When my youngest brother was small, we lived up a hill from the main road winding along near the banks of the Cowlitz River. It was a big old rental house at a price we could afford, with a cat to feed as part of that price, a large yard to care for, a small field to pasture a horse, 150 cultivated blueberry bushes with no pesticides allowed, brambles of blackberries, gooseberries, salmons berries, red currants and 40 acres of attached woodlands for exploring as long as we watched out for the neighbor’s cows.
There was plenty of room for a dog. Cindy had made the journey with us from Portland to the Longview-Kelso Area but did not last long enough to join us in that dog paradise up King Road. Dusty, his sister, Curly, and my scrapper of a dog, Festus, joined us one by one instead. Dusty would be the first with us and the only one who survived that country road and wooded hillside to travel with the family back to the Portland area shortly after I had left home.
He was Billy’s dog withstanding everything from blistered toes (from being put on top of the wood stove to warm his cold paws) to making the adjustment from ranging a country acreage to trying to stay in the yard in the suburb city of a larger metropolis. They wandered the back woods, often inseparable (except for the time he followed us down to the busy country road to the school bus stop only weeks after his sister died from exploring that busy blacktop. One anxiously hopeless ride in the back of a stranger’s truck up to our house was enough for me. One funeral for an accident I wish I could have prevented was all my heart could stand. Dusty came with me to high school that day.)
A hyper-active talkative little boy in a big open space found companionship in his dog. He and Dusty had howling conversations that didn’t transfer well to a city suburb nor did the exploring nature that had drawn the boy and dog. The day came that Dusty didn’t come to greet us on our return home. Some neighbor had found a way to quiet him. Mourning came in the words of a song — a gift from me to my special little brother in memory of his childhood best friend.
Years later when that song’s words were lost to me, I would know where to look to find them again. That little brother grew to be a veterinarian with the lyrics framed and hanging on his office wall.
June 20, 1978
A neighbor came over the other day, said our dog made his dog howl! (O, well)
Just a word of greeting, a friendly chat, or practicing the OWW vowel.
Hey, Dusty Dog, you’ve been a friend
Your funny little bowlegged walk;
Hey, Dusty Dog, people may not believe,
But we know in your way you talked.
When Billy ran in the other day he didn’t tell Momma hello (oh, no!)
He howled a greeting to Dusty Dog, and Dusty howled back his hello.
Remember back when they ran the woods, a dog and a barefooted boy (O joy)
They didn’t need maps to find their way, they would their own senses employ.
And playing baseball with Dusty Dog, he would help us lost balls to track (alack)
The only problem when he got the ball was how to you get the ball back?
The frustration of tryin’ to leave for a bus you may catch in time (sublime!)
You think you’re safe so you turn around and there comes Dusty behind!
We’ll always remember you, Dusty Dog, you filled us with laughter and glee (sometimes fleas)
You’ve been the best pet we’ve ever had; I think that on that we agree.
written by Linda J. Riley (my then name)