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Dog by dog

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Bill Perkins

I took some vacation time a couple of weeks ago, and since we didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere, I decided I’d use the time to knock out some projects. First on the list was repainting some vintage patio furniture, a challenge I’ve been unable to overcome for months.

The furniture had needed attention for a while. The glider had mildew and rust spots. The rocker was flaking old paint badly. The worst was Lila’s chair, thick steel with a perforated pie plate design that sat next to the gate. Our dear departed Lila staked it out early on for its strategic location with a view over the patio wall in one direction and through the gate and down the drive in another — perfect for a pup’s sentry duty. She spent years in that chair keeping watch until shortly before she died, when she was no longer able to jump up into it. And for years, no one else sat there, even when Lila wasn’t in it, because the time she spent on guard had rubbed the seat and lumbar area to the metal, and covered the surrounding paint with dog grime.

After spending a hot and grueling afternoon in the spring sanding the top of the set’s side table, I decided I’d have the furniture sandblasted to remove the alluvial layers of paint, and start over from scratch. I spent months trying to find someone to do it to no avail, so I thought I’d tackle it myself. I ordered a sandblasting kit from Amazon, and checked out an air compressor from my local public library. Once my materials arrived, I spread out a large tarpaulin to catch the crushed walnut shell “blasting medium” and hooked everything up. When I pulled the trigger, a bit of crushed shell fell out of the nozzle with the velocity of a salt shaker; the compressor wasn’t strong enough for sandblasting, which I might have known had I been able to translate the technical jargon or, better yet, listened to the man at the hardware store who told me that sort of compressor wouldn’t do.

Someone suggested a substance called “airplane remover” and a pressure washer. I figured anything that could disappear an airplane might be overkill for patio furniture, but I gave it a try. It worked pretty well with multiple applications, and I got through the seasons of paint down to what must’ve been the original 1825-era primer with two vacation days to go.

As I was doing the final sanding before the painting phase, I heard a ruckus in the carport, and turned to see two big dogs bounding through the gate, across the patio, and straight to the water bowl in the backyard. We’re currently dogless, but I’ve kept the water bowl filled since we realized Buster, who belong to a neighbor but would not be contained, would often turn up in our back yard for a drink of water while patrolling the neighborhood. It’s been years since Buster and family moved away, followed by Buster’s inevitable crossing of the rainbow bridge. A while back, we saw the neighbor daughter, who told us that Buster loved the neighborhood so much that she and her mother had the old shepherd cremated and scattered his ashes around the cul-de-sac — a fitting end for him, as he was truly the neighborhood’s communal dog.

We’ve always known all the dogs for blocks, even if we don’t know the people. We identify specific houses by dogs who’ve lived there in the past, such as Bullet’s house around the block.

But I’d never seen these two ramblers, although they’d obviously been to our back yard before; they knew exactly where the bowl was, and that it would be full of fresh water. When they finished drinking, they came over to greet me. They had on electronic collars meant to shock them if they crossed their invisible fence. And on their collars were their names — Luna and Peyton.

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Neither made any effort to leave, so I got up and closed the gate for good measure before getting a number from one’s collar and phoning to tell the owners where the animals were. I imagined their people were out looking for them, so when a man answered the phone, I simply said, “So, do you have a couple of escapees?” Dead silence. And then, “I beg your pardon?”

Oh, gee, I thought; now I sound like a lunatic. So I mentioned the dogs by name, and told the man we were hanging out on the patio whenever he wanted to come for them. The man said he was out of town, but would call his wife.

Peyton, the older of the two, had stretched out on cool concrete to relax, but Luna — younger, with the boundless energy of a puppy — wanted to explore. She jumped back and forth over the patio wall, and sniffed along the chipmunk path before grabbing a planter dish and tossing it in the air. I walked out into the yard with her and found a stick to throw, and we did that for a while. Bettye brought out a couple of rawhide bully-stick chews, and after arguing over who got which stick, they staked out shady spots under different trees to gnaw on their prizes.

Soon an apologetic woman with young girl arrived; they lived around the block not too far away. The two dogs made no effort to leave. Eventually, they grudgingly got up and went with their people to the car, but they took their bully sticks with them.

I told the mom that if they went missing again, she should check our back yard. “They knew where the water bowl was,” I said. “I’m sure they’ve been here before.”

As they drove off, I realized this must be how grandparents feel when the kids and grandkids leave after a visit. It was too peaceful, too quiet.

I went back to the patio furniture, and finished the priming and painting. It looks great, but I think it might look better with some fur stuck to it, or if a leg were gnawed.

I’ll keep the bowl full and the gate open and see who turns up.

Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle. E-mail:

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