A short story by Judy Gerlach

The Devil's Box

Judy & Greg with new puppy

One balmy spring evening in 1971, what began as a typical movie outing for me and my husband Greg soon developed into a series of fluky events that affected our lives for the next eighteen years. We’d left our little mobile home in Denton, Texas, headed to the theater in our pumpkin-orange Ford Pinto hatchback, and met up with my brother Ken and some other college friends in the parking lot.

It was still daylight when we got there. As we walked across the lot, Ken stopped and pointed at something. “Do I see a little dog over there?” he said.

At first we thought he was making a dog joke because of the movie we were about to see, which oddly enough happened to be “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.” (I’m not kidding.) But a closer look revealed a small furry creature sitting there, looking very much like an adorable stuffed animal. A live puppy, about three months old, with no collar had been left alone in the parking lot. Not a Dalmatian, but a real dog, nonetheless. Little did we know when we left our house that fateful night to watch a movie about dogs that we were about to get pulled into a real-life doggy drama.

Our curiosity piqued, we all walked toward the puppy—a cute little mutt that looked a little bit like a German Shepherd. (We’d find out later that he was mostly Norwegian Elkhound.) He sat on his haunches, motionless as a statue, beside a car. The little furball watched us with such sad puppy dog eyes, full of hope and anticipation. Then the tail started to wag, slowly at first, then faster and faster as we approached.

“He’s so cute!” Everyone fawned over him with strokes and ear tickles, but the little thing didn’t get up or change positions. He only wagged his tail—a lot.

“I can’t believe someone would leave a puppy out here like this,” Greg said, wondering if the owner was nearby. After talking to several strangers and finding no one who knew anything about it, we reported the stray mutt to the people who worked at the theater. They said they would take care of the puppy and told us to go on and enjoy the movie.

Dusk had fallen by the time we came back out. A few scattered stars shone in the darkening Texas sky. The bright parking lot lights illumined our walk to the car, and to our amazement, the puppy was still sitting there! He hadn’t budged from the spot where we’d last seen him. The theater employees had obviously not done what they said they’d do. With eyes begging for attention, the puppy wagged his tail again as we all stood there and stared at him.

Ken picked him up. “We can’t go home and leave the little guy out here like this.”

Everyone eyed everyone else before all eyes settled on Greg and me. We were the only ones who didn’t have a pet.

“I don’t think so,” we both answered in unison to the unspoken question. As much as our hearts went out to the abandoned pup, we weren’t quite ready for such an unexpected responsibility.

Ken agreed to take the puppy home temporarily and put an ad in the paper. Three weeks or so later, no one had responded. He even went door to door in the neighborhood of the theater, but no one claimed the puppy. Before turning him over to the shelter, Ken asked us once more if we’d reconsider.

Skip & Greg

The next thing we knew, we were the proud, adoptive parents of a very lucky dog. We called him Skip, sometimes Skippy. (Later on he would be given the whimsical moniker “Skipperino Borbolino de la Bongo Borbofto” by my imaginative husband, but that’s a whole nother story. Don’t ask.)

During Skip’s first year with us, we taught him all the things that puppies need to learn. In return, Skip taught us what dogs know best—the meaning of unconditional love. We were hooked. A mutual loyalty evolved through the solid bond between us. Dog lovers forever.

Unfortunately, not everyone in town shared our same doggy sentiments. When he was about two years old, the delightful little pup that had captured our hearts faced another act of abuse when someone, for whatever sinister reason, tossed ground meat laced with strychnine into the yard. Thanks to an immediate trip to the vet and a stomach pump, our convulsing dog survived the ordeal. “Any longer and he might not have made it,” the vet said. “He’ll be fine now. He’s a lucky dog.”

Later that year, Skip’s luck was put to the test again following a weak moment of canine indiscretion. He had run out the front door and headed straight to the street. That’s when he found out what happens when dogs chase moving vehicles. Another trip to the vet. “He has a broken pelvis, but his internal organs are unharmed,” the vet said as he prescribed some pain medication. “Skip, you’re a lucky dog.”

We were beginning to wonder if our dog Skip was really a cat in disguise. He’d used up three out of nine lives.

Skip’s pelvis healed quickly, and he was soon back to normal. But Skip held on to his adventurous spirit. After we’d moved to Ohio, one adventure in particular almost cost him his life again. He’d run off and somehow gotten lost in the country, miles from home in ten degree weather. Days later, a farmer found him lying half frozen in the snow on his property, checked his tags and called us to pick him up. Yes, our lucky dog survived nearly freezing to death.

As our family grew, Skip started to exhibit such amazing protective instincts. I’ll always remember his faithful guardianship, especially during my pregnancies. Skip stayed by my side day and night and even slept with one eye open by my side of the bed. Our faithful best friend kept watch over the children as well. The bond between the dog and his humans grew stronger every day.

Lucky Dog Skip

We knew we could always trust Skip the watchdog to protect us even when we weren’t home. One day he demonstrated just how serious he was about it. I had baked a chocolate cake in one of those 13 X 9 Pyrex dishes, and my little family of four at the time had each enjoyed a serving before we left the house for a couple of hours. I’d covered the top of the dish containing the remainder of the cake with plastic wrap before we left and pushed the dish away from the edge of the kitchen counter. When we returned, the Pyrex dish was on the floor, clean as a whistle, sparkling like it had just come out of the dishwasher! Not a crumb anywhere. Beside the dish lay a ripped up wad of plastic wrap, and a few feet away on the carpet lay a passed out dog sleeping off a chocolate hangover. You see, Skip must have thought that since chocolate was harmful to dogs, it must be harmful to humans as well, and he didn’t want his family to get hurt. Sometimes a dog just has to make that kind of sacrifice for his family. After three days of lying around and not eating anything, Skip bounced back to his normal self again. Lucky dog.

We’d nearly forgotten about Skip’s close brushes with death until one routine visit to the vet brought back all those memories. He told us Skip had a heart murmur and probably wouldn’t live out his full life expectancy.

Ha! How many times had we been told he wouldn’t make it? We simply took that prediction with a grain of salt. Sure enough, following one more serious health issue involving heart worms, Skip got over it and lived much longer than most dogs do.

After eighteen remarkable years, the dog that defied the odds, surviving abandonment, strychnine poisoning, a broken pelvis, death by chocolate, a heart murmur, getting lost in the country where he nearly froze to death, and a bout with heartworms, barked his last farewell and left us to go to his doghouse in the sky.

Skip, the puppy from the theater parking lot—what a lucky dog!

But who am I kidding? We were the lucky ones.


Lucky Dog — 8 Comments

  1. What a great story. I knew it would end with his death, but your writing made it easier to take; too bad our canines don’t live as long as we do.Wonderful writing, Judy!

    • Thanks so much, Judy! I agree it’s too bad they don’t live as long as humans. They have such short shelf lives. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

    • Sylvia, you probably were a witness to how he was like my shadow when I was pregnant. He really was a good, faithful dog.

  2. Judy/Greg:

    Elkhounds are the best dogs any family could get! We have had three of them, Shelock, Shadow and now Shelby. All three have been blessings to us. They are super smart, very vocal and unfortunately have a mind of their own! They are extremely loyal and loving.

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