Monday, September 20, 2010

nugget #4

That Kenyan Dog
By Bill Donnelly

            Now, before you get bent out of shape thinking this is going to be a story about a Kenyan runner that I will be referring to as a dog, don’t worry.  This is an article about a dog that happens to have been Kenyan.  Well, it’s not 100% certain that this particular dog had Kenyan blood in her, but listen to my story, and you be the judge.
This dog belonged to my sister Margaret.  She got it from my sister Elizabeth, who was living in Nova Scotia, Canada at the time, and when Margaret traveled by train in the summer of 1972 to visit Liz, Liz’s dog had puppies.  Margaret of course fell in love with one of the mangy beasts, and had to bring it back to Buffalo with her.
When I say mangy beast, I’m being literal, for the puppy had mange, and old softy Margaret rode the whole way back with the mangy beast in the baggage compartment so said beast wouldn’t be alone.  Needless to say, by the time they arrived in Buffalo, Margaret was a mangy beast too.  I’m not making this up, folks, Margaret got the mange.  I forget what vet we took my sister to in order to get her a cure, but I vaguely remember we got a two for one deal, and the mange disappeared.
Unfortunately, the puppy didn’t disappear.  Now my sister needed a good name for the mutt, and boy did she come up with one.  She named it Something.  That dog was Something all right.  Nothing but a nervous, skinny, brown bundle of whimpering face-licking fuzz. 
Margaret was attending college and living with my folks in North Buffalo.  Whenever my sister would leave for school, she would have to make sure all the windows were closed or Something would jump through the screen of said open window and follow her.  With several kids also living at home, someone almost always left a window open somewhere, and Something would be sure to find it, and Riiipppp, there goes the dog.  I think Margaret almost flunked out that first semester; she was late for class so often, thanks to Something.  As I recall, my folks replaced 28 window-screens in one summer (this being the number my dad swears by) before my mom finally bought a huge roll of screen material, and learned to make new screens using the old frames. 
Anyway, on to that Kenyan dog.  According to Liz, the dog was half wolf.  You gotta understand that Liz was a definite child of the sixties, and dogs that were half wolf was all the rage.  Now the Kenyan part.  Margaret and Liz say the other half was African or Rhodesian ridgeback.  Close enough to Kenya for me.  More on why Kenyan in a bit.  But wouldn’t you think, half wolf-half Rhodesian ridgeback would make for an awesomely fearsome, huge, bloodcurdling creature that could eat a mailman in one bite?  No, what we had was a slobbering, nervous-nelly of a dog that was only known to destroy window-screens.
But could that dog run, and I mean fast and far.  It was the first ultra-marathoner I ever knew.  And that’s why I believe that dog had Kenyan blood in her.  Maybe not much, but enough to be able to run an ultra in some of the hottest weather ever seen in Buffalo.
How Something got started running is also the story of how my brother, Tom Donnelly, got started running.  You see, late in 1976, Tom, having just finished his fifth year of being a freshman at Buffalo State, decided it was time to shed some of the excess weight he was carrying.  I gave him an old pair of my running shoes, and wouldn’t you know it, he got really into it.  He kept building up his endurance while at the same time losing weight.  It is a fact that he was even one of the very few nuts that went out into the Blizzard of 77 at its worst and tried running.  When they dug him out three days later, he still had on my old running shoes.  Was I ever glad to get those back!
Now those of you who know my brother know what a shy and quiet guy he is.  During much of this time I was living in Kent, Ohio, so I wasn’t around to introduce him to my running friends, and he was just too gosh darned shy to introduce himself.  To my friends, he was Bill Donnelly’s slow little brother, and they could see he didn’t run very fast either.  Years later when he became quite an accomplished runner, he was and still is known as Bill Donnelly’s slow little brother.
Well, Shy Tom needed somebody to run with, someone who would accept him for who he was, someone full of nervous energy, someone who liked to lick his face (he did not know Julie yet), and that someone was Something.  And did Something take to running.  If Tom ever left to run without the dog, Riiipppp! 
Tom got to where he was running lap after lap of Delaware Park, and Something would be running at least three times as far as Tom.  There was no leash-law back then, and the park was mostly full of other runners, golfers, and squirrels, so Something was all over the place.  She must have covered more of the park over the years of running with Tom than the grass did.
