This blog I started more than seven years ago was intended to be about books and writing. I find myself, however, occasionally slipping into something else I love – dogs.
In a blog post from last April, I reflected on Willie, my writing dog. Today’s post is devoted to Willie’s best friend, Cletus.
Cletus was not your average dog. What dog is average?
It would be easy to say that Cletus belonged to Larry, my neighbor. But Cletus adopted Larry, not the other way around. Cletus’ first “owners” left him behind when they vacated their rental house when Cletus was little more than a pup. He chose to remain, and we are all the better for it.
A veterinarian who lives in the neighborhood said that Cletus most likely was a mix of rottweiler and some kind of hound. At around 80 pounds, he was an outside dog. As far as I know, he never spent a night inside unless Larry accidentally locked him in his shop overnight. Cletus had an unmistakable deep bark. He was the sergeant of arms for the neighborhood, keeping everything on the up and up. He didn’t like stray dogs nosing around and he had to approve of any new dogs that came into the neighborhood. As “wild” as he was, he loved to have my granddaughter’s arms wrapped around him.
Larry and Cletus would go on long afternoon walks, but the “L-word” was never mentioned – leash. Cletus ranged far and wide. I remember clearly one summer afternoon when Larry and Marilou were out of town that I came home around 3 p.m. and there was Cletus, about to begin his afternoon walk up Deerfield Drive by himself. I hurried to the house, leashed up Willie and the three of us had a nice stroll.
Stories about Cletus abound, such as the time a neighborhood chihuahua got lost to the deep woods of Deerfield. Several days later, here comes Cletus out of the woods he knew so well, leading the little dog home.
And then there’s the skunks. Cletus hated skunks almost as much as he hated the baths that Larry would have to give him with Dawn detergent.
The picture of Cletus that accompanies this post is one of my favorites. He‘s in Larry’s shop, surrounded by tools and old car parts. If Larry was in his shop, you can bet Cletus was there also.
I had the privilege of feeding Cletus when Larry and Marilou would go out of town. Sometimes he was waiting on me on the porch, but other times after a few whistles, he would emerge from the woods. There’s no doubt that Cletus was happiest in the woods. What also made him happy was me slipping him a few leftovers from Marilou’s refrigerator. Cletus and I decided it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
On Larry and Marilou’s last trip overseas recently, I got to feed Cletus for two weeks. I could tell he was not doing well. He had grown terribly arthritic, had lost weight and was not eating. He usually guarded the house, but on this day he came over and laid down in front of my barn, the first time he had ever done that. He didn’t want to be alone.
Unlike Willie, Cletus hated riding in cars, but Larry loaded him up today for his final trip to the vet. Cletus is buried beside his friend Willie and two Boston terriers, Nelly and Ruby, high on a hill overlooking the land he roamed.
As a last word, I’ll say that Willie and Cletus left us with a lesson because dogs can always teach us something. Willie was a couch potato of a boxer and Cletus was free-ranging and wolf-like. No two dogs could have been more different. The first time they met, teeth were bared and the fur flew, but soon after they came to an understanding, a mutual respect. They got along fine, best friends for a dozen years. All of us should take note.