From my book Pit Bull Nation - Chapter Two - Mookie
Just as we got the last of the boxes unloaded and hauled upstairs, I heard a very strange noise. It was definitely the sound of an animal, but not one I'd heard before. Kind of a yowl howl growl is the best I can describe. I set off downstairs to investigate.
Walking around the side of the house, I spied the culprit. There was this big German Shepherd tied to the back of the house. Literally. He had a rope noose around his neck, anchored directly to the house. He would be strangled by the noosed rope were he to attempt to escape.
Our downstairs neighbors were white Rastas and Mookie was their dog. They agreed to allow Mookie to play with Rebel. He was about a year older than Rebel and the two of them became instant best friends. Their special game was to run around and around the house. Suddenly, Rebel would hide behind the same bush and wait for Mookie to circle again. Rebel would then spring from the bush at Mookie, barking and growling ferociously. Over and over and over, they would perform the same theatric never growing tired of the game. Mookie must have known Rebel was behind that bush, but never once did he let on. He would stand there erect like a cardboard cutout of a German Shepherd while Rebel barked and barked, melodramatically. It was like watching a Chuck Jones sheepdog and wolf cartoon when the same shrub and rock would pass over the screen again and again.
One night I woke up to the sound of Mookie crying. He was always tied up outside unless he was playing with Rebel. He was lonely and cold. I heard, "shut-up, shut-up, Mookie!" Mookie cried louder. Back in those days, I was better at minding my own business, so I just went back to sleep. There were many mornings when I would wake up to the sound of Mookie crying and barking.
I have come to learn a little about Shepherds. These incredibly sensitive, intensely social dogs are dedicated to their person. My first and only previous German Shepherd experience had been with Missy, the family dog of my childhood friends, the Powell family. Our moms were best friends as were the kids. The Powell's next-door neighbors were also part of our pack. The three family's daughters, Dixie, Bernadette and myself were best friends. It was 1966 and we were twelve. We had the world by the tail.
Missy was everybody's buddy, the neighborhood dog. She went everywhere with us kids and we were all over the place. Our stomping grounds were as green as the back roads of Fiji and brimming with opportunities for mischief. Missy always had our backs. If we'd wrestle, though, Missy would instantly come to the defense of the Powell kids.
Protecting them was her job and she was darn serious about it. We learned right quick not to play too rough with the Powell kids.
Mookie was the only other Shepherd I'd known up close and personal. He reminded me so much of Missy. This must be one of the pitfalls of attributing qualities to a dog in regards to breed. We tend to rob the individual dog of his unique personality, the very essence of what connects us to them. Mookie was a German Shepherd in the classic sense, but he had such an abundance of emotion, it was hard for him to contain himself at times. Mookie was soft and beautiful like a rainbow of the colors brown. He was a special and precious dog.
That first day when I met Mookie tied up to the side of the house, I broke all the rules of meeting a strange dog. Often, I will encounter someone while walking a dog. They will approach my dog gingerly while holding out the back of their hand for the dog to sniff. I know the reasoning behind this, but still have to wonder what would happen if that dog decided to bite. Would he snap at the hand coming at him? Would it matter if the palm or other side of the hand were offered first? Wouldn't one prefer to have the palm bitten instead of the more tender outside of the hand? My own palms are much tougher than the backs of my hands. And all those veins!
I went right up to Mookie and committed a dog savvy faux pas. I put my face right up in his face, something you're never supposed to do. I wasn't attempting to gain entry to Mookie's personal territory, but just wanted to make friends. I knew I would be ok, because I felt it. I had a connection with Mookie from that first day. I knew it and so did he. When I bent down and stuck my face into his, he started this low weird growl, a habit peculiar to his nature and a trait that I grew to love. That day, it did surprise me. He then opened up his big old German Shepherd mouth like one of those 'beware of dog' signs you buy at the hardware store with drops falling off the cartoon fangs. He let out the loudest succession of barks I'd ever witnessed. I jumped backward, shocked. Later, I learned this was Mookie's signature greeting. He was a vocal dog and had a lot to say, very loud and proud.
