Pal, the Neighborhood's Favorite Dog

THE dog I'll always remember wasn't just my dog. He belonged to the whole neighborhood, actually, from the moment we all saw him as a little puppy, bouncing along at the end of a very long leash with his official owners, a young couple with a toddler son in a stroller. The puppy's name was Pal, and he was a sleek black Labrador retriever whose coat looked like it got a good brushing every day.

The first thing you noticed about Pal was that he had very big feet, so big for a pup that you knew he was going to grow into a big, strong, muscular dog. He loved his family, pausing often to let them catch up, then jumping up for a pat.

As Pal grew up, literally by leaps and bounds, I often wondered if he were getting obedience-school training, because there was never any doubt that he felt he had a job to do - guarding his family. And when his toddler grew up and was in school nearby, Pal pretty much patrolled the neighborhood and was known as a friend to all the kids. He roved freely, and nobody complained about that. We all loved him because he loved us.

If Pal especially liked you, he would accompany you along the streets over to the bus stop, or even over to the grocery store. It was a sort of status symbol.

One day, on impulse, because Pal was gazing steadily at me while I nibbled on a big, crunchy oatmeal cookie, with chocolate bits and nuts, I gave him the last part of it. Actually, I thought it best, so that Pal wouldn't sound off with that deep baritone bark of his. It was definitely the OK thing to do - and he chomped it up appreciatively.

After that, Pal put me on his list. If I went over to the grocery store, Pal would materialize from somewhere and go with me, waiting patiently outside until I was ready to trudge up the hill with my grocery bags. First, he always got his cookie break. Oatmeal cookies became a staple on my grocery list, unless I found time to bake some myself. Other shoppers would say, "Nice dog you've got there," and I would nod and smile.

My sister and I both had jobs over in Washington, D. C., and our little neighborhood, across the Potomac in suburban Virginia, was known as Lyon Park. I remember the first time Pal took us over to the bus stop one early morning. We were concerned and talked to him, telling him to "go home, now," and that he couldn't get on the bus. He looked at us with great patience, as if to say, "Not to worry. I don't ride buses. I only provide escorts." So we got the picture as we watched him trotting off. People on the bus would say, "Is that your dog?" And we would answer, "He's everybody's dog. He's Lyon Park's dog!"

One evening in early winter when it was beginning to get dark sooner, my sister and I met after work downtown and had a bite to eat at our favorite restaurant. By the time we caught our bus and crossed Key Bridge into Virginia, it was really dark.

As we got off the bus, a few lights were on in the little houses up the hill, but mostly there was nobody around. One man suddenly got off the bus behind us and started walking after us up the hill. He wasn't anyone we knew, so we started walking a bit faster. He quickened his pace, too. We almost felt like running but realized it wasn't a good idea. And the man kept getting closer.

THEN suddenly out of the darkness, Pal appeared, dog tags jingling. We greeted him with more than our usual warmth. He was so big and comforting. Pal stopped and looked the man over very carefully. And at a very appropriate time, as it turned out, Pal growled. It was his most deep-toned growl. There was a lot of authority back of that growl.

The man quickly disappeared down a side road, which led to a dead end - which was something he could find out for himself. Pal escorted us all the way home to our front porch door. We didn't have any oatmeal cookies that time, but he accepted a Fig Newton and a lot of loving and head patting. And Pal shook himself all over, as if to say: "Mission accomplished!"

After that, I saw to it that we had plenty of his favorite crunchy cookies on hand for any occasion. Because we felt sure Pal had performed beyond the call of duty that night. Special overtime detail, you might say.

Pal was our knight in a shining, well-brushed coat. `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.

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