Memories of Benson: Droopy

By Bill Guerra (

Among other things, growing up in a town like Benson meant acquiring and caring for various animal companions. For many this meant cats, of which there was an endless supply of semi-feral felines — all anxious to call your place home – if you would simply provide them one or two meals a day! There were also bird lovers who kept caged canaries, parakeets, or other species. I particularly recall one large green parrot who passed his day in a sizable cage outside his keeper’s door; this particular periquito (yes, I know, that’s a parakeet not a parrot!) would let out a loud, lascivious wolf whistle to any passing girl… or boy – he wasn’t gender particular with his flirtatious whistles!

At one time or another, we also kept rabbits, ducks, chickens and other critters. During periodic visits by traveling carnivals, and especially during Helldorado in Tombstone, some of the attractions included games of chance in which one tossed nickels or dimes onto strategically laid out plates, saucers and bowls to win a prize. To ‘win’, the player had to land his coin on a plate without it bouncing off onto the booth floor – an outcome destined for most of the tossed coins. My Dad, however, seemed to possess a special ‘skill’ at landing his tosses, consequently, we sometimes returned from our carny adventure with baby chicks or yellow down covered ducklings.

On one occasion, we came home from Tombstone with a baby duck that Bob and I immediately christened Helldorado – after his place of origin. We were probably seven or eight years old at the time, and our overriding curiosity regarding this new friend was whether or not he could actually swim! He’s a duck, you know, but absent his mother’s instruction did he really know how to swim – or was he in need of remedial instruction? To satisfy our curiosity Bob and I grabbed shovel and hoe and carved out a small backyard ‘pond’ which we then filled with the garden hose. Very gingerly – lest he demonstrate his ducky ineptness and sink to the bottom – we launched Helldorado into his new swimming hole. Of course we were thrilled to see that he could easily paddle about the deepest portions of our pond, which in true Arizona manner, was quickly being absorbed into our thirsty, bone dry earth and refashioned into a mud pit! Helldorado probably needed rubber galoshes more than webbed feet!

For most of us, however, the pet of choice was a dog. Up and down the barrio there was a never ending assortment of free-ranging mutts that belonged to one kid or another. Bobby Caballero’s dog was Red; Joey Cota’s was Sandy; and Conrad Caballero had Tiny – a very mean tempered little dog that would bite at the slightest provocation, causing his owners to keep him safely penned away! Our family also had a generational span of dogs: There were many that preceded us younger Guerra’s, but first in my memory was Freckles, a sweet little female that loved my Dad; she was succeeded by her offspring, a little male, also known as Freckles; and then by Prince. But my favorite, the one with most character, was Droopy. Yes, like the cartoon dog Droopy, although similarities ended at their shared name.

Droopy was left in a cardboard box on our doorstep one night and was discovered by Mama the following morning when she heard his very faint whimpering. Although Dad was not so inclined, we begged Mama to let us keep this tiny little puppy and she, of course, conceded thereby vetoing Dad’s objections! Our new creature was a 100%, ‘Heinz 57’ mutt; however, his brown markings on white coat did indeed give him a slight resemblance to the cartoon dog. We pampered our new friend and played with him as we watched him grow… and grow… and grow! When fully mature, he tipped the scales at about 100 pounds!

I personally loved Droopy for his unfailing good nature and his willingness to indulge his owners – even when they wanted to ‘ride’ him like a pony! But the thing I most liked about him was his unhesitant willingness to roust himself daily at 5:00 AM and accompany me on my newspaper route as I pedaled about town delivering the morning edition of the Arizona Republic! Not only was he a willing companion, he also was my protector from other dogs along my route who were not favorably disposed to the newspaper boy’s intrusion on their turf.

On one occasion I was speeding down Patagonia Street from my last delivery in Benson Heights – Vernon Arnold’s home right at the top of the very steep hill where Patagonia splits into three different roads. (I hated going up to Mr Arnold’s house, but loved it when I turned around and went down!) With a full head of steam I banked into a hard right turn on 8th Street, directly in front of the main entrance to the Benson Grammar School and right in front of Judge Harold Holcomb’s home. Suddenly, pedaling became very difficult and almost simultaneously Droopy let out a horrendous, unceasing howl. I came to a screeching halt, hopped off my bike and immediately discovered the source of my (our?) problem: Droopy’s tail was caught between the bike chain and the large sprocket of my bike’s gear mechanism!  His tail was almost completely severed and bleeding profusely – and all the while poor Droopy was crying loud enough to be heard in St. David.

Naturally, I was totally flustered and had no idea what to do or how to release Droopy’s tail. Panicked, I set off at a dead run to our home about six blocks away, all the while praying my Dad had not yet left to catch the worker’s bus to Apache Powder. Thankfully, Dad was still home and I breathlessly tried to explain my disaster. We quickly jumped into Dad’s old Hudson Hornet and sped our way back to the scene of my crisis. When we arrived we found a shirtless, half shaven man next to my bike holding up the straight razor that he had been using for his morning shave, but which he had now repurposed to surgeon’s scalpel. “There was nothing but a sliver of skin holding him to the chain,” he explained, “so I just went ahead and finished the job!”

For his part, Droopy was obviously still in tremendous pain, but at least his incessant howl had now been replaced by a pathetic whimper. We carefully wrapped the bloody stump of what remained of his tail and cautiously transported him home. Droopy ultimately recovered from his trauma, but he would never again sit normally on his backside like most dogs. Apparently, the pain he endured during his recovery caused him to learn how to sit lopsided on either his right or left haunch, with the corresponding foot splayed out at an angle. The resultant length of his remaining tail was also somewhat of an oddity: It was obviously too short to be a normal tail, but it was too long to have been properly ‘docked’. As I saw it, the situation simply added to Droopy’s already unique character!