My Dad and Little Joe

My Dad and Little Joe

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

My Dad and Little Joe

A good dog is so much a nobler beast than an indifferent man that one sometimes gladly exchanges the society of one for that of the other.

William Butler

Dad and Mom both immigrated to Canada from Iceland, their families settling in Lundar and Gimli, Manitoba. After they met and married, they moved to Winnipeg where Dad started his boat-building business in a shop attached to our house. Putting in nails was our job: As kids we were small enough to get to the underside of the boat, and it saved dad a lot of time.

Like many families, eventually we had a dog. Little Joe was a brown, short-legged, sausage-shaped dog of dubious ancestry who supposedly belonged to my sister Anna. I use the word “supposedly” because, with great tail wagging and thumping, Little Joe came to anyone who paid attention to him. We all loved him dearly, as did the rest of the neighbourhood kids.

Little Joe’s lack of pedigree caused him no discomfort, nor did it cast any stigma. He trotted around the streets as though he were nobility, his foolish little head held high, bestowing an innocent doggy smile on all he met— including vehicular traffic. We tried to teach him about the dangers of the road, and finally resorted to locking him in the yard. However, on one unforgettable day, Little Joe dug a hole under the fence and bounded out to visit all the friends he knew.

Sometime later, a tearful delegation consisting of the younger members of our family augmented by excited neighbourhood children brought home the alarming news that a truck had seriously injured Little Joe. He now lay down the road awaiting death by a policeman’s bullet, the accepted method in those days of dispatching injured animals.

We children ran to the scene of the accident, where a small crowd had gathered around our hapless Joe. Though his eyes were open, he lay pitifully stretched out, apparently unable to move. Tears filled our eyes and also the eyes of some of the bystanders as Little Joe showed that he recognized us with a feeble wag of his tail. We huddled around him, frustrated by our inability to respond to the appeal for help we read in his eyes. And we were terrified by the pistol in the holster of the approaching policeman. He motioned us away from the dog and drew his gun.

Wide-eyed, and with the defenselessness of small children looking up into a tall adult world, we began to back away with feet that seemed to be made of lead. We looked into the faces of those around us. No one could help us, and no one could help Little Joe.

Suddenly we became aware of a commotion, and the crowd parted. My father was elbowing his way through the circle of onlookers. He spoke with authority to the young policeman. “Put that thing away! You don’t use a gun around children!”

Then, bending on one knee on the road, he removed his worn work jacket and carefully wrapped it around Little Joe. Perhaps many events in a child’s life reach exaggerated proportions as time passes, but to this day I remember that had my father’s rough, work-worn hands been those of a great surgeon, Little Joe’s broken body could not have been moved with more gentleness. I cannot swear that the emotion that I saw in our dog’s eyes was gratitude, but I like to think that it was.

I’ll never forget that homeward journey. My father was the master of the situation. With Little Joe wrapped in his jacket, he led a procession of admiring children, tearstained but no longer crying. We held our heads high with pride as we marched behind the man who had stopped an execution and saved our dog. He might have been a great general leading his troops but for the fact that his uniform was baggy-kneed overalls, his sword a carpenter’s rule.

For many nights we thought Little Joe’s life was over. In fact, the veterinarian we summoned did not even bother to return, he was so certain our dog would not survive. But my father spoke with resolution as he knelt beside the wooden nail box that served as a makeshift hospital bed.

“He has fight in him. Wait.”

So we waited. Sure enough, Little Joe survived. He went on to live a long life, and my dad—he built many more boats.

Our ostensibly stern father would probably not have stood out in a crowd; in stature he was a little above average. But I know of an army of kids and a sausage-shaped dog who, on that one special day, watched him become a giant.

Sigrun Goodman Zatorsky
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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