The true story came from Mark Smith. The parable uses no actual names.
It all started when the break-ins began. Donnie needed to protect himself, but he didn’t want to get a gun. He wasn’t as quick as he used to be, and if he tried to shoot, the evil-doers might take his gun and shoot him with it. He mentioned these concerns to a young friend.
After that, Phil brought him a German shepherd. Gunnar was a pretty good dog, but Phil had several, so he would just give him to Donnie. When Donnie told Gunnar, “Sit,” Gunnar sat. When Donnie said, “Come,” Gunnar came. When Donnie said, “Heel,’”Gunnar heeled.
“He’ll be good protection,” Phil said. “He’s not an attack dog, but you make him your friend, and he’ll protect you with his life.”
Phil patted Gunnar on the head, and told him to be a good dog, and to do what Donnie told him.
“He likes his ears rubbed,” Phil said as he left. Donnie thanked him, then gave Gunnar an ear-rub right there in the yard. Lots of days he rubbed Gunnar’s ears as they sat on the front porch.
Gunnar knew so many commands, maybe he knew ,“Sic ‘em” as well. When he called out, “Gunnar, sic ‘em,” Gunnar’s ears perked up — but he was not about to sic anything. He didn’t even know what the words meant.
So Donnie found some sailcloth canvas, and an old floor-mounted punching bag. He drew the outline of a man’s torso onto the canvas, then scissored out the shape. Then he stitched it together and stuffed it with sections from an old quilt.
Gunnar watched as Donnie took the bag off the old punching bag stand, and threaded the torso onto the shaft. Then he sewed up a leather head and neck, placed it over the punching bag itself, and reattached it to the shaft. Finally he drew two eyes, a nose and a mouth on the head. He named the target Bad Guy.
“Watch, Gunnar,” he said, as he carried Bad Guy deep into the back yard, then slapped him with his fist.
Gunnar simply watched. So the next time the target rebounded, Donnie pretended to be hit. That got Gunnar’s attention.
Donnie lunged at Bad Guy and gnawed at his neck. It took several days to get Gunnar to lunge at Bad Guy. It took several more to get the dog to gnaw at his neck.
Finally when Donnie said, “Bad Guy,” in a whisper, then at low volume, and finally at the top of his voice, Gunnar took off throwing dirt, jumped at Bad Guy’s throat, and bit until he riddled the leather.
“You’re a good dog, Gunnar,” Donnie said, giving him an ear-rub. “You are a good dog.”
About a week later, a deputy sheriff picked up papers for Donnie’s address. The officer did not know that the man at that address was usually a quiet and gentle one who minded his own business. The officer did not know the man did have one trigger. It was the carping of his ex-wife, whose accusations came first in a whisper, then a rasping voice, and finally in a strident shout. He did not know that Donnie left her because she made him want to hurt somebody.
That morning, she called him every five minutes. He said her finances were not his responsibility, because the dude living with her in his house should pay her bills. But as her screech rose in proportion to her culpability, he threw the receiver down, and stomped out to the front porch where Gunnar waited.
“Whew!” he sighed, then patted his dog. “That woman’s driving me nuts.”
Gunnar, looked up at him.
“It doesn’t have a thing to do with you, Gunnar,” he said. “You’re the best friend I got.”
Gunnar nudged up against his knee and sat down, just as the patrol car drove up.
“What do you want?” Donnie called out as the deputy got out of his car.
“I got a paper for you,” the officer said.
“My ex-wife,” Donnie spat. Gunnar stood to face the officer.
“I’m not sure,” the deputy said, touching the release on his holster. “That dog bite?”
“Yeah, he bites,” Donnie said. “You want to see him?”
“No,” the officer said.
“Bad Guy, Gunnar,” Donnie whispered .
Gunnar seemed uncertain.
“Bad Guy, Gunnar,” he said, louder.
Gunnar looked at the deputy, then at Donnie.
“BAD GUY, GUNNAR,” Donnie shouted.
Gunnar jumped off the porch and leaped for the deputy’s jugular. He saw the fire from the Glock, then everything went black. Gunnar came to rest on the fence.
“Gunnar, Gunnar,” Donnie cried.
The officer holstered his weapon, then touched the dog’s neck. He looked at Donnie.
“I’m sorry, sir,“ he said.
“Gunnar, oh Gunnar, oh Gunnar,” Donnie cried as he cradled his dog. He turned to the officer.
“It’s all your fault,” Donnie yelled. “You didn’t have to kill him.”
“Why’d you kill my dog?”
“Sir, I shot your dog because you sicced him on me.”
The officer made a phone photo of Gunnar suspended between sky and earth, then he left the legal paper and returned to his car, to write notes for his report.
Phil ran up to see what was going on. He was saddened by the sight, but he helped lay Gunnar on the ground. Then he and Donnie wrapped him in the quilt Donnie brought, and they carried him to the back yard. They dug his grave next to the fence where the man had taught his dog to kill.
“So much evil in this world,” Donnie said, after they laid Gunnar to rest.
“Yeah,” Phil said. “But there’s good, too.”
“Gunnar was a good dog,” Donnie replied. “Once….”
“He chose what he thought was right,” Phil said softly.
“That’s just it,” Donnie said.
Phil wrote Deuteronomy 30:19 on a scrap of paper, handed it to Donnie, and said he’d see him later that day.
Donnie looked up the reference, then read it, sitting on the ground beside the grave. Then he thought about Gunnar’s choice for a very long time.
Leon Smith, a resident of Wingate who grew up in Polkton, believes the truth in stories and that his native Anson County is very near the center of the universe.