RABBIT EDWIN, RABBIT
By Bill Doherty
Continuing in the fine tradition of Coast Guard mascots, I fondly recall a German Shepherd that was our mascot at Fire Island Radio Annex. Edwin was a dog that truly felt he was one of the crew. He went everywhere with us. Sometimes he was so annoying we couldn’t get any work done. In those instances we would resort to subterfuge. You see, he loved to chase rabbits. He never killed them, just chased them all over the station. We would yell, “Rabbit, Edwin, rabbit!” and point. Edwin would invariably take off in the pointed direction and spend the next few minutes fruitlessly looking for a rabbit. At least it would give us a few minutes of peace.
Edwin would come and go as he pleased, sometimes he would run with a pack of dogs on Fire Island. We introduced him to the Suffolk county cops on the beat, because we didn’t want him mistaken for a wild dog and shot.
Several moments come to mind that indicate Edwin’s nature. One time I had just finished doing some work in the keeper’s cottage of the lighthouse and was on my way back to the shop, arms loaded with tools, when Edwin came bounding up, tail wagging and tongue slobbering. He gave me that “I want to play look.” “Not now, Edwin, I have to work.” He didn’t care. Edwin rose on his hind legs, grabbed my arm with his jaws and pressed just hard enough to keep me from pulling my arm from his jaw but not hard enough to hurt.
Giving the dog an exasperated look, I relented and dropped my tools and started to play with him. What do you think happens? The Chief came walking by. “Doherty, get to work, stop playing with the dog.” I was about to protest, telling the Chief that the dog wanted me to play with him, then I saw the twinkle in his eye¾you see, everybody knew and loved Edwin.
He looked out for us all the time and knew whom his buddies were. Often he would roam to Fire Island lifeboat station and pay them a visit. More than once we were called and told to “come get your damn dog.” Apparently, if you were not part of Edwin’s world, you didn’t belong there¾if he saw a strange face, he made his presence known.
One weekend, I was the duty engineer and had to stay on site in case we lost power and had to start up emergency generators for the radio annex and lighthouse. A guy came to the door with his girl friend and rudely informed me he wanted to go to the top of the lighthouse. I told politely that the lighthouse was government property and therefore off limits to him. The gentleman then puffed out his chest, “My father is . . . mayor of . . .” He was again told that he could not have access. At this point, I just called out, “Edwin, oh Edwin!” Down the stairs he came, bounding with enthusiasm. All the while, I’m praying, “Look fierce, look fierce!” He sat down beside me and gave the guy the best “I’m gonna eat you for lunch stare” I had ever seen. Needless to say, he left the premises.
Once he defended me from my fiancée, who had come out to visit me for the day. We were just hanging out on the beach enjoying the sun and each other. As usual Edwin was on the prowl. He came up to see who was messing with one of his charges. The dog literally wrapped his paws around my fiancée’s ankles and pulled her away from me, then he proceeded to burrow his way between us, protecting me from my future wife. We thought it was hilarious.
Perhaps the thing I remember most about Edwin was how much he trusted us. One day after dinner we were in the crew’s lounge watching TV when Edwin came in with a little less bounce than usual. At first glance it appeared he had a tick on his eyelid, but closer examination revealed a twig was stuck in it. Apparently, he got a little too exuberant while chasing rabbits and slammed into one of the many bushes along the north shoreline of the island.
There was no question it had to come out, but we were all wondering how to do this with a dog that 700-pound pressure bite if he gets angry. One of the guys started to stroke him to calm him down; I sat directly in front of him, speaking softly and take hold of the exposed portion of the twig, gently tugging on it. Poor Edwin winced but stayed still while I pulled it out. Edwin then shook himself and acted like nothing had happened¾and trotted out of the room.
When I was discharged, there was a rumor that the station was going to be closed down. I thought about taking him with me, but at that time we lived in a one-bedroom basement apartment in Brooklyn. Hardly the place to keep a huge German shepherd used to Fire Island as his domain.
He was a great dog in the tradition of “Sinbad of the Coast Guard” and other mascots. But I often wondered what became of him. Even now, 34-years later, a smile comes over me as I remember the dog and his antics. And sometimes I wonder who was whose mascot; he had all of us twisted around his “paw.”
Dogs like him do not come around often.
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