The Bonnie & Clyde Files: How Two Senior Dogs Saved a Middle Aged Man

Chapter 25

Bonnie and Clyde and I took a new path to the river, through the high grass along the bank. I  bushwhacked with a willow machete and sweat poured down my body. The sun was out and everything steamed around me, particularly fresh elk scat. We found a depression in the grass, an elk bed. I sat down and fed the crew treats, lots of treats. I ate a corporate candy bar and beat back Clyde's assault for the nougat. After a few minutes, the dogs rolled over and went to sleep. I joined them for nap time near steaming elk scat. I dreamed and dreamed hard. Here is what I remember when I awakened and it was raining. Nothing was later fact checked on the Internet because there is no such thing. This is all from memory and channeling something John Steinbeck wrote: “I need a dog pretty badly. I dreamed of dogs last night. They sat in a circle and looked at me and I wanted all of them.”

Dogs rain (reign) in my mind:

Dogs apprehend for merriment: humans apprehend for profit. Dogs don't desert humans in crisis; humans desert humans in crisis. If a dog's face adorned a unit of US currency, who is that dog? If a dog's face did adorn a unit of currency, we will have become a much better nation and possibly not end up intestate. Dogs can detect cancer in humans, but not the cancer that humans' metastasize into the natural world. Dogs do judge—but only people who neglect or beat them. Humans don't need a reason to judge. Humans snort and shoot meth; dogs provide succor for meth humans. President Obama's biggest policy mistake was not adopting a shelter dog. He could have changed the course of modern American dog history by taking the First Lady and the girls to a DC shelter and having the girls pick out an abused mutt. Instead, he got a fancy breed and didn't use his bully pulpit. He didn't play politics when he had the winning hand of a straight dog flush and was the only player at the table. General George Washington returned General Howe's dog to him after the dog escaped during the battle of Germantown. Washington included the following note to Howe: “General Washington's compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return to him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the collar appears to belong to General Howe.”

It occurs to me that I have dog treats in all the pockets of my coats and corduroys. Winston Churchill described his fits of deep depression as his “black dog.” I don't understand the reason. Black dogs are the antithesis of depression.

Sonny always went nuts when she heard Led Zeppelin's “Heartbreaker,” I used to dance with my dogs, but to one song only: the opening track of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, “Rocks Off.” As a kid, I had a dog who shit in the house one time in his life; it was on a Zenith floor console during the President Ford's State of the Union address. I met a dog in an Oregon tavern who fetched cans of Hamm's for humans from behind the bar, but only Hamm's. Budweiser was out. I once saw a team of two dogs pull a man in a wheelchair into an Oregon Coast tavern. He ordered three hamburgers and they ate them right there. There is a tavern dog on the Oregon Coast who fishes for salmon in the middle of a creek. One time, he caught  a steelhead and brought it up to the kitchen and the cooked it up for supper. There is a large poodle who sits on a stool in an Oregon tavern and salutes you with his paw when you enter. The best illustrated logo utilizing the image of a dog I have ever seen is from the Mad Dog Country Tavern in Newport, Oregon. In the design, a long-eared goofy mutt with his tongue  hanging out is driving a speed boat with his left paw and hoisting a frothy mug of beer with his right. I used to rake leaves with my childhood dog and then we played football in the piles. He would follow me to grade school in the era where kids walked to school. Sometimes he would wait for me all day, but usually he went home. I had a woman break up with me because I had three big dogs. I had a woman suggest that my dogs could sleep in the truck when I came for an overnight visit; that was the last I ever saw of her. I had a prominent dog psychic contact me and say Sonny had contacted her out of concern for my welfare. I had dogs that would fling themselves against the garage door when I came home. I never had a girlfriend do that. Snoopy was an aspiring novelist who always began his novels: “It was a dark and stormy night. A shot rang out.” I used to read my manuscripts to my dogs. I never did that with a human. I once intervened in a domestic dispute but only for the sake of a dog. Abortion protesters never have dogs, at least that I have observed. I rarely saw homeless people with dogs 20 years ago. Now practically every homeless man or woman I encounter in the city and country has a dog. Why the change?

If a dog dies of neglect in a back yard, does the neighbor hear the sound or was the television turned up too loud? In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko utters many immortal lines such as “greed is good,” and “you're not naive enough to think we live in a democracy are you?” But his golden line for immortality is, “If you need a friend, get a dog.” Whenever I find myself driving behind a dog or dogs untethered in the back of a moving pickup, I immediately turn so I don't have to watch such obscene treatment of dogs. I once berated a neighborhood boy into crying after he told me his untethered puppy died jumping out of the back of a moving pickup. I played with the puppy and let that kid have it. I desperately wanted two jobs this past year: grant writer for a homeless shelter and grant writer for an animal shelter. I was denied both jobs because of my crime. The animal shelter wouldn't even let me walk the dogs. I was deemed unfit to help homeless humans and homeless dogs. There should be a word for this type of exclusion and perhaps one day I'll invent it when I see a homeless man walking with his dog. Those without a dog can cast the first stick to a shelter dog. Tramps like me, baby I was born to dog.

