If dogs had life spans that equaled humans, my childhood canine companion, Mean Streak, would have turned forty-five this Friday. Meanie only made it to sixteen years and four months before he started leg lifting on the Pearly Gates.
Mean Streak was my brother Axel’s dog. We got him on December 26, 1969. Axel wanted a dog for Christmas, but our parents were anti-dog. There was no puppy under our tree. Instead, they gave my brother $20 and extended anemic approval to him to find his pet.
With our sister, Dovima, driving our mother’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air, we spent December 26th combing San Francisco Bay Area pet shops in search of Axel’s four-legged friend. We discovered that the day after Christmas all that remained were the rejects. Axel felt that if we did not return home with a dog that day, we ran the risk of our parents changing their minds and telling us that we had to remain dog-less. We were determined to find a dog.
We met an adorable tan Cockapoo, but that dog was too small. We encountered a very exuberant Bluetick Coonhound mix that so desperately wanted to go home with us, her nails got caught in Dovima’s wooly sweater. Axel was concerned that she might be too big when fully grown. If he came home with the second coming of Marmaduke, he’d never hear the end of it. We kept looking.
As our hunt drew to a close, we went to Teddy’s Pet Shop in West Portal, not far from where we lived. A litter of just weaned puppies was playing in the window. The pet shopkeeper told us that these pups were exactly six weeks old. Off to the side, Mean Streak snoozed by himself. Axel selected the little sleeper, erroneously assuming that that pup was the most peaceful one of all. We later realized that Meanie was just being his usual anti-social self.
Meanie was a feisty, mighty mutt who was born to bark. He was very protective of our house and made it clear to all visitors — friends, neighbors and extended family members:
Mean Streak: I take no prisoners!
Even though Meanie weighed only thirty-five pounds, no one ever called our dog’s bluff. He was equal opportunity and would gladly rip out the lungs of any perceived intruder i.e., every single visitor outside of my siblings, parents and grandmother, but he granted an exemption to my pet turtle.
Mean Streak: I cut the turtle a pass.
When my turtle died and I buried him in the back yard, Meanie, who was not a digger, dug him up. I could have lived quite nicely without ever having seen that sight. My dad reburied my turtle in another hole so deep in our yard Meanie would have had to dig all the way to middle earth to reach that corpse again.
Axel said I could own a five percent stake in Mean Streak. I was allotted Meanie’s tail. A few years later, when my brother got a part time job, he paid me a dollar a week to walk Meanie when I got home from school. I liked the job, but there were these two old guys with big dogs that were bad news. They walked their dogs unleashed, flouting the leash laws. They lumbered slowly and their dogs walked far ahead looking for trouble.
One day when I was walking Mean Streak, we encountered the two old guys exercising their pony-sized unleashed beasts. Both hounds from Hell came barreling at us. They pounced Mean Streak. The two old guys thought this was hilarious. I was a whippet thin twelve-year-old whose dog was under attack. I didn’t get the joke.
Me: Get your dogs off my dog you bastards!
They quickened their pace and pulled their dogs off of mine.
One Old Guy: You’ve got a mouth on you, little girl!
Me: Fuck you!
That was the first time I dropped the f-bomb on anyone in public. I reported back to Axel what had happened, including my use of profanity. Axel approved. He hated those guys and had his own share of run ins with them. One of the bullying big dogs died prematurely. We attributed it to the owner’s bad karma.
Looking back, those “old” guys were younger then than I am now. If there is an afterlife, I hope that Mean Streak is nipping them in the ankles for eternity.