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STORY: Best Dog Trainer in the World

John Centry could see potential in dogs. He had raised 6 world champions in his life time. You know, the dogs that zig zag through slaloms and chutes and the type you gawk at in videos where they herd a hundred head of cattle scattered across a countryside.


He had an uncanny ability to see and bring out the unique abilities each dog had within them. For example, Sammy was his famous long-haired Golden Retriever. She had the most elegant prance you've seen. There were more than a couple stories of Sammy breaking out of the yard to keep one of the wandering children on their block out of the busy street. World champ 1982-1985. There was Dobey who was a lean and strong Doberman Pinscher, who turned out to be a better bloodhound than most bloodhounds. The police often hired John and Dobey to track down lost persons, or sniff out suspects at the airport because Dobey could signal to John whether he sensed marijuana, cocaine, blood or of course bomb materials. Champ: 2002-2003. Then Pennywise who was maybe the quickest Border Collie in her generation, smarter than any cow, sheep, and most human crowds that needed wrangling in a matter of seconds. And she could somehow jump over six-foot fences. Champ 2012, 2015. John knew how to see and bring out dogs' unique, unparalleled capabilities.


John had just turned 80 when he stumbled upon a litter of feral puppies in his barn. They had sheen brown coloring like dobermans but the strong build and jaws of maybe pit bulls, John thought. He thought maybe their mother had been killed by coyotes or a mountain lion, because the puppies were famished when he found them living between the hay bails. He set them up in an old horse corral and fed them. He would get his black morning coffee each morning and sit for hours watching them wake and crawl over each other. He was looking to see which would be his last dog.


He named Geberhart after his son. She was the runt, and was the most stubborn, always trying to prove herself to be stronger than the others, though she was the weakest. She had an inclination to fight. Gebby, he would call her, reminded John of his son in these ways and maybe that is why he chose her. This son, they had found hanging by an extension cord tied to a light fixture in their basement on a February morning in 2001. The night before, John had gotten into a fight with this son, had thrown his hands up and walked out of the room as he shouted with conviction, "I give up. I've tried so hard, but you still won't listen. I resolutely GIVE UP." And had stormed upstairs.


He took to raising her like he had his others, but with a new level of resolution.


It was harder. When his previous dogs had been chosen for their pedigree, Gebby's mutt-hood showed through. Despite training her like his champions, John couldn't call her off biting at his cattle, or rolling repeatedly in manure, and John was up late with a flashlight, yelling her name many a night trying to figure out where she had escaped to. Nights like this reminded him of nights searching for his son.


He tried new ways of training and studied their results. He tried to encourage when before he had punished, or vice versa. He watched her and tested hypotheses of why she seemed to refuse to obey, no matter what he did. Something in him needed to understand the waywardness of a soul that he had not been able to save.


But at the same time, John saw her potential. He saw how her incredible stubbornness took her farther, and took longer to break than many dogs would hold out. She would run herself basically to death before she'd let him catch her in his car. She had incredible dexterity. In fact he had seen her climb several trees to get what she wanted. She had even figured out how to wrap him up enough in her leash to trip him before slipping out of it and dashing away. She had an incredibly clever, scheming mind. He would catch her closely examining what he was doing so she could counter his plans. He tried to cage her in crates but she could somehow chew out of them, unlock the doors and would flee again. None of it seemed to be getting through to her at all. In fact it felt he was providing her with world class training on how to undermine him.


John knew these things could empower her to do incredible things if her heart would just turn.


More than once he got a call that a shelter had found Gebby. He would drive dozens of miles to pick her up. But sometimes, the moment he got her back home and opened her kennel, she would immediately run out and be gone, unfindable again for days.


To add fear to his feelings of frustration, John had been getting strange threats. It was from vindictive people who said they had known his son, they had just gotten out of prison, and he owed them money. They had found out John was famous in his industry and quite well off. Geberhart had been seriously beaten up a couple times near the end of his life. In fact it was after John had brought Geberhart home from the hospital when he had gotten into that fated last fight.


One night after being exasperated, after looking for days for Gebby, he got a call from a shelter on the other side of the city.


When he finally found Gebby in the kennel, he knelt down and looked at her. She was in bad shape. One of her ears was torn. Her coat had some sort of tar on it. half of her tail was gone. One of her teeth was gone. "Oh Gebby." He opened the kennel door and put his hand tenderly on her head. What am I going to do with you, darling? I'm not going to give up on you."


The Kennel attendant standing over him said, "With due respect, Mr. Centry, seeing what this dog has done to you, I might consider otherwise."


"I don't look so good either, is what you're saying?" He feigned a smile.


"You look like you haven't slept for days."


John nodded as if it was basically true.


The attendant said under his breath, "We do euthanize."


John looked back at Gebby, sitting, panting in her cage. "No, no. We are not doing that. I've promised not to give up on this one, even if it kills me." Gebby laid down and put her nose quietly by his boot. This was a little bit new for her. He wouldn't put it past her to have understood the gist of their conversation. Or maybe she had just had enough of her wandering. She still tugged on the leash as he walked her to his flatbed truck but she jumped up and went into the crate when he told her to, for once.


That night as John pulled into his driveway, and got out to let Gebby out of the crate, Gebby was growling.


"Gebby! No! You don't growl at me!" Then he checked himself, took a breath to summon patience, and with a tender tone said to her, "What's gotten into you, darling?" That's when he saw she was looking at the corner of the house as she growled. He walked around the corner and saw a dark SUV was parked under the overhang. He saw outlines of people in it. He backed away and quickly walked back around the front of his house. But he heard three car doors shut and three men quickly came around the house pointing guns at him.


