"Mike" - The Dog
While touring the base barracks I was in charge of, I entered the office of the First Class Petty Officer assigned to of one of the units I was responsible for. The man behind the desk was a large, teddy bear-like person whom I admired the first day I met him. He was always cheerful and on top of the daily running of a Navy two-men-to-a-room hotel.
"How are things shaping up today?" I asked the big fellow named Joe. He said excitedly, "Take a look at these pups, Chief!" He had three black Toy poodles in a cardboard box. "I got one left that isn't sold". I smiled and thought it was just like this lovable, old Navy-career man to be peddling puppies out of his place of duty. I ignored the fact that doing so bordered on an infraction of the rules.
Out of curiosity, I asked him, "How much are you getting for them?" He said, "$75.00, and they're registered." I thought about my daughter Michelle. She would soon be starting school in San Pedro, California where we had just moved into a three-bedroom place with a large back yard. Much to Joe's surprise, I said, "I'll take that last one." Joe stammered, "Are you serious Chief?" I told him I would pick him up after work, and he said he would have the papers ready.
I told Michelle I had a gift for her and introduced her to that little black ball of fur. They bonded immediately, and I realized I had done the right thing. The dog's official name on the papers read something like Bonaparte, Salt & Pepper the Third, but Michelle said, "His name is Mike, and a friendship between a little girl and her dog had begun.
I didn't have to tell my five-year-old that the dog was her responsibility, because she took charge of the little poodle right away. I was amazed when I discovered she was dressing him in her doll clothes, and Mike actually appeared to enjoy it. All her doll clothes were for female dolls, so Mike was in drag, but he loved the attention. From the first day, the dog would do everything Michelle wanted him to do and nothing I had in mind for him. He was the best baby sitter I could have hired, and $75.00 was cheap. When I retired from the Navy, "Mike" was full grown and part of our little family - Morrie, Michelle, and Mike.
We decided to go back to Miller, South Dakota where I was born and raised. We also made the decision that "Mike" would ride in the camper, but actually he road in the pickup cab at Michelle's feet. I should have known. We had stopped at a motel in Nevada, and the owner and his wife were talking to us by the motel pool. The owner's wife told us the dog could stay in the room but to please keep him away from the pool. I told them the dog didn't like water so there was nothing to worry about. No sooner were the words out of my mouth when "Mike" jumped in the pool. Michelle retrieved him while the owners and I laughed at my embarrassment. It was further proof that Mike and I were not going to understand each other.
We settled into our home in Miller where I made a dog run in the backyard for Mike. I found out later that Michelle would unhook him, and he would follow her to school and wait for recess to play with the kids. The authorities would call, and I would have to go get Mike. Of course, without Michelle's help it would have been a futile effort on my part. Michelle continued to dress Mike in all kinds of clothes, and his wardrobe increased in size so much he required his own suitcase. The town's people got to know Michelle and Mike as they were always together. He would jump in the basket on her bicycle when she said they were going to the Dari-O for an ice cream cone. They won first prize, hands down, at the local pet parade.
Mike continued to be Michelle's companion after we returned to California, and awaited her arrival from school with the kind of enthusiasm only a Toy poodle can display. The two grew up together, and before Michelle joined me in Minnesota, she called and told me that old age had overcome Mike, and he had to be put to sleep. I had to choke back the tears, as I knew my daughter had lost her best friend.
© Maurice Karst 2002