Wyatt, our celebrity, death defying lab-pit mix

Four years ago, we laughed when my wife Margaret noticed that we were adopting Wyatt, a “lab-pit mix,” on the Ides of March. We harbored no disrespect for soothsaying, mind you; it’s just that getting a new dog is normally a happy event, not a portent of trouble.

So color us naive. OK, dense; it was a long time before we even noticed the irony of having gotten a three-legged dog from a Pawleys Island rescue shelter named All-4-Paws. But may it please the couzrt: Our thoughts were focused on our “new” dog, nothing else.

Heck, it didn’t even matter to us that Wyatt, less than a year old then, was already a two-time loser, having flunked two “trial” adoptions with his “put it where the sun don’t shine” attitude toward two of his four prospective parents, both of them the husband. Toward me and Margaret, his attitude was, “Thank heaven, you finally got here. What kept you?”

Well, what had “kept” us was the same thing that keeps a lot of people from getting a new dog: We were still mourning the death of another dog, a red nose Pitbull named ‘Dro, short for Pedro, so named because Mother Nature had blessed him with a banditto mask across his soulful eyes, the better to steal hearts, and a lovable disposition that made you forget about pressing charges for the theft.

Wyatt, our celebrity, death defying lab-pit mix
Wyatt

But that was then, November 2015, and this was now: March 2016. We had seen Wyatt’s picture on the animal shelter’s website, looked him over from afar and up close, thought about it overnight, prayed for ‘Dro’s forgiveness, and made up our minds: Wyatt’s the one.

What we little suspected at the time was that the ages-old warning, “Beware the Ides of March,” might well have been addressed to the dog, not to his new owners. He had barely settled in at his new home before we had to rush him to an emergency vet in Myrtle Beach, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Worse, the vet gave him only a 50-50 chance to pull through.

In fairness to All-4-Paws, we don’t think that Wyatt was sick when we got him. What we did begin to think, and soon, was that Wyatt was lucky to be alive, even with only a 50-50 chance of surviving his first year. Here’s why:

We learned little by little that Wyatt had endured a brush with death even before we got him. He had been found one icy day in Loris, SC, a town up the road a ways from Pawleys Island, by a couple who noticed buzzards circling behind their barn.

Curious, the man went searching and saw a puppy apparently frozen to death. Thinking to save him at least from the buzzards, he pried the pup from the frozen ground to dispose of him in a nearby trash can. But on the way to an ignominious end, the buzzards’ frozen dinner moved! Wyatt was alive!

His next stop, after a gee-whiz appearance on local TV, was at All-4-Paws, and you already know how he got from there to our house, in Pawleys Island. The story made the local news — TV and weeklies.

Wyatt also beat his pneumonia! Still we couldn’t help but notice a foreboding score for so young a pup: Wyatt 2, Grim Reaper (and buzzards) 0. The saying, “Three strikes and you’re out,” also crossed our minds. But the operative word in “narrow escape” is “escape.”

Next we discovered that Wyatt was famous! Often while walking a recovering pneumonia victim around the grounds of the Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital in Murrells Inlet, we were brought up short several times by passersby who hailed us with laughter and surprise and a jovial, “Is that Wyatt?” They had seen him and his story on TV.

Moving right along, at 35 miles per hour to be exact, barely a month later Wyatt tumbled out the right-rear window of our car onto the the always-busy Highway 17, AKA Ocean Highway, which from Georgetown to Myrtle Beach is a race track. And this spring Friday afternoon was no exception.

Riding shotgun, I heard a commotion behind me and turned to my wife, who was driving, and exclaimed in horror and disbelief, “Did Wyatt just go out the window?”

“No way!” she said, but she was already pulling over, eyes glued to the rear-view mirror.

Indeed, Wyatt had leaned out too far and fallen out the window. “Ass over tea kettle,” as my late sainted grandmother would have said.

As the car stopped rolling, I jumped out and ran back to see about him. Luckily, it appeared he had landed at least in part on the grassy shoulder of the road and, though dazed, seemed all right — or would be if I could get to him before he wandered back onto the busy highway as cars flew by.

