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Watch out for mad dogs

Growing up in rural Alabama during the Depression and World War II years had its drawbacks as well as benefits. 

My siblings and I had the run of a 50-acre family farm as well as permission to roam in the fields and woodlands of our neighbors, as long as we behaved ourselves. 

We didn’t think twice about wading, swimming and fishing in a nearby creek, even though we had to share it with snakes, turtles and leeches. Going barefoot was a way of life, despite the risk of stumping a big toe or stepping on a rusty nail. 

That, plus jumping ditches, climbing trees and working in the fields all day, made us as tough as shoe leather.

However, all it took was the report of a mad dog running loose to raise the hair on the back of our necks and send us running for cover.

“Watch out for a mad dog” were the words we heard from our mother anytime we dared to venture beyond our front yard.

“Don’t take any chances. If you see a dog slobbering from the mouth and staggering around, you run and get home in a hurry,” she would say.  

We took her seriously, even though she had no evidence of a mad dog’s presence. We’d keep our eyes peeled even while playing under the two big oak trees in our front yard. 

We recalled seeing our own two redbone hounds slobbering after accidentally eating a hot pepper in their bowl of leftover food or being treated to a buttered biscuit laced with sugar. “Is that how a mad dog looks?” we wondered. Not taking a chance, we’d peel back their lips to check for slobber before letting them play with us.

Until the perceived threat of a mad dog in the neighborhood vanished, we stayed on our toes anytime we were in harm’s way. Us boys made sure our slingshots were in good working order and our pockets were filled with ammunition. We also carried a stout walking stick with us everywhere we went as backup protection. 

The dogs of our neighbors were viewed as potential predators until we looked twice to make sure they weren’t slobbering. They returned the favor by growling and barking at us as we passed. 

We never encountered a mad dog during our childhood years. The closest we came was seeing a photo of one. Nevertheless, the threat of one was all it took to make a mad dog one of the worst fears we faced.