"Thus began a friendship that would lead us through some pretty good and pretty bad times. Homeward bound for boy and dog. As timeless a picture of Americana as there ever was. Friends for life..."  

The Alley Dog

Joe M. Young
Date Written/Revised  
Summer 1998

I grew up in Anaheim, California. The air was fresher when I was growing up there. At least it seems that way. This is not a statement on air pollution today, it's just that the air was filled with more flowers and plants then, instead of concrete and catalytic converters. Maybe it is just that my senses were more alive then.

I can remember getting up at three o'clock on weekend mornings, to stuff and fold newspapers for delivery. They had to be all delivered by 6:00am at the latest, or I would hear about it from my circulation manager. I was about ten years old, and my mother would wake me up and make sure I was up and folding. Then she would try to salvage what was left of an otherwise good night's sleep.
I know she wished I didn't have to do this, and felt afraid for me at times, but we were poor to say the least, and I got an early lesson in economics and the idea that if you wanted something, you'd have to work for it.. That is how I paid the monthly payments for the Schwinn Sting Ray bike on which I delivered these papers. The same bike that rode me to some of the most memorable times of my life.

Living in the older section of Anaheim, California, there was a certain bonus that would be missed if you lived in a newer city. That was the sweet smell of an established area. Trees were old, plants were fully mature, and flowers of some type, were not uncommon on just about every property in that section of town. From the area of Broadway and S. East St. where I grew up, if you headed North and went past Lincoln Ave. and traveled as far as Sycamore St., then turned left for a mile or so, you'd be in the area where my job was. That is where my paper route took me every afternoon delivering the Anaheim Bulletin six days a week. There was no Sunday edition of the Anaheim Bulletin. But the Orange County Register had one and that's what got me up in the middle of the night to ride a few miles to deliver papers.

On Sunday mornings, I was back to mostly the same area, with mostly different customers, and of course a different newspaper. My faithful dog Bullet and I would light out about 4:30 or so to pedal across town to deliver these papers for the Orange County Register. Cruising down the street at that time of the morning was one of the great pleasures of my young life. It was graveyard quiet, and smelled as if the world was reborn everyday. No traffic, no noise, no nothing except me, my dog, and a brand new world. Once in a while I would see the milk truck from Rockview Dairy, but other than that, I could have almost pumped my bike along those streets blindfolded and never been hit by anything but the clean, fresh aroma of my little world called Anaheim.

Friendship for Bullet and me began in one of those old alleys that used to criss cross our section of town back in the day. I was around five years-old and my best friend Chip lived on the street directly behind mine. The shortest route to his house took me through an alley with an old dilapidated house. I didn't know the people who lived at this house. But I had heard the man screaming at his wife and children many times. I also heard things (maybe people) being thrown against the walls. I had also seen him kick at the dog that lived there. It seems to me that the dog was always able to move fast enough to avoid the drunken man's flying foot. One day while walking past this house I heard the dog yelping trying to get my attention. He was behind a fence that was tall enough to imprison him there. But it was made of old boards with good sized gaps between them. I had noticed for at least a week or more that the old led sled of a car that normally was parked in the alley in front of this house had not been there. And now that I thought back, the front door was about half open and had been that way with no sign of anyone living there.

Although I had seen the dog briefly a few times before, I had not really looked at it until that day. I was afraid to get too close or pay too much attention to the house for fear that I was wrong about no one being there and having the man come out and yell at me or hit me. So I very slowly edged my way toward the fence while keeping a keen eye on the front door and surroundings. The dog was jumping up at the fence and wagging his tail like there was no tomorrow. He really wanted out and really wanted to get my attention. The more I looked at him the more he looked like a pure German Shepard. He was actually a mutt of likely 10 different lineages. But I wouldn't have known the difference between a pure bred dog and a jet airplane. In the eyes of a five year-old kid, the dog looked like Rin Tin Tin. And now that I'd convinced myself that he was a German Shepard and therefore a valuable find, my mission to rescue him became priority.

I took a kick at a fence board and quickly pulled back in case the monster of the house was really still there. No one came. I took another kick and the board loosened. A third kick made the bottom of the board swing inward, held only by a nail on the top. I pushed in on that board and let it fall back until it fell inside the yard. Still not enough room for the dog to get out. I repeated my board loosening kicks again on the board next to it with the new found bravado that being on a rescue mission can bring about.Of course you can be brave when you're convinced that no one is home. By the time the bottom came loose, the dog jumped between the gap and began bouncing around me jumping up and down. He stood and put his front paws on my shoulders. We were about the same height and I'm sure the scene must have looked like Bullet and I were dancing. When he got down he sat and offered up his right paw for me to shake. Not knowing that it is common for dogs to "shake hands", I thought he was the smartest dog in the world and took him home to beg my mother until she let me keep him. He happily followed me home. Mom gave him some table scraps and by the next day had some Skippy Dog and Cat Food for him to eat. Thinking back on it, the hand shake he offered up that day sealed the deal on our friendship.

But from that day and for the rest of his life, he would walk way around men. Even when my father actually lived with us for a while or when he visited or when the mailman came around, the dog would take very circuitous routes to get around them. Still, he was brave and would defend me to the death if needed. I called him Bullet. Thus began a friendship that would lead us through some pretty good and pretty bad times. Homeward bound for boy and dog. As timeless a picture of Americana as there ever was. Friends for life. However long that would turn out to be no matter what the weather. And we saw a lot of weather, Bullet and I. This was a real friendship. As real a friendship as any I had with my human friends.