From then on, I began to think of him as half cat. Or maybe all cat. Whichever, now he had used up three of his putative nine lives in the first few months of his young life. No wonder we thought he was snake-bit.

Speak of the Devil! One night a few months later, he kept us awake by whimpering, this from a dog that normally could give sleep lessons to Morpheus. At the 2Animal Hospital of South Carolina next morning, we found out that Wyatt had indeed been bitten by a snake!

“Big one, too,” said the vet, Dr. Matthew Stone, pointing to the width between two fang marks he had found on Wyatt’s leg.

The snake must not have been poisonous, but — brace yourself — the doctor’s examination revealed that Wyatt had lymphedema in his right rear leg. Moreover, it was a birth defect, was incurable, would worsen with age, and would render him basically a three-legged dog for life.

How much worse could this get!

Well, we all know that Fate is fickle, but in Wyatt’s case she did a complete about-face. And wouldn’t you know it was a woman’s touch that did it? Notoriously aloof, Wyatt fell so hard for Margaret that he began to give her what I called “his love stare.”

And the relationship became a two-way street.

“I can read his mind,” Margaret said. “He’s thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve got my own food bowl, my own water bowl, my own bed! And around here I am somebody! Life ain’t so bad, after all.’” And my wife delivers this glowing prognosis while stroking his beautiful blond coat and his crippled leg. All the while, Wyatt looks mesmerized with contentment, and even a tad smug.

Jackson, our other dog, a beautiful blue nose Pitbull, dressed all the time in the evening wear characteristic of the breed, i.e. a tuxedo
Jackson

Jackson, our other dog, doesn’t seem to mind. A beautiful blue nose Pitbull, dressed all the time in the evening wear characteristic of the breed, i.e. a tuxedo, Jackson is nowhere near as needy as Wyatt. Besides he has seniority and knows it. We’ve had him since he was a pup. He’s now eight, and Wyatt is only four (as of the Ides of March, 2020).

They get along famously, though as different from each other as, well, purebred and half-breed can be. For instance, on beach walks Jackson sticks to the shore. Hey, water is for drinking! Wyatt, however, believes water is best for plunging into and riding the waves — sort of like life as he’s known it so far. Yippy! Jackson is as sweet a dog as you could find anywhere; Wyatt remains essentially aloof, and he can do Attitude better than any canine I’ve even seen. To wit:

I took him recently to get a shot and a once-over that included ye olde rectal check. Usually on veterinary visits, he comes back into the waiting room, happy to see me there. But this time, he sailed right past me, ignoring me except for shooting me a look of betrayal that said as clearly as looks can speak: “I’ll get you for this, Bob.”

Now for a final piece of irony. We adopted Wyatt to replace ‘Dro, but we did not expect him to be another ‘Dro. No way. Wouldn’t be fair to either dog. And probably not possible anyhow. Nevertheless, Wyatt is as much a one of a kind canine as ‘Dro was, and we love him just as much. He even excels Dro in two things, the aforementioned Attitude with a capital A, for one.

The other, thank Heaven, is a total disregard of thunderstorms. They terrified ‘Dro. And he could not be mollified except by the storm’s subsiding. Wyatt, on the, uh, other paw, pays them no mind. And why should he? Before he was even two years old, he’d already been through Hell and half of Kansas — and survived.

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Image Credit: The photos of Wyatt looking away and of Jackson resting, were taken by the author, Robert Lamb; the photo of Wyatt sitting up and paying attention was taken by Margaret Lamb.

Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After service in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English, and then began a (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and ended years later in Atlanta at The (great) Atlanta Constitution, which I left in late 1982 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award. My second novel, Atlanta Blues, spent a few minutes on the best-seller list in (at least) Columbia, S.C., and was described in one newspaper’s year-end roundup as “one of the three best novels of 2004 by a Southern writer.” My third novel won no honors but at least didn’t get me hanged; titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in the high school of a Georgia town. For my next novel, And Tell Tchaikovsky the News, I returned to an Atlanta setting for a story about the redemptive powers of, in this case anyhow, “that good rock ’n’ roll.” I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. One of its stories, “R.I.P.,” was a winner in the S.C. Fiction Project in 2009. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.comand I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.