While it may be premature to say “Adios, Alex” or “Take a hike, Mike,” Stroh’s celebrated pitchpet and the Beverly Hills bowwow clearly have some competition in the Cleverest Canine category. Yet unlike those hounds of Hollywood, this fetching Fido is no rabid card-carrying member of Actor’s Equity. His handle is Buckshot, and he’s a down-home hunting dog from’ south of the Mason-Dixon line. What can he do, you ask? A better question might be, “What can’t he do?”
Come sundown on any given night in Columbus, Miss., Buckshot can be found on the second barstool from the door in the taproom of the Elbow Room bar. Most of the crowd is there to see him, and some may have made the pilgrimage from as far away as Alaska, California or New Hampshire to witness this local legend in action.
John McClanahan, 46, bass fishing guide, falconer and home remodeler, is Buckshot’s owner, trainer and top fan. It is his wishes that are Buckshot’s commands. As the pair sit side by side at the bar, a parched McClanahan need only say: “Buckshot, would you please get me a beer?” and in an instant, the dutiful dog is off his barstool and racing for the back of the tavern. There he grabs the handle of the old Crosley refrigerator with his teeth and pulls down, opening the door. He selects an icy can of brew, returns and places the can upright on the bar in front of his master.
“That’s good,” praises McClanahan, “but you forgot to close the door.” Off goes Buckshot, back to the fridge where, by delicately lifting a front paw and pushing, he shuts the door with a click before returning to his place at McClanahan’s side. The standing-room-only crowd roars, and a series of toasts are raised to this most miraculous of man’s best friends. A teetotaler himself, Buckshot basks calmly in the limelight. Says McClanahan, “He’s a natural-born ham who enjoys attention.”
When McClanahan finishes his first beer, he makes another polite request. “Buckshot, would you please get rid of this empty?” Buckshot picks up the empty can, takes it to the nearest trash can and drops it in. Everyone cheers, but Buckshot appears unmoved. “Buckshot’s head hasn’t gotten any bigger,” asserts McClanahan. “Dogs just have the ability to handle stardom better than most people.”
Buckshot can also pick dollar bills off the bar and place them in the open cash register, as well as play a mean game of pool. Reacting to three key words(“over,” “back” and “Buck”), Buckshot understands to jump on the table, find any ball named and drop it into any pocket selected. His latest trick involves snatching a person’s hat right off his head. At the right word from his master, Buckshot will scan the room for headgear and bring John any cap he spots.
Buckshot and McClanahan have been a team since 1981 when John’s cousin gave him the five-week-old, half Labrador and half Golden Retriever puppy. Along with Buckshot’s inbred fetching instinct comes an unnaturally high learning capacity. “It’s amazing how smart that dog is,” says McClanahan proudly. “I could probably teach him how to do most anything in just a few minutes, and with repetition, he can really get it down solid in about two weeks.” Of course there are difficulties inherent in owning such a talented dog. McClanahan can no longer leave Buckshot in the back of his pickup for fear dognappers will make off with him. But that is only half the problem. “When I leave Buckshot in the cab of my pickup,” says McClanahan, “I’m afraid to leave the keys in it, as I usually do. I’m worried that Buckshot might just take a notion to drive off.”