All God's Creatures
Shep >> by Sean Bonniwell
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I know Shep is a stupid name for a dog, but he was smarter than most of the people who tried to order him around. Herb estimated Shep's vocabulary of understanding at thirty words, which, measured by any criteria I was aware of, was more than could be said for Herb. Shep watched a lot of television. If he didn't care for the program, he watched me watching television. If he did like the program — and you changed the channel, he'd bark until you changed it back. He waited faithfully at the school bus stop every day for my return, but never on weekends or holidays. It seemed as if he could read our minds.
Shep was with me the day I broke my arm, a freak bicycle accident orchestrated by God to keep me from serving in the army. The drive to the hospital was my first experience with unyielding pain. Shep was in the back seat of the car as usual, very concerned. My mother kept telling me we were almost there. I had never heard her voice so soft and caring. The break was at the elbow, so they had to operate early that evening, about an hour after we arrived. Ether was the anesthetic used in 1953. It was my first psychedelic trip. During the operation I went for an out-of-body roller coaster ride in full color! Mythological creatures flashed before my eyes while my body swirled up in a sickening green-keyboard burrito. I regurgitated for a week after the operation, and to this day I can't stand the smell of corn tortillas.
Shep loved corn tortillas. Fact is, he refused to eat dog food. Twister, Herb's dad, raised Shep from a pup and taught him a variety of tricks, not the least of which was how to flush the toilet by pushing the handle down with the underside of his snout. When a visitor found it necessary to use our restroom, Shep would follow them, supposedly to wait his turn by sitting outside the door in the hall. The visitor returned amused but bewildered, not knowing how to explain that Shep had gone into the bathroom after them, and closed the door; the toilet would flush — we'd hear the door open again — and Shep would trot back into the living room. Taking his prior position with a low groan of relief as he sat down, he seemed to indicate that preferred conversation could now resume.
Shep was with me the day I made my singing debut. My 8th-grade teacher was Mrs. Wheeler... beautiful Mrs. Wheeler. She talked me into singing for the school assembly. She could've talked me into eating dirt. I sang the Perry Como hit "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes, Don't Let the Moon Break Your Heart," and (of course), "Secret Love."
I couldn't stop Shep from following me to school that day. I didn't encourage him in any way. I wasn't concerned that he couldn't find his way home again, and since my Uncle Joe was the principal of the school, Shep was allowed to stay as a special guest. Without any help Shep took his place in the audience off to the side, in the front row. He sat down as if he had a ticket, more well-behaved than any one of the nine hundred genetic mutations throwing spitballs and scuffling for a better seat. I had a monstrous case of stage fright, and the odd feeling that a quiet power was waiting inside of me. I had sung for my relatives on occasion, but this was different. It occurred to me that singing for a crowd of strangers would be easier than doing so for people I knew, and although nearly paralyzed by panic, I was determined to impress everybody. Including Shep.
I sang both songs a Capella, and when I finished, the crowd whistled and cheered while Shep ran back and forth in front of the stage wagging his tail. It looked as if he was saying, "I'm with him!" Mrs. Wheeler gave me a kiss and a great big hug. That was reward enough, with or without Shep's approval.**
Sean Bonniwell, age 13