Growing Up American: Small Town Dog (Perhaps my most popular article to date!)

Spot being goaded by cat.

Spot being goaded by cat.

Before  dog licenses and leash laws; before doggie  mohawks, colored hair and painted toenails; before $100 teeth cleaning, $800  vet bills, and humiliating Halloween costumes, there existed – in almost every  sleepy town with a red brick school and a white church steeple – an extinct  breed of canine I like to call the American dog.  He (or she) went by names  like Old Shep, Old  Dog Tray, or Spot.   This is the story of an American dog.


My mother’s uncle Roy was a WWI veteran.  He had  been gassed in the trenches in France and was never quite the same again.   In the late 1930s, Roy’s wife left him, with nothing but their new puppy  remaining.  Devastated and depressed, Roy realized he was unable to care  for the pup.  He brought the little dog to his sister’s house.  She  was married with six children, and the puppy was a welcome addition.  The  puppy and the littlest child, my mother Arlene, would eventually become  inseparable.  Thus began Spot’s long and adventurous journey.

Spot  was a mixed breed – cocker spaniel and something else.  He was white with  tan spots and grew to about 40 pounds.  The entire family loved Spot, but  he became Mom’s dog and constant companion.  Spot had found his little girl  for life.

Mom  doesn’t remember the first day Spot met her when school let out, but it would  become an impressive routine that lasted for years.

Even  more impressive was when he started meeting her after Girl Scouts.  No  matter what time Girl Scouts ended, he’d be sitting right outside.  The  strange thing was, his little girl would leave school and go directly to Girl  Scouts at the church.  So how did Spot know where to find  her?

Even  more mysterious was when Spot would show up to meet his little girl outside the  movie theater, after an afternoon or evening movie.

Because  of his travels, he became as much a part of the town as he was of his family.   “Arlene, your dog’s out there waiting for you!” became a regular shout.   Dark winter nights and hot summer days –there was Spot, waiting.
Spot loved every season.  He loved snow, and he loved kids, so it was  only natural that he passed many a winter day at the sliding hill, enjoying  both.

When  the sunlight would slant a certain way, and the snow smelled just so, Spot knew  that the yearly adventure of finding the right Christmas tree was approaching.   Every Christmas, Mom’s brothers would journey deep into the woods to find  the best Christmas tree ever.  They would be gone for hours…but Spot  wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Spot ate from a 50-lb. bag of  Kellogg’s Gro-Pup  dry dog food, and he regularly received table scraps after supper.  During  supper, he was the quintessential begging dog: sitting next to the table with  his front paws in the air, a stance he could maintain seemingly for hours.   Sometimes he sat so long he would slowly, slowly, slowly start to tip over…but  he never fell down.

After  a good rain, he liked to go out to drink from the fresh puddles, but  puddle-drinking was highly frowned upon in his family.  “Spot!  You  get in here – don’t you dare drink out of those dirty puddles!  Come in and  drink your clean water!”  Spot’s little girl’s mother would yell this to  him every time, but he’d always try again after the next rain. Whenever Spot saw a gun, he’d go crazy with excitement.  A gun meant  hunting, and hunting meant a long walk into the woods with rabbits to chase and  a billion trails to smell.
At this point you may be wondering how  Spot got along with that great canine nemesis…the cat.  Spot loved them,  especially when they were running away from him.  He especially loved  chasing them inside the house.  Like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the cats  would tease Spot to signal the beginning of the chase.  He’d scramble his  paws on the floor like Fred Flintstone getting a kick start.  So much speed  would he build that he would skid uncontrollably around every corner,  desperately regaining control after flying across the floor.  He never  caught a cat – never intended to.  But this controlled explosion of  excitement provided plenty of laughs for his family.


Eventually  Spot’s original owner, Roy, moved in with his sister and her children…and Spot.   Roy had a good job, but everyone knew at least part of his mind was still  clouded by yellow-green gas.  Though Spot was never really Roy’s dog again,  Roy took great satisfaction in watching the dog’s daily routine and speculating  on his secret adventures.