The saying goes: over time, a long time, a dog and a dog owner's faces begin to resemble one another. It might have been incredibly, Rainier Maria Rilke in his 1910 novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He wrote:

Of course, since they have several faces, you might wonder what they do with the other ones. They keep them in storage. Their children will wear them. But sometimes it also happens that their dogs go out wearing them. And why not? A face is a face.

I once asked participants in a faces-themed writing workshop a question. Did my face resemble Sonny's. I asked because virtually everyone in the class had either met Sonny or seen her face as a photograph accompanying my books, columns and posts about our madcap adventures down Oregon Coast beaches. She once had the most famous dog face in Oregon. She had more words written about her than any dog in the history of Oregon and here I am, still going strong. A brief silence ensued after the question. I got nervous. I couldn't predict my reaction. I asked a question of an an audience that I didn't know the answer. You're not supposed to do that in legal matters or in literary venues. The answer must be known. Who wants to ask questions when the answers are already thought to be known? Most people. I found that out. Does anyone want to look like their dog? Is it a sly compliment or a veiled insult? Then Susan spoke: “Yes, your face was the eyebrows.” I felt overjoyed when I heard this. A “dog face” is an old military term to describe a US Army infantryman. I have no idea of its origin, but I guess I sort of like the ring to it.

Dogs don't stray from conversations with their phones. A stray dog can help a human astray find direction. The only video slot machine I will play is the husky game. I've never won. I used to play tennis with my dogs. We went through a lot of balls. Jim Harrison is the greatest American writer on the subject of dogs but he never wrote a dog book. His characters often cooked for their dogs. After reading this, I often barbecued steaks for my dogs and only the best cuts, too. Is there a great rock song about dogs? Harry Nilsson  wrote “Me and My Arrow” and it's a great song, but not really a rocker. The Rolling Stones wrote a song called “Bitch” but it is not about a dog. There is rock band in Port Orford, Oregon called Antique Dog but their eponymous 1999 CD strangely does not contain a dog song. Blake Shelton's “I'll Name the Dogs” is the cheesiest, phoniest country music song in recent memory. Why does the woman get to name the babies and the man gets to name the dogs? Why not get drunk on sangria and throw up a telephone book and see where it opens? That's more country than this song. I wrote  a country western song called “I Had to Put My Dog Down, Wish it Had Been My Ex Girlfriend.” (A true story.) It's a sure fire hit for Taylor Swift and she is welcome to record it. All share of my profits will go toward animal shelter dogs. I also wrote a story titled “Christmas Jack” where a neglected boy steals a neglected dog off a chain on Christmas Eve. It would make a great animated film.

The other day Tommy James and the Shondells' “Crystal Blue Persuasion” came on the radio. As the song played, I rewrote the lyrics into a shelter dog song. I rather like how it turned out.

Look over yonder
What do you see?
A dog imprisoned,
Most definitely

A new day is coming, ooh, ooh
People are changing (finally)
Ain't it beautiful, ooh, ooh
Crystal dog persuasion

Better get ready to see the mutt
Love, love is the answer, ooh, ooh
And he's not all right

So don't you give up now, ooh, ooh
So easy to find
Just look to your shelter
And open your mind

Crystal dog persuasion, mmm, mmm
Canine vibration
Crystal dog persuasion Crystal, dog persuasion

The Grinch's dog Max is my favorite cartoon dog and the brandy-drinking St. Bernard in a Warner Brothers cartoon is second. I like Ziggy's dog and The Underdog, too, the latter an unassuming shoeshine dog who transforms himself into a superhero when the call arises. In my youth, I would become The Underdog and save this and that, and now here in middle age, I have become one again, but not a superhero, although mostly invisible, but a man trying this time to save himself with the help of real underdogs. Perhaps I need to don a costume.

