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Shop Dogs: Joe: My First and Last Shop Dog

By JoAnn Bortles

Scott Davis was always interested in motorcycles and muscle cars. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, he would ride his dirt bike for endless hours through the old coal fields. In the late 1970s, his family moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, where he bought his first street bike, a 1966 Triumph Bonneville. As his family was originally from the U.K., he had an interest in all things Triumph. His mother complained that he was filling up the yard “with all this old junk.” So, Scott rented out a three-bay garage in the rough section of Hartford, Connecticut.

The three bays were at the back of a combination bait and dairy store. It was 1980, and Scott was 25 years old. The shop quickly became one of those places where everyone hung out. It was a hardscrabble place, surrounded by the projects. “You’d drive by on Friday night, and the bikes would be lined up,” Scott told me. “People riding by would stop in just to see what was going on and they’d stay and become friends. My landlord was a local character named Wildman and he had an old German Shepherd named Joe. “

“Joe kind of came with the place. Wildman had bought Joe from Connecticut K-9 as a fully-trained guard dog. He’d had a few break-ins after opening the store, and getting Joe solved that problem for a long time. Then in the late ‘70s, there were some break-ins where the thieves came prepared for the dog. They used a chain to beat Joe so badly that he almost died. They next time, they used a pipe. After that Joe stopped confronting burglars and became quite meek. Wildman kept Joe around but didn’t take very good care of him. In fact, I never knew how old Joe was, but he was gray-faced when I met him.

Joe: My First and Last Shop Dog

“When I moved into the shop, Joe started hanging around in back with us and became part of the crew. I would take him for walks. Joe was a very proud dog, and one time I nudged this brick with my foot and Joe picked it up and carried it with him the rest of the way. The homeboys hanging out on the corner were laughing, saying ‘Look at that dog with his pet brick!’

Scott took Joe to motorcycle swap meets, and Joe would sit next to Scott’s parts tables, never wandering around. “It was easy to forget he was a highly-trained dog, as he was so easygoing. But, then at times, I was reminded. I never had to use a leash with him or tie him up. He was always by my side. I would tell him to stay in one place and he wouldn’t move until I told him it was OK.

“Joe was always the center of attention. We’d sit in these car seats leaning up against the wall of the shop and he’d sit next to us and get hugs and pets. The guys used to make songs up about him. ‘Hey Joe, where you going with that bone in your mouth?’ He’d sit there in the open doorway, on guard, looking over his domain of asphalt and concrete. I never had one burglary with him in the shop and one morning I found out why. Wildman was waiting for me when I got there. Now there was a door between the shop and his store and he liked to sneak his girlfriends in through the shop, so no one would see and tell his wife. Turns out that night he had tried to do just that, but Joe wouldn’t let him in the shop. As soon as he opened the door the dog was growling and snapping. I guess Joe had decided we were worth it, that he would protect this shop! But after that, he could no longer spend nights there.”

Six months later on a night in 1983, a burglary cleaned out Scott’s shop. He rented a house with a two-bay garage in East Hartford and quickly filled up that place with Spitfires, TR4s, and of course British motorcycles. “The new place was even more popular,” said Scott. “We’d turn wrenches late into the night then go inside and have dinner. Joe was always front and center, getting plenty of food and attention.”

Joe: My First and Last Shop Dog

After two years in the rented house, neighbors complained about the motorcycles, the noise, and the landlord would not renew the lease. Scott decided to move back to Pittsburgh and took Joe with him. Scott tried to open a shop there, and but it’s hard to start over in a new place. Several months later, Joe started to have trouble walking and one day Scott found him in the corner of the yard. He’d gone to shop dog heaven. “It just wasn’t the same after that,” said Scott. “Joe had always been right there with me in the shop and without him, I just didn’t have the same passion.” Scott went back to school and became an engineer. “For almost six years, it was a crazy ride. We were wild, young, with our whole lives ahead of us. And there was this incredible dog that was part of our crew and inspiration. I’m 63 years old, but I’ll never forget, what I feel, is the best shop dog there was.”

2 comments

  1. At 66 years of age, I too have fond memories of a couple of faithful dogs, pets. Now a widower, I’m afraid of any further responsibilities other than myself. Once I’m back up on two wheels, there no longer will be a ***** pad behind me.

    [Reply]

  2. It’s good to have a “Joe” once in your life, my Joe was named Barney!
    Peace, brother!

    [Reply]

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