When I was a child, I had a great-uncle, who I barely remember. The same is true of one of our dogs. I can say that the uncle’s name was Paul, and that the dog’s name was Rinty. The uncle was an alcoholic who no one liked to kiss. The dog was a German Shepherd who I believed was going to do something amazing like Rin Tin Tin. I’m pretty certain I had no such expectations of my uncle.
Uncle Paul’s and Rinty’s life stories intersect for just a moment in my parents’ garage.
My uncle had just arrived for one of his blessedly rare visits. The whole family had gone outside to greet him, and, eventually, we all headed into the house. We were not front door people, so we went through the garage, where Uncle Paul saw Rinty. In his never one hundred percent clear mind, my uncle sensed danger. He grabbed one of my sisters and pulled her away from what he saw as a threat. At that point, Rinty saw an old lush snatching one of his girls. In his one hundred percent sharp mind, he sensed danger. He, in turn, grabbed what he saw as a threat just below the knee, with his mouth, tearing my uncle’s pants and leaving a tiny tooth hole in his skin.
I was thrilled with Rinty’s courageous Rin Tin Tin-like behavior. The fact that Uncle Paul had put himself out a bit for my sister, too, made less of an impact on me. Adults pulled children away from roads, lakes, and other kids all the time. A savior dog was far more rare. And we had one!
A couple of days later, Uncle Paul called my parents to tell them he was seeing a doctor about the bite on his leg. And, oh, yeah, depending on what the doctor had to say, they might have to kill their dog.
Rinty was out of our home like a hot pistol after a crime spree. My father came up with a scheme to give him to a guy who ran a junkyard, figuring that if he, himself, didn’t have the dog, he couldn’t be expected to kill it. I am sure that was how the plan was presented to me. We were being shrewd and pulling a fast one, so we could save Rinty. We were heroes.
I have no memory of being stunned by the very idea of killing a pet. I don’t recall hearing anything later about what the doctor had to say. But I do know that once, just once, I sat in my father’s truck outside Rinty’s new junkyard home and heard him barking from behind a wooden fence. Dad said no, I shouldn’t go see him.
That is all I retain of either Uncle Paul or Rinty. Other than the fact that they existed—I had a great-uncle Paul, I had a dog Rinty—they only take on life for me because they were together for an instant. If we had used the front door, if Uncle Paul had been too inebriated upon arrival to notice an animal, in my mind he would now just be an aging alcoholic who no one wanted to get near. If we had chained Rinty in back of the house in the full sun, if we had let him roam, he would have become just another one of the dogs that lived in relative comfort with our family and were forgotten.
But none of those things happened. So what passed for a brave act on Paul’s part led to him being remembered as the old drunk who made us get rid of our noble pet. And Rinty’s valiant response to a perceived menace condemned him to my last memory of him, barking and barking and barking behind a fence.