Whenever I encounter a Trump supporter with a dog, we talk only about dogs and get on well. What is the secret sauce of that? The cutest dog in cinematic history is the white puppy in Apocalypse Now, the one Lance rescues from a Vietnamese junk after American soldiers killed everyone on the boat my mistake. The puppy later accompanies Captain Willard and Lance (the latter soaring on LSD) on a spooky mission. One of my favorite dog scenes in movies occurs in WC Fields' The Poppy, a bizarre opium-hazed comedy that features a stray terrier rescued by Fields accompanying him into a bar, sampling some whiskey, and then talking to Fields! Fields sells the dog to the bartender for $20 and the dog never talks again. The greatest inspirational speech employing dogs (mutts) as a metaphor was delivered by Bill Murray in Stripes. What's with the phrase, “capitalist running dog”?

Dogs held in animal shelters receive better succor than the men and I did in a county jail on the Oregon Coast. They wouldn't even let in shelter dogs for us to pet when that petting might have saved a few of the inmates from annihilation. They did, however, let ministers in to preach. I have a fundraiser idea for an animal shelter: hold a dog and cat-themed craft fair in around the shelter and require all vendors to sell only dog and cat-themed crafts! A dog made it into space before a human. Why wasn't there a dog on Jim Kirk's Enterprise? Spock desperately needed one. He would have learned everything important about being a human via a dog. What is the greatest piece of art depicting a dog? Years ago, I met a large old man living in a house along a river who had a weimaraner. He owned two Lincoln Town Cars, one that he drove alone and the other he drove with the dog. The weimaraner had chewed up the entire dash and all the upholstery in the dog Town Car and it was the strangest-looking interior of an automobile I have ever seen. I once met a man on the beach while walking with Sonny, who turned out to be a former Mafioso who was now in the witness protection program. He invited me to his house for whiskey and to meet his old dog. We talked of dogs and his previous life and drank whiskey and the more he drank the more Italian he sounded. He told me he trusted me because of the way I cared for my invalid husky. 

It occurs to me that I have dog treats in all the pockets of my coats and corduroys. Winston Churchill described his fits of deep depression as his “black dog.” I don't understand the reason. Black dogs are the antithesis of depression.

In James Tate's poem, “Dream On,” he writes: The family dog howls all night,/ lonely and starving for more poetry in his life. A snarling and starving dog chained perpetually to a stake certainly needs more poetry in his life, and the poetry begins when he mauls his owner to death and I write some doggerel about it.

The great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked.” Americans generally don't. Most Americans also can't distinguish between being trampled on and the obvious outcome of their elections. In the course of my father's career as a minister, he performed over a hundred funerals and graveside services for humans, including some where drunken humans got into fistfights and fell into graves. He also performed exactly one for a dog. It was called a “celebration of association” for a basset hound named Little Slugger and my father helped bury the dog after the service. One of the very few worthwhile uses of social media is informing others of the loss of a dog (or other family pet). The writing on grief in these posts is often extraordinary and typically much better than when a human writes about the loss of a human.

In concert, Captain Beefheart would often recite to his audiences, “You can tell by the kindness of a dog how a human should be.” This statement often ended up on the lyric sheets of his albums but was never part of song.

I know a friend who as a child gave up Catholicism on the spot when her priest told her dogs don't go to heaven. He then mocked her love of dogs. In 1989 Spy magazine published perhaps the greatest unconventional essay about dogs, “No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch,” by a food writer named Ann Hodgman. In the essay, Hodgman eats various brands of wet and dry dog foods in the presence of her dog and reports on their culinary qualities. I used to teach the essay to my students and eat dog food in their presence while we discussed it. I have a friend who once lived in Finland and told me dogs (and other pets) were covered by their national health insurance. That says all you need to know about the sweet scourge of socialism and how other countries treat their dogs better than America treats their indigent sick humans. My favorite stories of natural disasters are about those people in the disaster zones who refuse to leave if they can't bring their dogs with them.

I am 12 for 16 in rescuing stray dogs that randomly come across my path. Not good enough. I sprained my shoulder diving for a runaway greyhound on the beach. It was never seen again. I always carry a dog rescue kit in my car: leash, treats, water, water dish. The last piece of printed material after the American Apocalypse will be a Lost Dog Poster. I like dogs with  American names from a bygone era, such as Fred, Irma, Mabel, and Ralph. I love wandering around disheveled cemeteries and seeing references to dogs that were once an important part of their owners' lives, so important in fact, that their names or faces got etched in marble. I once marked Druid Dog Reformed as my religion on the census.

