Sparky was the name we first gave him when we adopted him from the vet. A born car-chaser, he was a stray who had tangled with somebody’s front wheel. He came with a big cast on his front leg. But when it came to expressing his excitement and gratitude for his new home, you’d have thought that cast was spring-loaded. That little mutt was all over us, licking, wagging, barking, making himself immediately at home and proceeding to chew the cast off his leg. It took him all of a week.

There were five of us kids in the family but I think of Fred as the sixth, coming as he did between my two younger brothers. Somewhere along the line, someone called him Fred and the name stuck…for the rest of his days, which were numerous, he was Fred. I was six when he joined the family and he died my sophomore year in college, one hot summer day when he followed my Uncle Claude into town and waited for him outside the tavern. On hot days, he liked to lie in the gutter where it was cool. There, in the gutter, he breathed his last. My uncle carried him home and we buried him in the back yard beneath a dog wood.

Fred really was the perfect name for him. He was the most amiable dog, a go-along, get-along kind of dude. He knew how to fit in with groups of people. When it came to dogs, however, it was another matter. These were in the days before leash laws. Fred ran loose and every time a female dog in town went into heat, Fred was first in line. There were little Freds and Frederickas running all over town. But he had to fight for his rights. And he’d often come home beat up and battle ravaged. We’d shave the wound, disinfect it, and Fred got on with it. I remember once a dog bit him on the top of his head and we had to shave a little circle around the wound. For a brief time, Fred became Friar Tuck.

My brother Mark was convinced he was a German shepherd and proudly proclaimed this to anyone who asked the eternal question, “Exactly what is he?” True, he did have shepherd-like coloring. But his proportions were more beagle and his legs were hot-dog short. No, Fred was 100% mutt and a finer dog never lived. To Fred, up in Doggie Heaven, “I miss you, buddy.”