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by Duane Behrens

From 40 yards away, I saw Muttley bounding toward me as fast as his 6-inch legs could propel him. He put on the brakes, skidded to a stop at my feet and looked up at me, tail twitching, eyes blazing. Something big had happened, and he clearly ached to tell me what it was. The dog was on the verge of speech.

But there was a lot of work in front of me. All the trees I'd culled from the front copse must now be sawn to lengths, and the remaining branches had to be stacked in piles before Rory arrived tomorrow morning with the dump truck. Muttley would have to wait.

On the other hand, it was lunch time after all. Maybe the pooch was just hungry. I dropped my tools and strolled toward the house, throwing a small whistle at the dog as I did so. Now he was laying down . . . just looking at me expectantly. I continued on home, already thinking about the lunch menu for both of us.

He beat me to the back door, but now he had something in his mouth. A mouse, freshly dead, with a dozen or so needle pricks from Muttley's miniature canines. His first kill.

He laid the mouse ceremoniously at my feet, then backed up, stood absolutely erect, and pretended to look off in the distance in an air of nonchalance . . . but watching my reaction from the corner of his eye.

Not understanding what all of this must have meant to a Shi Tzu-Beagle-Poodle-Chihuahua cross (or whatever tortured genes comprise his existence) . . . not understanding what this must have meant to a previously-coddled foo foo dog who had spent his first 8 years in a city. . . I shrugged, picked up the mouse by its tail and laid it on a nearby tree branch, out of his reach. Then I went inside to wash up for lunch.

I'd just pulled out ham from the fridge and bread from the bread box, when I heard the beginning of a howl - soft at first, then filling the air with anger and grief. I looked out the window. Muttley was sitting under that tree branch, looking up at the mouse with a look of utter disappointment.

Then he saw me through the kitchen window. In a second, he went into his "sit up and beg" position, looking first at the mouse, then at me, then at the mouse, then at me . . .

It made me laugh out loud - but I'd gotten it wrong, I guess. Looking back, I think his little dog's mind was full of pleasure that he'd helped with the hunt, full of pride that he was a contributing member of the pack. And I'd spoiled it all for him by placing it out of reach and walking away.

He wouldn't come in for his meal that day, and spent the rest of the afternoon under that tree, dozing occasionally but mostly looking at me with hatred and thoughts of revenge. .

In the end, he won. After 2 hours of his baleful looks I relented, removing the mouse from the tree and this time laying it at his feet. He picked it up and, without so much as a rearward glance, trotted stiffly away to the back of the garage, where he no doubt buried the poor departed rodent.

We've now patched things, up more or less. He'll still ride along in the pickup (as long as Jane comes along). Once in awhile he'll even chase around the cabin with me, or play a little tug-of-war.

But he doesn't bring me his fresh kills any more, he spends more time with Jane and O.C. than with me, and I still get that occasional look of disdain.

Sometimes it's tough being the dad.


About the Author

Duane Behrens grew up in a small village in southern Minnesota. When he's not mowing the lawn or shoveling snow in Ely, he owns and manages an environmental testing firm in Southern California. He and his wife Jane, an English citizen, divide their time between their two homes along with their eleven year old son, "O.C." and, of course, Muttley.

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