The author and his dog, Ernie, circa 1981

Ernie & the Epic Thanksgiving Heist

by Bill Geibler
Marketing Director, Springtime

The three of us were huddled tightly with our backs to the wall. Our bulging eyes were locked on the ferocious beast as he joylessly devoured his prey. No escape was possible — that much we knew. Our only hope was that a hero would miraculously arrive to save us. This was a Thanksgiving we’d like to forget, but it’s one we’ll always remember. It was the year that our little Peekapoo took the turkey … and took a few hostages.

In a Catholic family of eight children, even our everyday dinners were loud, exciting, and chaotic events to behold. Thanksgiving, of course, was the heavyweight champion of all dinners, a truly massive production requiring hours of preparation. With the influx of relatives, my mother had roughly 50 family members to feed. She had a way of making these big hosting events look effortless, but behind the scenes, we all knew how much work went into it. Because I was merely 8 years old, my only duties were to wear something appropriate for the occasion and to try to stay out of the way during the frantic preparations.

It was still morning on Thanksgiving Day in 1980, and the house was thoroughly cleaned and festively decorated for the big event. In several hours, our home would be full of raucous laughter and conversation, but now it was oddly quiet and empty with most of the family out of the house on various errands. I was home with my younger sister Maryanne (7), my older sister Patty (10), and Ernie, our loveable rascal of a dog. Ernie was a little black-and-white Pekingese Poodle (a.k.a., a Peekapoo). We loved him dearly, in spite of the fact that he had a penchant for mischief and a severe Napoleon complex.

After an inspection of our Thanksgiving table settings and decor, I followed the sweet smell of baked goods into the kitchen to perhaps inspect one of the scrumptious desserts. To my surprise I found Ernie perched atop the kitchen counter. My first reaction was to wonder how he got up there, given his short stature. Then, I wondered what he was doing up there. OH MY GOSH! ERNIE IS EATING THE DOGGONE TURKEY!

I immediately screamed “Ernie!” which startled him. Busted, he spun around and slipped, knocking the turkey and himself to the kitchen floor with a double thud. Stunned by the fall, he quickly grabbed his composure; then he nabbed the turkey. I was frozen in disbelief.

The turkey was the smaller of the two that my mother had thawing, but it was still bigger than Ernie. He gripped it with his teeth and pulled it backward using his hind legs for added leverage. He backed away from the scene of the crime, dragging this wet, greasy bird across the oriental rug of the dining room. I snapped out of my stupor and gave chase. I followed the oily trail into the adjacent living room, a room too fancy for anyone but esteemed company, such as priests, bridge players, and other dignitaries. The turkey was already a goner, and the oriental rug was a mess, but defiling the living room was the greatest of transgressions. For the sake of my dear mother, I had to take action.

Ernie was tearing apart the turkey on the good carpet of the living room like a lion on the Serengeti. I slowly approached, and when the moment seemed right, I lunged forward in an attempt to grab the turkey. Ernie growled lowly and briefly, and then he attacked, all 20 pounds of him hurling toward me. I leapt into an awkward pirouette, and I could feel him ripping my finest church pants at the ankle. I high-stepped a few feet toward the fireplace at the far end of the room. As I caught my breath, it occurred to me that I made two tactical errors: trapping myself at the back of the room and donning my Sunday best so early in the day. Ernie, sufficiently content with my current distance, went back to his meal.

As I plotted, Ernie gobbled with angry and suspicious eyes fixed upon me. I decided to circle around him to avoid his direct gaze. I thought I’d have a better chance of wresting the bird from him with a flanking maneuver, but Ernie was one step ahead of me. He wouldn’t let me move an inch without rushing toward me, fangs bared. As soon as I backed off, he backed down.

Ernie gave me a stern look: Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.

My initial confrontation with Ernie made enough noise to draw the attention of my sisters Maryanne and Patty. They could not have been more entertained by the situation they were witnessing with our tiny dog so thoroughly in control of not only the Thanksgiving turkey but also me as his terrified prisoner. They laughed so hard that they weren’t making any noise; the laughter was coming too furiously for them to breathe. But oh how quickly they went from gawking bystanders to active participants in this holiday fiasco. In their guffawing mockery, they had accidentally edged too close to Ernie’s blind side. The little dog mistook this as another attempt to seize the turkey, so he ran behind them, growling, snapping, and nipping at their heels. They jumped on the good couch, and Ernie followed, chasing them toward my safe haven at the fireplace. Now there were three hostages.

Ernie prowled back to the turkey, but he never took his eyes off us: Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.

After about twenty minutes, Ernie seemed to be done eating, but he wasn’t budging. He just lay there, watching us without blinking, and occasionally licking the turkey. Perhaps he planned to guard his prize for days, feeding upon it at his leisure and defending it from competitors, as his ancient ancestors might have done. We argued among ourselves about who should make a run for it, so as to lure Ernie away for the good of the majority.

Thankfully, my older brother John, a strapping 20-year-old, arrived on the scene. He was home for the holidays, and we were especially happy to see him. Ernie was as full of confidence and raw turkey as a dog can get, but he knew full well that John was the dominant member of this pack. With all the trepidation one might approach a dandelion, John scooped up Ernie with one arm and with the other hand, he grabbed the mutilated turkey carcass. John scanned the mess on the floor with disgust, but not as much disgust as the glance he paid to me.

Thanksgiving was far from ruined. By the time the festivities began, all evidence of the turkey massacre was erased. All that was left was a hilarious and embarrassing tale to be told that Thanksgiving dinner and many others. Some said it was the best Thanksgiving ever. I know Ernie would agree with that.

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