My mother tells me that when I was a child and anyone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would always answer that I wanted to own a ranch, and raise horses and dogs. Not just any dogs—red cocker spaniels. This probably stemmed from my obsession with the book, Rusty: A Cocker Spaniel by Col. S.P. Meek. I have no idea how many dozens of times I read that book when I was a little girl, but I was certain that Rusty was the world’s most wonderful dog.
My wacky aunt gifted our family with our first dog. For some reason known only to her, she decided that what her pregnant sister needed most was a puppy. A month before I was born, she brought over an American springer spaniel pup that came with a fancy kennel name, but we called him Magoo. Mom dealt with raising me and the pup at the same time. Since we were the same age, you’d expect that Magoo and I would be good friends, and we did get along well. Mom describes once looking out the kitchen window to see my toddler-self sitting on the sidewalk with Magoo’s bowl, alternately giving him a piece of food, then taking a piece for myself.
Don’t judge. At least I’d learned the concept of sharing.
But in truth, Magoo didn’t occupy any significant piece of my heart; I was far more interested in books than pets. He was simply always there in the background.
When I was fourteen, as a friend and I left my yard, Magoo trotted out the gate ahead of us. By this time he was half-blind and mostly deaf, and he ran into the path of an oncoming car. I’ll never forget the shock of seeing him being rolled under a tire, and running back to the house screaming for my parents to come help. Sadly our faithful pet was beyond help, and our parents nixed getting another dog. With five growing children, they rightfully felt they had enough pressing responsibilities consuming their time.
Not long after I’d left the nest at age 18 to join the military, my two youngest sisters brought home a stray dog. To my eternal shock, my parents agreed to adopt him. I always joked that in joining the family after I left, Sam was one redhead replacing another, since he was a small mutt with the colouring of an Irish setter. Sam was loved and coddled in a way Magoo never had been. When it came to this unexpected addition to the family, my reserved father turned out to be the biggest softie. After Dad passed away far too young, Sam would go to my parents’ bedroom door and sit there waiting for him. His loyalty was absolute, and he comforted my mother in the depths of her grief.
Though the admission will probably result in having points deducted from our lesbian cards, my wife and I are not pet people—not dogs or cats. As an adult, the only pets I’ve ever owned were budgies. Before I met my wife, I did end up with my son and daughter-in-law’s Boxer puppy in the house for a year while they lived in our basement suite. He was a sweet-natured dog and I missed him when they moved to Denmark, but I had no inclination to get a replacement. If I’d had any yen for canine companionship, there were certainly many dogs in my extended family to fill that need—everything from a bull mastiff to a yellow lab to border collies. At Thanksgiving this year, we had two golden retrievers, and two bagels (basset hound/beagle cross) nosing around the kitchen hoping we’d drop something. I regard them affectionately, but I’m glad I’m not the one who has to take care of them. A few years ago I briefly fostered a young pit bull stray that scratched the exterior and tore up the interior of my car when I took him to the vet. That cemented my intent never to own a dog.
So it was much to my astonishment this summer that I lost my heart to an adorable grey Schnauzer-Maltese mix named Pipp, who has an annoying habit of barking her head off whenever someone comes into or leaves the house, or she sees someone on the street outside. Pipp’s mommy, a cherished friend, needed a place to stay and has been living in my basement suite since April. Pipp is a rescue dog with some bad habits, so while I didn’t dislike her, I also wasn’t her biggest fan. But Pipp and her mommy came as a package, so I welcomed both. As Pipp made herself at home, she frequently came upstairs to visit, and I would also puppy-sit as needed. Slowly, stealthily, Pipp wriggled her way into my affections. One time I was having a very bad day and she jumped past my laptop and into my arms, and that sealed the deal. I’ve always heard about a dog’s capacity for unconditional love, but never experienced it personally. Now that I have, I understand how a loving bond with a dog can provide endless balm for the soul. When I came south for the winter this month, I left Pipp and her mommy behind, and I am experiencing profound “dog withdrawal.”
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