After many years of playing face Kong with Mookie, which I repeatedly lost, I learned to get my face out of the equation pretty quickly. Mookie taught me if you wanted to learn dog behavior, you learned from a dog. Playing with Mookie, I saw how a game like face Kong could result in an injury. Mookie and I had a dynamic. We knew it was a game and we knew the rules of the game. I wondered how many dog bites involving kids had begun with an innocent game. Maybe our game was not safe, but we knew how to play. We knew our boundaries, just as Mookie and Rebel had evolved a system in their daily game of hide and chase. Running, charging, barking, growling, attacking and retreating were all part of their game. I never once saw either one break the rules they established all those years ago in our yard chasing and never catching the other one.
As our own family grew close to Mookie, Scott and I became concerned about Mookie's well-being. We met someone who offered to help us. Ewen was an Animal Control Officer in Port Harbor. He rode a motorcycle and wore black leather chaps and a biker jacket. The Rasta guy who owned Mookie was running a small-time pot operation. One day, Ewen dropped in to see us and left his card with Mookie's dad. An impression had been made. Mookie's owners started treating Mookie a little better. I tried to mind my own business and tried to hope for the best.
One day, I heard Mookie squealing and crying. I was on the phone and ran downstairs to see what was happening. I saw Mookie's owner punch Mookie with one hand while holding onto the rope around Mookie's neck with his other hand. I lost it. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I asked. The guy dropped the rope, his voice raised to a screech. "He was barking too loud." I remember swinging the phone over my head, using it to emphasize my point. I told him the days of punishing Mookie for barking were over. He just squeaked and nodded in agreement, his voice gone. The more I talked, the more worked up I got. I let him know if I heard so much as a peep coming from Mookie, I would drop a dime on him and his pot operation would be history.
One other thing German Shepherds are known for is loyalty to their masters. Most Shepherds are one-man dogs which has contributed toward their reputation as guard dogs. In fact, where I come from, it's not unusual to hear someone refer to a German Shepherd as a guard dog as a breed rather than a job. Mookie broke the mold on that one. The whole time I'm screaming at the Rasta, waving the phone like a handgun, Mookie is calmly sitting by my side, very ho-hum. He was like, 'buddy, you're on your own with her."
Like Fu Manchu before him, Mookie began sleeping at the top of the stairs by our front door. Even though he legally belonged to the folks downstairs, he was telling us that he was our dog now. The Rastas even bought him a beautiful teal collar after that incident. Today, when I see that shade of greenish-blue, I think of Mookie. That became his color. The wife strangely enough worked for a large holistic grocery chain and began bringing home avocados she would mix in with his dog food.
One day, the couple knocked at our front door and asked if they could speak with Scott and me. They were moving to San Clemente and wanted to give Mookie to us. We asked if we could think about it. Now that I look back on it, I find it hard to imagine what we possibly needed to think about. We considered the Mookie adoption in depth and discussed at length adding another dog to our family. We talked about it for a month. I don’t recall ever taking that long before or after to make a decision during our married life. We weighed all of the pros and cons, hard, long, back and forth. It was as though we were considering having a baby. We finally told the couple we would take Mookie, although Mookie already knew he was ours. He'd made that decision long before we had. Weirdly, they asked us to keep him intact and I immediately had him altered.
We had inherited a dog who'd never been to a dog park, was chronically abused, both beaten and screamed at, had never slept inside a house and had a load of maladies to show for it. The first thing we did was take Mookie to the dog park. Before we adopted Mookie, Rebel and I would take off on all day long treks. Everywhere we went looked like a movie backdrop, a scenic nirvana. To hike and climb all day and find yourself and your red chow chow in the public rose garden, fully abloom, or blazing the fire trails through John Steinbeck's 'tawny backs of lions' was pure heaven on earth. I felt guilty leaving Mookie tied to the side of the house. He would cry as Rebel and I left. It was not the first time I felt sorry for a dog and wished I could do something to help.
Now I had the opportunity to make up to Mookie for all of the times Rebel and I closed the fence gate on his crying. As we opened the gate, we were met by the neighborhood mailman, Maurice. Before anyone knew what was happening, Maurice put his pepper gas can right in my face. I was shocked. "Are you pointing that at me?" I asked him.
He was just as startled and answered that he was trying to protect himself from the dogs. Mookie and Rebel were on leash and trying to get themselves into the car. Neither dog was even aware of the mailman. I tried to explain this to Maurice, but he wasn't having any of it. The situation escalated into a disagreement and ended with my telling him I was going to report him to the post office.
