Thursday, July 31, 2008


Copyright Ken Harris 2004

I sometimes think of our first dog, shortly after we were married. Let’s place this in the summer or fall of 1957. We had rented a house on a bluff overlooking Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena. It was part of a property including a stable owned by Chuck and Bobbi Williams, owners and operators of the Arroyo Seco Stables. To our north was the York Street Overpass. Next door to us, picking up traffic from the Overpass, was a popular diner with a large parking lot. To our east and south curved a major road and to our west, behind the house, was the bluff, probably 10 feet. At the foot of the bluff lay a level area behind the stable barns where we built a corral and kept our horses. Also behind the barns lay a collection of old cars and car parts that some uninformed people might mistake for a trash pile. In reality, it was Chuck Williams’ priceless treasure trove. Beyond the corral and trove area lay a city park and the Pasadena Freeway.

We had lots of property, horses and cats, but we were dogless. Joanne answered an ad one day and went to an apartment where she picked up a German Shepherd named Norman. The ad represented him as two years old. He was actually six, or even older. He had lived with one family for five years and then been placed for adoption because – who knows why; the important thing is that Norman was sensitive and intelligent. He had been to several other families before he came our way, but was so shattered by the loss of his first home that he could never adjust to subsequent homes. Also, when Norman came to us, he was under quarantine by the L.A. County Health Department because he had bit someone.

When Joanne answered this ad, I knew nothing about it. This was a nacky notion she came up with all by herself. We had only been married for 16 months. I’m more used to her doing this now, but it was a big surprise to me that day. I had been off fishing that day in a small boat offshore from Santa Monica. There we were, three innocents afloat, even including the clueless boat owner. He landed a barracuda, which fell flopping and wriggling onto the bottom of the boat. Our host grabbed a hammer and pounded on the fish, screaming, “Kill him! Kill him!” I was afraid he would punch a hole in the boat and sink us all in the ocean with the other barracudas. He didn’t sink the boat, but he did splatter us all with barracuda parts. I drove home with the windows open, but still could scarcely stand my own smell.

When I arrived home I found my wife in the company of a large German Shepherd who tried to bite me. I couldn’t blame Norman. I was a stranger who smelled like a barracuda. This could not be reassuring. But, thanks to Joanne’s strenuous intervention, he did not devour me and by the next day, I was his favorite person.

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