Back when I lived in Burnettown, S.C., I attracted strange things. I had my little circle of colorful characters, such as Clovis, who was an expert at finding air conditioners, copper pipe, wires, tires and even whole cars along the side of the road, then selling them at auction. Clovis also knew every person in town who could hot-wire an electric meter, strip a stolen car or make anything or anybody appear or disappear, whichever way you wanted it.
Up the road in Gloverville, there was a family of mutants who ran a gas station. All four of them had a vivid speech impediment and each of them had trained a mynah bird to talk. That gas station was the only place in the world where a person could hear four distinct human speech impediments, then move over to the birdcage and hear those voices repeated by the four birds. My favorite bird was the one trained by the 6-year-old at the station. “I’m gonna start school,” the bird would repeat enthusiastically. “I’m gonna start school!”
But of all the strange things I attracted, flawed dogs were at the top of the list. I can’t remember the first one that wandered up to my house, but I’m sure I fed it, gave it water and picked off all its ticks. Next thing I knew, dogs were wandering up in packs and settling in as if they’d lived at my house all their lives. Soon after that, word of my little dog colony spread among the Burnettown humans. Every now and then, a car would pull up in the middle of the night and somebody would drop another dog over my fence. I had smart dogs, dumb dogs, cute dogs and ugly dogs. I had sick dogs and well dogs. I had a few broken-tailed dogs and one dog that walked sideways.
There were always a few digging dogs going under the fence and a few jumping dogs going over—off to chase cars, bicycle-riding children and their dog dreams. The cottonmouth moccasins culled a few snake-chasing dogs from my herd. Eventually, my dog population stabilized somewhere between seven and 10 good ones.
Among the dogs that boarded at my house was one Betty Lou. I can’t remember where I got her but I’m pretty sure my then-girlfriend, Bobbie Ann Redd, rescued her from the side of the road, Clovis-style, then brought her to my house. Betty Lou was a sweet-faced beagle mix, white all over. She was a good dog, not prone to digging, jumping or losing fights with snakes. Betty Lou was the kind of dog who’d sit with you all day and you’d be glad for the company. She was a pretty dog too, in a dog-next-door kind of way. Plain pretty, not fancy pretty. Mary Ann, not Ginger.
Betty Lou being so pretty and all, I took a picture of her and put it in my wallet. Every working day when I was selling musical instruments at Jay’s Music Center, I’d share my picture of Betty Lou with at least
Selling musical instruments was hard work. The customers were mostly men lusting for a guitar or a set of drums or such, but they knew if they bought what they wanted, they’d catch hell at home. Whenever I heard the words, “let me check with my wife,” I knew I’d lost a sale.
So, soon after I put Betty Lou’s picture in my wallet, and soon after I figured out that I couldn’t let a sale fall apart at the “check with my wife” stage, I started using Betty Lou as a sales tool. “If you buy the drums,” I’d tell my shopper as I whipped out Betty Lou’s picture, “I’ll be able to feed this dog. If you go home without the drums, I guess I’ll have to shoot her. It’ll break my heart to do it. Look at that dog’s eyes….”
God bless her, Betty Lou made me a fair bit of commission money.
After Betty Lou had been with me for a few years, I noticed something funny about her girl-dog parts. Best I could tell, she had some kind of growth back there. I figured I owed Betty Lou at least one trip to the vet, so I took her over to Dr. Hawk in
“What’s Betty Lou’s problem?” Dr. Hawk asked as he set Betty Lou on the examination table.
“Something sticking out back there,” I said, pointing to her girl-dog parts. “I’m worried that she’s got cancer.”
Dr. Hawk turned Betty Lou’s back end toward him, moved some stuff around, then said, “Betty Lou here is a hermaphrodite.”
“You swear to God?” I said.
“That thing sticking out,” Dr. Hawk replied, “is a vestigial penis.”
“I’ve got a hermaphrodite dog?” I wondered. “Out of all of God’s creatures, the dog with a penis and a vagina ended up at my house?”
“That’s right,” Dr. Hawk replied.
“What do we do about it?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Dr. Hawk said. “She’s fine like she is. But you might want to change her name to Betty Louie.”
And so I did. Betty Louie lived to a ripe old age, then finally went to her rest as the undisputed queen of my flawed dog