Gebby suddenly became deathly silent. John glanced around and saw she had almost disappeared into the back of her cage. John would have thought, 'now I know I can't depend on her at all,' except for one thing. He saw her eyes on them, the same way she tracked him when she was trying to figure out his next moves.


"We just want the money," The man in front spoke. "We know you have it. We're not planning to kill you, but we're still pissed how Geberhart turned us in."


"Hold on now boys. I'm sorry he did that. But I don't keep much money in the house. Maybe $200 bucks. You can have it, but then you can go home and we can maybe negotiate like men in the morning."


"Well then, where is your money?"


"All locked up in Chesterton Community bank, fellas." John immediately thought of the ATM outside of his bank in town and regretted saying it. He pictured how dark and empty the town would be right now. They might have cameras but these guys were in masks anyways.


A small man with an oversized black leather jacket in the back said with a smirk, "Well, that's serendipitous because I have a propensity for spotting ATMs and I saw that one in a dark little side street as we came through your town." He beckoned with his gun. "C'mon let's take him there."


John had only a moment to glance back at Gebby, who was nearly invisible but the whites of her two eyes which were trained on the men. He realized she would be worth a lot of money to the right people who knew of him, but he didn't give her up. They zip tied John's hands behind his back and walked him to their SUV.


They drove him to his bank eight miles into town.


John tried to look back a couple times but the dirt road spat up plumes of dust behind them in the night. He thought maybe he had just hoped himself into seeing a dark body running behind them.


At one point one of the men next to John in the back said to the driver, "Hey Berto--" and before he finished the driver shot back, "Dammit, shutup! No names, remember!"


Fifteen minutes later they cut the zip ties off of John next to the ATM and pointed three guns on him, in case he tried to run. They demanded $30,000 and would get as much as the ATM would give. He took as much time as he could without vexing them, hoping for a savior of some sort. As he fumbled in the ATM booth he heard the man who had been scolded tell the driver, "If you're so concerned about identity, why didn't you cover the license plate." They saw John glance back, and the driver cursed in a whisper, "Dammit, man. Now we really just can't let him go."


They looked increasingly nervous, looking both ways. Two of them slid against the wall and one of them went just around the corner peaking out from an alley.


John had been wrong and had only been able to withdraw $5,000 from this ATM. As he walked out of the booth he offered it to the driver. "I'm sorry, I was wrong, I could only take out 5k."


"Try it again."


"I tried 4 times."


"Use another account. Try it again, let me watch you." The man took the cash and pointed him back to the booth.


They walked back to the booth and John tried twice more. The machine kept giving errors. The man he hit and shattered a window in the booth. John flinched.


A second later the driver froze, "What was that?" Only then did John hear something too. There was a scuffle, a man trying to yell and fight something off but not being able to do either fully. The man who had been standing against the wall peeked into the alley where his friend had disappeared.


"Chito!" he yelled. "What is that thing?!" And he disappeared behind the corner. There was a gun shot but then they heard the second man screaming and another scuffle began. The driver yelled to them and ran halfway toward the alley, still aiming his gun at John. Voices from the alley said, "Help! My neck!"


The driver was suddenly frantic, inching toward the alley, trying to peek behind it, pointing his gun back and forth from John to the alley.


Suddenly John and the driver saw a brown streak shoot from the alley to behind the car. The driver shot at it several times, including once through his front fender.


"Dammit, what is that!? Is that a wolf?! Where is it!?" He was pointing his gun back and forth from the front to the back of the car backing away from it when something shot out from under the car, and went behind him. The driver shot another time, ricocheting off of the sidewalk and shattering his car's back window. He spun around. But it was gone and before he knew what was happening the leash whipped around his shins and as he tried to take a step, it was enough to throw him off balance. And before he had hit the ground jaws had clamped around his hand and the gun clattered onto the pavement. John, grabbed it quickly and threw it up on the bank's roof.


When he looked back down, both the driver and his dog Geberhart were completely still. She had him pinned to his back and she had a tight hold on his windpipe. It seemed they had come to an agreement of sorts. If he didn't move, she wouldn't tear out his throat. John saw Geberhart's eyes trained on him. He understood. He cautiously knelt down and felt for the keys in the man's pocket. He took them and took his money back, and got up. He glanced into the alley briefly and saw two men squirming and groaning in their blood, clutching their necks and their legs.


He opened the passenger door and walked around to the driver's side. He started up the car and then said, "Come." Gebby was in the passenger seat faster than even John thought a dog could. John punched the gas. As the door swung shut, he could hear the man who had been the driver coughing as if Gebby had given just hard enough of a tug to really hurt him.


He got home that night and called the police. He told them where to find the men and what had happened.


That night he sat with his coffee in his dining room chair turned toward Gebby.


Gebby, for once was seated and simply looking at him, panting.


He smiled and nodded. "I always knew you could be phenomenal."


Gebby withdrew her tongue and tilted her head. John saw her injured ear and said, "We need to get you fixed up, Darling." He put his hand on his knee to get up. "We've both had quite the night."


Gebby leaned in and gave an uncharacteristic hand lick before they both got up and walked out to the barn to bind up the wounds from her days of wandering.


---

God also stooped down to learn our wayward behavior. He leaves the 99 and won't give up on finding the one that is lost.


That's because he built each one of us to be phenomenal in our own ways, if the heart can only be turned and trained. Even if it you've been given a rotten upbringing and you can't help misbehave, he knows how to use that, if you let him.


If you are wayward, he longs for you and will go to great lengths to help you become what he knows you have the potential to be, even if it kills him.


And it did.


February 18, 2023





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