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My So-Called Dogless Life

August 26, 2015
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this connection we have — yes, you can call it love

I didn’t have a dog during my childhood years. I don’t remember any of my friends having one either. My Uncle Emerson had a dog, but my recollections of it are sketchy since we didn’t visit them very often. Nonetheless, dogs have always been a presence in my life in one way or another even though I’ve never actually “owned” one.

Most of the encounters I had with the canine world in the beginning were negative. First, there was Trooltz. Trooltz lived next door and belonged to our Norwegian neighbors Astrid and Teddy. I’m not sure of his breed, but he seemed to be on the frenetic side and needed to be put in a closed room on the occasions we went over there. Most of my memories of him involved a lot of barking and an incident when he bit my sister.

Next were a series of pooches who took up an adversarial relationship with me merely because I tried to deliver the newspaper to their masters. Chief amongst these was Prince, a large and very fierce Doberman Pinscher who lived in the middle of my route. His owner, a rather burly German man, maintained pretty good control of Prince whenever I came around. When the man gruffly commanded Prince to sit or leave, he obeyed, though I always thought I caught some backward glances that said “I’ll get you for this.”

One day he almost did. I rang the bell as usual on a Friday to collect the payment owed (a mighty thirty-three cents for the week), but the grandmother got to the door first. She opened it, and behind her in the vestibule I could see Prince’s eyes open wide at his sudden unexpected opportunity. He lunged past the old woman, snarling and fangs bared. Lucky for me it had recently turned cool and I had on a hooded sweatshirt with one of those thick hand warmer pockets in the front. That’s what Prince’s jaws clamped onto. Hearing the commotion, the man sprinted to the door and grabbed Prince by the collar, dragged him back inside, and gave him a swat and what I had the distinct impression was a cursing out in German. I must have looked rather shaken (and indeed I was), for he apologized profusely and as I remember gave me a larger than normal tip.

Other dogs had better luck over the next several years both on that paper route as well as when I worked a summer job as a meter reader for Public Service. I was nipped on the legs more than a few times and once rather roughly on the butt. These were mostly the small yappy kind that didn’t strike the same kind of fear that Prince had, but getting bit is getting bit, and the resultant pain and aggravation didn’t exactly endear the species to me.

It’s a wonder given such a shaky start that I like dogs so much now.

I think the tide started to turn after my wife’s parents decided to get a dog. Why they did this, I’m not sure, but Renoir, a small white poodle, took up residence at their home. Renoir’s sweet disposition offset the inherent high-strung nature of the breed, and we got along just fine. His death brought the sadness which permeates households that bear such losses, and my father-in-law voiced his reluctance to have another pup.

But there were to be more dogs, a succession of Schnauzers procured by my brother-in-law, first Hugo, then Teddy, and currently Rocky, each in turn to whom I felt a greater attachment.

My brother-in-law got Hugo for himself shortly after Renoir’s passing, but because he lived in a small apartment in New York and Hugo had a habit of chewing my sister-in-law’s favorite shoes, Hugo became Renoir’s forced successor. However, Hugo won Pop and Mary over, and he became a beloved fixture at their house. When Hugo became old and very ill, Pop tearfully took him to be put down. It hit him very hard, and he swore that there would be no more dogs.

And there weren’t. At least not at their house.

By this time, my niece Emma had arrived, and as a little girl she had no desire greater than to have a puppy. To at least partially fulfill her wish, her grandma Mary bought her a mechanical stuffed toy dog that walked. Emma lovingly named it Puppy, and for years they were inseparable. Even after the mechanical innards had come out and the fur had become worn and tattered, Puppy remained a constant companion until the day it mysteriously disappeared. However, the arrival of Teddy cured any sorrow Emma may have had.

Emma adored Teddy, and he lived a full and happy life with the family. When he aged and his health started to fail, my brother-in-law brought home Rocky. Rocky was a frisky little guy from the start and wanted to strike up a relationship with Teddy. Age and infirmity sometimes made Teddy impatient with the new puppy, but he made his peace with Rocky and they shared some happy days together. With great sadness Teddy’s time came, and the mantle passed to Rocky.

Emma's Rocky, the pet I always wished I had

Rocky

Though I still don’t have a dog of my own, Rocky is the next best thing. I see him all the time, and we have become best buddies.  We take long walks together enjoying the simple pleasure of being out and about unhurried in the world, he sniffing and me viewing the subtle pulse of the neighborhood. When his family goes on vacation, he stays with us. Nothing pleases him more than sitting together with his humans on the couch as we watch TV, head nestled on one of our laps. At night, he settles in at the foot of the bed (though he would just as soon be under the covers along with us). We are convinced he tries to talk to us. Even though that form of communication is inexact, looking into his soulful eyes is not. To argue that there is no love to be found there would be futile as far as I am concerned.

Max

Max

There is also a new kid on the block. Emma, now all grown up, has a new baby, a cute prima donna named Max. He is a Morkie, as ready to bark his head off at you as he is to lick you lovingly. Max and Rocky have a relationship common to human siblings, episodes of jealousy and scuffling interspersed with camaraderie and togetherness. He chews everything up, has difficulty mastering the art of being house trained, and can be quite demanding, yet he has worked his way into our hearts.

I know that for those who have never experienced the day-to-day presence of Man’s Best Friend (a title not taken lightly by either party), it may be difficult to understand the important place these creatures can have in one’s life. This relationship that exists between man and dog has developed over thousands of years and is unique among all animals in its intimacy and common understanding.

Yes, they need to be walked even in inclement weather. Yes, inconvenience in travel and expense for vet trips may be incurred. Yes, there may be hair on the rug and toys on the floor. But the companionship given, the devotion displayed, and the unqualified love offered are all far greater hallmarks of life with dogs. Whether it is a service dog aiding the disabled or a rescue mutt adopted by an average family, these creatures have the capacity to open up an unshakable emotional connection with us.  All you need to do is observe the pure joy in the greeting someone receives from his or her dog, and it should be clear that, as grandma Mary so simply and precisely put it, nobody loves you like your dog.

"Nobody loves you like your dog." -- Mary

“Nobody loves you like your dog.” — grandma Mary

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