The Origins of Rhett

Rhett ButlerTed's dog, Rhett, was born in Louisa. Jerry inherited Rhett's mother, Gretchen, from an apartment-dwelling friend in Maryland who couldn't keep her. Gretchen's litter arrived on July 4 during hurricane Agnes. One pup went to a Louisa neighbor and was subsequently found dead on a trash heap at the Louisa dump. Another puppy, whom Jerry named Stripe because he didn't have spots, went to Jerry's friend Okie. Ted got the pick of the litter, Rhett.

Rhett was born in 1972 on the 4th of July and close in time to the onset of a major hurricane that hit the mid-Atlantic region that summer. Gretchen built her nest near Jerry's spring. The furry family was flooded out with the heavy rain, but Jerry and Ted saved everybody and moved them to higher ground.

Rhett was a prince of a dog--even my mother said so. He did exactly what Ted told him to do, except for one time during puppyhood when he chewed up the water bottle from Ted's bicycle. He got in big trouble for that. He let Ted's people play with him, tug on his fur and his tail, give him enthusiastic hugs, and never growled or complained. He was protective of Ted and all that was Ted's, especially kittens. If an unauthorized somebody approached one of Rhett's kittens, he raised a lip and an eyebrow and let out the faintest of growls, which was always an adequate deterrent.

Although Rhett wouldn't let ANYBODY come near Ted's car, he was particularly churlish about innocent people of color who approached. The dog didn't care much for kids or other dogs, either. We took him down to the C&O canal one Sunday for a walk on the towpath outside Georgetown, in the company of tony Washingtonians and their immaculately groomed dogs who walked obediently on their expensive loose leashes. Rhett snapped and growled and pulled hard on the leash every time another dog walked by. We felt like the epitome of ill-bred hippies with our ill-behaved dog, an embarrassment to ourselves and dog owners all over the District of Columbia. We never repeated that walk. Rhett's territory was the isolated southern woods and fire trails in the Shenandoah mountains where he could run free. 

Ted and I drove to Louisa to see Jerry now and then and to give Rhett an outing on familiar turf. On one visit, we found a 12x20' block foundation going up for a new set of living quarters. We also found Jerry in the middle of a half-dozen puppies, who mobbed Rhett right away. Rhett didn't like them at all. That night, while Rhett fended off the puppies, we slept on the floor of the new foundation and awoke in the morning to a whip-poor-will's persistent, loud, and sleep-crashing calls. (The house intended for the foundation never got built, so far as we know.)

We drove into town for breakfast at a local pinball dive, where a sign advised against tilting the tables and warned that "VILATERS WILL BE PROSCUITED." Jerry didn't mess with the tables, but he did perform his favorite restaurant trick. He grasped a fork handle fist-over-fist with the tines facing away from him and touching the tabletop. Then he would pretend to bend the fork. It was a good illusion, but never really had its intended effect, which was to piss off the waitresses, who were all wise to it anyway. That didn't deter Jerry. He never tired of the prank.