Rufus P. Hadley stares across the prison yard where he’s spent the last twelve of his fifteen years with both regret and acceptance showing in his large, brown eyes.
“I wasn’t more than a pup when I came here,” he said, his gravelly voice betraying long, hard years. “I just got to running with the wrong pack and made some bad decisions.”
We asked Hadley what, specifically, he did to earn his life in prison.
“Listen, kid,” he said, “That’s a question you don’t ask a dog. Let’s just say I wasn’t no parlor pup. Oh, I did a little of it all, for sure: chickens were my weakness. Chickens and poodles. You can’t tell it today, but I was popular with the ladies in my younger days. But the other stuff, the bad stuff, I’d rather forget.”
Animal Control Officer Tim Edwards remembers the day he brought Hadley in.
“Rufus was born under a mobile home in Ranger,” Edwards said. “Things were rough for him from the start. After his parents died, he didn’t have much of a chance.”
“I was just weaned when they died,” said Hadley. “An oil truck hit pa, and mama ate an M&M blizzard she found at the ball field. Not long after, my older sister Dixie died trying to have a Great Dane’s pups. I never got over that.”
Hadley, less than a year old, joined a street gang just to survive. Led by the notorious Three-Legged Sam, the band committed a variety of crimes and acts of violence.
“It was just small stuff at first,” said Hadley. “An egg here, a sandwich there. Before you know it, it’s just habit, you know? By the time old Edwards bagged me, killing a squirrel wasn’t anything. Some of the things I’ve seen and done make me shudder. You ever looked in the dying eyes of a little girl’s pet rabbit, kid? You can’t ever forget that.”
We asked Hadley if he had any regrets.
“Sure, kid. Don’t we all? I’d a liked to have been a respectable dog, riding around with one of those farmers parked at Dairy Queen, or maybe even in a backyard somewhere. Yeah, a backyard, with kids. That’d be nice.”
He again gazed off across the yard, longing in his eyes, but then peered back at me with a hint of sparkle.
“But you know, it’s been a good life. Old Edwards has been good to me. I’ve had food and water. Never got mixed up with chocolate like my poor mama. Made a few good friends here. I could’ve ended up like Old Sam; probably would have if I’d stayed on the street. Yep, not a bad life at all for a trailer dog from Ranger.”
Thanks to Tippy Gnu for his fine editorial advice during the preparation of this most pressing story.