One afternoon not too long ago, I was overwhelmed by dogs, or I should say dog books that had been thoroughly dog eared. I was browsing in a humane society thrift store (supernaturally) because I only buy books (and clothes) in these type of shops when I discovered, within the space of ten feet, the following pack of titles: The Dog with the Old Soul, a Harlequin anthology of inspiring, non-sexy dog stories; Dog on It, a detective novel written by Chet, a dog owned by a forlorn private investigator named Bernie; Woof: Writers on Dogs, a collection of dog mini-memoirs by some edgy writers; Dog Crazy, a chick-lit novel about a bereavement counselor who goes looking for a stolen dog: The Dogs Who Found Me, a memoir by an acerbic writer who reluctantly rescues dogs; Die Like a Dog, a pulp novel where a detective has to dig up dead dog to prove a murder by poising case; and the novel Motel Life, by my former friend Willy Vlautin, a wonderful novel that contains an unforgettable scene where a young desperate man steals a freezing and starving dog off a chain in the dead of a Reno winter night, something Willy didn't do in real life, and I know this because I asked him in front of my students when I had him talk about the novel, a novel the students loved and I taught many times strictly because it was a dog and human rescue book. Many years ago I had a dream where Rachel Carson wrote a dog book, The Dogs Around Us, and it was her best book, and changed the course of animal welfare in America.

Temple of the Dog was a decent rock super group and released a power ballad titled “Call Me a Dog” on their 1991 album. It has some good Chris Cornell wailing and a savage guitar solo, but the dog in the song is a pejorative term for a jilted man. That doesn't work for me, even though I'm a jilted man, jilted by society, and I've seen men treated worse than dogs. In Big Jake, an utterly forgettable late career John Wayne movie, his character has a dog named Dog. In one scene, really the only interesting one, Dog stops a lynching and easily manages to out act Wayne. One of my favorite dog scenes in movies occurs in Shane when Jack Palance's evil gunfighter character, clad in black, walks into the saloon, and the dog gets up and walks out. What's wrong with writing doggerel? Give me more doggerel over preciousness any day of the week! In James Tate's poem, “Dream On,” he writes: The family dog howls all night,/ lonely and starving for more poetry in his life. A snarling and starving dog chained perpetually to a stake certainly needs more poetry in his life, and the poetry begins when he mauls his owner to death and I write some doggerel about it. Charles Bukowski once worked in a dog biscuit factory and wrote a collection of poems titled Love is a Dog From Hell. I've read the book and fell in love with a cat woman while reading it, and I can assure, a love like ours was not a dog from hell. J.M. Coetzee wrote a snarling short story masterpiece titled The Dog that perfectly encapsulates why most humans suck. And Coetzee only needed one page, which is all you really need. Chekhov presented dogs in many of his stories, most famously “The Lady and the Dog,” but his dogs were never front and center, never human-like (the essential ingredient to writing a great dog story or book), and therefore none of them are indelible. In Goethe's Faust, a stray poodle follows Faust home and turns into the demon Mephistopheles, an emissary from the devil. Faust and Mephistopheles strike their famous black bargain. I have never seen the play. Do any productions use a real dog? I bet not. They'd need a human (politician) to act the part of a devil dog more believably. In fact, most humans wouldn't even have to feign Satan-like properties in the performance. They exude them constantly in everyday life in person, on television and the Internet. Karen Blixen, writing as Isak Dinesen, wrote memorable passages about her dogs in Out of Africa. They were clearly her best friends. How could deerhounds be anything but? Dammit, I want a deer hound that would never chase Rilke's luminous deer through the forest. No, I want a coonhound! They have the best bark of any dog I've ever heard. I would name mine Ernie. I've often wondered about those human beings who experimented on dogs to prolong human life. Have I ever intersected with them and sensed their disease? My life once intersected with a primate researcher and she was beautiful and deeply sick. Farley Mowat's memoir of his childhood dog, Mutt, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, is an obscure classic of the dog book genre and once again, features a dog that wants to become human and becomes the human humans want to become. He also wore goggles when riding in the rumble seat of a Model T Ford! Bonnie and Clyde have never evinced any desire to me to become human-like. On the other hand, I have begun to evince a desire to become more Bonnie and Clyde-like. The Heart of a Dog, written by Mikhail Bulgukov, and published in the Soviet Union in 1925, is a comic proletarian novel narrated by a dog named Sharik. It doesn't hold up particularly well now that the Soviet Union is dead. One wonders if Stalin read it since he once said, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” The book can boast of one immortal line about dogs, one well worth remembering: “A dog's spirit dies hard.” It is true that Hitler loved his German shepherds more than he loved human beings. Loving dogs more than humans doesn't always work out for humanity. Dylan Thomas wrote a collection of short stories titled Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. Its cover features Thomas and a dog smoking cigarettes. It does not contain a dog story although one the stories is named “Just Like Little Dogs.” Every bookseller I've ever talked to said the same thing: “Put a dog on the cover and the book will sell.”One wonders what writers who write dog books containing vast amounts of empathy are really like in the flesh with humans or even other dogs. Writers who write about empathy in stories and poems and essays are the least empathetic people I've ever known. It's easy on the page. Not so easy in real life. Practicing real empathy requires a face to it. No real face on the pages. I sense many writers of empathy fake it in the real world. I used to be that kind of fake writer of empathy. I extended vast amounts of empathy to dogs but very limited empathy to people around me. Not anymore after Bonnie and Clyde and becoming a dog myself; I can go vast on both fronts.