That dog never got into trouble, she just kept going from one thing to another.  One wonders what could have been going through the little mind of Something as she dashed about.  Well, it just so happens that I can tell you, thanks to my baby brother, Jimmy.  You see, he is the only Donnelly boy who never ran, for he was to busy inventing things.  He was quite creative you see, and for awhile he was interested in what an animal might be thinking. 
Jimmy actually came up with a device, and I’m hardly making any of this up, that when put around an animals neck would record what it was thinking.  Of course he experimented on Something, and the device worked for about one-half lap of the park before the battery ran out.  Jimmy too went from one thing to another, and he threw the device in a box and went on to his next project, which was trying to invent a better guillotine.  I recently found the tape Jimmy made and the following is what I transcribed.  Something’s thoughts are in italics, and my own infrequent explanations of things in parentheses.
Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl Duke, Duke, Duke of…cripes, is it ever a good day to be running with Jumbo Bwana.  (Jumbo Bwana was Something’s name for Tom – Jumbo because when the dog first knew Tom he weighed somewhere less than 375 pounds, and Bwana, which I have discovered is the Swahili word for “horses patoot”, much as Native Americans conveyed the same meaning by calling someone Kimosabi.)  Cripes, there goes a squirrel over by that tree, if I can just sneak up on him- ooohh, why do I always bark?  Cripes, there goes one of those hard white bird eggs flying out of the sky, I’ll just scoop it up and bring it to Jumbo Bwana, slobber, slobber – cripes, why are those guys with the funny spears chasing me, I’ll run faster if I drop the egg.  Ooohh, another dog, and a big guy too – Hey RinTinTin, wanna smell my butt – I’m part Wolf you know – Hey, come back here!  Cripes, there are some other runners going right by Jumbo Bwana - I’ll follow them and see what they have to say – The one they call the Founder is at least noticing Jumbo Bwana, saying there goes Bill Donnelly’s slow little brother, too bad he runs slow too – Ooohh, there’s those great big squirrels with the horns and big humps, I’ll go scare them, cripes, they are so big you would think they wouldn’t have to hide behind that big fence – well I better check in with Jumbo Bwana to make sure he’s ok – Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl Duke…(And this is where the recording ends.  It’s understandable why Jimmy moved on to other things).
Finally, on to the ultra-marathon that poor Kenyan dog ran.  It happened in the summer of 1978.  Tom informed many of us on Thursday that he would be going away for the weekend, and if anyone had a chance, he would appreciate it if one of us would take Something with them when they went for a run on Saturday.  Several of us were running at the time, including my brother Mike, and my sister Janet.
Well, let me tell you, that Saturday dawned mighty hot and humid.  One of those hot Buffalo summer days when you can hardly breathe, and you break into a sweat just waking up.  Later in the day I was supposed to meet my friend Norm Schwendler of Belle Watling fame over at the park and try to get sixteen miles in.  I stopped at my folk’s house and got Something, but she wasn’t as energetic as usual.  Still, she followed me to the Park, and Norm and I proceeded to peel away the laps.  After a few laps, we noticed Something hadn’t been back to check up on us for awhile, but we didn’t think much of it.  Going by the ball diamonds we spotted her, lying in the shade panting.  As much as we tried coaxing her, she would not budge.  We finished our run, and only when she saw we were heading home did Something get up and follow me to the house.
It was several days later I found out Something’s problem.  During a Sunday family dinner, talk turned to Tom’s weekend trip.  Turns out he didn’t go, so that hot Saturday morning he came over and got the poor dog and took her for a twenty mile run.  For Something, she probably ran sixty miles.  Later, before I showed up, brother Mike came over and took the dog for a ten mile run (in doggy miles that would be thirty miles).  Then I showed up and the poor hound could only make half my workout.  The poor thing still must have gone 100 miles that day, thus my contention that Something had Kenyan blood in her.
After these revelations came out, sister Janet said that explained a lot.  Seems she came over later on that fateful Saturday to run the dog, and when Something saw her in her running clothes, the mutt headed for the basement and refused to budge.  Tom also realized now why that night the poor dog just lay in front of him, breathing ever so heavily, with tongue hanging out.
Alas, poor Something has gone on to Doggie Heaven, where she can run forever, and catch all the squirrels she wants, even the big horned humpty-backed ones.  And as she looks down on Delaware park and sees Tom running laps still, she probably thinks: There goes Jumbo Bwana, better known as Bill Donnelly’s slow little brother.  At least he can run fast now!

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