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Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed: Audience favorite at September’s West Side Stories show

This true story was recorded live on Sept. 6 at West Side Stories, Petaluma’s once-a-month spoken word showcase, created and hosted by Petaluma comedian Dave Pokorny, co-founder of the upcoming Wine Country Spoken Word Festival (see sidebar). The theme of this month’s show was ‘Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed.’

I met Jethro when I was ten years old. And yes, that was his real name. He was not the sharpest tool in the shed. No one could ever accuse Jethro of being clever, or smart. But he had heart. I was a super shy kid. Jethro was the opposite. He was affectionate, and had all this energy, and he had a way of just bounding into a room. I didn’t know if we were going to be friends … until he licked my face.

Did I mention he was a dog? Did I forget to mention that?

He was a two-year-old cocker spaniel, a gift to my mom and my new step-dad. Mom was not pleased. But I was thrilled. What ten-year-old doesn’t want a dog?

He was just full of energy. When I came home, he would be this spinning, furry tornado of joy, greeting me at the door. We needed that. Because two years into the marriage, my step-father’s drinking got a lot worse. He started passing out in the hallway. He started no coming home. And the only consistent affection in that house, was this 35 pound cream colored cocker spaniel.

We all relied on him.

My mom would cuddle up to him, with a glass of wine. My sister would secretly take him into her room.

(Whispering) Where he was not allowed. And he would spend the night there.

And I would look forward to seeing him after school. Coming down the street, I would see his little nose under the fence, and would call out, “Jethro!” And that nose would disappear, you’d hear the sound of scampering, and the dog door on the house opening up.

Jethro was the one thing in the world that seemed happy to see me.

He taught me so many things. He taught me responsibility. I had to feed him. I had to take care of him. Somebody needed me. That was amazing, that this ten-year-old, eleven-year-old, twelve-year-old, thirteen-year-old boy was relied upon to take care of another living creature.

Eventually, my mom and step-drunk’s relationship deteriorated even more, and they got a divorce. My mom got custody of the dog. My step-dad got the hell out of town. That was how we liked it.

As Jethro got older, he never got any smarter. You know that trick, where you’re playing catch with a dog, and you take the ball, and for no reason that makes any sense, you don’t really throw the ball? And the dog runs way out there, and he’s looking around, and he looks back at you, going, ‘What happened to the ball?’ And you show it to him, going, ‘I’ve got it here!’ And he goes, ‘Yay! Throw it!’ But this time, when you throw it, he waits a second, as if to say, ‘You’d better really throw it this time.’

Well, Jethro never waited. As soon as you went like that [Raising his arm as if to throw a ball], he was gone! You didn’t even need to be holding a ball. ‘Cause he trusted you. So I learned never to trick him … ‘cause he trusted me … to throw the ball.

Over the years he got older. When he was fifteen — that’s 105 in dog years — most of his sight was gone. He’d lost all of his hearing. But every now and then, he would just, out of nowhere, sit up and bark, randomly, just in case there was a burglar. Still on the job, his little brain still working hard, knowing he was supposed to do something. But he wasn’t that little ball of energy anymore. He wasn’t that tornado coming to door. Now, all he could come up with was just a slow wag of the tail.

Eventually, the vet said that those tumors weren’t going to go away. And I had to change places. I had to hold him, and be there for him, as the needle let him rest. Because he took care of me, so I took care of him. And what more can you ever ask … of a human … or of a dog?