The date was January 1st. The year was 1974. I was partially awake, mostly relaxed, and completely horizontal and full from the roasted turkey we had devoured only two hours earlier. I was watching one of the bowl games on television. It wasn’t all that cold outside, which meant that my dog Max was out in his backyard pen and not in the house with us.
Half dachshund and half basset hound, Max weighed in at 29 pounds. He had a stocky chest, strong legs, and a thin waist, and we worked hard at not overfeeding him. He mostly ate dry dog food, but on holidays and on his birthday we would give him people food as a treat. Since this was one of those special days, Dad asked me to take the turkey scraps out to Max. I waited until a commercial break, and then I dashed into the kitchen.
Turkey scraps. Turkey scraps. There, on the table, I spied the big roasting pan with pieces of turkey. I grabbed the pan, leaned it onto my hip so that I could open the back door — the pan was heavy and I reasoned that the turkey carcass was probably also in the pan — and I stepped outside.
I carried the pan across the backyard to Max’s pen, walking quickly because I wanted to get back before the game resumed. As I approached the pen, I heard the eager and energetic pitter patter of Max’s footsteps on the concrete slab and I knew the smell of the turkey was exciting him.
Moments later, I reached over the fence and poured the contents of the roasting pan into Max’s food bowl. The carcass and scraps piled up so high that it wouldn’t all fit into Max’s modest sized bowl. It was getting too dark to see all that well, but still I could tell that Max’s tail was wagging so fast that if he was a helicopter he would have lifted straight up in the air.
I had never seen Max that thrilled.
I ran back inside, set the pan on the counter, and found my still warm spot on the couch as I continued watching the game.
A couple hours later, Dad went into the kitchen to make a sandwich for dinner. His voice rang out, “Where’s the turkey?”
I responded, “What turkey?”
And he replied, “The turkey that was in the roasting pan.”
My heart sank faster than an anvil in a swimming pool. I gasped, “Uh oh,” and in one motion I grabbed a flashlight, opened the backdoor, and leaped out into the winter’s night.
“Max! Max!” I cried out. Again I heard his footsteps, only this time they weren’t prancing. It was more like a slow waddle. I directed the beam of light to his food bowl. It was empty, completely licked clean. Then I focused the light on Max. He was huge. His normally lean waist was as wide as his chest, and he was moving slowly. And he had the biggest smile on his face that I’ve ever seen.
I walked slowly back inside. Dad was still standing there, holding two slices of bread and hoping that what he was guessing had happened hadn’t really happened.
But it had.
Next to Dad, on the counter, was a small cereal bowl with the table scraps of turkey, perhaps a half pound of meat at the most. That’s what Dad had wanted me to give to Max.
I wish I could say that I was following my routine and that someone had always cut away all the turkey meat from the carcass right after dinner, but that is not true. I just wasn’t thinking. I was in a hurry, and even though I noticed the roasting pan was heavy, I didn’t stop to ask.
The family had to improvise for dinner that night and for lunch the next day. Max, meanwhile, got approximately fifteen pounds of that twenty-two pound bird. He didn’t touch food again for a couple of days.
And I was a lot more careful after that, at least for a little while.