It all started when I, against Mom’s specific instructions not to bring home another dog, bought a 9-month-old Cocker Spaniel because an employee of the (now long closed) pet shop told me if no one bought the pup by the end of the day, he’d be euthanized. I’d been going by the store and playing with the pup — a black and white speckled “party Cocker” — since he’d first arrived more than half a year earlier. It broke my heart every time I saw him put back in that tiny cage. The employee frantically waved me into the store as soon as he saw me walking in the mall that day. When he told me it was the speckled pup’s last chance, I wrote a check for $90 plus tax, was given a collar and leash, and by the time I got to the car I’d named him J. Fred.
I didn’t know what I was going to tell Mom. I was living in the guest apartment over the garage behind the house and had a fantasy Mom wouldn’t even notice him for a while. When I parked on the street in front of the house and led J. Fred into the yard, Mom was walking up the sidewalk from my Aunt Bonnie’s house at the other end of the block. She noticed J. Fred. Although I had him hidden away in the apartment, as soon as I went into the house later that afternoon she asked about the dog. After I told her I had to buy him or he’d have been put to death, she gave in a little. After she saw him, she never said another word.
It turned out J. Fred had a lot of medical issues. He had seizures and was prescribed daily medication. It was a small white pill.
Most of the time, Mom fed J. Fred — and gave him his pill. You had to trick him by hiding it inside a tasty morsel of some kind. Mom was best at getting the pill in the dog. If Dad or I tried, he’d often take the morsel (usually a piece of wiener), do some sort of tongue acrobatics, swallow the meat, and spit out the pill. Mom giving J. Fred his pill worked great. Until the night it went wrong. You see, Mom started timing J. Fred’s nightly pill with her taking her own nightly small white pill.
One Saturday night Mom and Dad had gone to their church, West View Primitive Baptist. The next morning was West View’s annual memorial service, followed by a covered-dish dinner in the fellowship hall. Mom had cooked and done prep work on Saturday. She’d need to rise very early Sunday to finish. She was tired. I was in the backyard. Mom put J. Fred’s pill on the kitchen table. Then she put her pill on the kitchen table. She put a pill in a morsel and reached it out the back door to J. Fred, who ate it and then curled up against the storm door. The next thing I knew, J. Fred seemed to have taken flight. He was airborne a moment before landing on the ground at the foot of the steps. Mom was in the doorway, storm door flung open, and frantically saying, “I took his pill! I took his pill! I took his pill!” Dad appeared behind her and pulled her back inside. It seemed in a moment of clarity, Mom remembered the position of the two pills — and that she’d fed hers to the dog and then took his.
Dad got the telephone book and looked up our vet’s home number. The vet said J. Fred’s pill was just phenobarbital, which shouldn’t cause a problem for Mom other than maybe making her sleepy. And Mom’s pill wouldn’t hurt the dog. Mom relaxed a bit. But she stayed awake most of the night, worried about taking the dog’s pill.
The next morning, after services, the women of the church had put on all the food and most everyone had gone through filling their plates. Mom and two other women were the last ones standing behind the serving table and Mom commented she was worn out ... tired from not sleeping. Dexal Greer asked why she’d not slept well. Mom told hear about taking the dog’s pill and panicking.
“Well, did Junior call the doctor?” Dexal asked, using my father’s nickname. “No,” Mom said. “He called the vet.”
“That just cracked her up,” Mom has since said. “It struck her so funny when I said he’d called the vet, not the doctor.”
The other woman standing nearby was Angela Johnson. Mom said Angela also started laughing, and the story eventually spread throughout the room. Someone asked Dad if Mom had got to barking any overnight. So that’s how it started. In the years to come, Angela sometimes would ask Mom, as they shook hands, “Have you started barking yet?”
Even though that was more than 20 years ago, our friend Dr. Bill Hudson had never heard about Mom taking the dog’s pill. Until it came up at her birthday dinner back in August at Riverfront Seafood. Bill and his wife, Susan, were seated to Mom’s right. So they couldn’t help but hear when someone in the family asked Mom to recount the tale. When she finished, Bill said Tiger Brooks (Tom Brooks Jr.) had taken his dog’s pill once — but his story ended differently. Mom’s fellow church ladies would have been pleased with Tiger’s response: He called his doctor, not the vet. And the doctor asked something like “Why are you calling me? I’m not a veterinarian.”
I confirmed that with Tiger when I saw him and his wife, Paige, last month at the Kingsport Christmas Parade, and he graciously agreed when I asked if I could share it here with Mom’s story. It seemed like another link — some of which I’ve detailed in my last two columns — between Mom’s family and that of Tiger’s mother, Rose Miller Brooks. We’re not related. But we’ve got similar stories to tell.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]