Old Dog Smell – 2009
“There’s nothing wrong with a little dog smell,” Granny used to say.
She was referring to the less –than-pleasant odor of Waylon, the hound who spent his days in the field running rabbits. He often returned from the hunt dripping wet or caked with dirt and ticks. And boy, did he get smelly. Waylon would then subject everyone to his mustiness by barging into Granny’s kitchen on Sunday afternoons. Granny gave him a cookie to get him back out the house, and he learned quickly that the easiest way to receive a tasty snack was to come inside.
“Here you go, Wayla Boy!” Granny said as she tossed a cookie onto the sidewalk.
He’d trot toward the cookie, and sometimes he ate it; on other occasions, he buried it underground with the rest of his reserves.
But even after he had gone back outside, much of him still lingered.
“Gosh, he stinks,” my little sister giggled as she pinched her nose shut. “He needs a bath!”
“Naw,” Granny said. “He’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with an ole’ dog smell.”
That’s right. Waylon could do no wrong in Granny’s eyes. She didn’t flinch when he plopped dead frogs, rats, and rabbits onto her porch. She didn’t mind his ear-piercing wail. She didn’t even mind his outdoor-rolling-in-dead-stuff odor. In fact, she almost seemed to like it. She liked everything about him.
But Granny hadn’t always been so fond of Waylon. Initially, he was my grandfather’s dog, a gift from my cousin and a surprise at that.
“We don’t need anything else hanging around this house wanting food,” Granny said. “Dogs are too much work.”
It was too late though. Waylon and my grandfather had bonded. They spent afternoons together out in the lot, the big open space behind the farmhouse. My grandfather messed around with his bottle collection and tinkered with old furniture, and Waylon chewed on twigs. Sometimes, they just sat together on the steps of the chicken house, Waylon sniffing the breeze and my grandfather puffing a forbidden cigarette. They had a special relationship; they understood one another. But Granny did not understand.
A few years later, my grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had progressed into a relatively late stage before it was detected. My grandfather stayed in the hospital for several weeks recovering from surgery and undergoing radiation therapy. Granny took care of Waylon.
I was standing on the sidewalk the afternoon my grandfather returned from the hospital. My dad, mom, sister, and I were eager to hug him and welcome him home. We had to wait our turn. As my grandfather opened the car door, Waylon placed his front paws on the edge of the car and licked his face with tail-wagging glee. My grandfather weakly wrapped his arms around his hound, lowered his head, and wept. They were so happy to be together again.
It wasn’t too much later that my grandfather lost his fight with cancer and Waylon lost his best friend. For several weeks, Waylon hunted for much longer periods than he ever used to. After he ate breakfast, his white-tipped tail would disappear into the wheat field, not to be seen again until the next morning.
I’m not sure if it was ever actually discussed, but Granny knew what she had to do. She fed Waylon every morning, afternoon, and evening. She marked her calendar with his heartworm pill stickers, and she took him to the vet for his check-ups. Granny became his primary caretaker and, with time, his new best friend. Waylon gnawed on acorns while Granny pruned her azaleas. He napped in the sun while she hung out her laundry. They took walks together around the lot. They grew old together on the farm.
It’s probably a good thing that Waylon outlived Granny. I don’t think she could have handled losing him and what their relationship had come to represent. Until her last day, Granny took care of that dog. And he took care of her too. He helped heal her heart.
I will always remember the sound of Granny’s voice as she called Waylon to the house for supper. “Wayla! Come here, Wayla boy,” she hollered. And a few minutes later, he would come trotting up the steps, dirty from his last hunt. But before she sat down his food, she stroked his dusty coat. There is nothing wrong with an old dog smell.