“I started to walk away when this guy named Vince appeared. He was a bully like Shamus. As the station’s stage manager, he delighted in verbally abusing his crew. We worked some of the same shows together, but I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me.”
While the puppy continued to hold Wilson in his gaze, Vince reached down and wrapped his hairy knuckles around the dog’s waist. As Wilson recalls it, the dog nipped at the hand and then relieved himself on Vince’s wrist. Suddenly the hot-tempered stage manager opened his hand as if to slap the pup.
“I grabbed his wrist. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ ” Everyone at the station knew Wilson’s reputation in martial arts; like most bullies, Vince backed down when confronted. He put on his headset and went about his business, and so did Wilson.
“But all the time I was in the booth directing the show, I kept thinking about that little puppy.”
It came time for the adoption segment. The host of the show held the dog up to the camera and began his pitch. As he rattled out the telephone number, the dog kept looking around.
“I knew he was looking for me. My heart leaped to my throat as I opened the studio mike and interrupted the live broadcast. ‘Dave, this is Terry. The dog is going home with me.’ ”
Wilson still remembers the amazed look on the SPCA representative’s face when she brought the pup to the control booth. “Beau leaped from her arms into my lap. Deep down inside I felt like ol’ Sleepy had set this whole thing up.”
Beau and Terry loved to wrestle. From the time he was a pup, he’d take him down using one of his favorite judo techniques. From a standing position he’d lean into the dog’s chest, sneak his right leg behind his left one, then gently sweep him to the floor. They played this game for about a year, then to his amazement, Beau turned the tables on him.
“One day we were wrestling and Beau, no longer a pup, leaned against me, stuck his leg behind mine and threw me to the floor. He did this time and time again.”
After winning the California State Jujitsu Championships in Los Angeles in 1983, Wilson brought Beau out onto the mat, and they did a demonstration. The crowd went wild when Beau threw him in a flawless o-soto-garo (back leg take down). To everyone’s delight, Wilson promoted him to the rank of canine black belt.
Wilson combines a sense of the ridiculous with a sense of the dramatic. Such was in evidence on a TV segment that has become a staple of live-television “blooper” programs. In the 1984 piece, aired on a recent Bloopers program, Wilson is shown lifting the back leg of a horse to shoe it; he’s saying his lines when the animal shifts its weight and “cuts the longest fart in the history of TV. The hoof was so heavy I couldn’t drop it. I just stood there while this great smelly roar passed over my head.”
Wilson still had lessons to learn from dogs.
Six years after adopting Beau, Wilson was married. During one of the worst storms to hit Los Angeles in a century, Sharon, his wife, spotted a dog scrounging for food in an alley near her office. The pooch was a pathetic mess, Wilson says. She was malnourished, and exposure to the elements had caused her to lose all her body fur. Sharon, who could see the animal would never survive the storm, gathered her up and brought her home.
“We named her Little Orphan Annie. Vitamins, healthy food, and lots of TLC were the recipe for good health, and within a matter of weeks Annie regained her coat. She was a beautiful little dog, a sheltie-Pomeranian mix with the heart of a lion.” From her, Wilson learned the meaning of devotion.
For weeks the timid animal never made a sound and hid behind the sofa. She would only emerge to eat if everyone had left the room. Then one night as Wilson lay in bed, he heard a muffled “woof.”
“I looked over to see Annie staring at me as if to say, ‘Is it okay if I talk to you?’ ” Smiling, he rubbed her chin; for her part, she spent the rest of the night making up for her month of silence. “Annie knew she had a home, we bonded instantly, and from that night on she never left my side.”
Beau liked and trusted everybody while Annie was wary of strangers. She took on the role of protector. In that regard, Wilson said, she saved Beau’s life and years later would save Wilson’s.
Normally he had the dogs on a leash, but one day he opened the door and Beau jogged down the steps and was waiting by the pool when a giant rottweiler appeared from nowhere and charged. Wilson screamed for his dog to run, but Beau just sat there, tail wagging.
“I was taking the steps four at a time, but I knew I’d never get there in time. Suddenly Annie flew down the stairs and rammed the rottweiler in the ribs with her head as he was preparing to attack Beau. The blow sent the huge animal into the pool. Annie continued her assault and chased him from the courtyard.”
Years later, Wilson came down with a serious case of Hong Kong flu. Now divorced, he was alone with Beau and Annie when his kidneys failed. He collapsed before he could get to the phone.
“I lay on the floor dying. Beau plopped down next to me and was licking my face, but Annie went to the front door and began to cry. Her voice sounded more human than like a dog’s.”
Eventually her wailing caught the attention of a neighbor, Wilson said, who peered into the window and saw him on the floor. She called an ambulance, and Wilson received treatment in the nick of time. He credits this to Annie.