by Joe Ozier
Local author Joe Ozier shares about his dog Shep and the musical he wrote about him. This is a three part series. Enjoy part 1 and watch for part 2 in December. Check out our interview with Joe about his children’s book Shea’s Lounge.
It all began on a hot June day in Madera, California. My mother and I were driving from Fresno to about 20 miles north, to look at some used slate stepping stones that had been advertised in the newspaper. Mom convinced me to go with her because I was feeling depressed about a recent break-up with a girlfriend. She said it would be good for me to get out of the house for a while. Little did I know just how good it would be!
We left the Interstate and drove down a small side street onto a dusty dirt driveway where workers were dismantling a second floor deck. The tiles had been taken from the deck. We were told to go around to the back of the house past the barking dog to find the pile of tiles. As we approached the pile, we noticed that there was a dog barking very convincingly at us. We kept our distance from him, and looked through the tiles. Mom decided that she did want to take some home, so we began searching out the best ones to place in the trunk of her Lexus. The owner came out to greet us as we neared completion of the sorting and loading. After a brief conversation and money exchanged, he told us he was selling the house to move to the city.
I asked what he was going to do with the dog and he explained that since he had no room in his new condo for him, he intended to leave the dog for the new owners when they took over the house. “Buy a house, get a free dog. Such a deal,” he proudly exclaimed! I mouthed under my breath, “Yea, maybe for you but not the dog.”
The dog’s face reminded me of some of my childhood dogs. My dad liked Border Collies, as they were smart and loyal, and good with kids. I wanted very much to pet him, so I slowly approached. The man cautioned me against it, but I went just the same. I reached towards his back and fully expected him to snarl, but to my surprise, he began smiling. Not your happy excited smile, mind you, but the kind of smile that begs you not to whack him kind of smile. A pleading to be loved, a broken-down anxious and unsure kind of smile that only a dog who has been beaten both mentally and physically can express.
I talked softly to him until he rolled over for me to pet his belly. Without hesitating, I looked into the owner’s eyes and told him that I would be interested in taking the dog off his hands. My mother stopped what she was doing and looked very hard at me. She was getting eager to go and said, “What would you do with a dog like that anyway? And do you really want this dog?”
I knew she meant that “angry” dog, but I knew right then and there that I wanted him, no matter what he was like. I wanted to save him from any further abandonment. He was walking on three-and-a-half years of dog poop, and I wanted to give him at least three-and-a-half really awesome years to counter the hellish time he had already put in. The man’s wife stepped onto the porch bouncing a baby boy. The man told her, “Honey he asked me if I would give Leggo to him, but I told him no.”
The lady’s face scrunched up into a quizzical pucker; then she relaxed it and said, “You should honey! Give that man your dog. You don’t do anything with him or for him anymore, I mean, look at him, he’s been tied up for years. You never play with him or walk him or anything. You have never even bought that dog a toy!”
(Flash forward: that explains why Shep never played with any toys I gave him; he simply chewed them to bits, so I finally stopped buying him toys.”) The owner kindly shook his head, then turned towards me and said, “Sure kid, you give him a good home.” He walked over to his chained animal, kneeled down next to him and began petting him while talking softly and attaching a leash to his collar. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I started feeling a bit guilty.
When the man stood up holding the leash, my mother put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, I guess you have a new dog. Joe. I know you will love him very much!” I walked up to Shep and asked him if he would like to go for a walk.
The owner handed me the leash. Shep briefly wagged his little stump of a tail and curled his body in a semicircle while he smiled real big and excitedly danced around us for a few moments. I dropped the leash, walked over to the car, opened up the back door and asked him to get in. My mother quickly got a woven afghan comforter from the trunk and placed it over the leather seats. The dog was hesitant, but I called to him as enthusiastically as I could. After thanking the man for giving his dog another chance, I slowly escorted his dog, now my dog, towards the car. Shep had obviously never been allowed into a car, but he was approaching the door very quietly and politely. My mother was staring in amazement, and to this day I’m not sure whether it was from disbelief that I was actually taking the dog, or that she was letting this angry and stinky animal ride home in her car. The dog’s fur was so matted and greasy that I believe it was the latter. I told her to hurry up and get in and go, as I didn’t want the man to change his mind, but then Shep bolted, ran straight back to the hole he had dug for himself over the years and plopped right back down in it.
I walked back to him and asked him again if he wanted to go, but he just lay there, looking nervously at his former owner, who was looking a bit worried. I walked up to Shep again, grabbed his leash, and said, “Let’s go for a walk, buddy.” Shep’s eyes focused on mine to see if I was really serious, but he didn’t budge. Then suddenly he must have decided that I was serious, because he jumped up and pretty much led me back to the car. I escorted him up to the back seat again and told him to get in. He slowly crept in and I followed closely after him.
My mother shut the door behind us and stood looking at the owner for a moment until she heard me say, “Mom, let’s go before he changes his mind.” She got in, shut the car door and turned around to stare at me and my dog, who were sitting in the back seat staring back at her. She then shook her head, smiled, and started the car. As we drove away down the dusty driveway, I looked through the back window and saw the woman put her arm around the man’s shoulder as they watched us drive away. There was no wave goodbye from any of us. I sat in the back seat with my new friend, hugging him, smiling and petting him all the way back to Fresno. I wondered what I would do with this fragile creature that was now completely dependent on me, but I knew that I had made the right decision. Little did I know the chain of events that would unfold from that moment. All I knew for certain was that I was going to give this dog a better life than he had ever dreamed of before.
I thought long about that brief moment shared between Shep’s former owner and Shep, as he whispered softly and said goodbye to his dog, what he might have said to his departing doggie. That, my friends, was the inspirational moment which lead me to write over 20 songs and 120 pages of a 2½-hour original show, that took the lion’s share of the next decade of my life, as my pursuit of making Shep, the Musical become a reality to be seen by the world…or at least reach the hearts of a few dog lovers out there.
Watch for Part 2 next month, and you can purchase Joe’s children’s book Shea’s Lounge at the following: digital downloads at smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/470712 or print version on Ebay at http://www.ebay.com/itm/181539509351?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649http://www.ebay.com/itm/181539509351?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649
Check out more pet related short stories and articles in our pets section.