Why pet the dog when in doubt?

The reason for the blog section title When in Doubt, Pet the Dog.

When I was age seven, our family got its first-ever family dog. We had just moved into our new home in suburban Indianapolis. Us four kids were attending new schools in Washington Township, which still has a great reputation among public school systems. Like the Jeffersons, we had moved on up. The excitement within our family was palpable. We had arrived.

Naturally, we needed a family dog. Being the youngest, I had the least amount of say in our canine of choice, a black Scottish beagle that one of my older brothers named Clancy (after a schoolmate’s dog).

Dare I say–I had the closest relationship with Clancy. After all, it was me he leaned on that first scary night in his new home. He came to my bed, whimpering. I gently carried him back to his brand new dog bed in the family room.

If you ever call the police again, I’ll kill you.

Clancy bit me once. I tried to pick him up after he broke his leg when sleeping underneath my father’s soon-not-to-be-parked car. The adults assured me the bite was Clancy’s natural reaction to the pain in his leg. I never doubted them or Clancy.

Randy Boyd, age 6 (1968)

It was Clancy who first taught me: when nervous, anxious or full of doubt, pet the dog. The lesson occurred when my parents were arguing, my mother with words and tears, my father with brutality.

“Should we call the police?” I asked my older sister, the only other sibling home at the time.

“Let’s wait and see if it gets any better,” said my sister. We were both scared of my father’s anger and what that anger made him capable of.

A short time later, my mom tried escaping by locking herself in her bathroom. Didn’t work. What’s a flimsy wooden door to a man who hits the mother of his children? I decided to call the police on my own.

“My father’s beating up on my mother and it’s not getting any better,” I told the emergency operator. She promised to send someone out, something I knew would make my father even angrier.

Clancy was a barker. He barked at any stranger coming up our driveway. I knew this would tip off my father that the police had arrived, so I joined Clancy in the backyard, sat on the back porch and held him in my lap, stroking him. I told Clancy I was doing this to avoid alerting my father, but in reality, I was holding onto my dog out of sheer fright. I had no idea what else to do except pet the dog.

A short time later, a burly white cop knocked on the front door. My father answered, talked his way out trouble, then told me and my sister: “If you ever call the police again, I’ll kill you.”


The law let me, my mom and my sister down that day. But Clancy didn’t. Not only did he not bark at the officer, he provided me a good deal of comfort during the whole ordeal.

Clancy died when I was age eleven. He chased after a car that didn’t bother to stop after hitting him. The owner of the car, a female, had driven down our street daily, usually after 5 pm, but never again. It would be another 25 years before I had another dog, Boomer, whom I found at the exact same location we had found Clancy, the Humane Society of Indianapolis, not far from the family home.

I’ll never stop loving Clancy and I’ll always be grateful for what that little black beagle taught me: when in doubt, pet the dog. A measure of calm will come to you, and no matter the challenge, life won’t seem so bad.