The waif grows up

Our neighbor George, who lives a couple of miles away, phoned one day. ''I have a problem. I heard the screams of a puppy in distress and I went out and found this little thing so mixed up in an old piece of barbed wire that he looked as if he were crocheted into it. I got him untangled, gave him the food and water he so much wanted, but I can't take care of him today. I've got an appointment in the city and will you come and get him and puppy-sit, only for today? If I go off and leave him he'll wander again and may get into worse trouble.''

So of course we went after the pup, who could not have been more than three months old. For his age he had enormous feet, over which he was always tripping.

The puppy walked around the house with cautious steps. My dogs went to him, each in its own way, most with benevolent faces and wagging tails. The only exception was the terrible little part-terrier, Annie, who makes all her own rules about what should happen around here; she did not think that an extra dog was needed. Annie likes to keep things in order.

Of course he stayed with us.

We continued to learn how much a puppy he was in spite of his increasing size. Apparently he was mostly Afghan - and soon tall enough to lift what he wanted from the dining room table as he walked casually by. That was when I learned never to trust him a minute when food was around. He chewed on everything except the brass candlesticks.

He had many outdoor adventures with cattle and horses. Once when he wanted to play with a small calf, the calf's mother did not realize it was only a game and gave him a few good pokes with her horns. Once he discovered the joy of seizing a horse's tail and swinging on it. For that he was rewarded with a kick so hard that he never cared to associate with horses again.

When the rainy season was over, the foxtails and burrs were matted into his thick coat and he had to have professional help. The young woman who was an expert at this lived many miles from here up in the mountains, so we began the long climb immediately, as he could not even lie down without being stabbed by the stickers. As I led Macho in to meet the young woman who was to shave him, I said that I would stay and help handle him because he was bigger than she. She said, ''When a dog's owner is around, the dog behaves badly because he believes his owner will rescue him.'' She suggested that I go away and stay away for a couple of hours.

When I went after him I scarcely knew my big black shorn dog. But the young woman, Kim, could not resist leaving a small memento on him. Macho now wore a tuft on the end of his tail such as a lion might wear. I asked Kim if she had much trouble with him. She said, ''Not exactly. I always have to bathe a dog before I clip him, because the clippers won't work if they're full of dirty dog hair. Macho promptly jumped out of the bathtub, so I caught him and gave him a spanking and a proper bath, and I think I never clipped a dog who behaved so well after that.''

When sleepy, Macho likes to roll over on his back, waving beseechingly with his feet and his enormous tufted tail. Whether he carries in his mind his early experience of being caught in the wire remains unknown, but he seems sensitive to any temporary distress of others. And he is strong about wanting to help, and for everything to be all right.

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