Spot  regularly took trips by himself.  It is an eternal mystery what Spot was  really up to in his solitary constitutionals, but it is known that he was  regularly seen in every part of town, sometimes simultaneously.  With such  a large family at home, someone always reported having just passed Spot  somewhere, and in this way his general well-being was monitored.  In those  hours away from home, it is highly suspected that he visited benevolent citizens  who secretly stashed treats for their intermittent  visitor.

When  Spot was gone, Uncle Roy would occasionally squint out the window and solemnly  announce:  “Spot’s gone out on maneuvers.”  He admired the dog so  much, he imagined he was protecting the front lines years after the Great War  had ended.


Spot’s  friendly reputation suffered one significant blow.  My mother (Spot’s  little girl) babysat for the bank manager, Mr. Wilson.  The Wilsons owned  two nasty boxers who had a reputation for growling at people.  When mom  babysat, Spot would meet her there; the boxers were always inside the home,  looking out at him.  One day when Mom arrived at the Wilsons’ house to  babysit, they told her that Spot had been downtown morning before last – at the  bank.  Spot, having pent up frustration at not being able to get to the  growling dogs in their home, had waited for Mr. Wilson to go into the bank as he  left the boxers alone in the open car.  When Mr. Wilson came out, the  inside of his car was completely torn apart, and there were three dogs in there:  two boxers…and Spot.  Surprisingly, the Wilsons relayed the story with  amusement, and passed off the scuffle.  Mom’s mother nearly fainted when  she heard what Spot had done.  Having a member of your own family conduct  himself in this manner was totally unacceptable.


There  are many other stories about Spot, like when he spent the night outside (where  he preferred to sleep in the good weather), growling at lumbering giants that  slowly surrounded his family’s home while they slept.  How bad the family  felt for not heeding Spots warnings of danger sooner than they did.  The  first rays of dawn revealed thatan entire cow herd from a neighboring farm had  taken up residence in their yard.  Spot had stood his ground, blocking the  door, not knowing that the strange creatures had no intention of  entering.

Spot  lived to see his little girl become a married woman.  His thirteen years on  this earth were full and free.  His “maneuvers” remain a mystery, and so  they should, as every dog deserves his privacy.  His uncanny ability to  locate his little girl, his carefully planned schedule and sly premeditation,  will always be remembered, as will his unwavering devotion.

Though  advances in veterinary medicine have saved many a beloved pet, I think Spot  would agree he was lucky to be an American dog of yesteryear…enjoying a freedom  and security that few dogs today, let alone people, will ever  know.

Spot and his little girl all grown up and married. (Arlene (Palmer) Harris and  husband Ben)

Spot and his little girl all grown up and married. (Arlene (Palmer) Harris and husband Ben)

Originally appeared on American Thinker.

  • Steel Turman

    Thank you so much for telling me about Spot.

    I am an old dying man who has learned the great truth of our species …

    … the companionship of dogs far surpasses that of humans in every way.

    I hope that Twilight Zone episode about dogs in Heaven is true …

    … and I am reunited with all the dogs I have known.

    The humans can all go the Hell.

    • Dena Watson

      I could not agree more. Steel Turman hit the nail on the head. I would rather deal with dogs than Humans! Thanks for the article Susan Harris!

    • Susan D. Harris

      Mr. Turman,
      Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment!

      I know what you mean. I’ve often thought that if God made man in his image, I might have some hesitations about going to Heaven!

      I truly believe that God would not allow me to be without those I love, including our beloved pets. The story that God tells David in the Bible – about a family who loved their lamb so much that they treated it like their own child, and it supped at the table with them…tells me that God sees our love for our creatures and values it himself. It’s a powerful notion.

      (((Big hug))) to you!
      Susan D. Harris

  • Susan D. Harris

    Oh how I loved your story of American Dog…….he is a metaphor for my childhood freedom.

    Bette S
    Florida and NY

  • David Eagan

    I so loved your story about Spot. I wish he had lived with your mother forever. Why do the most delightful creatures have such short lives?