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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Frank and Walt’

CRL's John Gray on the bond between a man and his dog.

For a man who didn’t like dogs, it made no sense that Frank lived so close to the animal shelter. On a clear night when the wind was still you could hear the animals barking from their kennels clean through his double-pane windows. Sometimes he’d sit on his porch and nurse a Sam Adams beer watching the fools come and go from the shelter. They’d walk in empty handed and leave a short time later with some scraggly fur ball under their arm. “Idiots,” he thought. “Nothing but an eating, pooping and barking machine; that’s what dogs were.”

He didn’t much care for cats either. Yeah, it was fair to say Frank was a crusty old coot proving that while the good die young the miserable can hang on forever. He had no use for pets and never planned to get one until that cold February day when he ran out of beer and patience and decided to march over to the shelter and give them a piece of his mind.

That’s when he met Walt.

The shelter was set up like most with a large front desk and rows of cages stretching behind. They laid things out like a crescent moon so a person looking to adopt could start on the left side and walk in a circle all the way around, making certain to see every available creature. Frank, a retired Navy veteran who spent the last 15 years since his wife died being mad at the world, pushed through the front door loaded for bear. His surly mood only got worse when he saw there was no one minding the desk and the phone was ringing. “Where the hell are you people?” he grumbled, “No wonder you have so many animals making so much noise when nobody is here to help a customer.” Not that he was a customer—he was just there to yell at some poor fool.

Finally, a young man appeared from a side door and asked if he could help. Frank launched into his complaint and the kid said, “Oh you should talk to Connie; she’s the manager. Go this way and follow it around and you’ll see her office near the back.” Frank could tell this guy was useless so he pressed on as instructed. He found the office with a door mostly shut and a piece of copy paper taped to it with the words, “Big Cheese” scribbled in black marker. “Is that supposed to be funny?” he thought to himself. He knocked hard and a pleasant face opened the door and asked how she could help. “Your dogs are barking too much and I can hear them from my home down the block,” he told her. Connie smiled and said, “Dog you mean Singular?” Frank was confused so she took him out back to a more private part of the shelter and a large isolated cage.

“This is your culprit,” she started. “Walt Kowalski. Isn’t that right, Walt?” The dog turned when he heard his name and let out a loud painful shrill. “Yes, that’s the bark I’ve been hearing. Now I need you to shut that thing up because…” It was then Frank caught himself and stopped. “Wait. Walt Kowalski. Why do I know that name?” Connie laughed, “Oh sorry, we don’t actually know his name. The staff here started calling him that after the guy from that movie “Gran Torino.” Remember the Clint Eastwood character who was always angry and telling people to GET OF HIS LAWN? That’s how this little guy is. We can’t adopt him out. He’s too miserable. ”

Frank stared at the dog and saw something familiar. The animal didn’t look angry; he looked hurt. Hurt by a world that let him down and landed him in this place. Connie told Frank that they’d placed him in three different homes but his first owner died and the next two didn’t have the patience for him. It was then that she noticed something. “You know he hasn’t barked since you got here. Strange.” Maybe it was because Walt was staring into Frank’s eyes and saw the same kind of hurt looking back.

Frank left and the barking returned. So the next day he came back over to yell at the dog personally and again the barking stopped. This went on for the next week and it seemed the only time Walt stopped yapping was when angry old Frank was glaring through the cage. “Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” he said. “If this is how it’s gonna be you might as well come with me, you miserable mutt.” Frank borrowed a collar and leash and walked Walt Kowalski the 200 feet to his new home. “This is just temporary”, he told them, “To get him to shut up.”

A few months after taking Walt home, Connie brought her lunch outside to eat under the large maple tree in front of the shelter. Off in the distance she heard laughter and caught sight of a once grumpy old man and miserable dog playing tug a war with a piece of rope. An empty bottle of Sam Adams sat next to a water dish and for a moment both the man and dog looked like they were 17 again.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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