Herald Journal Columns
March 17, 2003 Herald Journal
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Roasting hot dogs with Ewald on a winter's day


Brownie, our family's third dog, stood in sharp contrast to his two predecessors.

Unlike Blackie and Poodles, who were pleasant, playful, and of multiple undefined bloodlines, Brownie was a purebred German shorthair as undisciplined and mean-spirited as they come. He was the only dog we ever purchased. I don't recall how much we paid; but whatever it was, it was too much.

I have this theory about why Brownie was such an angry and stubborn dog. Shortly before we bought him, he had had his tail chopped off; and I believe that forever after he felt scarred and brutalized.

Every time a horsefly bit him in a spot where only his missing tail could have swatted it away, it made him angry all over again. I think he spent the rest of his life attempting to even the score with humanity.

When he went to buy the dog, my older brother Sonny picked Brownie from the litter because of the pup's size and aggressiveness. The plan was to train him to hunt pheasants and ducks.

When the dog was about five or six months old, the training began in earnest; and over the next year or two, Sonny spent countless hours attempting to teach Brownie to sit, stay, heel, and retrieve.

Although the term had not yet been coined, I am certain that our dog suffered from attention deficit disorder (ADD). He seemed able to focus only on things that had a dog biscuit imbedded in them.

Thus, voice commands and hand gestures were useless. And too late we learned that we should have named him Chase rather than Brownie. He didn't exactly learn to retrieve things. He chased them, tore them to pieces, and then played keep away with the fragments.

Stuffed socks didn't survive very long as training dummies, so Sonny soon switched to old baseballs.

It was during one of our training sessions that Brownie made his first live retrieve. We were out at the old baseball field, which was located on the northwest corner of the same block on which the new field now stands.

From home plate, Sonny threw the ball deep to the left field corner, and the dog was off in a flash. As Brownie approached the ball at full speed, something in the distance caught his eye. He raced right past the ball and bounded over the left field snow fence.

He sprinted across the street, through Glenn Bathen's yard and out into the pasture where feathers began to fly. In about two seconds Brownie chased down a fat white chicken, pinned it beneath his paws, and promptly crushed its head in his powerful jaws.

With the chicken held high, Brownie half trotted and half pranced his way back to the ballpark. Of course, he didn't give up his prize easily. He circled the bases twice, and then when we refused to chase him, Brownie dropped the dead chicken on the pitcher's mound.

Sonny approached him slowly with the leash hidden behind his back. With white feathers dangling from the slobber beneath his jowls, Brownie looked up at Sonny with this look that seemed to say, "Well, how did I do?"

Even years later we had to walk a wide berth around farmsteads as we hunted pheasants; for if we didn't, Brownie's appetite for chickens would lead him astray.

One day late in the season, Sonny and I were hunting about a half mile north of Lester Prairie. We were crossing a snow-covered plowed field on our way to a cattail slough that we hoped held some pheasants.

Suddenly, Brownie caught a scent in the wind. He stopped dead in his tracks and snapped his head to the right. He had spotted some feeder pigs about a quarter mile off on Dennis Rolfzen's farm.

The dog looked over his shoulder at us for a brief second, but his legs were already in motion. We began shouting at him, but it was too late. Brownie was off and running flat out across the field with only the taste of bacon on his mind.

Now paying for a few chickens was one thing, but thirty-five pounds of pork could get expensive. Sonny had no choice. He raised his twelve-gauge pump and took aim; then, pausing to let the dog get about 40-50 yards away, he fired.

Brownie applied all four brakes and skidded to a halt. Then he tried to bite himself in the butt, first on one side and then on the other. When that didn't relieve the stinging, he sat up erect and started to drag his rear end around in the snow.

This tactic must have scuffed a few bb's out and relieved the pain a little, because Brownie then stood up; and with his haunch muscles quivering in indecision, he took a few tentative steps in the direction of the pig yard.

As loudly as he could, Sonny cambered a new shell. The threatening "click-clack" of the pump action of the 12 gauge froze Brownie in his tracks.

For a dog as obstinate as he was, it must have been a tough decision; but Brownie's instinct for self-preservation won out as he lowered his head, turned slowly, and came back to us.

In addition to being difficult to control, Brownie had a mean streak. He wore a choke chain collar that he enjoyed straining until his eyes bugged out, and he was a threat to anyone who had not fed him daily since puppyhood.

One day Warren Mesenbring came pedaling his bike up our driveway to deliver the afternoon paper. Brownie must have been startled from his afternoon nap by the sound of the rattling chain guard.

With blood in his eyes, the dog lunged at Warren so violently that he ripped the eyebolt out of the garage wall that anchored his chain. With his next leap, the dog hit Warren about shoulder high, knocked him right off his bicycle, and bit him in the leg.

Brownie's chain wrapped itself around the bike's peddles and handlebars during the attack; and while Warren hobbled into our porch for shelter, Brownie dragged the bike around the yard three or four times as if it were the overturned chariot of a vanquished enemy.

Then to add insult to injury, he proceeded to tear the abandoned yellow canvas Minneapolis Star carrier's bag to shreds. I don't think he was searching for the sports section; he was just a mean dog.

Even bad dogs die young. Brownie lived to be only six or seven years old. One Friday night in January, his cold heart finally froze solidly still.

He had been sick for only a few days when I went out to his pen in the morning to feed him. I knew something was wrong when he did not come out of his doghouse to jump on me or attempt to spill the dog food and water that I carried.

I pulled back the burlap flap that hung across the doghouse door, and there was Brownie with his head resting on his paws as if he were sleeping. But when I reached down to pull up on his paw, the whole front of the dog lifted up. He was frozen stiff as a board.

I went back into the house to get Sonny and my dad. Pa said that we couldn't bury the dog because the ground was frozen. Sonny was quiet. He didn't say a word as he and I carried Brownie from the pen and put him headfirst into the icy, galvanized garbage can.

Sonny just stared at that ugly stub of a tail sticking out from under the lid. I asked Pa if I could go along to the dump later that afternoon to drop off Brownie. Sonny began to cry.

It was then that I knew for certain what I had suspected for a long time. God had placed something in Sonny's heart that was missing from mine. Included in that something, was the capacity to accept animals as they were. He genuinely loved that dog in spite of all the trouble Brownie had been.

I wanted to be as kindhearted as my brother, but I felt hopelessly indifferent. From deep down inside, I tried to conjure up some small grain of pity for Brownie, but I just couldn't do it.

Instead, I found myself looking forward with perverted anticipation to the time later that afternoon, when Ewald Schultz, custodian of the town's landfill, would set fire to the garbage pile and rid the world of Brownie forever.

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