A few months, well, make that nearly a year ago, we got our most recent dog Sam. Now Sam is the dog who came down with parvo a week after we took him from the animal shelter and then spent 10 days in the equivalent of the critical care unit of the veterinary hospital. He soon became the poster child for the clinic as he was sick with parvo longer than any dog they had taken care of before and was pretty much on the edge for almost every day he was in their care—watching the very young, very sick puppy lay almost immobile in his kennel would melt anyone’s heart.
Today, when he goes to see the vet for shots or an exam, there is a steady stream of employees coming out to see how Sam is doing today. And Sam is fine. Still a bit of a pup, but at 75 pounds he doesn’t look much like one. Of all the dogs I have owned, however, Sam has more idiosyncrasies than any of them—that’s saying something when I think back over the large number and varieties of dogs I have had. So let me tell you a bit about all my past dogs and then I’ll get back to Sam.
First a few words about our relationship with our dogs. One thing all our dogs have in common is that none of them have ever been trained to do anything (maybe I should count retrieving a ball as “trained to do something”, but since all the dogs really just chased the ball but none returned it, I don’t think that qualifies as trained).
Every one of them was allowed to be a free spirit and that was just fine with their lazy and lax owner/s (my wife also deserves some of the credit). I have never felt that well-trained dogs, are as happy as my undisciplined crew (might be nice to own a well-behaved trained one some time and see if I’m wrong).
Our dogs’ primitive upbringing resulted in a bit of a ruckus every time someone came to the house and the dogs wanted to enthusiastically greet them. As the commotion rose to complete chaos, I never judged the dogs who were my loyal friends, but I did instantly label the guest. Those folks who joined merrily in the mêlée would be invited back, while those who backed off, retreated, or worse cowered, never returned (probably by mutual decision).
How people respond to and treat dogs has always meant a lot to me. There is an ugly side to me that shows up when I think a dog is being mistreated. It can even be triggered while at a movie where someone in the film abuses or hurts a dog. From that point on, nothing in the movie matters except my craving to see that person die a horrible death—hopefully, that means shot in both knees and then gut shot and left to slowly die in excruciating pain. In a movie, the beating of a person senseless means little or nothing to me, but the sounds of a dog in distress instantly stimulates the Neanderthal part of my brain and I want revenge.
We also are notorious for breaking the cardinal rule of never feeding your dog from the table or except at their specific feeding time. I have fed my dogs tacos, cheese cake, French fries, bacon, breakfast cereal, ice cream (the all time favorite) potato chips, spaghetti (second favorite), and just about anything edible. All the dogs thrived on this diet (well, lack of diet) and all have been very healthy, lived long lives, and were never fat—well except for Barkley, the English bulldog, and he doesn’t count because he was born fat.
Another rule, nothing in the house is ever off-limits to any dog. If they chose to sleep in the bed with us at night, they do (it’s why we have a California king-sized bed). We have always let the dogs have the right to pick where they perch during the day and all of our homes usually have a dog peering out the living room window where they all have had their own personal outpost. Every dog has had their favorite chair (the “dog chair”) to relax in.
Whenever possible, our dogs ran as free as the wind. We took them to the countryside and let them run for miles through the sagebrush. In town, for many years they were free to roam (that’s the way it used to be in a small town) to their heart’s content. And now, in the big city, they get as much illegal time off the leash as we can get them.
All we ever asked of them—well, we never ask anything from them. In return, every one of them gave us everything they had. I have to admit that in nearly every case, they were better, more civilized citizen than I was—the one exception might have been Bobdog—my doppelgänger in the dog world.
In my lifetime I, or my family, has owned a boxer, basset hound, beagle, English bulldog, cocker spaniel, cattle dog mix, black dog mixes, pug, Boston terrier, terrier mix, and now Sam, who may be related to a Newfoundland according to the shelter where we got him. I don’t see that heritage, however, and personally believe he is a golden retriever mix (mixed with what I don’t have any idea) who got mixed in with the litter of Newfoundland pups by accident. If I wasn’t so cheap, I would pay the $60 for a genetics test to find out what he is. All-in-all, quite an assortment of canines—and every one a treasure (or a near treasure).
Here’s a description of some of them:
Lady—I called her a rat terrier—a dog always in motion. For years, unbeknownst to us, Lady apparently went from house to house in the neighborhood to beg for food—she had her route and later we found out half the people who fed her thought she was a stray. She got plenty of food at home, but I guess she liked a varied menu. Maybe, the smartest dog I ever had, Lady was 10 pounds of dog genius.
Barkley—Barkley was a huge, brindle-colored bulldog that we adopted at a dog show when he was nearly eight years old (we didn’t know at the time that for a bulldog that is like being 80 years old). Barkley would not have been my wife’s first choice, but she went along with me because I had a thing for bulldogs. Yes, they slobbered, farted often, ate like a sumo wrestler, and when he was in a happy mood, loved to come up on someone napping and give them what we called “the slobber treatment” (figure that out yourself). He was also one of the most hard-headed dogs we have ever had.
He simply couldn’t understand how we could ever leave him alone. Every time we left the house he would get super depressed and then super pissed off. This combination resulted in him launching into a search-and-destroy mission every time we left. He literally ate the legs off a rocking chair. He showed us what happens when a bulldog gets in a fight with a 10-pound sack of potatoes and the potatoes lose. And I think, best of all, one day he found one of those huge boxes of croutons from Costco and tossed them through every room in the house—I don’t think he ate a single one—in a frenzy of that-will-show-them.
