Monday, April 14, 2014


When I was a lad, perhaps six or seven years of age, a dog came to live with us.  I was never sure of the details concerning the acquisition of the beast, but I don't believe he was a stray.  I think Dad had rescued him from some circumstance from which he needed to be free and persuaded Mama that it was the right thing to do.  The dog was housebroken and a good pet, ostensibly for the kids, but there has never been any question that Jiggs was Dad's dog.

Sister and I may have been "involved" in the naming of the dog, I really don't remember.  But again, I have no doubt that the chosen name was the name Dad chose, or would have chosen.  I cannot prove this, either, as so much fades into the mists of the past, but knowing my father as I did I suspect that he lifted the name directly from the comics page in our little local newspaper.  Dad, many times over the course of his life, said, "The only thing you can believe in the newspaper is the funnies page."  And I do know for a fact that Amos Hoople, Alley Oop, and Jiggs and Maggie were among his favorite literary characters.  Hence, the dog's name was Jiggs, or as he came to be known during the two or three years of his residence with us, "Old Jiggs."

The animal was referred to as a fox terrier, and there is no doubt that his parentage was predominantly terrier.  He was mostly white, with black and brown markings.  He would have weighed perhaps twenty-five pounds.  He ate the same things the family ate, assuming there was something left for the dog.  Kidding.  He always got something to eat.  Jiggs was a good house pet, and a suitable companion for the children, both under ten years of age.  But let Mama pick up a broom, and Jiggs's tail instantly protected the underside of his body, as he crouched and slunk out of sight, could he find a place to hide.  Clearly, the dog had suffered mistreatment sometime in his life, but never at the hands of any of the occupants of our house.

Jiggs was otherwise fearless. He never offered to attack or even offend a human. Dogs, on the other hand, were all fair game, size or disposition notwithstanding.  He was an obedient dog, though. He sat on our front stoop, but he would leap down to attack a passing dog only if granted permission to do so .  One of my father's delights with this dog was to sit beside him on the top step watching the world go by. When a dog would approach, Jiggs would prick his ears, thrust his muzzle forward, raise the hackles on his back, thus announcing his intention to vanquish the would-be intruder.  As the offending outsider would pass our walk, Jiggs would start to tremble. Yet there he would stand until Dad offered the magic words:  "Sic 'im, Jiggs!"  Then like a lightning bolt unleashed from a storm cloud, the animal would explode from the porch in hot pursuit of his prey.

I vividly recall watching this tableau play out on more than one occasion when the "victim" was a St. Bernard that lived two blocks up the street, and was given to taking his morning stroll past our place. Unaccompanied. Most dogs walked themselves in that time and place, for the dogs were no doubt brighter in those days than are the namby-pamby creatures we harbor these days.  They were perfectly capable of walking themselves.  And they did.  Anyway, "Sic 'im, Jiggs!" would set Jiggs on this behemoth which no doubt weighed northward of 175 pounds.  Jiggs would burst from the yard, pursue his target, and leap upon the great Saint's back, landing on all four feet and securing his position by taking the scruff of his foe in his teeth.  The Saint would amble on, never missing a stride.  And Jiggs would persevere half or three-quarters of a block, until he heard Dad's shrill whistle, which called him home, just as that whistle would call home the Sister and I if we were out of sight at supper time.


Jim said...

Great story! I especially love the line "Most dogs walked themselves in that time and place, for the dogs were no doubt brighter in those days than are the namby-pamby creatures we harbor these days." Dogs walking themselves disappeared sometime during my 1970s kidhood. I remember my dad letting his hunting dog out of the pen out back -- to let him go for a run, usually in the rain, as the dog loved the rain. When Dad thought it was time for the dog to come home, he'd open the front door and whistle, and shortly here'd come old Buck. The memory is so familiar, but the concept is so foreign today.

Vee said...

I remember Jiggs but I had not thought about him in a long time.

When Dad lived with us he became really close to our Mollie and took her for several walks a day while we were at work. Dad liked to look at her and say, "Want to go for a walk?" so he could watch her run to her leash and wait for him.

After Dad was gone, Mollie's routine in the morning was to first go outside, then bound back inside and run to Dad's room. She would go up to his bed and stand there a bit before she walked to the laundry room where her food and water were waiting. She missed him, too.

Dad did have a way with animals, though he would have been the last to admit that.

Grace said...

Now there's a picture for you...nowadays a video of it would go viral! While I only vaguely remember "Maggie and Jiggs" that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the title

Secondary Roads said...

I can just hear Bernard muttering under his breath, "Go away kid. You bother me."

vanilla said...

Jim, my children who are members of your generation used to ride their bikes all over town, dog accompanying them should he so choose. Now, not only do dogs not "walk themselves," children do not ride bicycles. Imagine two children today, six and eight years old, being "out of sight" at supper time. We are possibly only a half-generation away from everyone living in a bubble.

Vee, Dad did have a way with animals-- and with people. *envy*
Do you recall the time Dale Harris's dog lifted his leg over Dad's shoe? Very calm voice, Dad said, "That dog pissed on my leg."

Grace, it is an image that is emblazoned in my memory, almost as good as a video. Except I can't "show" it to anyone; but I tried!
(I can still see Maggie giving Jiggs the evil eye.)

vanilla said...

Chuck, exactly! The Saint did not show himself to be ruffled in the least, but I'm betting he didn't like it.

Vee said...

Vanilla, I do remember the shoe issue. My response would not have been so calm.

Pearl said...

Your father named Jiggs, just as surely as my father named Bowser. :-)


vanilla said...

Vee, maintain composure!

Pearl, very true; but my turn came when I named my kid's dog "Spot."

Sharkbytes said...

Those men of that generation weren't taught to allow themselves to be openly gentle, but it often showed through in their kindness to animals. My dad was the same way. If you recall First Butchy, he was some sort of rescue. Dad said he found him in the woods and always believed he had been abused.

vanilla said...

Sharkey, an astute observation. Some people of that generation came up hard-scrabble, eat or be eaten. Yet some of them learned kindness.