I was a little apprehensive about taking Mookie to the dog park for the first time. I didn't know how he would behave. So far as I knew, he'd only been around Rebel.
Mookie surprised us all by behaving like a perfect gentleman. He was respectful of all other dogs he met. He liked people, kids, big dogs and small ones. He met a large intact Rottweiler, a feisty female Jack Russell Terrier and loved everyone. Mookie was having the adventure of his life. He was enjoying himself as he so deserved to.
Mookie became best friends with the Jack Russell whose name was Lois. She was a ball hog. When we'd visit the seaside dog park, her dad, Kevin, would throw the tennis ball far out into the water. Mookie would jump in beside Lois and swim all the way out with her to retrieve the ball and escort her back to shore. They would go on like this for hours. A few years later, when Kevin moved to Los Angeles, Mookie and Lois would talk to one another by speaker phone.
We stopped by the post office after the dog park to complain about Maurice and the pepper gas. Redirected through the building in search of the complaint department, we were finally able to speak to someone. Way in the back of the warehouse by the loading dock, a lady came to the desk we'd been instructed to wait by. I started to introduce myself and she said, "oh, I know who you are. You the one with the bad dog."
"Bad dog?" I was totally surprised.
At this point, Scott tried to explain what had happened outside our gate that morning. We were beginning to learn a first-hand lesson that not everyone likes dogs and not all of the citizens of this town were old flower sniffing leftovers from the summer of love.
The incident dog report against Mookie. In the report, Maurice claimed that Mookie had attacked him. We were floored. Mookie is one of those dogs who lives up to the saying, 'all bark and no bite'.
Our mail delivery was cut off as of that day. From then on, we had to retrieve our mail directly from the post office. For months, I had to drive down to the post office every day to get our mail. In addition, the mail was mysteriously lost each day. I would wait in line and the clerk would return saying he could not find the mail. Maurice also filed a report with the local animal care and control stating that Mookie had attacked him. This was brazen behavior considering Scott and I were both involved and could testify that no such attack took place. Postmen, as public servants, are sworn by oath to tell the truth.
Here was this wonderful dog who'd been abused his entire life. I was not going to allow a false accusation to create a black mark on Mookie's record. It was not fair.
Suppose another incident should occur in the future? I couldn't take the chance of having an unfounded complaint compromise Mookie's second chance at a happy life. I decided to file a complaint myself. I was getting my first little taste of animal rights. Animals depend upon us to protect them. I had not agreed to adopt Mookie with just the intention of slapping a bowl of kibble in front of him. There was more to the arrangement than that. To me, adoption was a complete commitment, like a marriage.
We embarked on an adventure together that would take up the better part of a year and would begin to change the course of my life. I started by making phone calls. I telephoned the local postmaster and tried to explain what had really happened the day of the complaint. The postmaster replied he would need to investigate the matter and would get back to me. Fair enough. He then sent me a letter stating that other carriers had experienced 'threatening encounters with' my dogs. He went on to say their own 'safety had been jeopardized'. I found out then that Maurice had pepper-gassed Mookie through a fence knothole while Mookie was still owned by the Rastas.
Before Mookie moved in with us, he was a backyard dog. The neighborhood kids would bang on the fence and taunt him. I understand that workers and mail carriers must come into contact with dogs and I respect the work they do. However, we had a sturdy, tall privacy fence surrounding the property. The dogs were certainly no threat to Maurice or any other person.
Until the matter was resolved, we were instructed to continue picking up our mail at the downtown post office. This was not only inconvenient, but complicated by inconsistency on the part of mail clerks to locate our mail each day. It had become such an issue, that I began to collect stamped receipts stating the mail could not be found.
Upon occasion, a bundle of our misplaced mail would turn up in strange places throughout the building. Scott was becoming increasingly irritated with the whole mess and demanded that it be resolved. He told me to settle it once and for all, but I wasn't about to concede to a false charge involving my dog. I was not going to jeopardize Mookie's wellbeing simply to have my mail delivered.
