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Buttons needs a pen

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

(Continued from last week.)

We left Buttons last week lacking a weekday home. As I said, on the weekends, he was as free as a bird on the McNary Farm. Yet, Mother was not going to have a house dog in Troy.

On the lot where we lived, 803 South Mulberry Street in Troy, there were two other buildings besides the house, which is still there. Perhaps, however, I first should explain the overall lot layout. Mulberry Street, at this point, runs north and south and the house was on the east side of the street facing west. Behind the house was an alley, parallel to the street. On the north side of the lot, there was also an alley, owned by the New York Central Railroad, which paralleled their main line and four sidings for a few blocks.

Whether we lived on the right side or the wrong side of the tracks, no one ever mentioned. I just thought it was great to live by the railroad.

As I mentioned, there were two other buildings besides the house. One was a garage, situated on the northeast corner of the lot, bounded by the two alleys, and another was a building we called the shop, which was bounded by the NYC alley and about 20 feet west of the garage. Here in 2022, the New York Central, its concomitant alley, the garage and the shop are gone.

It was this area between the garage and the shop that was destined to be Buttons’ pen. Dad bought some picket fence, the kind that looks like old-fashioned snow fence, built some substantial 2x4 oak runners between the garage and the shop and nailed the fence to them.

On the corner furthest away from the NYC alley and closest to the garage, he built a gate of the same materials. He built a very nice outdoor doghouse for Buttons, and put it in the pen. However, west-central Ohio can have some serious winter weather, so it would not do for Buttons to sleep outside, even in his doghouse, in the winter. So, an opening was made in the shop wall at the corner furthest away from the NYC alley and closest to the garage. It had a sliding door, operated by a rope and pulley, and inside, in that corner, was another doghouse or crate, made of wood with a chicken-wire front gate, within the shop. We put straw in there and in the outside doghouse. The shop was heated, so on cold winter nights, one of the last things to do before bedtime was to go to the shop, make sure Buttons was in his crate, and drop the outside door so he would be nice and warm. The only wood bought for this project was the fence, the rest was scrap shipping materials dad brought home from work.

Sounds pretty good, eh? Well, this arrangement caused a couple of problems. First, especially in the summertime, switchmen were moving railroad cars on the sidings all the time. As they walked along the alley, they like to throw rocks at Buttons. Buttons developed a bad attitude (who could blame him?) and over time became very loyal to our family but would bite anyone else that got with three feet of him (again, who could blame him?).

Secondly, that freedom Buttons had on the weekends mentally wore on him during the week. By the time he was 3 years old, he was regularly climbing the picket fence by using the wire that held the pickets together as a ladder. Alternatively, he would dig out under the fence. He was Andy Dufresne ("Shawshank Redemption"), and he didn’t need posters of Rita Hayworth, Raquel Welch or Lassie to cover up his work. He worked far faster than Andy.

We never solved his animosity for people outside the family (more on that later). We did fix the pen. We replaced the picket fence with 1x4s six feet long (more scrap shipping materials), and buried locust fence posts from the farm, horizontally, two posts deep, under the fence to stop the digging. It all looked very nice. I cut the 1x4s at the top at a 45-degree angle and I got the job of painting the finished work white.

Buttons lived out his last years in freedom when we permanently moved to Highland County. We will pick up here next time, after I cover a couple of Buttons' incidents from the transient years.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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