I'll never forget the moment when I was teaching a writing workshop to a group of men incarcerated in the Oregon State Penitentiary and I presented “A Dog in Your Life” as one of the prompts. The men just sat there, staring at me, and I felt instantly I had made an extraordinary miscalculation. They continued to sit in silence for what seemed like forever and then most began to cry. Then they started writing and five or so minutes later shared stories of their dogs. None of the stories had a happy ending. The only time I ever cried in front of my students is when I read a piece at the launch of our literary reviews where I described taking my dog Ray down to the beach one last time before I had him euthanized.  I barely finished the piece and when I sat down in the audience next to a student, she said to me, in a whisper, “You've just taught me that family is more than just blood.” I'll never forget that.

There are no dogs in Dog Day Afternoon or Reservoir Dogs. If only Butch and Sundance had had a dog with them. They would have made it. Jesus should have had a dog trailing him on his messianic wanderings. He probably did but the gospel fiction writers left the dog out because they thought a dog's presence trivial. Big mistake. They would have sold more copies of the Bible had they rolled in the dog and had him help out with the loaves and fishes distribution. The New Testament would have been the ultimate Tortured Man and Dog book and the dog's owner would have died (rather painfully) in front of the dog, an almost unheard plot development in dog books. Just imagine that scene with the dog looking up at his crucified master!

The first recorded dog story of all time is from the Odyssey and it set the standard for the next 3000 years.Odysseus returns after 20 years and his 20-year old dog Argo recognizes him in disguise, wags his tail, but is too weak to get up and greet his beloved master. Odysseus sheds a tear and Argo dies. Twenty five years ago I read a short story  in an Istanbul library titled “Dog People” where a family who owned dogs turned them into vicious creatures that menaced the neighborhood. I have never forgotten this cruel story but have never been able to find it again, even with the help of the Internet. Emily Dickinson had dogs in her life but none of them made it into her poems. Odd. What is the greatest memorial to a dog in the world? I once saw a local man beat up another man, a tourist, on the beach because the tourist kicked the local man's off leash dogs in the faces and hurt them. I did not intervene. The most harrowing dog scene from a novel that I have read is the opening sequence of Pete Dexter's Brotherly Love. In it, a dog attacks a girl struck dead by a car, the girl's brother attacks the dog, and then the car's owner (a mobster) empties his revolver into the dog after carrying the girl's body into her house, whose father is also connected to the mob.

The Nobel Prize winning author Thomas Mann wrote an unusual short story titled “A Man and His Dog.” It was published in 1918. It is a story about a dog, but more of a cryptic tale of how humans might be better served emulating the life of dogs. Mann wrote: “Animals are more primitive and less inhibited in giving expression to their mental state—there is a sense in which one might say they are more human.” A dog is more human than a human. Now that's something to consider.

In 1922, Franz Kafka wrote a 15,000-word short story though the voice of an old dog titled “Investigations of a Dog.” It is perhaps the most metaphysical thing ever written about dogs, and at times almost impossible to fathom. Clearly, though, the dog is writing about humans. Here are some of the more arresting lines. As I read them, I realized they were precisely what my book about my adventures with Bonnie and Clyde was all about.

I began to inquire into the question what the canine (human) race nourished itself upon.

All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers, is contained in the dog.

...change begins in the (human) soul before it appears in ordinary existence, and that, when they begin to enjoy a dog's life, they must have already possessed real old dogs' souls.

I still can't believe Thoreau didn't have a dog with him at Walden. I like to think Thelma and Louise would not have driven over the cliff had they owned a dog. I once had to break up a fight to the death on the beach between two of my dogs and nearly lost a finger. I still have a scar under my left eye where a German shepherd bit me in my youth. A Doberman pinscher almost mauled me in my youth.

One of my favorite lines ever overhead in an Oregon tavern: “I'd like to introduce you my dog that drinks up all my Jameson. It was an English bulldog and it wore an ascot. I don't think Bruce Springsteen has a single mention of a dog in all his working class anthems. That seems very off to me.

Some of my favorite moments with dogs were around a burn barrel, usually alone, late at night, looking at the stars, listening to the fire, thinking about this and that. I was always present there.

The Bonnie and Clyde Files

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