The father kept hounds, so the son recalls a childhood with hounds. It's pretty much that simple.
There was the rust-colored hound--breed-name Redbone--who tried to fornicate the legs of humans. There was the black hound who feared lightning and thunder. A brown hound--breed-name Black-and-Tan--would follow a bear's trail for days. The father attached a brass plate to the dogs' collars. The plate recorded the father's address and phone number in case a hound were discovered in a far county, still tracking what it was tracking. Sometimes the son thought about the relentlessness of hounds.
Once the son watched the father remove porcupine quills from a dog's mouth, which bled red. The end of each quill was shaped like a fish-hook. Evolution had designed the quills not to be removable.
The son noted a look of grim, dutiful resignation on the father's face as the father snipped off the end of each quill and pulled each quill out of the dog's bleeding mouth. The son also noted the patient but perplexed look on the dog's face, as if the dog were asking itself for the first time, "Why is there pain?"
A trite story-line erupted. The son had a favorite dog--breed-name Plot Hound. It was his own pet. He named it Willie, after his favorite baseball player, Willie Mays. Everything was fine with Willie except that he foamed at the mouth after running around with the boy. The father took Willie away. The son waited--a day, two days, before asking, "What happened to Willie?"
The father replied, "We had to have the vet put Willie down because he had a hole in his lung." The son remembers saying, "Oh." He recalls not crying, not being enraged, not being comforted or counseled, not getting another dog. He remembers pondering the question of Willie's absence as if it were a math problem in the fourth grade.
The gray strange grief associated with the dog stays lodged in the son like one shotgun pellet. It doesn't hurt. In a way, it's more grotesque because it doesn't hurt.
There was a female dog, Maggie. She was black, sleek, and lean--breed-name: Plot Hound, like Willie. How calm she was intrigued the son. She never strained stupidly against leash or chain. She never over-reacted to the prospect of food or affection. She stood primly and accepted petting as a comfortable fact of life. She responded to good things as if they were, apparently, the good things that might possibly happen in a dog's life. Maggie.