March 15, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)


I loathe people who keep dogs. They are cowards who haven't got the guts to bite people themselves.

August Strindberg

Many years ago, my daughter Jan decided that she wanted a paper route. She would get up before dawn and deliver papers. I was a bit concerned that she would be very vulnerable at that hour of the morning. I though that her having a dog to protect her would be a good idea. I asked a veterinarian friend what kind of dog would be able to protect her. He told me that there was an Airedale at the pound that would be ideal for the job since Airedales are noted for their ability to protect family members, particularly children. I found out later that they were bred for bear baiting and could be very pugnacious. However, they were usually very gentle with children.

I got the phone number of the previous owner who told me that they had to get rid of him because he attacked mailmen. Also that he got along well with their cat. I had a Siamese cat and didn't want her killed by a dog. We went to the pound and adopted Ruffy.

Ruffy fit very well into the family and we all learned to love him. He went on the paper route with Jan and I felt much more secure. Our cat bullied him unmercifully. I told my veterinarian friend about it and he said that he couldn't see an Airedale taking any guff from a cat. One day she must have pushed him too far. He picked her up in his mouth and shook her. After that, she stayed out of his way.

The kids grew up and Jan no longer delivered papers. My wife and I divorced and eventually I acquired a new and younger family, and later Ruffy as well. He got along well with the kids, but we all had to watch him like a hawk when the mailman came around. He would stalk a mailman in much the same way as a lion stalks a zebra. When we knew that the mailman was coming, we chained him up. The kids all knew that if he attacked a mailman, he would be impounded and killed, so they watched him very diligently. My daughter Kim once tackled him when she saw him creeping on his belly, stalking a mailman.

Ruffy never lost his protective instincts and we repeatedly warned the kids that there was to be no horseplay with their friends when Ruffy was present. His protective instincts never diminished. I remember when a Saint Bernard sniffed, friendly like, at one of our children; Ruffy was at his throat. Fortunately no damage was done to either dog.

At the time, I was interested in duck hunting. I gave it up when I found out that I had no aptitude for shooting, or a taste for cleaning dead ducks. I once (and only once) took Ruffy with me. What I didn't know was that Ruffy had a deadly fear of gunfire, so when the guns went off, Ruffy took off. He disappeared, and no matter how loudly I called, or how hard I searched, he was nowhere to be found. Since it was getting dark, I went home. The next morning I went back, unarmed, to the same spot and asked people if they had seen an Airedale. One person said that he had seen one on the previous day and he told me in what direction he had gone. I walked and called. Suddenly I heard a whine. There was Ruffy with his foot caught in a muskrat trap. I freed him and then hugged him and cried. That ended both my and Ruffy's duck hunting careers.

Salt Lake City has hot summers and cold winters. I would clip Ruffy down to his naked skin in the spring and he would grow his fur out by fall. He was one weird looking Airedale in the summer.

He lived to a ripe old age, in dog years. He was a hellofalot of trouble, but nowhere near as much trouble as my children.

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