Dog making a funny face


by James Savik

I, Jimmy, your humble narrator, was seven, and Scotty was six.

We were getting old enough for the parents to let us roam in our neighborhood a little.

Our neighborhood was cool because it was rural and surrounded by woods. The usual subdivision roads and utilities had been built, but only about a quarter of the lots had houses.

That meant three-quarters of the lots were vacant, giving us plenty of room to play. There were the woods to explore, plenty of cool animals to see, and even a few ponds to fish in. Somebody's parents had bush-hogged, cleared, and created a playground with a basketball goal, swings, and other stuff.

Scotty and I were on a mission to check it out.

You see, we were both military brats, and our dads were recently retired. My dad was in the Army, and his dad was in the Air Farce (nobody’s perfect). We were always on a mission. We figured we would have to fight those dastardly Russians someday, so we had to train, train, train.

We delighted in exploring the new playground and laughed like fools at a fat kitty taking a huge dump in the new sandbox. With our mission accomplished, we then bombed some fire ant mounds.

Wandering around, we ran into Brian and an older kid with a huge black dog on a leash. I knew Brian had an older brother who was a teenager.

Maybe not a dog. Perhaps a small horse. Yikes!

Brian saw us and waved, and he, the guy I figured was his older brother, and the small horse started coming our way.

What ya hafta understand about Scotty and me is that at that stage of our lives, we were both devout dog-a-phobes. A bulldog grabbed me by the face with his teeth and shook me when I was really little, and Scotty knew me while I was still getting surgery to keep me from looking like a nightmare and scaring little children.

As they approached, Scotty asked, “Is that a dog or a horse?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, shaking. “I’d be running, but I’m too terrified.”

This dog-horse was different. He wasn’t angry or barking. Given my life experience with dogs, I would have probably dropped dead on the spot if he was. He was on a leash, and he looked… friendly. He was pretty, too. Lean, muscular, and alert. I might even like to pet him if I could trust him not to eat me.

Scotty spoke loudly, “Uhh… Hi Brian. That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen. Please tell me he’s friendly.”

Brian said, “Bonkers is my big brother Doug’s dog. He’s friendly. Doug, this is Jimmy and Scotty.”

Doug asked, “You boys aren’t afraid of dogs, are you? Bonkers won’t bite you.”

I said, “I got badly bitten once and am scared of them. “

Scotty asked, “Why do you call him Bonkers?”

Doug said, “I’ll let him show you.” With a big smile, Doug produced a frisbee. He let the dog off the leash and let fly the frisbee, and Bonkers showed us. The big powerful dog was a hundred and twenty-pound labrador retriever. He took off like a missile, flying fast over the grass, chasing after that frisbee.

“Labs are hunting dogs,” Doug explained. “Bonkers loves to run.”

Bonkers slightly misjudged a leaping catch, and the frisbee bounced off his nose, causing us a gale of laughter.

He recovered on his landing and caught up with the frisbee as it rolled. Then he picked it up, ran toward Doug like a shot, and dropped the frisbee at his feet. He sat on his haunches close to Doug, wagging his tail happily, and looked up at him expectantly.

Doug launched the frisbee again; this time, Bonkers made a beautiful catch out of the air.

As Bonkers returned, this time with a definite jauntiness, Doug asked, “Would you like to pet him?”

Scotty was all for it, but I wasn’t going near the monster. I didn't want to look like a chicken before my friends, but I was near panic.

Brian noticed my distress and said, “It’s OK, Jimmy. Bonkers is really friendly. He might lick you to death, but he won’t bite you.”

Scotty wasn’t nearly as dog-a-phobic as I was. He approached the big, handsome dog and stroked Bonker’s fur.

The big dog smiled at him, he turned and licked Scotty’s face, causing him to giggle.

Doug said in a soothing voice, stroking the huge dog’s fur, “Bonkers is a big, sweet boy. He wants to play all the time. If you throw the frisbee for him, you’ll have a friend for life, Scotty.”

Having not been swallowed whole, Scotty picked up the frisbee, and Bonkers set himself to chase it like a track star.

Scotty flung the frisbee, and Bonkers took off galloping after it.

Doug said, “Brian, you and Scotty throw the frisbee. I’m going to talk to Jimmy.”

Brian, Scotty, and Bonkers had great fun with the frisbee.

Doug approached me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “You’re really scared. A dog must have hurt you bad.”

I nodded silently, sniffed, and wiped away a tear.

Doug knelt, put an arm around me, and said, “You don’t have to be afraid of Bonkers. He’s a sweet dog. You know, dogs are a lot like people.”

“They are?” I asked, truly fascinated at the idea those fanged monsters are like people.

“It’s true. You know how some people can be mean… buttholes?”

I giggled and said, “Yeah!”

Doug said reasonably, “Dogs can get that way when their owners are mean and rough with them. We’ve been nice to Bonkers, so he’s not mean. I can introduce him to you, and I promise he’ll be polite.”

I was so truly astonished at the idea of a polite dog, a creature I’d thought of as monstrous for as long as I could remember, that my curiosity suddenly eclipsed my fear. A soldier, even a little one, had to be brave.

“He will?” I asked uncertainly.

With all his considerable reassurance, Doug said, “I promise.”

We watched for a minute as Bonkers tirelessly chased the frisbee. Now that he was warmed up, he was catch’n more than he miss’n.

Doug said, “Bonkers is a breed of dog called a Labrador Retriever. I suppose you could make a Lab mean, but I’ve never met a mean one.”

When Bonkers was returning with the frisbee, Doug whistled, and the big dog changed direction toward us. I wanted to run, but Doug had promised Bonkers would be polite.

Bonkers trotted up happily in front of Doug, dropped the frisbee at his feet, sat on his haunches, and looked at us.

Doug said, “Bonkers is smart, Jimmy. He can talk. Say hello to Jimmy.”

The dog cocked his head sideways and said, “Ar-ro.”

I laughed at how much it sounded like he was talking when he lifted a paw in an obvious invitation to shake. It would have been rude to refuse, so I shook his paw.

Bonkers looked at the frisbee, looked at me, and, without words, told me he wanted me to throw it.

Picking up the frisbee, I threw it, and Bonkers shot after it like an arrow.


That’s how I made my first friend of a dog. A big, happy Labrador Retriever helped me conquer a deep fear. I’ll probably never own a dog or be comfortable with strange dogs unless we’re introduced. However, after knowing Bonkers, I know they aren’t monsters.