Barkley was huge even for a bulldog and weighted probably 70 pounds or more (you try putting a bulldog on a scale). By far the most muscular dog ever created—bulldogs were said to have one time been used for pulling bulls (cattle-type) to the ground by grabbing them by the nose (a barbaric sport called bull-baiting)—Barkley was literally a bull-in-the-china-shop within our tiny house.
We finally, regretfully (for me anyhow), decided we needed to find him a nice home with someone else. But you try to find someone who wants an ancient bulldog, with a bulldog personality, who does bulldog things and see how you do. But miracle of miracles, we found a woman who knew and raised bulldogs and since Barkley was apparently a valuable, certified purebred, she was interested in him. We gave Barkley to her and last we heard, he had the run of a big yard, was the only male among many females, and was still going full-bore at 12 years old.
Tatie—One day at work, I got a call from my wife and she said, “I’m at the market and they (I assumed someone outside of the store with a box of puppies) are giving away the cutest cocker spaniel-mix puppies. Should I get one?” I still remember my answer, “No way!” Long story short, my wife and daughter decided that if I only knew how cute this one cocker pup was, I would melt just like they did.
When I got home, there on the couch was a crème bruleee-colored puppy that would fit into a coffee cup. Now, for my entire life, the only way I could keep myself from immediately falling in love with a cute puppy is to make sure I just keep on moving down the road. Since that’s hard to do in my own home, I was immediately charmed (it’s so irritating that my wife knows me better than I know myself) and the dog stayed.
Now Tate was the name I had picked out if we ever had a son. Since we never had a son and my wife objected to calling either of our daughters Tate, the cocker ended up with the name Tatie. I guess getting to name the dog was a kickback or something for me agreeing to keep the dog.
Tatie was very laid back, but very intelligent. Since he was the only dog we had at the time, he would actually go out into the neighborhood and recruit other dogs to come home and play with him. Many times, we went out into the yard and there would be a strange dog playing with Tatie. Later, Tatie would come into the house and the other dog would have mysteriously disappeared.
Later on, when we added another dog, Bogdog, the two developed a strong allegiance to each other based on Tatie being the brains and Bob, the brawn. The brains came in when we took them on walks and a decision of any kind had to be made: which way to go, chase the rabbit or not, what to do about that loud truck. Tatie made every decision as Bob danced around like a complete idiot, a container of built up energy always ready to burst.
The brawn was shown one time as we were walking the dogs around the block (in our little town there were no leash laws and probably still aren’t). Since Tatie was getting a little old, he was lagging behind us. All of a sudden, a big black and white dog came out nowhere and attacked Tatie, pinning him to the ground. Before we even realized what was happening, Bob had turned and was running full-bore. He covered the 100 feet in seconds and just launched himself into this other dog, literally cleaning this huge dog’s clock. No fight from the thug, not when he had just been knocked, rolled, and trampled for a dozen feet down the road. After the collision, Bob just trotted back to Tatie and stood over him until he could get back on his feet.
Tatie and Bob were opposites, but totally linked to one another. The memory I have of these two buddies is them walking down a backcountry road on their daily walk. Bob would take off running and Tatie would never break a sweat—Tattie covered a mile and Bob covered 10. Tatie all ears and fluff and Bob all muscle and bluster.
Bogdog—Bob was a very different kind of dog—he came from a family of cattle dogs (a combination of border collies, Aussies, and healers) and had that herding instinct in his genes. Because of this, Bob loved to roam. He was particularly fond of roaming nearby farmlands at night and his favorite thing was to find some ripe cow manure and roll in it. Many nights we were awaken by this strange aroma in the middle of our sleep after Bob had made his rounds and returned home and jumped into bed with us. And sure enough when we turned the light on there was Bob with a big smile on his face. He was the only dog I have ever seen that when happy, you could just see the grin on his shaggy, black and white, poop-stained face.
What made him happiest was when we would take him on runs outside of town and let him head into the potato fields. He would run in the rows between the plants and then suddenly he would start bouncing up and down to see where he was heading. He loved it most when he ran into sage grouse and could get them to fly off in panic. He would run for mile after mile and wouldn’t stop until he had gone for at least one-half hour. Then he would suddenly quit, find a road, and run back to where we were.
Bob was the most truly independent dog we ever had. Bob did things his way and sometimes, I think he would have been happy to live in a world without people (except at dinner time). Bob was never a friendly dog to other people, but neither was he unfriendly (he just looked that way because his eyes always made him look like he was mad about something) to them—they were just not important to him. But I do think he truly loved us—once in a while this macho-man of a dog would want nothing more than to cuddle with us.
I realized he was a bit of a softy early on when as a pup, I saw him running through a long puddle of muddy, rain water along the gravel road in front of our house. He would run through the water obviously thrilled with the splashing and great commotion. When he reached the end, he would stand there and contemplate the water for a moment, and then do the whole thing over. As I said, sometimes you could actually see him smiling.
I could tell you a lot of other stories about Bob, but I don’t know if the statute of limitations has run out on all his, well let’s call them, adventures.
Maggie—Maggie was always the princess looking at the world from her superior perch. An Australian shepherd, Maggie had an blue-grey, black, and white coat with accents of orange (the most beautiful dog I have ever seen) and spent most of her life with Bob (who one of our friends had nicknamed “Psycho Bob). She was his opposite, refined, well-mannered, and very quiet (I heard her bark maybe a dozen times in her life), but she also had a herd dog heritage and loved to run. And how she could run. She would run the same route as Bob, but when he decided to turn back, she could not stand to see him get back to us first. I guess she just had to win and while she followed Bob for their entire route she turned it on in the last few hundred yards. She never lost.
Maggie was the dog we had when we got Sam and I can’t help but think she gave him some of her sweetness. She lived until she was 16 years old. Not an easy loss for us.
Part II to come.