A brief excerpt from an article in The Baltimore Sun, June 21, 1992
It was the weekend of the Johns Hopkins University spring fair, and I was walking my dog about a block from the campus when he suddenly fell over on his side and began thrashing in the grass. A young woman getting out of a car said she was a medical student and told me, “That dog has epilepsy. Try to hold him on his side to keep him from hurting himself.”
A year-and-a-half-old Boston Terrier, Woody survived that episode, but it was the beginning of years of strict drug therapy and constant monitoring, of emergency visits to vets, experimental medication and the decision to allow Woody to participate in research that might benefit not only him, but other dogs — and possibly humans.
Even if we had known how serious Woody's illness would become, I am certain my husband and I never would have considered any path other than treatment. In the beginning, of course, we still hoped Woody's epilepsy was curable. But even after we realized he might never be out of danger, we persevered. We did so in large part because he persevered. Healthy, Woody was one of the happiest dogs I've ever seen; ill, his will to live was so strong, he almost seemed to be commenting on those of us humans who give up as soon as the going gets tough.
A brief excerpt from an article in The Baltimore Sun Magazine, November 23, 1975
It’s a dog’s life for Mrs. Winifred L. Heckmann of Stevenson. As one of two women all-breed judges in the country and recipient of Kennel Review’s top judge award last year, Mrs. Heckmann travels from Alaska to Australia, Bogota to Bombay, selecting the top dog. Today at the Maryland Kennel Club’s show at the Regiment Armory, where she judged best in show three years ago, she will be judging six breeds, miscellaneous and the non-sporting group…
Last month she spent 9 days judging 6,601 dogs in Melbourne, Australia. The best-in-show competition took a full day. From there she flew to Knoxville, Tenn., to do a show, then on to Atlanta for an Irish Setter specialty. She took a few days off to return to Baltimore for doctors’ appointments, then was off to Minneapolis, Sussex Hills, N.J., Stone City, Ill., Columbia, S.C., Tidewater, Va., and Scottsdale, Ariz., before coming home to today’s all-breed show. One of her most memorable shows was the Midnight Sun Show in Fairbanks, Alaska, June 21. She judged best in show at 11:59 P.M. against a bright red sky.
NOTE: This story is part of a collection of connected shorts stories that I am co-writing with Linda Megathlin. The stories are set in the fictitious small town of Gulf Beach, on Florida’s west coast. They center on a condominium called the El Dorado, converted from two old motels. For the characters in the stories, at some point, all paths lead to the El Dorado. Two of these stories have been honored by Tampa Creative Loafing’s annual short story contest.
Stretch wasn’t sure where he was. But he knew he was safe.
The morning had started out normally. That is, until the Nice Lady looked up at the round thing on the wall. She grabbed the hand of the Little Boy and they took off for wherever they went every day.
Also as usual, the Yelling Man stuck around. He almost always did. He’d yelled something at the Nice Lady and the Little Boy before they left. Then he’d followed them to the door and slammed it. The Little Boy had tears in his eyes when he got in the car.
Stretch wandered into the kitchen and found half a piece of toast that had been dropped in haste on the kitchen floor. When he finished the toast, Stretch decided it was time for his morning rounds: 1) Survey the main floor: kitchen, dining room, living room, family room; then again, in case he’d missed anything: kitchen, dining room, living room, family room. 2) Saunter up the stairs and survey every room there; the bathrooms were especially important because of the large porcelain water bowls. 3) Saunter down two flights of stairs to inspect the large room at ground level.
Everything had seemed okay. He’d looked out the patio doors. There was that cat again. “Cat! Cat! Cat!” Stretch had announced in his firmest get-away-from-here tone. He pawed at the glass. If only he could get out. He’d give that feline a run for her money. At last, the cat skedaddled. That was out of the way.
But when Stretch got back to the main floor, the cat was there again, outside the doors that opened onto the deck. Hadn’t he made himself clear? Stretch pawed at the deck doors until they rattled. Then he put his nose against glass and emitted one long, low bark.
“Stretch! For God’s sake, cut it out!” came a cry from the Yelling Man. Stretch paused. Didn’t this man understand? The cat was still here. Stretch pawed at the glass harder and louder.
“I mean it dammit! Shut up!” Stretch turned around. The Yelling Man was standing at the top of the stairs. Stretch looked out at the deck one more time. The cat was gone. Job done.
Stretch took a more subdued approach to his next chores. He headed back downstairs and found the trashcan. Darn. The lid was on. He tried to nudge it off with his nose. No go. So he did the next logical thing – with one big paw, he knocked the can over, pulled out the big black plastic bag and chewed a hole in it.
Sorting through the contents was time consuming, but worth it. Two steak bones and that old tennis ball with the hole he’d made. He’d worked so hard chewing that hole, and now the ball was in the trash. Good thing he’d found it.
