The small three bedroom and one bath ranch with brick steps was a mirror image of the small 1960s era homes on either side of it. The unkempt shrubs, weed infested lawn, and alligator cracks in the driveway asphalt set it apart from the others. There was an empty leash in the backyard.
It was obvious to the cop that while the house now represented years of well intentioned neglect, it was formerly the reward of years of hard work and penny pinching.
The kids probably moved out in the mid-seventies and Mom and Dad stayed in the home. They skipped the latest remodeling trends and used the savings to get the kids through college, marriages, and getting into homes of their own. Maybe a family trip to Disney in the 80s. That would make sense.
Mom passed away about six years ago and now there was only dad and his dog. The cop knew this, in part, because the man’s son told the dispatcher that he had not heard from his father for over a week. He was doing time in a corporate pressure cooker near Van Nuys and checked in by phone with his father at least once a week. Dad wasn’t answering the phone.
The cop knew about the dog because he paid attention when he drove through the small town. He had seen a small brown and white mixed breed pooch running around in the non-manicured backyard on several occasions. He had never seen the old man and wished now that he had stopped and knocked to say hello at least once or twice. He could have used a dog biscuit as an excuse.
The regrets that roll through the mind of a police officer are not typically those that people expect them to be. He liked it that way. Not catching up with the kid in the Silverado who repeatedly burns out in front of his girlfriend’s house tend to drop off a cop’s radar like coconut from a fresh baked Gosselin’s doughnut. The minute you get out of the car and give yourself a quick shake, that stuff is history. He had done a few burnouts in his glory days. Not so glorious in a Ventura, but at the time it had Cragars.
He just wished he had stopped by this house before today.
It was Saturday and no one was home in the adjacent houses. The families were out doing what families do on Saturdays. Similar to what the old man used to do, although he probably never had an 21 foot Sea-Ray or kids on “travel teams,” but he definitely took care of the lawn and wore out a few charcoal grills.
The cop knocked on the door and of course there was no answer. The old man would not be coming to the door again. The cop knew it because he had done this far too many times. Something people don’t see. Because who do you call when you think your family member has passed away at home? You call the cops.
If no one else has it listed on their brochure, the chore is always passed off to the police.
He knew the dog’s chain was tied to the railing on the back steps and he supposed that it would be a door that was left unlocked due to the ongoing needs of a pooch. The cop was right. He went inside.
The interior of the house smelled like all houses smell… lived-in. Like the last cooked meal, the Yankee candle of choice, and the cigars that would no longer glow late into the night during the eleven o’clock news.
The man was there. Between the kitchen and the living room/dining room combination. The cop supposed that the old man had been heading to the backdoor to let the pooch out for his nightcap. By the amount of “pooch residue” in the kitchen, the dog never left the kitchen again after the old fellow met his maker. Remaining loyal is a trait that is lost on many.
The growling sound from below the kitchen table was an indicator that the pooch was healthy and prepared to defend his master. The cop, knowing full well of the scars an angry dog can leave on a man, stooped slowly to get a glimpse of the animal. There he was. Between his parallel paws were the man’s teeth. It appeared the man’s top denture plate had left the confines of his mouth when he landed on the floor. His lower set of teeth were still close to his body.
The cop let the dog continue guard duty as he surveyed the scene for indicators of foul play. There were none. The mail was still piling up on the floor in front of the tarnished brass slot centered in the front door.
Apparently the mailman was a rebel and utilized the slot in defiance of newly minted federal guidelines regarding the necessity of a mailbox. Good for him. The cop disliked most newly minted federal guidelines regarding governmental mandated necessities. It was only junk mail anyway, most of it could have been left on the loading dock.
From the appearance of the pile it had been a few days since being picked up. If the man had been in a better state, he would have piled it on the dining room table with all the other junk mail.
The pine table with four chairs and a bench reflected the scars of a family who ate together. That was also nice to see. Sad, but the dents and dings told a story of happiness. The family pictures on the hutch reflected the same feelings.
After the men in suits from the local funeral home arrived and moved the gentleman to his final quarters, the cop went back out to see if he could gather up the man’s top denture plate. It would be needed for the folks at the funeral home to make the man presentable for his family who would be seeing him for the last time.
He thought to himself, who else is going to do this? He also considered that he should go get his leather gloves from the cruiser door. He opted for a Milk-Bone from the bucket beside the door.
The dog continued to growl and the biscuit was no substitute for his master’s hand.
The cop made the decision that the stand-off would be determined by his speed and agility in grabbing the dentures and trying to get as far away from the dog as quickly as possible. There were calls waiting from dispatch and this had already taken over two hours. He had made the necessary calls indicating his sorrow in finding the son’s father in such a way. The son was grateful and would be returning to Maine from California in the next day or so.
He grabbed the teeth and quickly ran out the back door, which he had propped open with the well-worn and broken broom handle.
He was fast, but the dog was faster. The dog was committed. The cop turned around to face the dog on the back lawn. He was in hopes that the altercation could be settled with an act of bravado. It was. The pooch grabbed his pant-leg and gave it a good work out. He tore the hem out rather quickly and seemed to be satisfied with stopping there.
The cop, now on his back because he had never practiced running backward, kicked at the dog. This stopped any subsequent assaultive behavior.
The dog had done the job to the best of his ability. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was just committed to the old man and probably wanted to make sure that he gave it all he had.
The cop did not know what the dog was thinking and got up slowly. He never did get the dog’s name from the son so he reverted to a few, “good boy(s)” and “want a biscuit(s).” The dog sat down and started panting as if he knew that his job was over and it was time to take a break.
The cop walked back toward the door, picked up the broom handle, and the dog followed. He poured some fresh water and filled his dish with kibble. The dog did not eat, but he did take a long drink. Guard duty can make a man mighty parched. He said the words out loud, like it was being stated in a 50’s Western. No one could hear him but the dog. It made the cop laugh to himself quietly.
The cop sat down to wait for the dog’s ride to the kennel. He could be dealt with when family got back to town. It did cross his mind that he could take the dog for his remaining days, but also knew there would be more dogs just like him. He could not take them all.
They sat together for their remaining time in the house, both of them saying nothing. The cop’s sadness for the family was replaced with a sadness for the dog. They had worked together to make sure the family saw their father whole again one last time. They were a pretty good team, even if their relationship had been a bit tumultuous.
For both of them, it really came down to taking care of the little things.
It was a small three bedroom and one bath ranch. It had brick steps and was a mirror image of the small 1960s era homes on either side of it. The unkempt shrubs, weed infested lawn, and alligator cracks in the driveway asphalt set it apart from the others. There was an empty leash in the backyard.
If you have a chance this weekend, check on your elderly neighbors. Make a few calls to shut-ins. You know, be present.
Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone, and be kind to one another.
We will be here.
This post was originally published on August 4, 2017 on Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page.