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Gangi, an 80-pound German Shepherd, sits on his haunches and watches intently. His ears are perked up to the maximum, and his body twitches visibly from the tension building up in his muscles. A barely audible whine escapes his windpipe as he fights the urge to just charge forward.
The squirrel that he is watching has now wandered some 15 yards from the tree and is coming in his direction. Nothing else exists now in this moment of stealth but him, the squirrel, and the space between them. The claws in his hind feet dig into the earth with near impossible restraint.
The squirrel is a common gray that resides here in Kenwood Park. It is just foraging for edibles, minding its own business, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. There are a good number of them here, and Gangi considers it his sole purpose in life to give them chase whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The Straight and The Stray
Gangi hails from Galveston. He was born on a puppy farm and probably was not the pick of the litter (technically or otherwise), and he was weaned three weeks shy of readiness. But then again, is a puppy ever really ready to be weaned?
While he was still just a black furry brick-shaped little yapper, he was moved to a very small farming town, where he and his ears went through a series of changes in his first year. But he was brighter than the other dogs in town, and he would be going to school. Why, his shiny coat alone set him apart as a model of nobility and a candidate of academia.
Both of his parents had been champions … of something or other. And he himself was registered with the AKC, which had necessitated an additional name from him. The name Gangi was a distortion of some obscure foreign word. So now, he could stand tall (or sit) and present a countenance of pride and an aura of respectability as Sir Foreman Gangi. Yeah, that was his full name … not that he cared.
Nobody actually called him Sir, and Foreman was just a formality on paper. In fact, lately he’d had to resign himself to answering to Gangi Boy most of the time. And really, his biggest ambition was chasing squirrels.
Soon after settling in at the little town of Sandia, Gangi was introduced to Buddy, who became his closest friend and partner in capers. Buddy had been abandoned by a mother who had probably been abandoned herself. When he was found and brought home, he was pot-bellied, mud-caked, and floppy-eared, and about the size of a softball. There was some beagle and maybe some hound in him, and beyond that was anybody’s guess. He was a little mutt, rescued from a life of hunger and foraging.
And so, here were two young pups, completely different from each other in so many ways, growing up together like siblings.
Gangi was supposed to be the smart one, and he was. But what that meant was that he could learn to respond to commands, he was inclined to please, and he had a certain trait of dependency.
As a puppy, Buddy never yapped. He simply found comfort in Gangi’s company. He would always watch quietly, letting Gangi take the lead, and then if Gangi came out alright, Buddy would dive into whatever the activity was. What he learned on his own he retained well, and whatever anyone tried to teach him pretty much went out the window.
Life in a small town has its moments. Somebody’s heifer got loose one Sunday morning, and she chose our street to go gallivanting. Gangi and Buddy had been tied haphazardly to the hitch on the pickup in the driveway next to the house. This was done mainly to prevent them from wandering off, and it had never presented a problem. As usual, they were each on opposite ends of the same rope with a loop in the middle, which was fitted over the hitch.
Suddenly, there was a great deal of uproarious barking and an alarming clanging of metal, and in no time at all, Gangi and Buddy were out in the street, barking and growling and nipping, wholeheartedly bent on preventing the passerby from coming into their turf.
The cow was wearing a bell, and as she swung her head from side to side defensively, one could imagine someone yelling "Hear ye, hear ye!’" in the midst of the fracas, with an intermittent mooing to add to the chaos.
The dogs had positioned themselves strategically on either side of the beast, but they were oblivious to the twelve feet of rope between them or as to what might happen if said rope got tangled in the cow’s feet. If anyone was still in bed anywhere in town, the barking and the clanging bell and the cow’s bellows surely must have woken them up. Already, other dogs were rallying from distant and neighboring yards.
After perhaps twenty minutes, the dogs were pulled away carefully without incident and brought back from halfway down the block. And the heifer, as if not wanting to cause any more disorder, continued on her way hurriedly, with an air of indignation, her hooves clip-clopping on the pavement and the bell clanging away. She would have a story to tell to her bovine clique later, about the canine ruffians down the street.
Gangi and Buddy retreated into the backyard and found some stuff to chew on in the comfort of a shady spot. In their puppy minds, they had done nothing wrong.
