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'Unique in all the world'

By Janis Jett Mayfield / February 10, 1981

He was a hungry-looking, ruddy-brown, male hound, and for weeks after he arrived on our East Texas ranch that was his only identity. But in spite of the fact that I had no intention of claiming him for my own, I felt a name was in order.

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Naming anything is a responsibility that sometimes gets lost in our desire to impress the world with our own originality. And naming pets often seems to bring out quixotic tendencies in the best of pet owners, especially if the pet has a pedigree longer than his owner. As Westbrook Pegler pointed out, rarely is there a blue-ribbon dog whose name is Fido, or Rover, or Sport. But try stepping to your back door and calling, "Here Champion Alexander of Clare o' Wind Holme! Here Champion Alexander of Clare o' Wind Holme!"

On the other hand, Robinson Crusoe said he named his man Friday because that "was the day I saved his life," a simple nononsense method of naming to which I heartily subscribe. And that's how Brown Dog came to have his name. Nothing literary or historic, and certainly not a people name. He was a dog and was brown, and it was a name he did not have to live up to or down.

I first noticed him hiding in the gray brush of our late winter pasture, a position that marked the bounds of a periphery he maintained for many days. He purposely stayed as nearly out of sight of the house as possible, so he was easily ignored by me. I already had all the responsibilities I needed and figured if he got hungry enough or lost interest in our female dog he would return to wherever he belonged.

But as days stretched into a week I could see, even from the unsociable distance he still kept, that his ribs were painfully obvious. So I put out a pan of food and called.There was no response, so I went inside. Hours passed before the famished dog finally began creeping forward, making wide semicircle sweeps before each advance. Upon reaching the pan of food he nervously downed it with great gulps and then rushed back to his lonely post.

Another week passed while his wide circles around the house and food gradually diminished, until one day Brown Dog warily accepted my presence and came to eat while I stood quietly nearby. Another week and he sniffed my hand, and the day I briefly touched his head was a triumph for us both, even though he immediately dashed away, shivering with fear.

Since then I've wondered about this dog. He's a hunting dog, probably a red bone hound, and one of his long drooping ears has a deep slit. But there's nothing else to make him stand out from all the other country dogs in Texas. His voice, now that he's finally overcome his timidity enough to use it, has the hollow depth of an empty rain barrel, and it calls to mind dark nights through tangled trails of damp pine thickets, lit up now and then with a saucerlike flash of a coon's bright eyes. He's a fine-looking dog, now he's filled out, but somewhere in his dark past he was badly abused.