It’s supposed to be the feline species that enjoys the benefits of nine lives, but none of our cats ever made it past the first life. In fact, many of them expired long before they were even very far into that life, victims of pick-up trucks driving too fast down our country road, or of natural causes such as genetic inbreeding. And unfortunately, more than one unsuspecting feline met its end in Helmut’s mouth back in the days before Intensive Training. Maybe that’s how Helmut somehow managed to transfer to himself all the benefits of the nine lives usually reserved for cats.
We can’t account for Helmut’s first two lives because we didn’t know him yet, but we think his third must have been a hunting accident, since he was terrified of guns for the remainder of his lives. His fourth life was a close call at the dog pound, where he ended up after running away from the hunt. We all know what happens to dogs who stay too long at the pound. We also know that the most likely canines to be adopted are the little cute ones – either puppies or those yappy breeds that never grow much larger than a big cat. Helmut was neither when he landed in the pound.
He was a full-grown, fully male, and apparently fully untrained dog, and he was a Weimeraner at that! Everyone else who read the animal shelter’s ad in the Chardon newspaper must have known that Weimaraners display all the character traits of a three year old on a sugar high. Dad just remembered them as the sleek gray hunting dogs that Uncle Tom McDonald used to raise. It’s an expensive breed, and a free Weimaraner was an offer Dad just could not pass up!
Although Helmut was scared of anything that sounded even remotely like a gunshot, he loved the adventure of the road. In fact, he seemed to be drawn to the road like fireflies are drawn to a soybean field in June. We don’t know what happened with life number five, but he limped back into the barnyard one afternoon with distinct tire treads tattooed across his right ear and down the side of his nose.
The next road incident took place soon after, when the whole family was out for a Sunday afternoon ride. An afternoon ride for the McDonald family didn’t mean that everyone piled into the car for a trip to the Dairy Depot. On this particular Sunday, the six of us were riding down Lawrence Road on or in a combination of the horse buggy, bicycles, and horseback.
Helmut was wild with excitement that he had actually been invited to come along, and he was racing back and forth across the road with no concern about oncoming traffic. Actually, there really wasn’t much traffic on Lawrence Road back then, but Helmut did manage to crash headlong into a boy riding his bike towards us. The neighbor boy struggled to maintain his balance while shaking his head in disbelief at the large gray dog who was lying momentarily stunned in the middle of the road. I’m sure that life number six was flashing before Helmut’s eyes.
Helmut’s seventh life was a much more serious matter. It was one of those winters when Central Ohio actually provided the local children with enough good weather to celebrate several snow days in a row, and our driveway was completely blocked in.
It would have been almost impossible to shovel out, even if all six of us had worked at it together, so Dad called McKitrick’s Plowing, and Joe was out with his truck in no time. Helmut was out in no time, too, drawn by the sound of the engine. I guess he must have missed the excitement of the traffic that hadn’t been flying by our house the past few days due to the snow and ice on the road. Before Joe had even cleared out the driveway as far as the barn, Helmut had managed to get himself run over by the front and back tire of the snowplow. He was in such bad shape that he couldn’t even move, and when Dad picked him up, his stomach gurgled and made funny noises as if all of his intestines had come loose. A phone call to the vet confirmed the fact that Helmut’s situation didn’t sound good, but Dr. Pitkin agreed to do an immediate exploratory surgery, and if things were too bad, he would just gently put the dog to sleep.
Half an hour later, Dad drove up to the veterinary clinic, opened the passenger door of the truck, and watched in amazement as Helmut jumped out and proceeded to trot into the clinic. Dr. Pitkin took one look at the dog, then concentrated his attention on Dad. After all, what medical personnel wouldn’t be a bit concerned about the sanity of a man standing in Dad’s shoes at that moment! All we could figure was that Helmut, who was usually banned from any of the automobiles, enjoyed his ride so much that he decided it wasn’t quite time to give up the ghost.
The following summer I was raising hogs for 4-H, and the ripe odors and murky pigpens were a perfect breeding ground for flies. Before long, the barn was swarming with them, so Dad bought a big can of “Golden Malrin.” We spread the foul-smelling, yellow poison pellets on metal sheets in the unused hay feeders, supposedly out of Helmut’s reach. But after a day or two of collecting fly carcasses, the fly bait smelled doubly rank, and was apparently more than Helmut could handle. Becky came home from her job at Dairy Depot one day to find him convulsing from the poison that he had ingested when he climbed up in the hay feeder to check out the bait. Thinking quickly, she grabbed a hose, jammed it down his throat, and turned the water on full force. It was a do-it-yourself stomach pumping, and it worked, because Helmut was given the chance to live his full nine lives.
I was away in college when the ninth life finally came to an end, very peacefully, at the conclusion of a very long and eventful series of lives. And looking back on the McDonald girls’ childhoods, I’ve decided that Dad made a good decision when he rescued that wild Weimaraner from the Chardon dog pound. We really can’t begin to recount all the laughter and joy that was added to our lives as a result of Helmut’s nine lives.
This post is for my dad, who called Helmut “My son, my only son.”
It was originally written on 2-26-05.