In honor of National Dog Day, the story of Pongo, the deaf dalmatian, and the only dog my family ever owned. (Jerry and Frances are my parents.)
The black and white dog moved slowly across the Bridge. It didn’t smell like home, though the sun was shining and the big lawn looked inviting. There were tall trees, and they looked like there might be some good squirrels to chase. But it had been so long since he felt like running.
Then he heard it.
Chirps and rustles and buzzing in the grass. He could…HEAR.
He blinked his eyes. They were clear again; he could SEE.
He tested his legs. No pain.
With a joyful bark, he went tearing across the field, startling a fat squirrel who bounded up the nearest maple trunk, chittering alarm.
Pongo didn’t know how long he spent sniffing and running and barking (he could hear himself!) and rolling in the grass. But eventually, he lay there, panting and happy, if still confused.
Pongo. Hey boy, you hungry?
There was a man moving toward him, holding out a lamb chop bone. His favorite. Pongo got up, tentatively wagging his tail, hopeful. The man sat down next to him, holding out the lamb chop bone just the way his Jerry did it at home.
He crunched. This was a good one. Someone had even left meat on it.
When he’d finished, licking his snout politely, the man scratched him behind the ears.
So how was it down there?
“Down there?” thought Pongo.
Yes, down there. And I can hear you, so we can talk.
This surprised Pongo. His People were pretty good at knowing what he needed, but they’d never really talked to him before.
“Who are you? And where am I?”
Oh, this is the Rainbow Bridge, and I’m the Caretaker here. Remember how they took you into the cold white place? And someone stuck your paw and then you went away? You aren’t in that body any more.
“But my People! They’ll miss me!”
Oh, of course they will. But they didn’t like seeing you hurting, Pongo. You couldn’t see, and you couldn’t hear, and that hip of yours was really awful, wasn’t it?
So they loved you enough to send you Here. The man patted his leg; Pongo put his head on it with a sigh and closed his eyes.
Were they good people?
“They were WONDERFUL. I had lots of good times there.”
Why don’t you tell me about it?
“Well, I wasn’t there as a puppy. I was in another place with people that slapped me and got mad because I couldn’t hear them. Soon I was really scared if someone went to pat my head. I thought they’d hit me again. And they didn’t like that, so they sent me to a place with lots of cages and other dogs, and people would walk by, and sometimes one of us would go home with them.
“Homes are where you have your own dish, and your own bed, and lots of toys, and people to love you. I wanted a home too. The big cage place was noisy and hard and small. So I would always bark and say “HEY OVER HERE!” but I guess people thought I would bark like that all the time, so they walked by.
“But then one day, there was a family. It was my Jerry and my Frances and my Joellyn but I didn’t know that. I just knew I had to bark and bark and bark!
“It worked. Joellyn put me on a leash and we got to go for a WALK. It felt so good to get out of that cagey thing! And whatever I said must have worked, because they put me in the car and took me home.
“After a few days they noticed I didn’t come when I was called, but I was still being a Good Dog. So my Jerry clapped his hands behind me and I didn’t move. That’s when they found out I couldn’t hear. But I was lucky! They loved me already so they let me stay.”
Pongo nosed in the grass, looking for lambchop bits. The man pulled a biscuit out of his pocket. Here. Still hungry?
“I’m ALWAYS hungry,” said Pongo.
He crunched the biscuit thoughtfully. “It was a nice place. And I loved my Jerry and my Frances. They even let me get on their laps sometimes, even though I was BIG.
“My Jerry would be reading the newspaper, sitting on the sofa. I would stick my nose under the bottom of the paper and lift it a little bit. If he didn’t do anything my whole HEAD would go under. And THEN if he didn’t say I couldn’t, I’d get in his LAP. And he’s put down the paper and laugh and scratch my ears, but then he would make me get down. We did that a lot. It was fun.
“My Frances would always give me salad. Salad was good! Whenever she went to the sink thing, she would put a towel on the counter. That was my signal! I would come over and wait. I’d get carrots, and lettuce, and broccolis (mmmm, broccolis!) and sometimes she’d put some cheese in the salad and I’d get the dry parts that humans didn’t think were so good. And maybe some hard-boiled egg. But I didn’t like onions. Or radishes. I would let them fall on the floor. She learned fast, though, and I didn’t get them any more.
“And when I saw her pick up the towel and wipe her paws I knew that Salad Time was over, and I’d go lie down.”
Do you think she misses you? said the man.
“I don’t know.” And suddenly, there was mist in the air, like a window, and Pongo saw his Frances by the sink. She was holding out a piece of broccoli…but no one was there. And as she realized it, her eyes got leaky and she put the broccoli in the sink, and sighed.
“How are my people going to get along without me?” he whined. “They’ll be lonely!”
Maybe, said the man. But they knew it was time for you to go.
The man gave Pongo another biscuit. Did you play with them?
Pongo wrinkled his nose, smiling. “You bet! Especially in the winter. My Hank would go out in the snow with me. He would throw magic snowballs.”
