Packet Sea Foam: Hilton Head man remembers beloved dog from his boyhood

May 9, 2011 

Thanks to Tom Hatfield of Hilton Head Island for sharing his essay about a longtime family friend.

"My original intention was to send it only to my children, grandchildren and a few friends," he said.

"MY DOG, RAGS"

By Tom Hatfield

I was born in 1933, and my mom and dad decided to have just me. So, I was an only child.

An only child gets all of the attention of parents, family and neighbors. An only child also loses the friendship and closeness of a brother or sister. They have few people to play with, talk to or share with.

Being lonely, around age 3 I started begging for a dog. Like most families of children that age, the answer was, "No, you're too young!"

At 4 I was allowed to go around the block under the condition that I didn't cross the street. One day, I noticed a dog in the middle of the street. It was crawling on its belly and very frightened. I enticed it to come to me, held it in my arms and tried to comfort it. I noticed that it had a rag tied to its tail. Since it wasn't a big dog, I carried it all the way home.

My mother said we couldn't keep her because she belonged to someone else. I said, "Well, can we keep her until someone claims her?" None of the neighbors said she was theirs. After a week and then more, it was obvious that this dog didn't have an owner nearby. So we kept her.

Rags was my best friend. Wherever I went, she was at my side. She slept in my room. We played together. I even talked to her, a trait of many an only child.

Rags had the habit of digging big holes in our garden -- and lots of them. As a hole digger, she was prolific. I used to conclude my nightly prayers with, "Please, God, please don't let Rags dig any more holes! Amen."

In 1945, Dad lost his job and money was tight so we moved to a smaller house. Rags made friends in our new neighborhood, and she was well accepted. She was never on a leash. Rags did "her business" on our lawn and not anyone else's. She knew her manners.

Rags "made the rounds" every day. She went from house to house in the neighborhood and begged for food. Everyone who didn't have a dog gave her something.

St. Joan of Arc Grade School was about seven blocks away. I rode to school on my bicycle, and Rags went with me every day. Rags would wait at school until lunchtime and then again until school was out when we went home together. In eighth grade in 1947, Rags was probably 12 years old.

Rags was a "mouser." Every time my mother went out to empty the garbage, Rags went with her. On two occasions Rags caught and killed a rat that had been hiding there. She then pranced around the neighborhood showing it off. Mother was not impressed.

Rags had a clever trick. She would paw a knob on the bottom of our back screen door and when the screen door opened slightly she used her other paw to open it and then came inside. She did this "parlor trick" for friends.

Around 1950 we moved again. Rags made the transition easily and knew who the good people were, e.g. the ones who gave food. She had the run of the neighborhood and always looked both ways before crossing the street.

By the time Rags was 16, I graduated from high school and attended Purdue University.

Now Rags was my dad's dog since I was away from home. Rags was slowing down a bit. Dad, who was now 72 years old, was Rags' best friend. Probably because he fed her. She would lie in the living room until the toaster popped. She knew that was when she might beg a piece of toast, and Dad never disappointed.

I graduated from Purdue in early 1956 and moved to Massachusetts. Rags stayed with Dad, where they enjoyed each other's company every day.

In late 1956, I got a phone call from Dad, who said they had to put Rags to sleep. It was probably harder on my dad than me.

I found Rags in 1937 when I was 4 and she was probably about 2. She died in 1956. If you subtract 1937 from 1956 and add two years, that means that Rags lived for 21 years. While difficult to believe, Rags outdid the standard for dogs.

If there was ever a dog more loved or more enjoyed, I cannot imagine who it might be. Maybe Rags lived as long as she did because everyone around her, wherever we lived, enjoyed her company.

I didn't have another dog for 15 years, until my 4-year-old son Michael said, "Dad, can we have a dog?"

He got his dog!

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