The kitchen trashcan was in a cabinet he couldn’t open. He used to open it all the time, but lately he couldn’t get it to budge. Not that he hadn’t tried – the door had the scratch marks to prove it. He added some more scratch marks. You never knew when the door might open again. Maybe now. Or now. Or now. Or now.
Oh, well. It wasn’t as if there weren’t other trashcans – although this had always been his favorite.
He loped up the stairs and started in on the bedrooms. He knocked over the wastebasket in the Little Boy’s room – a small piece of gum and some Kleenex. He swallowed the gum and shredded the Kleenex. Under the bed he found a smelly sock and spent some time gnawing on that.
The Yelling Man was in the small room at the end of the hall, so Stretch went into the big bedroom instead. The wastebasket here was barely worth troubling with. When the Yelling Man went into the bathroom, Stretch headed into the small room.
A plate with a donut and a mug of coffee sat on the desk, next to the machine with all buttons that everyone was always tapping. Stretch nuzzled the donut, but his nose knocked it off the plate and onto the floor. The mug tipped over, spilling coffee all over the machine with the buttons.
Stretch was enjoying the donut when the Yelling Man came back in. “Not the Mac!” he yelled. He rushed over, giving Stretch a swift kick. The hound howled. The man yelled a lot of words really fast and really loud. Stretch cowered.
“Now you’ve done it! Now you’ve really done it, you damn dog!” He slapped Stretch hard. Stretch was stunned. He’d been screamed at before, but nobody had ever hit him. Ever. He whimpered.
The Yelling Man unhooked a cord on the machine and stormed out of the room. When he came back, he was holding Stretch’s leash.
“We’re going for a little ride,” the Yelling Man said. The leash was usually a good sign, but Stretch was pressed too far against the back of the desk to go for it.
The Yelling Man leaned under the desk, put the leash on Stretch’s collar and dragged him out, then down the stairs and out the door. When he opened the back door of the car, Stretch almost forgot what had just happened.
The car! The car! The car!
Now things were looking up. As soon as they were on the road, Stretch began going back and forth across the seat, looking out the windows. Normally when he rode in a car, he was strapped in. That was okay, but this was really fun!
Well, except for those times when the Yelling Man slammed on the brakes and Stretch went flying against the back of the seat. One of those times, the machine with the buttons landed on the floor under the man’s feet. He let lose another yell and angrily tossed the machine in the backseat, nearly hitting Stretch.
They drove and drove and drove and drove some more. After a while, Stretch calmed down. He curled up on the backseat. He was thirsty. He started to pant, then let out a few soft barks: “Water! Water!”
The Yelling Man ignored him. Finally the car stopped. The man stepped out and opened the back door to get the machine. When he reached for it, Stretch flew out into the parking lot. “Stretch! Damn you! Stretch! Stretch!”
People walking to and from their cars, turned to stare at the Yelling Man, but Stretch didn’t notice. And he didn’t hear the Yelling Man say, almost under his breath, “Good riddance.”
Stretch ran as fast as could, full out, faster than he’d run since his days chasing that phony rabbit around the track.
He heard drivers slam on their brakes, hit their horns. He heard something that sounded like a crash. But he kept going – the world around him a blur as his long, graceful movements outpaced everything around him – bicycles, cars, even a motorcycle or two. It’d been a long time since he’d run like this; it felt good.
He passed a building surrounded by kennels. Dogs started hurling themselves against the chain link when he approached. Then they broke out in full chorus. “Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!” A couple of the barks sounded as if they came from greyhounds, but Stretch didn’t stop, didn’t even slow down.
He ran until he couldn’t run anymore. It was getting dark. He dodged some cars and ran across the street. There was a fountain in front of a house and he paused and took a long drink. With a yawn, he hunkered down and closed his eyes.
Stretch woke up just before dawn, hungry and confused. The door of the house opened and a woman came out with a black and tan dog on a leash. It wasn’t as tall as Stretch, but much broader and with a large, blocky head. It spotted Stretch immediately and started growling. The woman pulled hard on the leash. Stretch took off.
After a while, he spotted a park. He was getting hungry. He tried to knock over the trashcans, but they were fastened to the ground. He wandered over to a picnic take and found a half-eaten apple and some stray French fries on the ground.
He curled up in a sunbeam, near a bush. Then at nightfall, he ventured out again – more slowly this time. He walked in the slow, elegant manner that had characterized his breed since ancient times. He had no idea where he was going, and for a change, he was in no hurry to get there.
At one point, he spotted a cat cross the road. He barked and some lights went on in a house nearby. He ran past the next few houses. He missed the Little Boy and the Nice Woman, but even if he’d known the way, he wouldn’t have wanted to go back to the house with the Yelling Man.