“I say, old chap, that was rather exhilarating, giving that behemoth creature the old heave-ho, as it were. And you handled yourself rather sportingly.”
“Man, we was bad! That old cow, he be thinking ‘Man, I no go down that street no more.’ We got him good, dude.”
The pups had just discovered they could bark. Of course, similar incidents continued to happen. The occasional cat or chicken would wander into their zone, and they’d be off. Smaller creatures like that would naturally seek safety underneath the house, and if either of the dogs was giving chase, he invariably would misjudge the distance or forget to duck or something, because he’d end up running right into the side of the house.
They would just sort of bounce off with a little yelp, give up the chase, and go lie down as if nothing had ever happened. How it is that neither of them got more seriously injured from those head-butts remains a mystery.
Across the street was the neighbor’s house with an attached garage. The garage was often left wide open, and one could see a yellow garment of some sort hanging on the inner wall.
One day, the dogs were heard snarling and growling as they always did when they were playing. Except that their vocals were louder than usual, and they weren’t in the backyard. They were out in the middle of the street having a grand old time playing tug-of-war with the yellow garment, which turned out to be a raincoat. The raincoat was hung back up in the garage, and nothing was ever heard about any damages that might have been done to it.
On another Sunday morning, the sound of barking dogs woke up the town of Sandia once again. One might have expected a biker invasion, but it was six horses that had loosed themselves from whatever pen had held them. Yes, this was turning out to be a common occurrence.
The thing was though, those horses had been walking down the street quietly, as a tight little band. When the ravaging dogs came out from behind the house, there was suddenly so much noise and commotion, that the horses all bolted in different directions … down the street, into peoples’ yards and gardens … and into the open garage.
For a moment, it seemed like there were horses and dogs all over the place, embroiled in a welter of barking and whinnying, growling and hoof beats. The rope got caught in the hooves a couple of times and the dogs got pulled in dangerously close, but they managed to avoid getting clobbered and none of the horses were toppled.
Half an hour later, the pups were in the backyard, panting and yucking it up as usual.
“Man, those dudes was big! But we showed’em. They wuz so scared of us!”
“Yes indeed, my friend, I do believe we outdid ourselves. We executed l’élément de surprise (luh-leh-maun de soor-preeh) most effectively.”
“Hey, you think that old heifer told them to come by and harass us? ‘Cause I’ll go find that cow, man. I teach him a lesson.”
“Oh, I don’t think there’s any need to fluster ourselves any more today. Life is good. I’m taking a nap.”
Eventually, like so many good friends, Gangi and Buddy went their separate ways. Buddy rode in the back of the pickup to the store in Mathis one day and was instructed to stay, while the humans went inside. He had always demonstrated himself to be independently motivated. He had a tendency to follow his nose wherever it led him. He was curious and he was a survivor.
A witness said that he jumped off the truck, sniffed around a bit, took care of business, and then jumped onto another pickup that happened to be rolling by. He disappeared in the same spirit of abandon as he had appeared.
Prior to that, Gangi had gotten on a 747, flew to Minneapolis, and then moved into a nice home by Kenwood Park. Soon after, he developed an uncanny sense. He would wake up from a sound nap with his ears perked, and he’d give a little ‘woof.’ And five minutes later, the postman would be at the door.
Gangi came to recognize the words "walk" and "ride," and he would get so excited on hearing them that he could knock over furniture with his tail. And soon after the spelling of the words started getting used so as to prevent further destruction, he figured that out too. Yep, he matured into one smart dog.
Clever Like a Squirrel
The ‘sic’em’ and the take-off are almost simultaneous. In that moment it looks as if he might lose his tongue out of the side of his mouth, but he’s off like a Mach I, and there will be no stopping him now.
As fast as he is, the squirrel is always faster. It turns and dashes for the tree and scrambles up all in one blurry motion. Gangi reaches the tree and comes to a sliding stop. He stands there with his legs splayed, a big question mark written on his face, and he jerks his head from side to side, looking right and left, left and right.
He’s never figured out that squirrels can go up a tree.
r. nuñez, 4/2011