Monday, August 29, 2011


My sister Karla recently had some of out childhood photos restored by my friend Alan, and it's great to see them all. I put up the picture of my mom, Karla and me, and then the one of Karla and me on the rocker. The one I have been saving is of Johann, my childhood dog.

A lot of the family will tell you Johann was their dog, but technically, Dad and I brought him home, taking him from his family in Berkeley, and I was the one who chose him. His brothers and sisters were locked behind a short wall in a pantry and all the other pups were making one heck of a racket when we came to see them, but Johann was asleep. I picked him up, he woke up for a moment and licked my nose, then fell back to sleep as I held him in my arms, close against my chest.

As you can guess, my decision was made because I was in love. My dad was worried that he was the runt, and he likely was. But still, I had done what my dad asked of me reading all the books, so he let me choose Johann, soon known to nearly everybody as Yoyo.

It ranks among the best choices of my life.

Johann was a stunningly clever dog. When we walked across the street, he would show his sheepdog instincts and push at the heels of the youngsters, especially my younger sisters. His mom was obviously a Corgi, but dad may have been a hound that climbed over the backyard fence. Besides herding skills, Johann loved to play fetch like a retriever. It was my brother Michael who taught Johann to fetch a tennis ball, bring it back and drop it so it could be thrown again. He loved playing fetch so much, he would play until he was exhausted, and after exhaustion, he would chew the tennis ball until the cover was off. We used to joke that like the Native Americans used all parts of the buffalo, Johann used all parts of the tennis ball. As I recall, as much as he loved to chew stuff, he chewed tennis balls almost exclusively. He wasn't a chewer of shoes or baseball gloves or any of the other stuff we left lying around, as children are likely to do.

He also like playing with a soccer ball, but he was not big enough to get it in his mouth, so instead he pushed it around with his snout and shoulders. Once at the park, some kids had a soccer ball and Johann decided it would be fun to play, so he went and stole it. Well, he didn't really steal it, because once the kids started chasing him, he stayed in the general area, circling back towards them so they could keep up. He even decided to go straight back at the mob, so he nuzzled under the ball, flipped it up in the air, turned 180° caught the ball on his nose like a seal and plowed back through the crowd of screaming kids.

I have seen dogs that do more behaviors than Johann did, but in his defense I must say we didn't know much about training dogs. We never gave him any treat greater than our praise when we taught him something new to do, and trusting, loving soul that he was, he never knew about the whole "do something cool, get a tasty treat" racket.

He learned some amazing games with very strange rules. One was Sand Monster. Karla, Jenny and I would start screaming "Sand Monster! Sand Monster!" while we ran around the front room, and Johann understood he was this previously undescribed Sand Monster. It was a game of Tag and he was not allowed up on furniture for the duration of the game, though we did jump on the furniture, which was behavior we were not usually allowed. As we ran from couch to couch, he would chase us and growl, and if he bit our pant leg, we had to fall down and crawl to the nearest base, dramatically fearing for our lives. (You should be able to tell from the picture that Johann was a little dog, and even if he grabbed a pant leg as hard as he could, he did not have the stopping power to down the smallest of us. It was part of the game.)

When we stopped screaming and we petted him and told him he was a good dog - and he most certainly was - the game was over and his ferocious Sand Monster persona was forgotten as quickly as it was put on.

Now that I think of it, screaming kids were exciting and fun for him.

His worst habit was probably barking, but my dad recalls that once he came home, Johann would stop, since the Alpha of our pack had returned and our safety was in his hands.

I could reminisce about Yoyo for days on end, but let me close here with something I said hundreds of times, and I meant it every time.

Good, dog, Johann. Good dog.


namastenancy said...

What a beautiful post, written with such love.

Padre Mickey said...

Sweet story.

Karlacita! said...

Best. Dog. Evah! Johann made me a cat person, because there are no dogs in the world like him!

He also played Sand Monster in the summer, when we had the pool out in the front yard. He understood that if we were anywhere in the pool or on the ladder, we were safe.

And this may be apocryphal, but I remember a story of Yoyo's daily jaunts (this was before leash laws), where he'd walk on the sidewalk, wait at streetlights until the light was green, and then cross in the crosswalk. True?

I also remember that when we wanted to go somewhere without him, we'd walk down the street and yell: "Stay!" Which he would, but if we turned back, he'd be nearer to us, yet completely uninterested, as if he were just meandering in his own little world, smelling flowers, scratching, whatevs. We'd yell "Stay!" again, and he'd look a bit shocked, like, "Oh, I forgot you were there. Move along."

Matty Boy said...

I've had cats. I miss Johann, so I am still a dog person, though I know I can't keep a dog with my lifestyle.

Johann was known by name all over the island, even though he didn't have a tag. (No leash laws, no tags, it was the Stone Age.) I know this because he went on a long walk with me down to Lincoln Park, several miles from our home, and little kids knew his name throughout our trip.

He got around safely and I never saw evidence of him getting in fights.

I don't know how he did it, except that he was a remarkable creature.

Nelly Frittata said...

Your dog sounds like the Except my dog is the! Pure love.

Matty Boy said...

It's funny. When I remember Johann, I don't remember how much I loved him or how much he loved me, but how often he surprised me.

I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say my feelings about him are like my feelings about Mina Millett. We are all unique, but with Johann and Mina, you saw there was a point to being unique.

I miss them both very much and was damn lucky to make both of their acquaintances.