I wrote up a description of what really happened the day Maurice claimed Mookie attacked him. I had everyone who witnessed the event sign the document. Even the neighborhood children who were playing in the street signed the account. I still have photos of the children who would run to me when I came home from work every day. They would pose for pictures and beg to play with Mookie and Rebel. Mookie was a special character in that neighborhood. These kids had sad, grown up eyes that had
already seen life's rotten side. In a place where days of innocence are few, these kids were defenseless against the poverty and drugs and destruction. They were happy to see Mookie saved from an abusive situation that reflected their own lives. They were our friends and truly loved Mookie and Rebel.
Flowers peeked through the dirt and cracks and birds and bees went about their business. Life went on and Mookie and Rebel chased each other around the house endlessly. I'd sit on the steps by the tomato and pepper plants and watch them play. The kids loved both the dogs, but Mookie had been one of them, locked behind that fence, baited and tormented by everyone who walked by. They had heard him cry when the Rasta would punch him for barking. They were sad when he was punished. They had grown up with Mookie and were happy when the Rastas moved away and Mookie moved in with us. They were happy when Mookie got to go on adventures with Rebel.
Mookie was an absolutely joyful dog. Destination didn't matter to him. He was so happy to get to go anywhere, to the ocean or the mountains; on long trail walks with Rebel or to the dog park. It didn't matter to Mookie. Anywhere was a party. He wore a big grin on his face most of the time. So when the postman lied and said Mookie attacked him, the kids did not approve and signed the petition. Once this was reported to the local postmaster, we received a typewritten apology for any rudeness we might have felt we had experienced. It was a back handed statement and went on to explain the carrier's apprehension due to the many dog attacks occurring each year. The postmaster asked for a letter advising my intentions within 10 days.
George padlocked the gate so the carrier could leave the mail without apprehension. I then received an additional letter from the postmaster regarding yet another attack on a postman at our address. This latest supposed attack involved three dogs according to this latest claim. Since only two dogs lived at our address, Rebel and Mookie, this was strange indeed. The postman had filed a written complaint with animal care and control and I received a copy of that report. Not one of the descriptions of the three dogs resembled Mookie or Rebel. This new accusation was suspicious, especially in light of the newly padlocked gate.
I wrote to the postmaster general in Washington and asked for help. I had tried to follow the chain of command, but realized we were getting nowhere. Scott was irritated at the entire situation. His position was to basically end it and get our mail delivered. I was not quite ready to throw in the towel. My instinct was to stand my ground. An inspector was dispatched from Washington to set up shop at our local post office and investigate the matter. He began by interviewing me and then spoke with Maurice. He finished up with the second carrier who issued the three-dog attack claim. This whole thing had turned into a big mess.
All the unpleasantness did not stop us from having fun, though. Mookie added such a spark of life and made our day trips a blast. We enjoyed watching him thrive and become the dog he was meant to be. Looking back on the way Mookie has been treated, I did not feel as bad about the beatings as I did about his being anchored to the house. For a dog like Mookie who loved to run and feel the wind, it must have been torture to be chained up 24/7 and to watch us leave with Rebel.
Now we had the opportunity to make it up to him. We would go to Bolinas for the day. Bolinas is right next to Dog Town and quite hard to find, because the townspeople keep hiding the sign. Every 4th of July, Bolinas has a tug of war with Stinson Beach and the losers get pulled into the lagoon. We always rooted for Bolinas. Bolinas is more dog friendly as Stinson Beach has strict dog restrictions. If you have your dog on a leash, Bolinas natives holler, 'no dogs on leash!' What a great custom.
I had made a super 8mm movie about Rebel going AWOL from the army called "Mi Nombre is Rebel". Rebel is a Tex-Mex dog and the 'is' remains true to Tex Mex lingo.
His travels take him through the Berkeley Hills to Oakland's Jack London Square and then on to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. He rides a fire truck and a city bus, gets chased by a policeman out of the BART station until he finds his way back home to Scott. Scott wouldn't quit eating his lunch while I was trying to film the movie, so we just foleyed in his lines post production. Rebel was the star and the only actor who followed direction. We even got permission to use "Rebel Yell" from Billy Idol's people.
I spent many hours in my big yellow kitchen writing and calling people for help with the Mookie post office situation. I loved being in this room of the house. It reminded me of the kitchen in "Member of the Wedding", the kind of room you shelled peas and drank coffee in. It was a family room and the heart of our home. Mookie's being there with us made our lives full and complete.
