SIDNEY UNDERWOOD - "Low-Down Cowards Poisoned Minnie"

(10/09/2017)

REMEMBERING OUR DOG, “MINNIE”
By Sidney Underwood

I have been around dogs most of my life. The first dog that I remember was the last fox hound that my grandfather owned. He was an old Walker hound and spent most of his final years on the back porch of Granddad’s farmhouse soaking up the afternoon sun as that seemed to relieve his arthritic condition.

As a three year old kid, I would roll onto him and pull his ears and generally try to roughhouse with him. A good old dog, he was was not one to bite. He would put up with me for a time and then get up and look at me with sad eyes and limp away toward the barn dismissing me as a nuisance.

In my lifetime, I have had the privilege of knowing four dogs all of which enriched my life in so many ways. I have wonderful memories of them. What follows is the story of Minnie who was the first dog that my family owned.

Living on Phillips Run in Calhoun County in 1946, my parents decided that we should have a dog. My mother had always admired Cocker Spaniels. She especially liked the shiny reddish blond coat and gentle disposition of that breed. Mother thought a dog would be a good companion for her and me since she was a stay-at-home mom and I was preschool.

I remember the day my Dad went to the railroad depot in Spencer and claimed our puppy that had traveled all the way from an Iowa kennel. When Dad arrived home, he carried the crate into our house and when it was opened, the seven week old puppy shot out like a cannon ball and ran through every room in the house yipping as if she were chasing something. At first we were stunned by this behavior then when we realized what was happening we couldn’t stop laughing.

Finally tiring of that activity, the puppy returned to the kitchen and lay panting on the floor beside the crate. I remember my Mother reaching down and petting the puppy and telling us that the dog would be named Minnie. Mother read the tag attached to the crate that showed the feeding and watering schedule while Minnie was on the train. Mother also noted that the tag indicated Minnie had been in transit for five days from a small town near Davenport, Iowa. It was no wonder that she had been so happy to finally be free!

I still remember sunny days when Minnie, Mother and I would go for afternoon walks. Since we lived in what is now the Glen Fowler house on Phillips Run, we could not walk RT#16 because of the traffic. Instead, we would cross the narrow foot bridge behind our house and go toward the Pete and Mildred Kirby home that sat on the other side of Phillips Run. We would take the old dirt road south that ran parallel to RT#16. We would walk that road through the hillside woods and it would eventually curve upward to the right into an open field with a barn visible in the distance.

It was at this point that we would turn around and start for home. Many times during those afternoon walks, Minnie would hunt for and find a box turtle. She would pick up the hissing and tightly clamped thing and carry it in her mouth. Naturally she would drop the turtle and chase after it as it rolled downhill. Everyone except the turtle thought this was a fun experience. Finally Mother would make Minnie give up the turtle and we would resume our journey home. With Minnie ranging far out in front of us, Mother would examine the turtle to see that it was none the worse for wear and place it behind a rock out of Minnie’s sight.

Unlike me, Mother always hoped that Minnie would not find another turtle that day. I remember when on one of our journeys, Minnie found a turtle with a small chip in its shell. When Mother took the turtle away from her, she noted that it also had a missing foot. Mother climbed high on the hillside above the road and hid that turtle behind a large tree hoping Minnie would never see it again. Next trip, Minnie found it again. This time in the middle of that dirt road. Mother said that the hard luck turtle certainly had a bad sense of timing because of everything that had happened to it.

Upon arriving home from those afternoon trips, it was expected that Minnie and I would take naps. I remember that Mother would read to me a portion of the story of The Nutcracker. It might have been a chapter a day. That story concerned a princess’s broken Christmas toy magically transformed into a charming young prince and his adventures with the mouse king. Typically, before the chapter was finished, I would be asleep with Minnie snoozing on the floor beside my bed.

In 1948 Minnie moved with us to Hardman Alley in Grantsville. Circumstances were different now and she no longer had the freedom to move about as she had on Phillips Run. Dad erected a fence that ran between our house and the property that belonged to Dr. John Boling who had the Clinic uptown. This was basically a four foot wide runway extending only the length of our house to the back side of the Jack and Effie Bickerstaff residence. My parents soon realized that Minnie was not happy being confined to such a small space. Mother started letting Minnie out in the alley for short periods. Generally when she was allowed out, myself or a family member would be with her. She would romp and play and fetch thrown balls.

Over time it became a common sight seeing Minnie range up and down the alley. It didn’t matter whether it was a tennis ball, rubber ball or baseball, Minnie would always return with it and be ready to go again. My arm would tire out and I would make Minnie climb the porch steps with me so I could rest. I remember one time that I threw a football down the alley thinking I would trick her because there was no way she could handle it. When Minnie got to the ball, she pushed it with her nose finally locating the laces and latching onto them returned half carrying and half dragging it to me. I was shocked at the appearance of my football that now needed new laces. My trick had obviously backfired on me!

Soon everyone on Hardman Alley recognized Minnie and knew that she was a friendly dog. Our neighbor, Virginia Arthur, who lived across the alley was especially fond of her and Minnie spent a lot of time lying on her porch. Eventually we became even more lax in our supervision and Minnie would be gone for extended periods. After an absence of an hour or so, my Mother would become concerned and send me out to look for Minnie. She never failed to respond to my calling for her, but at times she would be returning from Mill Street or River Street. It was evident that she was becoming a town dog and hopefully wise in the avoidance of automobiles.

