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Rain of Terrier

Claim:  A man left entertaining his girlfriend's dog throws a ball out her highrise apartment's window, with the dog in hot pursuit.



[Collected on the Internet, 1997]

There's the story of the guy meeting his girlfriend. As it is his first date with her, he tries to impress by playing with her puppy, which she is totally devoted to. Anyway, she goes into the bedroom to finish getting dressed while he plays ball in the living room with the dog. Whilst play catch, the ball bounces over the balcony, and the dog follows. The apartment is on the top floor. While he is looking over the edge at the grizzly remains of Fluffy, the girlfriend comes out of her bedroom saying, "Where's my little girl then?" Ooops.

[Reader's Digest, 1972]

Author Truman Capote told a story about a blind date a friend of his once had. When the friend arrived, his date wasn't ready and invited him to wait in the living room while she finished dressing. She had a Great Dane, and the man amused himself while he waited by tossing a ball to the dog and waiting for him to retrieve it. By accident, he threw the ball out the window, and he dog went after it — all 18 floors. When his date came back into the living room, the man never said a word about what had happened — he couldn't think of anything to say.

After Capote told this story, comedienne Elaine May suggested what he might have said. "During dinner," Elaine volunteered, "he could have looked at his date and said, "You know, your dog seemed very depressed to me . . ."

Origins:   Though the story is well-traveled now, it's possible it began life as a Truman Capote anecdote. Those who recall hearing him relate the tale swear he told it on the Tonight Show, where he regaled Johnny Carson with a story of Cartoon of the legend a friend's date gone wrong. When questioned in 1983, spokespeople for that show denied knowing anything about the segment, leading us now to conclude that if Capote told the tale on a late-night talk show, it wasn't the Tonight Show.

The 1972 Reader's Digest example provides a clue to where the talk show memory might have come from, as their telling of the legend was purportedly taken from something about Dick Cavett which appeared in a Parade magazine article. Cavett was the host of ABC's late night talk show from 1969 to 1974, which fits the timeframe when this legend apparently started circulating widely. As for why people would recall Capote's having told the anecdote on a different show with a different host, the phenomenon of altered memories is quite common in the realm of contemporary lore. Our memories are not set in stone (as we confidently believe them to be), and we often unknowingly imbue them with details which make "more sense" to us. Through this phenomenon, a memory about a flamboyant character's telling a riveting story on an "ordinary" talk show is transformed into a indelible image of the incident's playing out on a much more popular show. The mind erases Dick Cavett and substitutes Johnny Carson, without the rememberer's realizing a swap has taken place.

Did the "pooch in pursuit of the ball" tragedy really happen to someone of Capote's acquaintance? We'll never know now that the man is no longer with us (Capote died in 1984) and therefore can't direct us to his hapless unnamed friend for confirmation. Events could have unfolded as described, but it's equally likely this skilled storyteller wove the tale out of whole cloth, or that in true urban legend fashion he picked up the story from someone else, then personalized it when reaching for an amusing tale to entertain folks with by starring "a friend" in the main role. But whatever involvement Capote had with this tale back in the early 1970s, the story itself has gone on to be told as true about countless other people and thus qualifies as an urban legend.

In 1992, a related news article of dubious veracity found its way into a folklore newsletter.
Ace Bragan was reportedly killed outside a Dallas, Texas, high-rise apartment when a Great Dane puppy fell on his head. Police believed that Jim Sweeney, 9, was playing ball with the puppy in his 13th-floor apartment, when the ball bounced out an open sliding glass door and onto a balcony. The dog apparently chased the ball and tried to catch it as it went over the 30-inch balcony wall. The mother commented, "I know this is a selfish thing to say, but thank God it wasn't Jimmy who fell off." Bragan's widow is suing the Sweeneys for negligence; the fate of the dog was not reported.
There's a lot to be said against this tale:
  • It supposedly appeared in The [Boca Raton] Sun, a paper I haven't yet confirmed exists. (Boca Raton's daily paper is called The News.)
  • We're told the accident happened in Dallas, yet the Dallas papers are strangely silent on the matter. There are neither descriptions of the incident, nor obituaries for Ace Bragan, the man who died.
Was that newsletter hoaxed? I'd say that's more than likely, because I can't see such a tale's not being aired in a raft of other news venues if it had indeed happened. The public has an insatiable appetite for crazy stories, and the wire services are always on the lookout for news accounts of unusual nature.

The legend at hand is a tale of a date gone horribly wrong. There are certain things you just can't do on a first outing, and killing the dog is one of them. Usually this legend ends
with the pooch lying dead in the street and the man trying to figure out what (if anything) he's going to say to the girl. The audience of course realizes that no matter what course of action the man chooses, his date will find out what really happened, and that will be the end of this twosome.

Such tales are a way of harmlessly airing first date anxieties by reassuring ourselves that others have had it far worse than we're ever likely to known. Meeting a new person and perhaps being left at a loss for what to say or a graceful way to say it pales in comparison to a dating disaster such as sending a gal's treasured animal companion sailing out a highrise window. In an odd way, such legends are actually comforting.

A related legend about an anxious suitor who manages to kill the family dog by accidentally sitting on it is briefly mentioned on our broken sink page.

Barbara "sirius social blunder" Mikkelson

Sightings:   This legend plays out in the 1998 film There's Something About Mary. Numerous readers have also mentioned seeing it in the 1981 film Under The Rainbow.

An episode of television's The Jeffersons ("Dog-Gone," episode #170) featured George Jefferson's losing the pampered pooch he'd agreed to babysit in the manner described in this legend. The legend is also used in an episode of television's Coach ("Poodle Springs," original air date 5 May 1990), during which Dauber's attempt to entertain the spoiled but beloved pooch of his fianceé's mother sends the dog flying out the 7th floor window of a hotel. Likewise, in "No Body's Perfect," a 9 December 1982 episode of television's Hill Street Blues, Lamonte, the governor's ransomed dog, fatally pursues a ball tossed out the window by Lt. Howard Hunter.

Last updated:   1 August 2011

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    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 96-97).

    Santulli, Mike.   "Puppy Jumps off High-Rise Balcony."
    FOAFTale News.   June 1992   (pp. 11-12).

    Reader's Digest.   "Laughter, The Best Medicine."
    May 1972   (pp. 131-132).

Also told in:

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 52).