Will the person who shot my dog down by Outlet Creek read this? Was she threatening you with her friendly tail wagging? Was it a mercy killing? Target practice? I hate not knowing why she was shot. Any words about the incident would be nice, but I don’t expect to hear from you.
She was a small, tan, wire-haired terrier bitch, and I don’t mean that as a cur slur, just a fact. She answered to the name of Scrambler, but any name from a friendly voice would do. She was about as dangerous as a pack of newts or a heard of bunny rabbits.
On Tuesday, March 4, driving north out of Willits we picked up a young hitchhiker going to Cherry Creek. We took him the extra few miles, and when we mentioned our dog was missing he told us about a neighbor who shoots any dogs trespassing on his property. It seemed unlikely that they would go that far. They include Yvonne’s yellow lab, Tala, Scrambler’s partner in crime. They would sometimes disappear for a few hours, but they always came back, so we never worried about them.
We dropped off the hitchhiker and coming back on Covelo Road about two miles east of Highway 101, we saw a few vultures circling what looked like a carcass on the water’s edge.
Yvonne, the emotional part of the family, cried out “Scrambler!”
I replied matter-of-factly, “It’s not Scrambler!” At the same time braking, checking the rear view mirror, and turning around to go back.
Yvonne didn’t want to go look, so I slid down the steep bank and walked toward the carcass, shooing the stubborn turkey vultures away, and there she was, her entrails half out on the dry gravel, her eyes pecked out, and a hole the size of a Kennedy half-dollar through her right rib cage.
I was both numb and relieved. She had been gone ten days. Tala and I had searched the hills in vain. I had heard there was a “pack of wild dogs” roaming these woods, but I don’t think she was abducted or joined the pack and went feral. Maybe the person who started that rumor confused “wild dogs” with the coyotes we heard howling in the evenings.
One theory of Yvonne’s was she was kicked in the head by the feisty pony that roams these hills and chases dogs. We just didn’t understand why she didn’t come home. She was no sheep or chicken killer. She ate Chuck Wagon garnished with table scraps. We had a crotchety old hen that chased her once in a while, but she never hankered for revenge.
She was born on a houseboat in Gate 5, Sausalito, the runt and only female in the litter. Toothless Tom named her because she always scrambled over her bigger brothers, usually ending up in the bilge.
The day Tom put her in my hands Pam Massie was there declaring that a dog was just what a happy bachelor needed. Pam got one of her brothers, she named Turd, but I never asked her how she came up with that name.
I took her everywhere I went, except Mexico that June. Jeremy gladly took care of her, as he stayed on the Cowpie while I was gone. When I returned she surprised both of us by dancing and prancing and carrying on like she was all happy to see me, so I continued taking her sailing and riding shotgun in my ’57 Ford pick-up, never feeling the least bit embarrassed for actually feeling attached to something so small and furry and useless.
A month or so later we met Yvonne and Tala, a perfect fit, so I sold my boat to Jeremy and we came up here to the mountains. This area seemed really wild in 1971. I built a modest, far-from-code cabin and we huddled around the woodstove at night listening to the dogs talk to the coyotes.
When spring finally came so did Joan and Stephanie, the mom and daughter who owned the property. They had been coming up in the summer for a few years, but never built anything, so it was always a camping trip. They were impressed with my efforts, and couldn’t wait to move in. That was fine with me and Yvonne because we decided to drive back to Wisconsin in her VW bus and stay on my family farm.
The family farm was located in northern Wisconsin, and included a small lake that my Uncle Freddie used to take me fishing on. I sometimes tell people I grew up on a farm, but that’s an embellishment, if you will, as I actually spent the school year in the Milwaukee suburbs, only going up to the farm in the summer and some holidays. But there was something about my memories of the farm that drew me to the woods of Mendocino County.
Our plan to drive back to Wisconsin in Yvonne’s VW Bus was not well thought out, but when I heard my 7-year-old nephew Ian was diagnosed with leukemia I wanted to see him. His mom, my oldest sister Sherry, and husband Erv had bought the 160 acre family farm just the year before, and they said we could stay there, sort of care take and help out, as they were still living in West Bend, a two hour drive away.
Erv and Sherry also had twins in ‘66, Kira and Neil. Kira was healthy, but Neil was born with a cleft palate and a hair lip, so between work, doctor appointments, and other family obligations they were plenty busy and I wanted to help out.
When I first got the news I wanted to send something, so I made a book called “Uncle Jim, Mountain Man.” I was never really an artist, but drew this cartoonish story about our first winter in the mountains, and when I was done Yvonne was surprised how good it was, which made me feel more confident, so I sent it.
By the time we got back to Wisconsin Ian had died (March 26, 1972), and our first evening visiting Sherry and Erv’s I was curious if Ian got the book I sent, and when I asked Sherry she said, “Yes, he loved it.”
This prompted me to ask if I could look at it. She said he was holding it close to his chest when he died and so they buried it with him.
The other topic was the family farm, but they had decided to sell it, so we went looking for a place on the east side of Milwaukee. I looked up a few old friends and luckily my old high school buddy Dennis Papp had a rental on the Milwaukee River with a small unit in the back for just $50 a month, and they didn’t mind the dogs.
In fact Dennis and Ramona had a 6-year-old daughter Tina who was really fond of Scrambler, a dog her size. Tina had a way of getting big people’s attention before she knew what she wanted to say. One day skipping along beside me as we walked the dogs, she said, “Gibbons?… Gibbons!… Gibb…”
“What Tina?” And now that she had my attention what was she going to ask me? So I’m waiting, and she continues, “Why is Scrambler’s tongue so small?”
For the first time I realized she did have a small tongue, even for her size, but it felt like soft velvet when she eased it down between my toes after a hard day moving cow hides from the railroad cars to the ships down at the Port of Milwaukee.
When Yvonne became pregnant that fall of ’72 it was time for me to get a job and save some money so we could get back to California before winter. Well, it didn’t happen that winter, so I got a factory job until spring when I heard they were hiring down at the Port of Milwaukee. The Longshoremen not only had a strong union and paid quite well ($5.35 per hour compared to the $3.25 I got cleaning machines at the Manufactures Box Co.), and laid workers off from November to April so you could kick back and live on unemployment all winter.
One time Scrambler disappeared for two days. I was sitting on the front steps of our place in Milwaukee feeling kind of low, when she comes up all excited, wagging her tail, and the stranger says, “Don’t worry, she won’t bite.”
“I know because she’s my dog! I said, a bit too unfriendly. He didn’t believe me at first, but then Yvonne came outside all happy and convincing, and he said, apologetically, “She followed me home and I thought…”
Maybe she decided to follow someone else again and caught the bullet coming home? Getting hit by a car would have been easier to take, but the good news is it’s over.
I dug a shallow grave under a river ash and dragged her into the hole. I wanted to keep part of her. Her tail, tongue, a paw for good luck— does that sound sick? It just seemed like such a waste to just bury her out of sight. I partly understood why Roy Rogers had Trigger and Bullet stuffed. Anyhow, something prevented me from pulling out my knife to lop off an ear or pry out a few yellow teeth for a necklace, a keepsake. I covered her with sand and dirt, rolled a big rock on top. And would have written, if I had something to write with:
UNDER THIS ROCK LIES SCRAMBLER
ANOTHER DEAD DOG
MARCH 1971—MARCH 1972