This is Yeller Bill. Silly yeller dawg.

I have loved dogs all my life, but never so much as I loved Billy. I got him for my sobriety birthday, and named him after Bill W. (the founder of A.A.). He never licked my face, but instead he’d smell my breath—as if checking for booze. He never smelled any alcohol on me. He was the biggest and yellerest of his litter, and he grew to be an enormous 115-120lbs. in his prime. He possessed what I called “alternative intelligence.” Not stupid, but his cognitive functions did not work the same way as mine (or anybody else’s). And sometimes, the cognition switch was off. Silly yeller dawg.

If not for Bear, our black German Shepherd, Bill might not have lived through his puppyhood. Once, while pursuing a bouncing ball, Billy would have tried to charge through, between the spinning spokes of my son’s bike tire. That’s where the ball had gone, so that’s where he would go, too. Bear, however, was a brilliant dog, and he saw the potential (who am I kidding—the imminent) carnage before it was too late. Baring (Bearing?) his white sharp teeth, Bear roared, and flashed across the few feet of ground. He smashed into Bill and bulldozed him sideways, away from the whirling wheel. Billy, oblivious to the danger, did not understand why Bear was so mean to him. Silly yeller dawg.

Bear applied the same Baring, Roaring, Flashing, Smashing and Bulldozing technique during another of Billy’s suicidal adventures. My husband fell a large tree, and it plummeted toward Earth—directly down onto the spot where Bill sat, raptly gaping at it. Bill just parked himself, and calmly watched the tree approach, as if he found it of great interest. Bear did his thing, just in the nick of time. Neither of them got crushed by the tree trunk, but both of them were covered by the branches. Silly yeller dawg.

As an adult, Yeller Bill did not have Bear to watch out for him. One evening, he chewed up some firewood, and got a chunk stuck, blocking his airway. He choked. He collapsed. He went into full body (all 115 lbs) convulsions. My husband, who always remains extremely calm during a crisis, attempted first to grasp the blocking object and pull it out through the dog’s mouth. The wood chunk lodged too far down Bill’s pipe to reach it. So my spouse hefted up the big dog in his arms, and employed the Heimlich Maneuver, repeatedly, but to no avail. In desperation, he shoved his forearm down Billy’s throat, forcing the obstruction through to the stomach. Wind whooshed into Bill’s mouth, his eyes rolled wildly, and his jaws snapped several times. He recovered over the next few hours. Throughout this ordeal, my only contribution was to spring up and down frantically, and scream, “He’s gonna die!!!” Fortunately, my husband was there to save my dog, or he surely would have died. Silly yeller dawg.

Billy-dog taught me to appreciate things I had grown so accustomed to that I didn’t notice them anymore. For example, he was so excited about watching the toilet flush. I thought, “Yeah, that is pretty cool, huh?” The yucky stuff is just whisked away! He forced me to play every day, and take walks when I would not have done so on my own. He loved to play Frisbee. He loved to swim even more. In fact the words “swim” and “pond” became “s-w-i-m” and “p-o-n-d”, until he began recognizing the spelling, too. As far as Bill was concerned, water existed for him to be in it. If there was water, Bill was in it. He even dunked his whole head in his water bucket. I loved to see his pure joy as he leaped into the pond or the lake. He drank a lot of water, too. He preferred to drink from the tub spout. In the mornings, when I would wet my hair under the bathtub faucet, Billy would drink the water off the back of my head. Silly yeller dawg.

Many times I almost drove my car off the road because I was looking at the huge yeller dog in the back seat. With his massive head stuck out the window, his vast superfluous lips would catch the wind and billow out like parachutes. I’m not exaggerating. When he kept his head inside the car, he often laid it on the top of the back seat, and gazed forlornly out the rear window. I’m talking pathetic. His misery looked so genuine and profound that other drivers would come up from behind me, alongside my car, and glare hatefully at me. How could I treat that poor wretched beast so terribly? Silly yeller dawg.

Everywhere Bill went, people remarked about his size. Even the Veterinarian said he was “huge”. The Vet Tech called him the “Gentle Giant”.

At every fast food drive-thru, the clerks at the windows would always exclaim, “Wow! What a big dog!”

I always had the urge (but never acted on it, alas) to whip around, look at Bill and act surprised; then say, “Oh my God! What happened to my Chihuahua?!”

Bill, as immense as he was, was a coward. The worst kind of coward, in fact. He was a bully and a poser. His bullying days were cut short, once our other dogs realized he was all bluff and would quickly back down if opposed. In fact, he’d come and hide behind me! But, in the car, he was brave. He snarled and barked viciously (or as I called it, “Bicious”) whenever we passed another dog on the side of the road, or in another car. The operative word there is “passed”. If we stopped the car near another dog, Bill immediately laid down out of sight, and popped up Biciously as soon as we began to drive away. Silly yeller dawg.

Yeller Bill and I flunked obedience school, but we struck a compromise: he would do what I said, as long as I didn’t ask too much of him. I established the rule of thumb, “Billy gets to do whatever he wants”, and therefore, he was always a good dog. A good Silly yeller dawg.

All things must pass, sadly. After the choking incident, Bill continued to have seizures on a fairly regular basis. As he aged, the seizures worsened. We gave him supplements that held them off. But, suddenly one day, he had a seizure, and it never really ended. We had to give him prescription medications then, and in his later years, we had to increase his dosage. Then, in 2001, Billy had surgery to remove some tumors, one of which turned out to be malignant. It did not return, but others appeared. He also developed spinal arthritis, according to the Vet. Perhaps it was spinal cancer. During his last few days with me, Billy hurt a lot. He could not be left alone. Then, finally, he could not move his body, and he yelped and yelped constantly. On December 28, 2003 we had to put down my Yeller Bill. He doesn’t hurt anymore. But I still do, and probably always will.

Silly yeller dawg.

Sheree L. Read

© 2004

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