A young college professor rented the apartment above our garage. A narrow path separated our fenced back yard and the entrance to the apartment. We had two St. Bernard’s, Heidi and Otto. Heidi was very well mannered and respectful, Otto was gregarious and exuberant. Otto would put his front paws up on the fence and happily greet the teacher with his barking and slobbering. The tenant hurried to his door, with his back flat, edging along the wall. The poor teacher was terrified of dogs, especially Otto. My parents decided that Otto was a potential lawsuit and needed the freedom to run. Despite my offer to walk him more, Otto was given to a rancher 150 miles away. My heart was broken, Otto was my dog, my best friend.
Shortly after Otto’s departure, the roar of the Hell’s Angels motorcycles rolled into town. They started fights at a couple of bars and vandalized a camp ground resulting in their arrest. The leader of the Hell’s Angels threatened bodily harm to my Dad (who was City Attorney) after he prosecuted the gang.
There was a very loud banging at our door late one Friday night. Expecting the Hell’s Angels on the porch wanting to attack us, my Dad, with a baseball bat in hand, opened the door to …..Otto. He was muddy and exhausted but was excitedly jumping to be let in. He had walked for days to get home.
I naively thought that after that “Lassie come home” display of love, Otto would be welcomed home for good. I was wrong, the rancher was called and Otto was to be returned on Monday.
Otto was fed, bathed, and given big hugs. As he snored happily on my bed, I made plans to take Otto and run away from home. We’d leave on Sunday night after everyone had gone to bed.
Sunday was Mother’s Day. Despite being furious with my parents, I joined my siblings in celebrating my Mom. Coffee and cards in bed, gifts, flowers, brunch at The Petroleum Club, and dinner with my grandmother.
It was chilly that night as Otto and I snuck out of the house. In my thirteen year old mind I left with the thought that “they’d be sorry” when they noticed that we were missing and agree to keep Otto.
We made it two blocks to the city park, the quiet night and the scary shadows from the street lights made me grateful for my huge protector. I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking that someone in my family was searching for us, not knowing that everyone in my family was sound asleep. No one had noticed that Otto and I were gone. We could have just walked home but instead we headed to the Police station. I felt sure that the police could reason with my parents. The officer on duty seemed a bit surprised but invited Otto and me into the warm station and offered me a hot cocoa. I explained my reasons for running away as the officer nodded and took notes. He knew my Dad and offered to plead my case. Fear of being in big trouble suddenly gripped my chest as the policeman dialed my home.
My disheveled Dad arrived shortly after the phone call, he seemed more worried than angry. He hugged me and thanked the officer for his time. Later, my Mom, Otto, and I sat on my bed and had “the talk” about doing what was best for Otto.
I said my tearful goodbye to Otto the next morning and headed to school. That afternoon Otto was gone and there was a St. Bernard size grey squirrel stuffed animal sitting on my bed. I never understood the connection-was my Mom implying that I was a squirrel or was that the biggest stuffie that she could buy to replace Otto?
The Hell’s Angels returned year after year, eventually establishing a Wyoming club. Managing a food bank and keeping I-80 clean have replaced the bar fights.
Heidi lived fourteen years and was replaced by Phoebe an English Sheep Dog. Phoebe and my Mom spent Mother’s Day weekend with my family many years ago. Phoebe would put her front paws on the fence in the backyard and bark at the passerby. One day, I was out front gardening and watched as our young neighbor crossed the street before our house. When I asked him why, he told me that he was afraid of the Panda bear in our back yard.
As is the mother, so is her daughter –