It Wasn't On His List, But He Wouldn't Pass It Up

They learned to help the helpless at the market.
It Wasn't On His List, But He Wouldn't Pass It Up

My sister, Beth, and I had gone with our dad to a local market in Goleta, Calif., for some groceries one chilly and rainy December night in the mid-1960s. As Dad finished putting items in the shopping cart, Beth and I scanned the vast array of candy bars, both of us searching for the perfect one to satisfy our sweet tooth.

As I settled on a brightly wrapped Rocky Road candy bar, I looked up, searching for Dad. It was near closing time, and something caught my eye. I saw an older store clerk sweeping fallen receipts and such out the back door. But what was that black object he was trying to shoo of out the store? Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a dog!

Gasping, I wailed, “Daddy, look!” My dad, a lifelong animal lover, quickly came to see what the commotion was about. He briskly walked over to the clerk and asked him what was going on. The clerk explained that the dog, an adult black-and-tan dachshund, had been hanging around outside the store for the better part of the afternoon and evening. When he opened the back door to sweep, the dog snuck in. The clerk explained that he wasn’t harming the dog, he was just trying to get him to go on home.

My dad started inspecting the pathetic-looking dachshund. Part of his right ear was missing, most likely having been the victim in a dog fight, and his sad brown eyes reflected a helpless desperation that tugged at Dad’s heart. My dad had experienced more than his share of helplessness in life. He had to have one of his legs amputated below the knee as a young boy living on a farm in Indiana, due to an unfortunate accident, and he was drawn to creatures of any kind that experienced a hard life.

His character was that of a friend to the friendless and those in need, so it was natural for him to be drawn to the dejected dog.

Stooping down to his level, Dad calmly put his hand out for the dog to sniff. He then gently started stroking the dog’s back, gaining his trust. He looked to see if there was a collar with tags. Nothing. Carefully picking up the dog, who did not resist, my dad said to my sister and me, “Well, we’ll take the dog home for the night, and tomorrow we’ll put an ad in the paper to find his owner.”

Beth and I squealed with delight because, in our eyes, that meant we were getting a dog. Mom was not quite the animal lover that Dad was, so up to that point, we hadn’t had a lot of pets.

By the time we got to the car, the dog was shivering, perhaps because of the cold rain and/ or the fear of being with strangers. We tried comforting him on the short drive home, gently petting him to soothe him. Upon pulling into the garage, Dad found a towel and gently wrapped it around the dog before bringing him inside.

My sister and I ran ahead of Dad and the dog, gleefully telling Mom, “We got a dog! We got a dog!” The look of horror on Mom’s face displayed the fact that she was resistant to what had transpired. But she finally came around when she realized it was just a temporary situation. Once the ad went in the paper, someone would claim him, and he would go back to his rightful owner, Dad explained to everyone.

Beth and I hoped Dad would forget, but the next day, the ad was placed. For days, every time the phone rang, Beth and I dreaded that someone was calling to claim the dog. Days passed by, and Beth and I felt sure the dog would be ours since no one had claimed him.

But one day, when Beth and I were playing outside, the call came. Later, my dad explained to Beth and me that the dog's owner would be coming over in a while. He told us the dog’s name was Count Peppermint von Schnapps.

A young lady pulled into the driveway that afternoon, and my parents welcomed her into the house. She and the dog reunited, and although she seemed happy to see him, she also seemed sad. She explained to my parents that she was moving away and couldn’t take the dog with her. Would they, by any chance, be able to keep him?

By this time, even my mom had softened up to “Vonny,” as we eventually nicknamed him. He became a loving, protective part of our family. Vonny lived many more years, to a ripe old age, even though we never knew quite how old he was when we got him.

Of course, he was especially close to Dad, who had unconditionally accepted him from the minute he laid eyes on him. I shudder to think what might have happened to Vonny had Dad not been at the store that evening.

Throughout Dad’s lifetime, there were other examples of him befriending the dejected, whether it was people or animals, but Vonny holds a special place in my heart for being the first example of Dad’s kindness that I personally witnessed.