The Waif Next Door: Johann

If you took a full body view of Johann, he had the look of a typical, brown dachshund. His ears did not fold over as a dachshund’s should. They had a ludicrous, erectile look like a jack rabbit. Maybe you could see a little of the mini-doberman in him, but more likely just the hare. His very front teeth were crooked. In general he was an asymmetrical oddity. I settled on Patagonian rat catcher as the brand name for this chance-bred animal.

From the neighbor’s yard, he’d see my wife or me playing with our pet and wanted to join us; and when the neighbors went away for awhile, we used to bring him into our yard to play with Henry, our own mixed breed. When play was done and he had grown sleepy, I lifted him back over the fence and filled his water bowl which our neighbors rarely did. It was hot in Kansas that summer and he constantly upset his water dish, jumping around, spilling it, excited to go next door. His visits were regular to our yard as the neighbors were gone a lot. When they were home they were gone a lot, too — even the kids ignored him. We thought we were acting in secret, but they might have known of their dog’s house calls.

One day he’d been short-chained in a little out building. As usual he’d jumped around and spilled his water bowl. He was just lying there, depressed, his feces lying about. I waited until the neighbors left that day. They always left at least once a day. I released the dog onto our free range. Then I went back and cleaned up the feces. Later, when the neighbors got back, they saw their dog in our yard and said nothing, not even a nod, a smile or a thank you. They weren’t even irritated that we could tell. The next day I saw the mother in the yard. “Do you like your pup?” I asked.

“Don’t care one way or the other,” she said. She looked as though she didn’t care about anything.

“You know, he wants to play with our Henry. Do you mind if we have him over every now and then. Henry can use the exercise and they’re getting used to each other. We don’t mind.”

“Help yourself to him then.”

So I did and the pup spent more and more time with us, even when his owners were home. I cannot recall seeing the neighbor kids play with him, nor did I hear kind words, silly words, affectionate words ever spoken to the animal. No one ever took the dog for a walk. Eventually I caught the neighbor lady outside one Saturday and I said, “Would you like to give up the dog completely?”

“I’ll check with the kids. I don’t care. It was the kids who named him “Nuisance,” you know.”

The kids didn’t care so I lifted the dog permanently into our yard, our care and our lives. It wasn’t hard to change his name. He took to “Johann.” We bathed him right off and got his shots two days later. We never saw Johann look back through the neighbor’s fence or wag his tail when he saw them come and go. Johann never looked back.  He became a tough,  crusty, old urchin and lived to nineteen.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken



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