Perilous Sunshine

by David Francis

The most potent example of pet-ownership gone wrong that I ever had experience with was with a dog named Sunshine. I didn't own the dog myself --regularly watering my plants pushes the envelope of my level of responsibility. No, the possession of this canine demon was the misfortune of my sister and her husband.

When I try to think of other creatures less suited than Sunshine to live in my sister's apartment, only the blue whale immediately springs to mind. Sunshine was part beagle and part basset hound, so she wasn't a particularly large dog, but if you saw this dog's ceaseless energy, you would swear they fed it a bowl of sugar everyday. She was relentless. This energy level combined with the unbelievable muscle power lodged in her short, squat frame made her a virtual tank. To help my sister out, I often volunteered to take her dog for a walk, but really you didn't take Sunshine on a walk; you took her on a drag. If, after tiring of being dragged around town, you decided to put all your muscle into forcing the dog to walk, passerbys would stare at you as though you were some kind of monster because Sunshine would be choking herself trying to break into a run again. So often I would hear someone as I passed:

"Look at that poor dog gasping for breath! Can't that man see she wants to rest?"

Rest! I knew that dog for four years, and I never once saw it rest! Resting was simply not in its make-up. That dog was pure, unadulturated energy.

Nature has a way of balancing out its creations, and to balance out the extraordinary energy it had bestowed in Sunshine, Nature granted Sunshine almost entirely zero brain cells. As a result trouble followed Sunshine wherever she drug me.

Sunshine was never too particular about the terrain she barged through. Through wooded areas I had to be particularly alert, or I would slam into tree after tree like a pin ball. I remember one time being relieved at seeing Sunshine turning up to take a sidewalk after having dragged me through a stream that ran through campus. It was nighttime so I had no idea there were two girls walking by at the time. Here they were enjoying the evening walk back to the dormitories, when all of a sudden Sunshine comes charging out of the underbrush towards them. Now if they had taken a good look at Sunshine, I'm sure they would have seen that she just wanted to be friends. However, I'm sure they didn't take a good look, because I heard one scream as they ran out of sight:

"Oh my god! A rat! A rat!"

Another time my sister and I were visiting our parents in the country, and I had taken Sunshine for yet another drag. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but somehow, she got off the chain. I chased her for about a mile and then she finally stopped at a neighboring farmhouse. Sunshine had naturally chosen to stop at the house of the one man in the neighborhood who didn't feel quite right if he hadn't shot something by evening time. Sure enough, by the time I got to the house, Sunshine was in the front yard trying to make friends with the man sternly pointing a rifle at her head.

"Wait! Wait!" I screamed. "That's my dog!"

The man looked up with obvious disappointment, and I would hope with some embarrassment. Sure Sunshine was as insane a canine as you could find, but she was clearly as friendly as could be. As far as I was concerned, the only person who had earned the right to shoot Sunshine was me.

So anyway, I managed to get Sunshine back on her chain and lead her away from almost certain death. She didn't show too much appreciation, which is hardly surprising since she no doubt saw my dragging her out of the man's yard as a missed opportunity to make a new friend.

A few months later, an attempt by Sunshine to make new friends put us both in mortal danger. I had been taking care of Sunshine for the weekend while my sister and her husband were out of town. I got up around 7am on saturday and decided to let Sunshine take me for an early morning stroll. After wandering about for an hour or so, we came across a nice out of the way park. No one was around, and for some mad reason, I thought I would let Sunshine off her leash and just let her run wild for awhile.

Things went alright for about five minutes. Sunshine was running around in circles about twenty feet away from me in a state of pure energy. I was thinking it was nice to see Sunshine so happy and free when I suddenly heard a sound that chilled my blood. I turned, and just crossing a hill about 300 feet away, a lady was walking two doberman pinchers. I hoped against hope that Sunshine's keen olfactory senses had not yet picked up their scent, but being part basset hound so no doubt smelled them before I ever heard them bark. I made a dash for her, but she was out of my way in a second, rushing up the hill at top speed, with an expression on her face that told you she was thinking just one thing: "NEW FRIENDS!!!!!"

Sunshine plowed into the two dobermans like a crazy caribou might try capering with two bengal tigers. With a happy bark, she jumped at the first one, playfully smacking its side with her paws.

The dobermans were anything but playful. After a quick recovery from the initial shock of Sunshine's arrival, they began to respond to Sunshine's salutation in typical doberman fashion. By the time I crested the hill, one was gnawing on Sunshine's back leg, and the other was eagerly looking for something more meaty to chomp down on. The owner of the pair had reached the scene just a few seconds before I did, and she was screaming and crying hysterically. I jumped into the fray and managed to pull Sunshine loose. One doberman bit my pants leg as I put myself between Sunshine and her new friends. Sunshine was so terrified by this time, that she actually pulled her head out of her collar and took off down the hill. I gazed stupidly at the empty collar in my hand for a second, but then saw the dobermans taking off after Sunshine again. I began to run after them figuring I would probably only catch up with the things after they had bitten off Sunshine's head.

Half way down the hill I heard a gun shot. The dogs in front of me stopped. Another shot rang out and they turned around and headed back up the hill. I looked back myself, and saw the lady with a pistol pointed into the air, and her dogs returning obediently to her side. I shook my head in disbelief, and then started after Sunshine again.

Frightened for perhaps the first time in her life, Sunshine had run to the parking lot and was scratching desperately at the door of a truck parked there, begging to be let in. I got there just in time to see the door open and a boot come out and kick Sunshine away. A man stepped out and swore about his paint job. Sunshine, incapable of registering two acts of unkindness towards her in a single day, just fell down on the asphalt and started to cry. Seizing a rare moment of stillness for this dog, I slipped her collar back on, and hooked on the chain.

"That your dog, son?" the man asked angrily.

"Yes." I answered, unable to think of a passable lie right on the spot.

"Well, that's damn hard on the paintwork, boy."

Happily, that's all he said and just got back into his truck. I picked up the incredibly stupid and yet undeniably pitiful Sunshine and carried her out of the park. When I sat her down again, I looked at her leg and it was barely scratched. She limped on it for the rest of the weekend, so I'm sure it was bruised, but I would say we were both pretty lucky to get out of the business virtually unscathed.

Now I'm hoping you are expecting me to tell you that Sunshine learned any kind of lesson from this. Not at all. Her eyes were as big as saucers for the rest of the day, but after that, she returned to the same unstoppable, unthinking monster of unquenchable energy.

For those who insist on a happy ending, I will add that about a year later, my sister and her husband decided to give up Sunshine, and she now lives in the country at a house with a large fenced-in back yard which simultaneously lets her run around to her heart's content and keeps her out of as much trouble as is avoidable with such a dog.