“Mom,” I need you to come to school right away,” my brother Mickey said. “Bob Loney gave me a puppy on the school bus and Miss Marwick said I couldn’t keep it at school. It’s a real nice dog, Mom. And it was free. I named him Blackie.” And that’s how this cute puppy of dubious decent came to live on Johnsfield Road on Bill Hartman’s 80 acre farm with eight-year old Mickey and Laurice who was seven.
Blackie didn’t stay small and cuddly long. He swallowed his food faster than Mickey or I could spoon it from the can. One time I managed to get the entire can of Alpo out in one lump. I was amazed that Blackie was able to eat it in two gulps. He grew into a dog the size of a beagle, with webbed feet like a Labrador retriever, and a curly black coat like a Cocker spaniel. He grew into the best hunting dog Dad and Mickey ever had.
The guys trained Blackie to hunt rabbits. Dad shoved the young pup down a rabbit hole under the stump fence that bordered ours’ and Charlie Dankard’s field. It was still there from when Dad and Grandpa cleared the land when Dad was Mickey’s age. When the dog smelled the hare he started barking. The rabbit dashed out another hole, but Blackie stayed underground exploring the rabbit’s maze of tunnels and howling. Dad couldn’t get the dog to come up from the hole, no matter how many times he called his name…and it was time for supper.
My father took his jacket off, laid it on the ground near the hole, and the two hunters walked back to the house. Mickey and Dad were still laughing when they told Mom and me the story at the supper table.They said that dog made the weirdest sound barking and howling underground. While I cleared the table and Mom washed the dishes, Dad sent Mickey out to fetch his hunting jacket. He came home with Dad’s red plaid wool coat and the dog. “Blackie was sleeping right there on your jacket, Dad,” my brother said. My father just smiled. He must have known if a good hunting dog was left in the woods he would stay with something that smelled of his master.
It turns out Blackie would rather hunt than eat. He was always skinny. Dad said it was because he ran his food off running through the farm fields hunting on his own. He brought home parts of rabbits, chickens and one time a dead pheasant’s head. Dad said we had to stop his hunting out of season or he’d chase all the game away. So Mickey tied Blackie up.
Henry Nails, the insurance man, came to collect one day. Blackie didn’t like Henry Nails and growled at him from where he was tied beside the back door. He asked for Bill. Henry told Dad a loose dog had been killing chickens inside his hen house. He said the birds lay headless on the floor, all ten of them. He couldn’t accuse Blackie seeing as how he was tied to our farmhouse, but he warned Dad anyway. “You keep that hound tied or he will come home with some buckshot in his butt, if he comes home at all.”
The next morning when Dad went out behind the barn to mark his territory beside the cottonwood tree, he saw Blackie coming up the lane. At breakfast Dad announced we had to keep Blackie locked in the chicken coop at night or Henry Nails would shot him for sure.
Dad started coming home early from where he worked in town to take Mickey rabbit hunting as a reward for doing his homework and improving his attitude about school. When Blackie saw them exit the house with guns he went wild. He wanted to go hunting with them in the worst way. He barked, and howled and tried to get over the fence in the chicken yard. It didn’t take long for the dog to figure out how to run up the chicken wire and crawl over the fence. He was half way to Charlie Dankard’s stump fence before Dad and Mickey left our yard.
Once Blackie learned how to get over the fence, Dad had my brother tie him inside the chicken yard. Mickey agreed that they had to take action or Henry Nails would. The guys watched from the kitchen window. They saw Blackie grab the chicken wire with his paw and work it in and out until it broke. The dog squeezed through and headed down the lane. It became clear that dog could find a way to hunt no matter what. Dad and Mickey talked it over. It was my brother’s idea to hook the alternated 110 volt current to the chicken fence. Dad used the same voltage on the bared wire fences to keep our cattle in.
The current almost killed the dog when he tried to climb the fence that night. Blackie hung on shaking until the current alternated, the dog let go and fell to the ground. He began howling, running in circles and took up barking at the fence. Dad felt so bad he turned the electricity off during the day, but left it on at night.
After a while Blackie must have learned from the smell when the electricity was on, because as soon as it was turned off he would crawl over the fence to hunt. Dad said, “That Blackie was the smartest hunting dog we ever had.”