36: Independence Day

36: Independence Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Independence Day

Fun fact: 17th century Swiss monks in the Hospice of Saint Bernard bred St. Bernard dogs to search for lost travelers crossing mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy.

My first dog was a St. Bernard named Sir Lancelot. From a fluffy puppy we carried in our arms, he grew to be a powerhouse weighing nearly 200 pounds. Lancelot was not only large, he lived large, trotting across the lawn with an old tire clamped in his jaws or turning a discarded mahogany tabletop into a teething ring.

Our dog was not a star pupil in obedience class. Lancelot pulled on the leash so hard he yanked my mom and sister off their feet. Only my father and I walked him. Sometimes, I wrapped his leash around my arm, the chain digging into my flesh with bruising force, to hold him back when Lancelot growled at strangers who shared my sidewalk.

Lancelot may have frightened strangers, but he was still a little puppy at heart. We made the mistake of leaving him home alone in the yard his first Fourth of July while we went to see the fireworks show at the high school. We came home to an empty yard.

Lancelot had hurled himself against the gate until it broke open, then disappeared into the night. Dad drove slowly around the neighborhood. Mom and I walked up and down our street calling his name. None of us spotted any sign of our missing St. Bernard.

Late that evening, the phone rang. “Mrs. Lendroth, is your doggie home?” asked the mother of my best friend, Denise Woo.

Her parents had returned home from a night out to find something unexpected on their shadowed porch. A deep, long growl rumbled from the darkness when they opened their front gate. The Woos quickly slammed it shut again. Whatever creature barred them from their home was large, very large.

Mr. Woo called the police from a neighbor’s house. The officers angled their patrol car to throw light up the walkway and onto the porch. When Mrs. Woo saw what stood there, she called us.

Somehow, our terrified St. Bernard, running to escape the booming fusillade overhead, had found Denise’s house a half-mile away, remembered from the two or three times we had walked there months ago in cooler weather. Her porch spelled safety, Denise’s parents, intruders.

Dad quickly drove to the Woos’ house. When he approached the gate, Lancelot growled deep and low, warning him and everyone else to stay back from the porch he had claimed. The policeman warned Dad, too. “That dog’s scared; you’d better not go near him.”

Dad simply opened the gate and yelled, “Lancelot, you damn fool, it’s me!”

At those magic words, our dangerously frightened St. Bernard bounded to Dad, panting happily and wriggling like a puppy. Clipped to his leash, he was eager to greet the Woos, the police and anyone else he met — a happy-go-lucky dog whose person had finally arrived to take him home.

~Susan Lendroth

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