Bob Knotts had an auto repair shop {garage} just beyond Arnold Motor Sales on Court Street near the intersection to River Street. Mr. Knotts, his wife Hazel, and children, Jim and Norma, lived upstairs in the wooden building. One day Minnie wandered over to the shop. I’m sure it wasn’t long before she was wagging her stubby tail as Mr. Knotts petted her and talked to her. It was several weeks later when Dad was out searching for Minnie that he saw her there. Mr. Knotts confided that Minnie had been visiting his place on a regular basis. He said that she would lie on the shop floor and watch him work and was good company and helped him pass the time of day. Dad also learned that the Knott’s family had virtually given Minnie free reign as she regularly climbed the steps to their apartment and basically made herself at home to the family’s delight.

I remember an incident that happened in early 1949 when Minnie was three years old. She came up missing and neither the Knotts family or my family new what had happened to her. We knew that Minnie would be more than willing to climb into someone’s car and go for a ride. We assumed that was the case, but we also knew that she wore a collar with a metal rabies vaccination tag indicating she was owned by someone. By the fifth day we had almost given up hope of her returning when she reappeared on our porch wagging her tail happy to see us. It was suggested that she had been taken by someone who subsequently learned that she belonged to the Underwood family and for that reason was returned. This is not to say that our family was in any way special, but Dad was well known throughout the county as a coach and teacher. We never did learn where she was during those missing days.

I remember something funny, at least I thought it was funny although my Mother was definitely not amused. We were travelling east on old Rt#50 in Ritchie County in our 49 Plymouth. I was riding in the back seat with Minnie and there were several bags of groceries on the floor. As we approached the old Tollgate Bridge, we started seeing cars parked along the road and people standing around. Assuming a car had wrecked on the bridge, Dad parked the Plymouth and asked someone what had happened.

We soon learned that a Baltimore and Ohio freight train had derailed under the bridge and heavy cranes were working to clear the wreckage. I remember I saw a kid walk past our car and he was carrying a lot of candy bars. When the man told Dad that one of the smashed wooden boxcars had been full of candy, I perked up and started paying real close attention. The man said that kids were swarming near the tracks and the State Police and local law enforcement had their hands full trying to keep them a safe distance from the work crews.

I wanted to go down the steep hillside and see if it was true but my Mother said that I could not go. When we got out of the car and stepped over the guard rail, I pointed out to her that other kids were down there getting stuff that looked like candy bars and packages of cookies. She looked at me with that familiar “not going to happen” look and said that I might as well quit whining because I was not going down over that hill! So, we sat there on the hillside and they watched the track crew slowly clearing the mess below us while I watched the lucky kids picking up the candy bars and cookie boxes.

After a time Dad looked at his watch and said that we needed to get back on the road toward West Union and I reluctantly followed my parents back to the car. When Mother reached the car, she saw Minnie asleep on the back seat, but something didn’t look quite right to her. When she opened the back door, she saw an empty bread wrapper lying on the seat near Minnie and bread crumbs everywhere. Mother started scolding Minnie and telling her she had been a bad dog. I thought it was really funny that Minnie had eaten a whole loaf of bread and I started laughing, but stopped when Mother gave me a withering look.

I got in the car with Minnie and started sweeping the crumbs off the plastic seat covers when I noticed one slice of Sunbeam bread still in the wrapper. The devil made me do it and I couldn’t stop myself when I told Mother that Minnie had saved a slice for us. She didn’t say anything, but Dad turned around in the front seat and told me to be quiet. I felt really smug about it because I realized there were some things that even my Mother could not control.

Looking back now, I realize that we should have taken better care of Minnie by keeping her on our property because in 1950 her life ended and she was only four years old. I recently talked with Jim Knotts and he remembered what a sad time it was for us and the Knotts family as well. On that fateful day Minnie came into Bob Knotts’ garage and he immediately knew something was wrong with her. He summoned his wife, Hazel, to assist him. Minnie stood trembling and finally fell to the floor shaking with spasms. Mr. and Mrs. Knotts, sensing poisoning, tried to revive her by making her drink milk and swallow raw eggs. Their efforts were to no avail. My Dad was contacted and he quickly came to the Knotts’ residence.

Bob asked my Dad if it would be OK if he buried Minnie because of his affection for her. He said his family felt that Minnie was like a member of their family and they would miss her dearly. He indicated that he owned a small storage building on River Street and he would bury Minnie below the building on the river bank. My Dad gave him permission to do so. This was a tough time for all of us and it was the first time that I had ever seen my Mother cry.

Minnie was not the only dog poisoned that summer and we knew of the possibility of it happening. We just thought it would never happen to her because she was so friendly. In my mind it takes a low down cowardly person to deliberately poison a dog. We had our suspicions as to whom might have done this, but no proof. In retrospect, I believe that if Minnie had been given a choice in the matter, she would have chosen a short happy life of freedom instead of a long life on a leash. She brought playfulness and innocence into so many peoples’ lives. It never fails to bring a tear to my eye when I remember the day Dad brought that crate into the kitchen of that house on Phillips Run so many years ago.

It surprises me today to realize that there are only three people still alive that knew that Minnie existed. They are Jim Knotts, his sister Norma Knotts Shaffer and myself. One thing is for sure: Jim, Norma and I will never forget Minnie because she was a very special dog.


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