94: Dirty Harry

94: Dirty Harry

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Dirty Harry

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.

~G.K. Chesterton

He was a downright plain, homely dog. A big old mutt with matted, orangy-brown hair hanging over his eyes and tangles all over his skeletal body. His breath reeked of rotted meat, onions and other garbage he’d been scavenging from the community dump where, my husband and I guessed, the aging animal had been abandoned when his callous owners moved away from the small northern community where we were living.

Remembering back, I didn’t want to keep the mangy stray who limped into our backyard and sprang into my kids’ hearts faster than I could say “no.” But what’s a mother to do when her three children are bawling their heads off to save a pitiful animal from certain death? After all, the pathetic dog had already been wounded by a gunshot to its hind leg—an indication that someone was trying to put the nuisance beast out of its misery.

So there came to our family a dog the kids named Dirty Harry. After a costly trip—more money than we could afford—to the vet in town to get the bullet removed as well as shots, pills and papers, Dirty Harry was on the mend.

I laid down the law. Dirty Harry could live in the garage and that was that! I don’t know how it happened, but within days he was snoozing on the porch. Next thing I knew he had graduated to the laundry room. From there he took over the whole house. Sleeping, for that’s mostly all he did, anywhere he wanted. Of course, by then, he had weaseled his way into our lives and there was no turning back.

At first I didn’t think Dirty Harry liked me very much, for let’s face it, it was I who had to do all the scolding when he chewed up the vacuum hose, ate carpeting or gnawed the runners off my rocking chair!

One late spring day when my husband was at work and the kids were in school, I decided to take Harry along with me up the hydro line that ran for miles through the woods behind our house. I had to do a photo shoot of some wildflowers and figured the walk would do him good.

I usually went alone on my picture-taking outings, but since the vet warned us that Harry was getting fat and needed more exercise, I coaxed him along.

That’s how he happened to be with me on the trail that fateful day. And that’s how he came to save my life. I was about a mile from home, kneeling on the ground trying to get a good close-up of a rare Pink Lady’s Slipper. Dirty Harry had gulped his fill from a muddy puddle and, exhausted, had laid down in the shade to snooze.

In the quietness of the forest, I sensed something behind me and slowly rose and turned around. To my horror, not more than a few feet away stood a huge mother bear on her hind legs with two cubs romping playfully at her side.

The bear let out a roar, looking like she was ready to charge. I froze, too frightened to breathe. Usually Harry could sleep through anything, but the ferocious roar woke him up and, out of character, he sprung to his feet. In an amazing burst of speed, Dirty Harry dove at the bear.

The bear swept her huge paw at Harry and sent him flying and yelping through the air. He landed with a loud thud but, miraculously, was back on his feet and snarling at the bear with a protective viciousness I never knew he had.

After tossing the old dog a few more times in the air, the mother bear decided she’d had enough. The cubs had already disappeared into the gully and, after a final loud warning roar, she turned and took off.

I managed to catch my breath and ran to Harry. There was a huge gash in his shoulder and his stomach was torn and bleeding. He was whimpering but licked my hand when I laid it on him.

Until that moment, I had never shown the homely old dog much affection. For after all, I never really wanted a dog! But there I was, praying with all my heart to keep him.

I laid my face on his shoulder. He licked my cheek. Then he was gone. Dirty Harry taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons: Only in love do we see true beauty.

~Linda Gabris

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