Sunday, February 14, 2016

A canine valentine

This past year I lost my dog Blossom to a rare blood disease. She had come to us as a stray puppy, about eight weeks old in the vet's estimation, which put her birthday around Valentine's Day.  So, in honor of what would have been the completion of Blossom's seventh trip around the sun, here is a post first published in February 2011. 

It's a 75-year-old story, about an old Kansas farm dog, a young Army private stationed in California, and a long journey, via Kansas City.

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Main Street between Crown Center and the Plaza is strewn with forlorn-looking real estate: apartments, restaurants, bars and shops, some vacant, most surrounded by empty parking lots. There's a lifeless old brick building in the 3600 block that probably hints at what its next-door neighbor – years ago demolished – looked like on February 6, 1941. That's when it was Young's Small Animal Hospital and when Laddie, a 10-year-old Airedale mix, arrived for treatment.

Laddie had traveled by train in a crate from Chanute, Kansas, and he was in sad shape. His brown eyes were glassy and he was shivering, had a weak pulse and couldn't walk. He had lost 15 of his 40 pounds, having not eaten for two weeks. The story from the Chanute woman caring for him was that Laddie missed his master, Everett Scott, who had enlisted in the Army some months earlier.

The woman, Scott's sister, had written to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, where Scott was in training. Officers there found no rules preventing a soldier from keeping a dog in camp. Laddie's story made news in Kansas City, where officials at Transcontinental & Western Airlines saw a public relations opportunity. A TWA plane would fly Laddie from Kansas City to California.

But after the train trip, Laddie was too feeble to fly. Vets at Young's Small Animal Hospital wrapped him in blankets, rinsed his eyes, force-fed him milk and a raw egg. They injected him with saline and dextrose. They gave him a blood transfusion. It was too early to tell whether he would survive, they said.

The vets stood by him through the night, along with a man from TWA, and by morning Laddie had improved enough to continue his journey. One vet called him a "one-man dog" whose recovery would probably be helped by a reunion with his master.

By the time Laddie, still wrapped in blankets, was put in a basket and driven to Municipal Airport the newspapers were reporting that he was "overcome with grief because his master left him for the Army."

And because hundreds of people had phoned Young's Small Animal Hospital to inquire about Laddie's condition, KMBC radio was on the scene to broadcast his departure from the airport.

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In researching this story I ran across a small-town Kansas newspaper of 1941, which quoted an old-time editor who believed "a paper should have at least one dog story every day."

Just as they do now, dog stories appeared regularly in 1941. A toy Pomeranian who survived birth despite weighing only an ounce and a quarter. A Boston terrier whose barking saved his sleeping owners from a house fire. A mixed breed who kept a woman and newborn baby warm all night after their car wrecked in a ditch.

But Laddie's journey to rejoin his master was the dog story of the year, followed closely in newspapers from Kennebec, Maine, to Panama City, Florida; from Yuma, Arizona, to Benton Harbor, Michigan, to New York City.

They chronicled Laddie's 2,000-mile trip to California via Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he rested and received a piece of Pvt. Everett Scott's clothing, airmailed in to lift his spirits. On the last leg of the flight Scott's voice crackled over the plane's radio from Fort Ord – "Hello, Laddie! How are you, boy?" – and the old dog reportedly lifted his head slightly and blinked his eyes.

Pvt. Everett Scott and Laddie at Fort Old, California.

Hundreds of people waited in a cold rain for his arrival in California and the newsreel photographers were there and finally dog and master were together again. "Laddie, old boy, you don't look so good," Scott said. "But we'll get you well again." There was another blood transfusion, this from a St. Bernard named Winkey, and 75 other potential donors stood by. And when he perked up a bit and his appetite improved, doctors were cautiously optimistic.

So the news of February 13 hit hard from coast to coast, including in Kansas City. The front-page story here began: Ten-year-old Laddie, his canine heart weakened by grief, died today at the Monterey presidio – four days after the 2,000 mile flight which brought him to his master. The official cause was "gastroentritis with complicating heart lesions, anemia, and the effects of old age." The account in the New York Times said "Whatever the cause, it was brought on by loneliness."

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They buried Laddie on Valentine's Day, on the grounds of Fort Ord. There were flowers and a little gray casket, and the men of Company G heard a eulogy for an old dog who once chased rabbits and herded cattle with his master on a Kansas farm.

The days ahead would bring more newspaper stories. One about a lonely military wife who asked to be reunited with her man as Laddie had been. Some questioning the outpouring of sympathy for a dog when, for instance, Nazi bombs were delivering hell to humans in England. And an editorial that concluded: "So long as human beings can grieve over a sick and dying dog, we stand in no eminent danger of permanent moral or spiritual degradation."

But for Pvt. Everett Scott, it all boiled down to something simpler. Anyone who has had a dog knows the feeling.

"It's pretty tough to lose an old friend," Scott said. "He was a good dog."

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Blossom: 2009 – 2015

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