Greg Kincaid is the author of A Dog Named Christmas. His next book, the prequel Christmas with Tucker, comes out in November and is now available for preorder at Amazon.com, BN.com, Borders.com, and all major retailers. You can also read Greg’s previous blog posts for Petfinder and visit him at www.facebook.com/authorgregkincaid.
This week Greg shares the prologue of Christmas with Tucker. In it, he explores the life of a tethered dog. Enter here for a chance to win a signed copy of Christmas with Tucker. (Official Rules)
From Christmas with Tucker: Prologue
With one paw in the wild and another scratching at the door of humanity, dogs are caught in an awkward spot. It misses the mark to describe a dog as just an animal. We recognize that our pets can be both beasts and evolved life-forms keenly attuned to human needs. Country dogs may be more appreciated for their animal nature — hunting, herding, and guarding — while city dogs are cherished for their humanlike ability to expertly deliver companionship and unbridled affection.
From time to time, for a lucky few of us, we come across a dog that seems to move naturally back and forth from one world to the other. Such a dog can howl at the distant coyote, hunt for his own food, refuse to back down from a charging adversary, and run for hours on end with equal glee under snow or sun. In an animal like this, we respect the sheer aliveness that radiates from his eyes. And, when the day’s work is done, he’ll lie down by our feet, content. For this dog, you know that there is nowhere he would rather be than with you. This dog is complete in both worlds. He models for us how to
simultaneously be good and alive — animal and angel.
Frank Thorne owned this kind of dog. He received the 4-year-old Irish setter in exchange for repairs he made to an old tractor. The owner of the broken-down machine had inherited the tractor and the dog from his grandfather. He kept a picture in his wallet of the old man standing beside that proud setter, taken after one of their weekend hunting trips. The snapshot was good enough — he had no room for a dog.
Thorne was too sick, too broken, and too mired in personal problems to
know the value of his bargain. The setter spent most of his days tied up
outside on a chain attached to a giant steel corkscrew that tightened
into a clay loam, binding him to the ground like concrete.
Tethered, he could only watch wild turkeys amble across the meadow,
roosting to a setting sun, or rabbits venture from their winter thicket
as snow danced across Thorne’s barnyard. The dog yearned to experience
all that was outside the radius of his 24-foot circle.
From time to time, when Thorne had better days, he would take the dog
for rides in the truck, long jaunts along the banks of Kill Creek, or
just let him into his modest, run-down house to enjoy warm evenings by
the fire that glowed in an old potbellied stove.
Thorne was a lonely man incapable of realizing a friendship with the dog
or anything else.
Not long after his arrival, the dog saw a boy walking across the field
to the west. He pulled on the chain, whined, and pulled again. His tail
wagged, but there was no give. In the late afternoons, before Thorne
returned home, he could hear a school bus full of children stop at the
top of the hill. The same boy he had seen walking through
the fields was on the bus, too.
He saw or heard the boy almost every day until June. As the summer
progressed, the boy ventured out less frequently. By August, he did not
come out at all. When he heard the boy in the yard, the dog could tell
that the boy’s energy was different. There was less
laughter on the hill.
Things grew worse with the man, too.
Thorne stopped leaving the house and a putrid odor seeped from his
pores. The dog knew the smell. He recognized it from his previous owner,
who ran a tavern near the city. October turned to November and Thorne
became less attentive to the dog’s needs. The
setter lost weight and the sheen vanished from his red coat. As hunger
set in, his disposition naturally deteriorated. He paced nervously.
One day in November, around 3:00 p.m., though it was still some distance
away, he could hear Thorne’s truck rapidly approaching home. There was
another sound farther in the distance that caused pain in the dog’s
ears. He whined and tried to bury his head between his paws as it grew
nearer. It was the sound of sirens.
Impervious to his own discomfort, he wagged his tail excitedly as
Thorne’s truck screeched on its brakes and turned wildly into the
driveway. The truck fishtailed to a stop not 10 feet from the dog’s
The dog did not know what to expect from this tall, gaunt man. In the
past, he was affectionate and seemed to value the dog, but lately his
master treated him like an inconvenient responsibility. Thorne stumbled
out of the truck and, without bothering to shut the door, fell to the
ground. This is the position from which humans often play with dogs, so
the dog grew excited and ached for a greeting, some acknowledgment of
his existence, but there was none. Instead, Thorne pulled himself up,
brushed the dirt from his clothes, and made sure the package he so
carefully clutched in his hands was still
The pain in the dog’s ears grew more severe as the sirens grew closer,
but still all he wanted was to be with the man. He ran excitedly at the
end of the chain and barked for attention.
It was still early in the afternoon, but not too early for the
ubiquitous bottle in the brown paper sack, the bottle that held the
scent that the dog now associated with his master. Thorne gripped the
sack in his left hand like a lion trainer clutches the whip that
separates him from certain death. The red setter whined again and even
let out a
little yelp, but Thorne still ignored him. Instead, he walked into the
house and slammed the front door behind him.
Soon more cars pulled into the driveway; two of them carried the painful
siren. The noise ended when the drivers turned off their engines, got
out of their cars, and approached the master’s house.
The dog was confused. It was rare for other people to enter his area.
The strangers’ voices seemed nervous and there was a scent in the air
that he associated with danger. The dog barked furiously and pulled at
The uniformed men talked to the dog. They said that they would not hurt
him, but still they stayed well away from his run as they approached the
house, and he could sense their aggressive postures. He was prepared to
lay down his life to defend Thorne from this strange new threat.
The men banged on Thorne’s old front door. The dog desperately threw all of his weight at the chain, but still it did not give.
A few moments later, one of the men led his master out of the house in
handcuffs, locked behind his back. The dog sniffed the air to assess the
potential for danger. There was no odor of blood, but the smell of
alcohol, stale and sour, clung to his master. Thorne’s head hung down as
he walked toward the cars. He said nothing to his dog as he was shoved
into the patrol car.
An older man had arrived at the scene and he spoke to the uniformed men
in a voice that the dog recognized; he had heard it before from the top
of the hill. There was no fear in this one.
The old man went to his truck and pulled out a half-eaten bologna
sandwich and tossed it to the dog, eyeing him from a safe distance as
the setter devoured the human food. The man approached him, and the dog
hunkered down in fear — still uncomfortable with
a stranger entering his space. It was not difficult for the dog to trust
the old man, who spoke in a deep, soothing tone and brought him food
when no one else had. Tired, and exhausted from trying to take care of
his master, he rested on the ground. When the man reached out to pet
him, he calmed to his touch and rolled onto his back in a submissive
The old man stood and looked west. The sky was darkening. A difficult winter would soon be upon them.
Excerpted from Christmas with Tucker by Greg Kincaid. Copyright ©
2010 by Greg Kincaid. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the
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