The Dogs of My Life
The Dogs of My Life
Bubbles arrived in a cigar box when I was in kindergarten. She was supposed to be a wire haired fox terrier, but in her maturity she looked more like an oversized knockwurst with brown and white hair. What she lacked in size she more than made up for in spirit. Woe to any friend of mine who playfully wrestled with me! Bubbles nipped at his trouser leg with the tenacity of a bulldog on a bear. She earned the name Bubbles because she had one large brown bubble-sized spot in the middle of her back. We almost lost her to distemper early on. During that siege she stayed in the basement near the furnace. She recovered but bore the scars of the illness in one of her eyes, a flattened cornea. She never cottoned to sitting in anyone's lap; and you dared not touch a bone she was nursing. Bubbles died one fall while I was away at college. My Dad buried her beneath the cosmos in the garden in the backyard.
Cindy was given to us by a student at the veterinarian school at Cornell University. She was destined for experimental work. Cindy we named her, for no reason I can now remember. I scared her half to death once with a broom and subsequently the mere sight of corn bristles sent her whimpering in the other direction. In Vermont one summer when I was on a ladder painting the house a neighbor's poodle found Cindy and gifted her with puppies. Seeing the situation develop I was nonetheless unable to make my frantic descent from the ladder in time to stay the course of nature. Three puppies survived and brought furry happiness to two homes in Brooklyn and one in Stamford CT. Cindy ascended to doggie heaven one summer afternoon when crossing the road in Stamford when a car was passing by. She limped to a nearby cedar bush and expired. I learned that afternoon about the light in the eyes, how it goes out in death. Cindy's eyes there beneath the evergreen were totally vacant.
Sparky wasn't my dog. Cindy's offspring, we gave him to my Dad. But not before our youngest daughter had a chance to pamper him and make believe he was a baby. She put him in her doll carriage and walked him around the house and down the block on pink pillows. Sparky grew up to be, well, sparky, a roguish fellow with a roving eye for the ladies. In his last year he had to be diapered to prevent leakage in my father's house. One afternoon the roguish spirit got the better of his advancing age, he padded off down the street in his diaper, and returned hours later with diaper hanging around his neck. He seemed very pleased with himself.
Sadie came to us by way of a friend's friend, in Brooklyn, shortly after Cindy's demise. The thought was that the best way to stop the grieving and the guilt was to get another dog. "Sadie was a lady," and I did clear the use of that name with a congregant also named Sadie, who insisted she was honored. One day in the first year of her time with us we found her staring intently into a large crock on the floor of our breakfast nook. It was filled with balls of every size. Sadie had discovered her life's fascination. Many were the hours I spent with her throwing tennis balls, spaldeens, even croquet balls without ever really exhausting her enthusiasm for the chase. Of all the dogs I've loved, Sadie was, hands down, my soulmate. During the years Barbara and I were empty-nesters, I regularly brought Sadie with me for lunch at McDonald's. When I returned with the goodies, she would take her place on the floor on the passenger side and wait for me to feed her French fries and, if I was especially generous, a bite of a hamburger. Her eyes and tail twitched in expectation when she heard the rustle of the yellow, red, and white bag.
Sadie suffered the depredations of age. When the bills for her veterinarian care became a drain on our family income, I drove her to the Animal Shelter in Wantagh and handed her to a worker who could not possibly comprehend the guilt and sorrow coursing through me. To this day I feel those pangs whenever I recall that moment... as I am doing now. St. Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian of the Christian faith, but he insisted that no dogs go to heaven (they don't have souls). My experience argues otherwise, that when and if I at last arrive at the threshold of the Father's House, there will be on the other side of the door a tail wagging and a doggy voice whimpering, in anticipation of the hours and hours of ball-playing in the pastures of heaven.
Of course, this short list doesn't exhaust the dogs I have known and loved. Prince, my aunt's terrier, and my aunt lived next door, yipped and snapped at me at most opportunities. Pepper, a friend's large mutt with plenty of black lab in him, was unfailingly hospitable to me, even though on one memorable occasion I really wasn't very hospitable to him, after he had a run-in with a Vermont skunk. Then there's Liberty, the aforesaid Sparky's successor in my Dad's house. She greeted me at the door wildly shaking her tail and lowering her butt, showing her happiness at my arrival all over my shoes.
In these recent years we have hesitated to bring another dog into our house. The twin grandsons, who live with us suffer from asthma, are allergic to animal dander. And my dear wife doesn't want to be tied down to a pet in these senior years when we are inclined to travel.
But we do glean a share of doggy affection from our daughters' dogs. Teddy in Baltimore, a Yorkipoo, spends a month or so each summer with us while his family visits other members of the family on the West Coast. Teddy is absolutely lovable, provided he wears his bark inhibiting box of citronella.
Cubbie is the latest canine family member, a teacup poodle living in Shrewsbury MA with our daughter and her family. Cubbie was untouchable the first year of his life, more skittish than a young colt. He barked at me whenever I entered his house, as if I were an intruder. In these past couple of years, however, Cubbie has mellowed out, allows me to pet him, and brings a ball to me to throw for him.
Somewhere, I think, in that doggie heaven St. Thomas says is nonexistent, Sadie has sent down her sweet vibrations to that teacup poodle, soothing his spirit and telling him that I'm not such a bad guy after all.