Lessons From a 3-Legged Dog

VIC FLEMING

DAVIDSON, N.C. – This community of 11,000 residents, site of my alma mater, is also home to my favorite place to spend the night on the road: the Davidson Village Inn, half a block down Depot Street from the campus.

The inn is owned and operated by Rebecca and Gordon Clark, whom Susan and I came to know during many stays here when our kids were living up the street between 1997 and 2006.

A lazy Friday afternoon in February 2012 finds us back again, sipping tea with the innkeepers in the spacious lobby/living room. The Clarks have added a family member since we saw them last. They introduce us to Ozzie, who Gordon estimates is in his 11th year on earth. I scratch behind Ozzie’s ears. His look seems to say, “This guy knows something about hounds.”

It takes a moment to realize that Ozzie is missing his left rear leg. There’s something about a three-legged dog. The leg will not go unmentioned, and there’ll be an entertaining story of how the dog fails to understand his disability.

I ask Gordon if he’s heard “The 3-Legged Dog,” a song by Tim Bays, Mike Rayburn and Rick Wainright. He has not. The song starts, I tell him,

“Sometimes I feel like a three-legged dog/ Hopping all around in a self pity fog/ But then I start thinking ‘bout all I can do/ And how bad it’d be if I had only two ...

“If they were on one side I could only lie down/ And with two in the front I could butt-scoot around/ It’d be much worse with two in the rear/ Like wearing a sign saying ‘Kick me here’…”

Gordon laughs. And then begins the story. A few evenings earlier, Ozzie’d seen a raccoon in the back yard. As it eased up to the house, Ozzie took exception and did what a hound dog’ll do. The Clarks, and their neighbors, came out to see what Ozzie was baying at.

“Do you mean to tell me,” I interject, addressing my question to Ozzie, “that you treed yourself a raccoon?” I stop scratching, causing Ozzie to nuzzle my hand, as he modestly avoids the question.

Gordon takes the cue: “Well, he didn’t so much tree the critter as he screened him.”

“Screened?” I reply. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“Well,” laughs Gordon, “I had to go to Home Depot the next day to get a new screen for our bedroom window.”

“Ozzie!” I cry. “What do you have to say for yourself?” Ozzie gives me a look that can best be translated as the last verse of the song:

“I love what I got and do the best I can/ What I ain’t got ain’t a part of who I am/ I can still chase a cat, fetch a ball or stick/ As long as you don’t want it back real quick …” And, for good measure, the refrain is an apt conclusion to this column:

“Three-legged dog, I’m a three-legged dog/ Happy as a clam or a bump on a log/

Slower than a turtle but smarter than a hog/ Praise the Lord, I’m a three-legged dog.”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.