Updated: Mar 24, 2020
By Terry M Pace (2020)
In the 1960’s we had a little dog that my brother and I named Wags. I remember a nearby neighboring farmer had a dog with a litter of puppies and dad said we could get one of them. I recall going to pick this little rascal out and he would not get out of my lap so we took him home. Smart, happy go luck and tough as leather was his nature. He was a small, maybe 25 pounds, mix breed mutt of some sort, looking rather like a cross between a dachshund and a chow and with the attitude you might expect. Wags, like all the dogs on the farm, lived outside, sleeping on our sheltered back porch. He roamed the farm freely and was an excellent hunter for his own wild game, though was fed more than he could eat by my dad. When he saw someone he liked, which was almost everyone he knew, his little tail would wag up a storm, pulling the rest of his body into the rhythm. He was well named!
Wags migrated with our family back and forth from west Texas to Arizona in the mid-1960’s. In Arizona we often woke up with herds of wild Javelina in our yard and Wags would be out chasing them away. I’m not sure what would have happened if he had caught up with one, but Wags scared them enough we never had to find out. The one time I saw Wags afraid was when a large hawk saw him out in the open of a farm field and dived on him several times. Wags ran as fast as his little feet would carry him and leaped into the pick-up truck where I watched and waited, laughing too much to be worried for him and knowing the hawk would have a real surprise if he did grab a hold of Wags!
At the farm in west Texas, Wags had a best friend who was our nearest neighbor’s dog, a little dachshund named Ladybird. The neighborhood on the farm consisted of four homes and farmsteads scattered within a quarter mile or so around a little country crossroads. So, while we lived in the country, we did have neighbors in those days when most folks still lived on the farms they worked. Ladybird belonged to our neighbors, the Palmer family, whose home was about 100 yards or so to the west from us and closer to the main black top county road. Wags and Ladybird roamed at will and while they did chase vehicles some, its just what farm dogs did, so we never worried in those days. Some days Wags would take off and be gone all day but was always back by supper time!
My best friend was Tommy Palmer, Ladybirds owner. Tommy was one year older and we were two peas in a pod back then, spending as much time as possible playing sports outside if we were not working on the farms. Tommy loved baseball and had a lively throwing arm we called the “weinie arm” or the "hot-link" because he was skinny but could throw the ball a mile. Tommy had two older sisters and his parents were Wayne and Lorene Palmer. Lorene was my second mother, watching out for me, just like my mom watched out for Tommy.
Wayne Palmer was a big, usually very quiet, mild mannered man. From my observations, Wayne worked on the farm, watched baseball and went to church and spoke as little as possible. He was one of the strongest men I ever knew, lifting things around the farm that just should not be possible for a human being to lift. So when a few years later and Tommy and I were teenagers, we got Wayne to join the church summer league softball team. I never saw a softball hit as far as Wayne Palmer could hit it. Rarely did he go to bat and not hit a home run. To us, he was like Babe Ruth! I don’t recall ever seeing Wayne Palmer really mad and am thankful I never had to see such a sight, as it would have been frightening. He was really a gentle giant.
One summer evening, perhaps it was 1970 and Tommy and I were out playing baseball in his big backyard. It was hot but there were shade trees in his yard and if you stood just right you could play catch and stay in the shade. Like most days of playing catch with Tommy, before long my hand hurt from all the burn-out baseballs that he threw to me. I remember the day and how the huge white topped thunderheads bloomed to the east over the Texas Caprock, where the flat high plains of the Llano Estacado drop down into the rolling plains. I remember the slight red and orange that was faintly beginning to paint the western horizon. Wags and Ladybird were roaming around the nearby barn and a small grove of trees, just having their usual fun. It was a peaceful, beautiful day.
Suddenly a big oil tanker truck came barreling down the black top road and we heard a dog yelp; in the horrible way we knew what had probably happened, though we had to run around the grove of trees to see. What I saw is still hard to let myself remember or find the words for. The back half of Wags body was crushed and there was blood everywhere. He was yelping in pain and snarling. Without thinking I picked him up. I was too scared and shocked to be sick just yet. I carried Wags over to the grass by Tommy’s back door. Tommy ran in the house to get Wayne. Lorene called my mom on the phone and my dad came right over. We all stood there a moment. Dad just put his hand on my shoulder and said I’m sorry, but I could tell how upset he also was. The next thing I knew, my dad asked if he could borrow one of Wayne’s hunting rifles and Wayne went in for it. Wags had never stopped snarling. I was starting to feel sick. My dad told Tommy and I to go on over to our house and then added that we could bury Wags in a little while. As farm kids and young hunters, we had seen lots of animals die and even shot, so we understood what was needed. Of course those times were different. No one I knew took their dogs to vets except for a rabies shot and besides Wags was dying, we all knew it and the closest vet was some distance. No one wanted our beloved little super dog to suffer one moment longer. Tommy put his arm around me and we started walking toward my house and I saw my dad load the gun and I turned away. But as I did, I heard big old tough Wayne Palmer say to my equally tough WWII army vet father, “let me do that for you Glen” and my father handed him the gun and turned his head. I have had many good dogs since then, but I’ve never had a better dog than Wags. I have had many neighbors since then, but I have never had a better neighbor than the man who shot my dog.