I can remember a time when my father drove up alongside of me while I was just beginning to deliver my afternoon route for the Bulletin. It had been raining hard for hours, and the water in some places was up to the axle of my Schwinn Sting Ray. . Bullet, as usual scouted the grass and weeds on each side of the sidewalk like some kind of K9 minesweeper. He stopped when I stopped to talk to my father. Dad wanted to know if I wanted a ride in all of this rain. Knowing my dad would not let a wet dog ride in his car the first thing I thought of was, "how would Bullet get home?" So naturally, I declined saying that I didn't have that far to go. Indeed, I had the entire route to deliver. Dad would not have known that though, and said his good-byes, no doubt wondering what kind of fool he had raised. At ten years old, you didn't think about loyalty and friendship...they were just something that happened. It either was or it wasn't a friendship and friends were loyal no matter what. It was unwritten code.

The years passed and as dogs will do, Bullet gained on me in age. By the time I was seventeen, and getting ready to move from the house on S. East St., Bullet was well into the Autumn of his life and maybe into Winter. The years of running the streets following me around had taken their toll. Too many dog fights. Too much of everything really. Too many cold, cold mornings, with rain, and wind, and every other environmental punishment bestowed on the landscape of Southern California. Now, he was nearly blind. He moved very slowly, and had trouble even standing up.

After a lot of deep thought on what I should do, I found myself standing in line at the Orange County Animal Shelter with Bullet. My lifelong friend. My constant companion, whom I had sometimes taken for granted, but always had loved as much as anyone would a best friend. Bullet had always kept his habit of shaking hands.It seems to me that he did this when he just wanted reassurance that everything was still okay. This particular day nothing was okay. I didn't have the money to have it done right, but no one would let their best friend live in pain.Not if they could help it anyway. I hope my children never have to do what I did that day. Humane or not, standing in line to have my friend killed, made me feel like I was betraying him.

Yet, there we were. There were still about five or six people in front of us, each with his or her own emotion to endure. Suddenly, I felt something on my leg. I looked up and around as if I hadn't felt it. There it was again. I knew what it was, but didn't want it to be. Bullet wanted to shake hands. As I looked down, Bullet was looking up at me with those eyes a dog gets when he doesn't understand. I hope he was saying, "I'm not sure what is going on here, but whatever it is, I trust you." I hope he knew that it was an act of love and not anger that brought the two of us there. Just like that fateful day when his hand shake started our friendship, I took his paw and shook it. I knew this hand shake was different. This time would be the last.

Then the moment came. It seems the bad parts in life always come down to "that moment". The time had arrived for Bullet to be led away to die. As the Animal Control Officer led away the dog in front of us, I knew that "that moment" was seconds away. I was crying so hard I couldn't even see him, but I knelt down and threw my arms around him and said, "Good-bye Bullet. I love you buddy. Thanks for all the help". He whimpered and tried to lick my face and I stood up, turned and walked away.

I suppose it is a defense mechanism for our minds to try and block out those ugly moments in life when you know that this is the worst it gets. Happily mine did. At least the part about giving him over to the Animal Control Officer. I do remember driving home, with so many tears in my eyes that I had a hard time driving, shifting and steering while trying to wipe the tears that filled my eyes.

I don't ever remember smelling any sweet air after that day in the town where we spent all those years together.And maybe that is not so odd. Many things changed around Anaheim, but to me , this was the big Cahuna. I never got another dog. Several reasons I guess, for that. First of all, the dog has not been born that could take the place of Bullet for me. Secondly, if I did find that special friend, I don't think I could take that same walk that I did with Bullet at the end, as would surely be the case sooner or later.

It's been more than 35 years since I delivered a newspaper. I don't think they let kids deliver papers anymore. It was a bad job then, and probably would be worse now. I never see my delivery person or paperboy, but I do know he or she delivers early, and from a car. Tossing the papers out from 30 miles per hour, and considering it a hit if it lands anywhere within my property lines. Up to and including the gutter. They don't know the phrase, "porch it". I wonder how can you smell the air, and listen to the quiet from inside of a car?

The world has changed a lot in those 35 years. I live in Corona which is about 30 miles east of Anaheim. And when I get up early in the morning, as is my habit, I will once in a while stand outside on the patio or walk in the back yard of our home and smell the sweet perfume of nature that has come with the maturity of the plants and trees that I have planted and nurtured. A cup of coffee in my hand and breathing in as much air as my lungs will hold, just to let it out again and take some more in so the smell will linger as long as I can make it.

In this early hour, there is not too much noise. On particularly quiet mornings, if I listen very intently, I can hear the sounds of a sleeping town's silence. Silent except for the huffing, coming from a breathless ten year-old as he pedals his way across town with a full load of papers slung over his handlebars. It is in those quiet, people-less hours that my memories sometimes will run back to those days of growing up in old Anaheim.

And when they do, they run as fast as a green Sting Ray, with Bullet racing alongside. Running shotgun against any one or any thing out to do me harm. I know that there are people who believe that love is an emotion bound by the limits of humanity. But they don't know any better because they obviously never had a friend like Bullet. Best friend a boy ever had.

Twelve Generations of Youngs
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