When I was about six years old, a young woman was murdered in her apartment a few blocks away from my mother’s house.
It was not an ordinary murder (if there is such a thing). It was gruesome. I can’t give out the details without compromising my privacy, but take my word for it: it was the type of murder a serial killer would commit. Her body was mutilated.
The town freaked out. Suddenly everyone was checking the locks on their windows and walking their children to the bus stop. The murder and the hunt for the killer were on the front page of the paper every day. My mother wouldn’t let me read the stories because of the violence, but I read them at my father’s house. He never shared the belief that children should be protected from the horrors of this world, and if there was anything he despised in a person more than stupidity or cowardice, it was naivety.
The murder scared Mom very badly, and her anxiety intensified when they could not find the killer. The victim was new in town and the police speculated that perhaps the killer had followed her from wherever she came from. I don’t think they ever caught the man.
My mother has always had a profound, even neurotic fear of night stalkers. Practically ever woman I know is scared of home invasion, but my mother has a particularly bad case. She was worried sick over this murder.
Well, my father approached her and said that he knew someone who had a very good guard dog, and they were going on a two-week vacation soon. They wanted my father to watch their dog for them, but would my mother be interested in keeping the dog instead? Maybe the dog would help her feel better.
Mom agreed to take the dog for two weeks.
I was delighted to hear that we were going to have a dog in the house. The family Cocker Spaniel had passed away the previous year, and I’d wanted a new dog ever since.
This dog was no Spaniel.
It was some sort of German Shepard mix–probably GSD and Rottweiler– and it was huge, long-legged and broad-chested. I know everything looks bigger when you’re a child, but this was a very big dog by any objective standard. It probably weighed more than my mother.
That dog made us nervous the minute it got out of the car. It didn’t run around to explore, or try to play. It didn’t bark. It didn’t shyly approach and try to make an introduction. It stood there calmly and stared at us, sizing us up.
Mom put him in the back yard for a few hours to let him acclimate. Then she went out by herself and hand-fed him some chunks of hot dog in order to make friends with him. The dog ate the food, but he wasn’t very friendly. I know GSDs are aloof with humans they don’t know, but there was something weird about this one.
Mom decided she didn’t want him in he house until he warmed up. It was early Fall and the weather was warm and dry, and he had access to the garage and a shaded backyard, so I don’t think it was an imposition on him. Mom would go spend time with him every day, but that dog, I’m telling you, did not give a shit.
Sure enough, though, he did start to guard the perimeter. He’s walk along the fence, nose to the ground, as if doing a survey of the terrain. He’d jump up on his hind legs and keep through the knotholes in the wooded fence.
He was a quiet dog.
Well, one day, towards the end of the second week, he jumped the fence. It was a six-foot fence, but he jumped it. For the record, it was the first time he did it. If Mom had known he could have done it, she would have chained him.
Around 8 or 9 PM–right before my bedtime–I heard something tapping against the sliding glass door of the backyard. My mother was taking her bath. My brother was watching TV.
I went to the door and parted the hanging blinds.
The dog was there, as tall as me and staring straight into my eyes. His face was smeared with blood and he was holding the severed leg of a cow in his mouth, as if it were a great big rawhide doggie bone.
The whole leg. Hoof and all.
Tail was waggin’.
My brother ran over and saw, and he started screaming, too.
My mother came running down the hall. She was holding a towel over her body. She’d come so fast that she didn’t bother to wrap it around her, and she was dripping water everyplace. She slid when she got to the room and almost fell.
The dog was still standing at the window, wagging its long bushy tail. Little pig, little pig, let me in.
She sent us both to our rooms and called Animal Control, but they were closed for the night. She was afraid to go out there alone to chain the dog. She called a few neighbors to tell them what was going on so that they could get their pets indoors and to ask if any of them had a man to borrow to get the thing on a chain or inside the garage–it jumped out once, it could do it again.
The dog retired to the lawn right underneath my bedroom window and proceeded to devour its prize. The grating, crunching sound of tooth on bone kept me awake. I kept picturing the hoof. I kept thinking that the dog was going to get in through my window.
It suddenly occurred to me that my father sent us the dog to murder us all in our sleep. It made perfect sense.
Maybe the dog killed the young woman down the street. Maybe my father did.
I was up for most of the night, listening to the bones crunch.
My mother called the owners and they sent someone to pick up the dog early the next morning–it was that or Animal Control, my mother said. She was furious.
She drove to a few nearby cattle ranches and asked if they’d lost any livestock or had a dog attack. She gave them all her contact information. She wanted to pay for it. We never did find out where that cow leg came from. It was hard to find the owners, because the cattle were on grazing land rather than homesteads. The owners did not live by the animals.
I told my father the story of finding the dog outside the door, holding the cow leg as if it was a stick for playing fetch.
He thought it was hilarious.