“Yep! He would throw one in a big snowpile and I would dive in and go looking for it, but when I turned around it was in his hands!” He wagged his tail. “I liked living with magic people.”
Did you ever do bad things?
Pongo whuffed. “Well I didn’t think so. But sometimes they got mad at silly things.
“I remember they would leave things on the kitchen table and the counter that smelled WONDERFUL. And I have a good nose! How could you leave that out for a STARVING DOG to ignore?” Pongo sneezed, wistful. “There was the time when I got a whole stick of butter off the table and ate it before they knew. And once I got an eye roast, but only a slice.
“But the best part was the chocolate cake.”
Chocolate cake? That’s bad for dogs!
“Well, I know that NOW,” Pongo said. “But I didn’t then.
“It was a big brown square thing, all warm and melty, and it was on a plate RIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE COUNTER.” He growled softly. “What was I supposed to do? I’m not a CAT, for Paw’s sake.
“I just thought I’d taste a little bit. But that was good, so I ate a little more. And all of a sudden my Hank comes up behind me and yells at me. I went down on my belly and said I was sorry, but it didn’t put the cake back.
“Then my Jerry came in and cut away all the parts that had tooth marks on them, but they still had a lot of cake left. And Jerry looked at me, and at the cake bits, and just put them in my dish and I ATE THE WHOLE THING.”
Pongo rolled on his back. “But I was really, REALLY sick for a couple of days. I had to go out ALL THE TIME and my poo was REALLY stinky and messy. That’s when my Jerry looked and me and said, ‘I hope you learned your lesson.’
“I stuck to lamb chop bones and salad after that.”
The man laughed. So you ate a lot and chased snowballs. What else did you do?
“I liked burying bones. But I didn’t like people to know where I put them. They’re SECRET, you know.” He sat up and scratched. “But they didn’t let me out without a leash, so first I tried burying the bones in the bottom of the house — “
“Yeah, that place. But the floor was so hard I couldn’t dig, and I was whining and whining. So when they saw what I was trying to do, my Joellyn put me on a leash and I took the bone and we went out to the back yard. But I just stood there because I didn’t want her to see where I was burying it.
“She turned around and said something to the house, and I dug real quick. Then when she turned around again I stopped so she wouldn’t notice.
“Then it was funny. She just turned around and looked at the house for a while, and I finished burying my bones. Then I tugged on the leash and we went back in.”
Pongo pricked up his ears as a bird began to screech. The man chuckled.
How does it feel to hear things?
“It’s nice,” replied the dog. “But my Jerry helped me hear stuff, sort of. He would bang on this big wooden thing that made music, and sometimes I would sneak in the room where it was and lie under it and feel the rumbles and it made me happy.”
Did all rumbly things make you happy?
“No,” said Pongo, shivering. “When there was rain and light forks in the sky and big rumblings that shook the house, THAT was scary. I remember we had BIG BIG booms one night and I was so scared that I just walked into my Jerry’s sleeping place and put my head next to his and just stared at him until he woke up. He says I scared him, but MY scares were WORSE, so I’m not sorry.”
Pongo looked at the man, who solemnly looked back. “There were some other things that were really bad.”
“When I was there only a couple of weeks, a bad car hit me and broke my leg.” Pongo licked his leg, reflectively. “I had to go to someplace that felt like the big cold white place I just left, but I hurt a lot and when I woke up I had all kinds of things in my leg and around my leg and it was HARD TO PEE for days and days because I’d lift the leg and lose my balance. And my people tried not to laugh, but I could SEE it. After what felt like a long time I was all better, but it still hurt when it rained outside.”
Pongo waited a long moment. “Um…there was this bitch. Really pretty, from next door. A sheepdog.” He studied a stick by his foot, not looking up. “So she came over and, we, um…”
I see. Why was this bad?
“I got my Frances really upset. She came running out to our front lawn and tried to get me off the pretty bitch, but I was, um…stuck. ’Cause that, um…happens. And she got me turned around so my front half was standing behind the sheepdog and my back half was all over the sheepdog’s back and I was SO EMBARRASSED. But so was my Frances who had to stand there with me on a leash for a LONG LONG time until things got…um, better and I got down from there.”
The man stood up. Sounds like it was a very good life.
“It was,” replied Pongo. “And I know that when I got stuck on the stairs and couldn’t hear and couldn’t see or find my way down and started to cry, that’s when they knew I had to come Here.
“But I hope that they find a nice dog to take care of them after me.”
We’ll see, said the man.
And for a long time after that, but he didn’t know how long, Pongo romped and played with other dogs over the Bridge. After a while, he met a dog named Charlie, and one named Brie, who seemed to know his people and told him how his Hank was doing, but he still missed one special person. And no matter where he looked, his special person wasn’t there.
But one day, he saw a tall, lanky man with a big nose and big ears and a very wide smile come strolling across the grass. And with one great bark, Pongo went running up to his Jerry, who had finally come to take him for walks for ever and ever and ever.
And his Jerry even remembered to bring him a lamb chop bone.