drop in that old lumber yard.

“Beyond a story, I would like to suggest something more. That old train station Gus stays in is actually quite a nice building. It needs some work but the structure is sound and its architecture is beautiful. I took the liberty to have an engineer friend of mine look at it and he says it will stand for many years.

I am suggesting you turn that into a veteran’s memorial. There is enough space for several rooms. Let Gus stay there and run it and sell things to remind people about those who gave so much for us. You may want to allow a few other homeless vets, stay there.

I believe Gus’s story is going to bring a lot of attention to this town and if you play your cards right it could bring a lot of business to the area. Maybe a hospital or even a newer school.

Once again, get that train station cleaned up and looking good for Veterans day. Lots of red, white and blue and you might even get Gus into a clean pair of overhauls.”

They laughed and one man saying, “I’ll be dammed if he aint gona be looking pretty, in a uniform on vets’ day. Should be easy to find one from his old outfit. He’s the only one skinny enough to ware one of them old things”.

Others chimed in, “We been treaten ol Gus mighty bad fer a long while. Stime we try to pay him back a little far all the good he done.”

The town went into action, almost like they had been getting ready all their lives for an opportunity to do something good. There was cleaning and planting, every machine with in miles was given a project. A park, trash hauled from everywhere, Painting and fixing with long hours and a lot of laughing.

At Bruce and Mary’s home things were going well also. The children had been told as much as they could be told about the dog at Mr. Spivey’s home, as well as the reasons they shouldn’t repeat stories until they could be understood clearly. To the children it was just another miracle, as though, those kinds of things happen all the time.  They were glad to be involved with the Uncle Gus project.

Online thy found a war hero’s site and several other sites and were able to give and get a lot of information. Everyone who had ever been involved with the war, wanted to come on Veterans day.

Bruce, Mary, Brucie, Vivian and Marie were all together at the front of the parade. Mary said, “we would have to go to New York on Thanksgiving to see another parade like this”.

Bands from who knew where, actors, and floats, every kind of old and new vehicle and of course a long line of reconditioned military vehicles with Gus, standing in an open cab truck, saluting as it went.

“Hello Mr. Campbell”. Turning around, there stood John Spivey. With his family, pulling a small wagon.

 “Well what a surprise this is. So great to see you and I hope you will come back to our house and see all the damages we did to your place, laughing.”

“Can I call you Bruce?”

“As long as I can call you John.”

“Well it works for my wife, Bruce and by the way, I understand you are a hero. I have been asking around and everyone here is saying it was you and your family who put all of this together”.

“John, we won’t take the credit for any of this. If anyone deserves the credit, it would be Misty your dog. Don’t ask now. It is going to be one of those long, long stories. By the way, did you bring Misty”?

“No, Misty ran off and we have not seen her for a while. I have a kind of feeling we won’t see her again, but come over here”.

Moving around in the crowed was difficult but going to the wagon, all the children were crowded around, John pulled back a thick quilt. There in a furry pile, were several small puppies and easy to see where they came from.

“Seven”, John said. “We thought we might be able to give them away here. We would like to keep one for ourselves but we just can’t keep any more and this felt like a good place for them to call home. Do you think people around here would take them”?

After the Parade, and after all the speeches had been made, Bruce invited John and his family, Gus, the lumber yard crew, and a lot of other people over to his house. 

Gus was given first choice of the puppies, Mary Campbell was given the second choice and the remainder went quick, John’s children hanging on to their favorite.

The lumber yard crew, wives in tow, told Bruce how much they liked his place and he had a lot of space for improvements.

Harvey said, we been talkin, an ya knows, we does a lot a that. Wees decided that when we gets done wit Gus’s place, should be bout a month, ifin you buy the material, weed like to put you up a proper barn. One the little uns can play in n keep ther things in. Harv’s wife jumped in, and we will be along to do the lunches and keep these lunk heads workin so it will be done before the children get out of college”.

A lot of hugs and laughing, Mary planting a big kiss on Harv’s big red cheek.

John asked Bruce what he meant when he said, “Misty had a lot to do with the parade and all”.

Bruce looked at John, “If we can get your wife Sylvia and my wife away from your old neighbors for a while, we need to take a little walk. This story will take a bit of time”.

When Bruce and Mary finished their story and John and Sylvia collaborated what they knew about the dog and old Gus, there was a lot to take in.

Bruce said, “I don’t want this to just be dropped but, I’m not sure what to do, either. Somehow people need to take a chance and get to know all the poor and homeless and maybe just a smile or saying hello, once in a while will work toward something positive”.

“I guess it all comes down to caring”, John said.

They all agreed to go slow with any big plans but all felt that life could never be the same. They had a definite mission and would work together to accomplish it, whatever it was.

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