A Real Murderer and a Dog Hero

by Linda Rodriguez

I write murder mysteries for a living. My Skeet Bannion
mystery series (Every Last Secret, Every Broken Trust, and Every Hidden Fear) is set in the greater
Kansas City metropolitan area. For these books, I make up crimes and murderers
entirely out of my imagination, but I have had real experience with a murderer
in my life.

When I was a young mother pregnant with my second child
while my first baby was about eight months old, we lived in a small rental
house and behind us stood an old two-story apartment building while next door
the land sloped away to a small woods before ending below us in a busy urban
street. One weekend before I was pregnant with that second baby, my husband and
I arrived home from a weekend visit with relatives to discover a dog in
terrible condition that had been apparently dumped at the woods edge of our

A pale yellow mix of probably golden Labrador and some kind
of hound, this dog had all four of his legs pulled up to his head and was
trussed with a flea collar that had been fastened around all four legs and his
neck before he was thrown out of a car. We assumed they were aiming for the
woods, but the dog was heavier than the unknown villains thought and landed
short of the woods in our yard. The poor dog had obviously struggled, and the
flea collar with its poisons had cut through the flesh of his neck and two of
his legs. The poisons of the collar were entering the bloodstream there,
turning the bloody flesh a greenish tinge. It didn’t seem he would have much
chance of survival.

We were desperately poor and had no car and no money for a
vet, even if we’d had some way to carry a large dog to one. But I couldn’t let
the poor dog die without at least trying to help him. My husband was sure the
dog would bite me, but I had lots of experience at doctoring animals and believed
after looking into his eyes that this dog knew I was going to help him. I sent
my husband for scissors, hydrogen peroxide, and clean cloths from my rag pile.
Then, talking to the dog the whole time to keep him calm, I cut through the
flea collar and freed him from it. He lay there, limp as if he’d given up, but
gave me a look of gratitude and licked my hand when I put it near his head.
Next, I had to clean out his wounds with the peroxide, and that was painful.
The poor guy just whined and whimpered but never offered me any hostility as I
had to hurt him. Once I had him cleaned up, I had my husband, who was still
afraid of him, carry him up to the house where I made the injured dog a bed.
And over the next several weeks, I cared for him as he healed, always carrying
scars from his ordeal.

We called the unprepossessing fellow Plain, short for Just
Plain Dog. Plain became a cheerful, loving member of our family. This was in
the days when all people let their dogs roam free, but Plain stayed near home
most of the time. The only exception was when the mailman came on his rounds.
He would park at our house to start his route and had asked if Plain could
accompany him. Plain kept all the other dogs at bay while the postman did his
job, and at the end of the route, when they arrived back at our house, the
mailman gave him a treat and told me what a good dog he was. I knew that, of

Then I was pregnant again, and it was summer. Most days
after I finished my housework, I’d set up the playpen out in the yard, put my
baby in it and sit beside her with a book, Plain curled at my feet. Often, we
saw a young man passing on his way to meet his girlfriend in the apartment
house behind us. I’d met her a few times, and we’d talked about books and men.
I liked her, and he seemed nice, always nodding or waving as he passed. The
last time I talked with her, she mentioned they’d had an argument and she’d
broken up with him. She also said he always talked her into taking him back,
but she wouldn’t fall for that this time. So when I saw him heading her way
again a few days later, I hid a smile. Obviously, he’d once again talked her
out of the breakup.

After almost an hour, he returned, this time rushing through
our yard, looking distraught and angry. When I saw him, my first thought was
that they’d had another fight. He stopped inside my yard, staring at me in a
strange way, as if he hadn’t expected to see us there. Suddenly, Plain began to
growl and rose to stand in front of me as the young guy came toward the baby
and me. Plain never barked but obviously set himself to spring on the young
man, growling ferociously the whole time. I had never seen this side of my
sweet dog. The guy apparently thought twice about approaching us and headed
back toward the apartment house, returning shortly in his girlfriend’s green
MG, roaring down the street past us with Plain now barking loudly, as well as
growling. I calmed him down once the car disappeared around a corner, and he
once again became my sweet Plain.

Imagine my surprise when the homicide detectives came around
later that day. My neighbor had been raped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend
just before he tried to cross my yard in his getaway. The detectives thought he
probably would have killed me so I couldn’t tell anyone I’d seen him there that
day if Plain hadn’t been there to drive him off. They had a huge manhunt for
him, and he was eventually found in another state and arrested. He killed
himself in jail before he could come to trial.

Perhaps the seeds of my mysteries were laid that day with
the everyday mundane suddenly turning ominous and violent. But one thing I know
is that my dear Just Plain Dog had most likely saved my life and my unborn
son’s and maybe my little daughter’s, as well. Plain had a long, happy life with
us ahead of him, and when his time to leave us finally came, he was surrounded
by my husband, the two children he’d saved, and me, all weeping inconsolably at
losing our loyal friend.

Every dog I’ve ever had since then has always been a rescue,
usually one on death row at the pound. There is no loyalty and companionship
I’ve found like that a rescue dog will give to you. That’s why I gave my
protagonist Skeet Bannion a rescue collie named Lady and a rescue cat named
Wilma Mankiller.

10 replies
    • Linda Rodriguez
      Linda Rodriguez says:

      Thanks, Meg! I've had the most fantastic luck with all my rescued dogs. So loyal and loving. But Plain was truly special in his heroism.

  1. Ellen Byerrum
    Ellen Byerrum says:

    What a wonderful story. It brought tears to my eyes. Your kindness to Plain was rewarded ten times over.

  2. Linda Rodriguez
    Linda Rodriguez says:

    Thanks, Ellen! Plain rewarded his rescue with years of loyalty and love, but this incident was above and beyond, and I loved him even more for it.

  3. lil Gluckstern
    lil Gluckstern says:

    I had tears in my eyes for Plain, and for you at how wonderful you were to Plain. He certainly gave you back the good you did for him and more. All my animals were rescues and strays. I always tfelt they were a treat for me.

  4. Linda Rodriguez
    Linda Rodriguez says:

    Lil, I still tear up when I think of him. He was the sweetest dog, and he certainly did repay me for saving him–by saving me and both of my children.

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