Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dogs I Have Known

I like dogs, I’ve always had a dog, and now I have two. Betty and Wilma are purebred black and tan dachshund sisters and completely, untrainably, unrulely.

They came after Coco, another dachshund who fancied herself a bird and squirrel killer. Sam, my blind Syrian Muslim friend, looked at Coco like she was Count Dracula; Sam’s mother asked me to put Coco outside because he was “allergic”.

The one before that was Rosie, a champion English Springer Spaniel that died peacefully in her doghouse outside the kitchen window where we live now.

Before that I owned Primo; she was a mutt we rescued from death row at the dog pound and she turned out to be the best dog I ever had. I had Primo for 17 years, all through college, law school and beyond.

Before that we owned Fantan, a champion Bassett Hound.

And before that we owned an energetic and frisky Dalmatian named Pooch. I lived in Turkey when we owned Pooch. I am reminded of Pooch when I see the photographs of the dogs snarling at the prisoners at Abu Grahib prison in Iraq, and it’s not a happy memory.

We moved to Turkey in 1958. My father was a Marine Corps officer and we were posted to a U.S. Naval Base outside Yalova where Dad was the liaison officer between the U.S. Navy and the local civilian community.

We spent the year before at the language school in Monterey, California, where Dad learned to speak Turkish and I learned how much fun it was to kiss a girl.

Before that we lived in Yokusuka, Japan, where Dad was second in charge at the Navy Brig and my sister was born. We briefly had a dog there, too, a large snarling German Shepard; but he came on Christmas Day, made a very large pile of dog crap on the kitchen floor and then disappeared. I remember when I saw the pile I hoped my father’s hands were big enough to get it all when he cleaned it up. I was happy to learn the dog ran away; I never knew his name.

I loved Turkey. We traveled there by ship and visited Barcelona, Naples, and Tripoli on the way to Istanbul.

Upon our arrival in Istanbul, Dad put us up at the Hilton Hotel until he could arrange to rent a house in Yalova. There was a minaret outside our balcony and my earliest memories of Turkey are hearing the call to prayer. It is a sound that resonates with me even now whenever I hear it. In those days the mosques did not use amplified speakers; instead, men came out and sang the call, and the men on the street carried little rugs to kneel on when the call came. We lived in three places in Turkey.

Our first place was a two story house on a creek, and the landlord lived upstairs. This house had no electricity, running water or toilet. We had kerosene lanterns for light, a kerosene stove for cooking and heat, a hand pump in the kitchen for water, and a bomb-site hole in one small room instead of a toilet. I now realize that my Dad expected far more of my Mom than was reasonable, although at the time, I didn’t see a problem. I watched the men drag two wheeled horse drawn carts up the creek and shovel sand out of the creek bottom for use as building material, and my brother and I ran in the wilderness all day imagining we were Romulus and Remus.

Our second place was a penthouse apartment on the beach of the Straits of Dardanelle. There the landlord lived downstairs, and we had electric lights, running water and a toilet. His son built a wooden boat under my supervision out back and on Saturday mornings he would take me to the market on his motorbike. I learned to ride a bicycle and one day brought home a flea infested feral kitten I found in a huge litter under a bush. But the roof of our spacious apartment leaked when it rained and we moved once more.

Our third place was the ground floor of a three story apartment building. It was protected by a large gate that led us to call our home “Fort Apache”, but I really don’t recall why we believed we were in hostile territory.

Within days of our move into this neighborhood somebody sacrificed a ram and what I remember most was a stray dog dug up the ram’s guts and dragged them down the dirt road we lived on. A soccer field was at the end of our street; beyond that the Anatolian Plateau went all the way to the Caspian Sea; and I played with Candace in the haystacks.

My friend Izet was a Turkish boy who was a little older than me. Izet’s family lived at the end of our street and I was forbidden to play with him, but that was all the more reason to hang out with him. One morning his mother cooked me a scrambled egg; even then I knew this was a special honor as they were poor and lived in a house with a dirt floor and I was well fed. Izet was so strong he could pull the old wood wagon loaded with all my American playmates.

Twice a Gypsy came out of the hills with a bear on a leash and they danced and wrestled for us. We lived there during an attempted coup when martial law was declared; Dad was called to the base, and tanks in the streets kept order.

Not long after we moved to Fort Apache one of the neighborhood dogs was poisoned. Some of the Dads put the suffering animal in a bag and took their rifles out past the end of the street and shot the dog and buried it. We heard the gunshot but, despite many earnest searches, never could find where they buried the dog.

I think the Turks didn’t like dogs, and Pooch didn’t help the situation. I should have known there would be trouble when he chewed the head off my favorite large teddy bear. Once he came home sick and threw up for several days; Dad said he thought Pooch might have eaten some chicken bones.

I don’t recall how it came to be, but one day out at the soccer field my friends and I were on one side and a group of Turkish boys were on the other. I had Pooch on a leash and he got away and ran across the field and bit one of the Turkish boys. I was horrified and ran home; and I still feel shame about it. It happened so fast.

A few days later Izet came to our front door and asked, “Was your dog white with black spots?”

I said, “You mean Pooch?”

Izet reported, “Your dog is dead. It looked like he was poisoned. I saw him lying in the street when the garbage man threw him into the back of his wagon.”

It was not a happy few days in our house after that. I don’t remember crying then, but seeing the photographs of the dogs terrorizing the Iraqi men in the Baghdad prison makes me want to cry now.


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