Suddenly, Stretch smelled steak cooking. He followed the scent. There was a large open space surrounded by a couple of long, low buildings. Stretch hovered by the gate until someone opened it. He made a dash for the grill.
“Lou, come over here,” a woman called out.
A man started walking toward Stretch. Stretch lowered himself as close to the ground as possible. Should he make a run for it? He tried, only to discover that the woman was standing on his leash.
The man knelt down until he was level with Stretch’s wide, expressive eyes. “Hey, big guy. What are you doing here? Are you lost?”
“Hey, he’s a purebred Greyhound and he’s got tags,” the man said, looking up. He petted Stretch softly on the head, then under his chin and between his ears. “Stretch,” the man said, reading one of the tags. Then he added, “Wow, you’re a long ways from home – Pass a Grille. I bet somebody’s looking for you. Let’s call.”
The man called Lou took one of those flat black things out of his pocket and began pushing buttons. Stretch heard a bell ring; the sound made the fur stand up on his back. Lou got as far as: “I’ve got your dog…” when Stretch heard the Yelling Man’s voice. The dog started to whimper. Lou listened, holding the phone away from his ear. Then he hung up and shook his head.
“Said he didn’t want ‘that damn dog,’” Lou said. “Said he was taking him to the pound when the dog ran off. Said, ‘You can have him for all I care. Just don’t call me again.’ And then he hung up!”
The woman took the steak she’d been cooking off the grill. She cut off a few pieces. “Here, pooch,” she said, feeding the meat to the dog.
“His name’s Stretch, not ‘pooch,’” Lou told her, with a smile in his voice. “And he lives here, at the El Dorado – with me.”
In just a few days, Stretch had settled comfortably into Lou’s apartment. He’d discovered Lou’s bed almost immediately and slithered under the warm, comfy blanket. Lou just laughed when he got into bed that night and the dog pressed up against him.
Nor did Stretch seem to mind the confines of Lou’s small home or the fact that Lou wasn’t in shape to go on runs with a former racer. A few ambling walks around the neighborhood suited the dog just fine.
But Lou couldn’t stop thinking about where Stretch had come from. Something wasn’t right. Stretch’s old address was engraved on his name tags. Lou decided to check it out.
As he drove up to the house, another car was pulling in the driveway. The passenger door opened, and a little boy stepped out. Lou noticed that the boy’s backpack had a picture of a greyhound. A woman got out of the driver’s side and put an arm over the boy’s shoulders. They started walking toward the front door.
“Wait,” Lou said, as he approached.
The woman – presumably the boy’s mother – turned, but took a step backward, closer to the house.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I… Well, I’ll get right to it: Did you used to have a greyhound named ‘Stretch?’”
The boy’s eyes lit up. “Mom! He knows something about Stretch.”
“I don’t just know something, I have him,” Lou said.
“Where is he? When’s he coming home? I miss him soooo much!” the boy exclaimed.
“It’s not that simple,” the woman answered. She lowered her voice and moved away from the boy and closer to Lou.
“My husband hated that dog,” she said. “He told us Stretch ran away, but I think there was more to it. He knew you can never let a former racer off leash.”
“He told me to keep the dog, and I’m happy to do it. He’s a great dog. But I’m not going to break up the relationship between a boy and his dog,” Lou said.
“I know this is breaking Tommy’s heart – and to tell you the truth, it’s breaking mine, too. But we can’t take Stretch back. My husband won’t stand for it.
“I’m glad the dog’s all right and has found a good home,” she said with a catch in her voice. “Thank you.”
She walked back to her son and took his hand. They started toward the house.
“Wait,” Lou called after her. “Listen. My name’s Lou Sheine. I live in Gulf Beach. I know it’s a ways from here, but you and Tommy are always welcome to visit. Or we could meet at a dog park or one of the dog-friendly beaches. Any time. It’s the least I can do.”
Tommy had been listening, and he ran up to Lou. “Do you mean it? We could come this Saturday after soccer? Right Mom?”
“Well, we have to find out if that’s convenient for Mr. Sheine,” she said.
“It’s ‘Lou’ and, of course, it’s convenient. I think Stretch could use a little younger companionship.” He shook the boy’s hand and turned toward his car.
“Don’t go yet. I’ll be right back,” Tommy said, dashing into the house. He reappeared clutching a bedraggled stuffed rabbit.
“This is Stretch’s favorite toy,” the boy explained. “Dad threw out all the others, but I had this one in my room, under the covers. That’s where Stretch left it. Would you give it to him?”
“With pleasure,” Lou replied. “And I’ll tell him he’s got a date with an old friend on Saturday. I have a feeling you two’ll have a lot to talk about.”