Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sigh Of Relief For Local "Dog Man"

(Courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

During a recent morning, the citizenry of Lee, Maine awoke to the Bangor Daily News headline that one of their resident eccentrics, the "Dog Man", was feared to have perished from a fire at his cabin the previous night. Since arriving to the local area approximately 15 years ago, the "Dog Man" had become somewhat of a local legend. He was aptly named because he always owned and oftentimes had numerous dogs in tow. According to neighbors, he owned as many as 8 dogs, but a few had recently died. How he kept them fed is certainly a mystery as he never had been known to have had any consistent work since his arrival to Penobscot County. However, he certainly managed to keep his dogs fit as he was known to have long, winding walks with several at time as he hitchhiked from Springfield to Lee. The nature of a small town in Maine or any friendly small town in America is that everyone knows most everyone. The folks at the local diner, walking about town, or "hitchhiking" along the county road are familar faces. Hitchhikers on these stretches between the small Maine towns are not the mysterious, menacing stranger who will assuredly do you harm if you were to foolishly offer a ride as portrayed in the cinema, but rather a recognized fellow inhabitant of one of the small towns that dot along your state's highways. It is not entirely unusual for local drivers to offer rides to individuals along the road. However, Dog Man would actually hitchhike the Lee Road with up to 3 or 4 dogs! If I was a betting man, I'd have to give greater odds for each incremental dog that he brought with him. The correlation undoubtedly has got to be negative -- the greater the number of dogs, the lower the probability of receiving a ride. In my humble opinion, hitchhiking for a single available space from a well-intentioned driver is already a lot to ask, but to have someone pull over to the roadside to offer you a seat AND your dogs is a bit much for any driver to fathom. I'm guessing the offered rides over the years have been limited.

Each early morning before the workday begins, the locals gather at Raymonds, the center-of-town diner, to have their wake-up coffee and daily news. This particular day was an understandably mournful occasion upon hearing of the Dog Man's demise. This sudden and suprising revelation compelled those men gathered at Raymonds to reminisce of their shared and unique individual experiences with Dog Man.

"Dog Man's" real name is Grafton Burke. He was so well known as the "Dog Man" that many in the community were hard-pressed to even recall his real name. In fact, the Bangor Daily News initial article of the fire at Grafton's cabin in Springfield only refers to the "Dog Guy". Bill Van Houten, a neighbor who lived a half-mile down the road and who was the first to discover the fire, affectionately refers to him as "Dog Guy". Though the Bangor Daily News reports that "his name is being withheld", I am of the mindset entirely that neither Mr. Van Houten nor the folks at the newspaper knew Dog Man's real name! Most of us would express our concern for a fellow neighbor by using their name and not their nickname. "I hope John or Tom or David survived the fire" -- not -- "I hope 'Big Guy', 'Shaggy', or 'Dog Guy' survived the fire." Neither his neighbors nor the Bangor Daily News knew of any of other name for him at the initial reporting time.

Mr Grafton Burke had become a part of Lee's community. His presence was fabric as to what defines a community like Lee -- not only for his oddities and quirky behavior with his wide range of accompanying dogs -- but also his presence was a direct reflection of the Lee community. The people of Lee accepted Grafton for who he was. People tried to help him along in their own way -- when they were able. For the most part, the residents of Lee left him alone. No one tried to change Dog Man's ways or impose a morality on him. They kindly let him be.

The mood had become somber in Raymond's as the hour struck to remind the Lee men of the day's responsibilities. As they headed toward the exit and approached their waiting trucks, they were stunned as if hit by a bolt of lightning. They just could not believe their eyes. Dog Man was outside Raymond's in the flesh having an animated conversation at the the public telephone! All the men rushed toward Grafton to inquire as to his health. Not any worse off than usual, he was just upset that he had read about his demise in the newspaper! No one had confirmed his new, permanent condition with him and that was particularly troubling! (I actually follow and appreciate his logic). Tragically, none of Grafton's 6 current dogs survived the fire. There was not going to be any hero's celebration or parade with the awarding of the town's key, but everyone was genuinely warmed to see Grafton still alive and with us. I'm hoping that Mr. Burke got offered plenty of rides that day; and that he and all his dogs -- past and future -- get to where they are going.


I want to give special thanks to Stephen Mallett for providing many of the details & background for this story. I also want to apologize ahead of time if I had inadvertently misrepresented any individuals or facts in this entry. My heart is particularly fond of Penobscot County and its people. Please do not consider this specific posting as any form of journalism as some of the events have been related second- or even third hand.

Also many of the factual details are sourced from the following two Bangor Daily News articles:

Fate of ‘The Dog Guy’ in Springfield uncertain

‘Dog Man’ safe after fire destroys cabin:

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