The first story I ever published was called “The Killing of Mean Jo”. I was seventeen and it was based on the true tale of mangy, flea-bitten stray that changed the neighborhood’s worst bully into a pretty decent kid. Here is the true tale as best I remember it.
Puberty was still in the future. I ran with a rough pack of dogs and kids, the only girl to be found in that stretch of my woods. We were always helping the local animal shelter find strays and place them in homes. It was not something we even thought about much, but there was this one stray, a mutt that looked a rough cross between shepherd and collie. It was the meanest dog, and we could not catch it.
In the group we ran with there was also a ragged boy who had a mean streak like a viper, the son of a cruel man that was given to beating his boys. He was a terrible bully, always trying to intimidate younger kids to his will. It mostly left him alone in the neighborhood. How it went for him in school, I have no idea.
We did not know any of the horrors going on inside the bully’s house. He made up elaborate stories to explain every cast. Anyhow, this stray took to attacking lots of the other dogs in the neighborhood until this one boy decided to take him on. The boy and dog became inseparable. He named this dog, Mean Jo after a famous football player. Finally, this boy had something to love and that loved him in return. It is the miracle of dogs, that bond they can form. The two became pack and all of us boys and dogs became the larger pack.
Suddenly, Mean Jo and the bully began to play with us and our dogs, became one of us, although highly disruptive, even more so than my springer, Winston. Then one day, Mean Jo ran after a ball, a squirrel, something and was hit by a truck driving way too fast on our country road by two teenagers out for a joy ride. In my story, the bully put Mean Jo down in an act of compassion, but that was not the truth. In reality, one of the neighbors happened to be a vet, came down to the road with their medical bag and put Mean Jo out of its misery while we held the bully back as he wailed and raged. It damn near broke this young man. He never had a dog again, not during our childhood anyhow.