The man from Washington stayed occupied while investigating Mookie-gate. Right away, the second dog attack report fell apart. That had a great deal to do with animal control becoming involved. Even though a government official had documented under oath he'd been attacked, the story lost credibility when it was discovered there were not three dogs on that property. The post office began to lose some points.
I got my hopes up for nothing, though. The Washington guy finally closed the case with a request that our dogs be secured inside the gate when the mail was being delivered. The mailbox was to be attached to the outside of the fence in front of the gate so that the postman would have no opportunity to come into contact with the dogs. Even with all of the new stipulations, the fence, gate and mailbox remained the same as before Maurice and the pepper gas incident. The only difference was the padlock being added to the gate so only residents could enter the actual property.
We continued about our lives with only one fly in the ointment. Scott was watering the lawn one afternoon when Maurice delivered the mail. He claimed Scott sprayed him with the water hose! This time, he was claiming Scott attacked him! We received yet another letter from the postmaster regarding the water hose incident. This was the last written communication we received from the post office in what had turned into a real life mini-series. So far as the city was concerned, meaning animal control, Mookie's record was expunged. In a tiresome and ridiculous battle that had lasted over a year, Mookie was able to resume his life and just be a dog.
We moved down south to a small tract house in a suburb. I still can't remember why we moved other than to be closer to Scott's job. The day we moved in, a yellow notice was taped to our door, courtesy of the post office. It was a vicious dog notice. I assumed they just wanted to have the last word after all. Our new postman, Ricardo, was a wonderful guy. I made it a point to introduce myself along with Mookie and Rebel. He was a dog lover and thought it was funny when Mookie and Rebel barked. He carried cookies in his pocket and would reward Mookie for barking. I don't think Mookie knew how to handle getting a treat when he was so accustomed to being beaten. It was funny to see Mookie's lip catch on his canine tooth, giving him a silly, quizzical expression.
Ricardo let Mookie and Rebel know that all mailmen weren't dog haters and in return,
they let him know how much they loved their new postman. They looked forward to the mail delivery every day from their place at the window. Or a cookie.
Despite the great new arrangement with our postal service, I was not a fan of the town or the house we lived in. I loved the backyard, though. We sat right on about 30 acres of property owned by the airport. Everybody in the hood trespassed. It was don't ask, don't tell and some of the locals claimed to have walked their dogs on the land for 32 years. There was rarely anyone walking when Mookie, Rebel and I took off for our hike every day. We had our own personal dog park with tons of room to romp and run. There was a eucalyptus grove along the western side shading a deep creek that ran the length of the property. Mookie would swim the creek and clear the long tree branches floating in the water. Some of the branches were fifteen to twenty feet long and Mookie would systematically dive in and grab onto a branch with his teeth. He'd then run clear out to the middle of the field where he'd place the limb. Mookie took to his new job like a Navy Seal. Keeping that creek free of tree limbs was Mookie's new purpose in life.
We tramped that land whether it was cold and rainy or hot and muggy. We didn't care what the weather decided to do. I remember the three of us saturated by the storms. We just had that much more fun. Mookie and Rebel were so happy. They reveled as the wind would howl and eucalyptus trees blew down horizontal with the land that tried to hold them. The town didn't seem so dull and the house so cramped. We had a fantastic wilderness to ourselves right in our own backyard.
One day, Ricardo was laughing when he brought our mail. "Boy, do I have some news for you. You know the postman who gave you and the dogs all that trouble?"I nodded. Who could forget?
Ricardo shook his head. "Well, he's gone." "What do you mean by gone?"
Ricardo shrugged his shoulders. He answered that Maurice had been fired, but it was speculation. Either way, Maurice was no longer at the post office and the postmaster was gone, too. Ricardo didn't know the details and said no one was talking. The one sure thing was both Maurice and the postmaster were no longer employed at the post office. I had to believe it had something to do with Mookie. Somebody smiled on Mookie from heaven. I still have the file I compiled about our long ordeal with the United States Postal Service. Talk about postal! I gave Mookie an extra big helping of dinner that night. It was cause for a celebration.
My book Pit Bull Nation is chock full of stories like Mookie's. I provide a free copy to shelters and rescues. Please contact me for your's and make your own Mookie story.