Cats? Not so much.
Cat lovers, we know you love the tabbies and we know they are fine animals in their own right. We certainly wish them no harm, but they are finicky animals that are never quite fully domesticated. They view themselves as the center of the world, often looking disdainfully on their owners as inferior beings not worthy of their inscrutable attentions. True, they love to snuggle up on a blustery day, but only on their own terms. A soft purr is a nice thing, but they offer it only at their leisure, allowing you to momentarily intrude on their world only so you can cater to their whims.
We’ve had four dogs over the years. Each one with a fine and distinct personality. Each one counted amongst our truest and most special friends. Without exception, they loved us unconditionally, made few demands, and offered a special relationship in return.
King Domino I
Our first dog, King Domino I, was a purebred Boston Terrier. He arrived by train on our sixth birthday. When we went to the station to pick him up, we found the freight handlers had freed him from his crate and were playing with him on the plaform. A tiny puppy, hardly bigger than a teacup, scampered around the rough, grown men making them shriek with the laughter of children. He did it simply by being himself and following his centuries-old instincts. Play, and humans become putty in your paws.
Domino was a very smart dog. He accompanied his pack on many cross-country vacations, hiding patiently and soundlessly in our Mother’s purse when checking into motels. Once in the room he would leap out and hide under the bed to avoid detection. He stayed their, short nose poking from under the bedspread, until we gave the OK for him to come out. We never taught him this trick. He wisely found it on his own.
Domino was our constant companion until we went off to college. He endured the same sort of hide-brusing, accidental punishment as any dog belonging to a small boy. But he suffered it gladly, rebounding with only a small yipe and never with a snap or a snarl. His tiny stump of a tail wagged constantly, showing his love for us and for life itself.
He stuck by us and we stuck by him as surely if we had been brothers. Our only separation was at the end while we were away at college. At the age of 12, he finally petered out and signaled my parents that it was time to move on. They stayed with him until he passed, petting his head and comforting him in his last minutes. They didn’t tell us about it until we returned home for the first time. When they broke the news, we cried – something we’ve never done again to this day.
Roscoe, aka The Roscoe Man
Domino was followed by a Roscoe, a hound or indeterminate origin, with more confidence than we’ve ever seen in another mammal. He kept his leash tight and frequently showed the world who he knew to be boss. Unlike the mild-mannered Domino, Roscoe always challenged us as the acknowledged leader of the pack. We always won, but only after a display of his pack-leading prowess and firm hand from us. He would have made a fine wolf had he been born in the wild.
Roscoe was an escapee worthy of an Alcatraz-hardened criminal. As a pup, he routinely left the child’s playpen where we kept him at night. He did this by scaling the mesh with his tiny paws, removing the stiching that held the mesh to the playpen, wiggling out the small hole, and flinging himself several feet to the floor. We eventually admitted defeat and gave him the run of the basement den.
Gandalf’s Heartbreak, aka Chrissie
Roscoe was joined by a Golden Retriever Mrs. Poobah used for obedience training competitions. Chrisse – Gandalf’s Heartbreak on her AKC papers – was everything Roscoe was not. Submissive to a fault, she sometimes yelped when spoken to harshly. She faithfully followed every command, did everything ever asked of her, and more.
On a walk along a lakeshore on a sub-zero Midwestern Christmas day, she showed her smarts by stupidly leaping through the ice and into the freezing waters. Emerging covered with ice, she just stood there with a dumb grin, wagging her ice-encrusted tail, ready to repeat the swim. She wasn’t smart, but that didn’t matter in an obedience dog. She was a contest champion several times over.
Roscoe went blind suddenly one afternoon after an afternoon nap in the yard. He adjusted a little crankily to his pedicament, but got around well enough. However, when we left Ohio for California we knew he would never survive the trauma of the move. We put the old boy down before we left, telling the Poobette he was going to the vet’s farm. Just like in the movies, she didn’t find out the truth until she was much older and we could tell her the story without breaking down ourselves.
Chrissie stayed on with us to California and thrived until her later years when she developed spleen cancer. The doctors gave her six months, but she didn’t even acknowledge the illness for another three years. She passed while we were on a vacation. The dogsitter stayed on the floor petting her all night before taking her on the final trip to the vet the next morning. Although she died among friends, her pack wasn’t there and we ache for that misstep to this day.
Fiona, aka The Fionarater
And now, we have Fiona. A Sharbrador (Shar Pei-Labrador), we got her nine years ago from the Oakland SPCA when the Poobette refused to leave without her. Full of life, a constant cager of love pats and dog bones, she enjoys her life with us like no other dog we’ve ever had.
Although she can present an imposing image – she’s well-muscled, has a deep bark, and am unnaturally huge maw filled with large teeth and a black and purple tongue – she is so friendly that groomers give her the run of the shop while keeping the other clientele in crates. Every kennel, every groomer, every visitor has raved about her temperament and none of them has ever exaggerated.
Though the old girl is beginning to slow down, we expect she’ll still be around for quite a few years yet. When the time comes we’ll try to make her comfortable and return the love she’s shown us in spades. And when she’s gone, we’ll talk about not getting another dog. Too much hassle. They make a mess. Our life would be so much easier without one.
But, we’ll eventually cave in. Life without a dog is a life emptier than we could imagine. And so we’ll go and find a new one. Not a replacement. Not one we will love any more or less. We’ll find a dog that fits our family and gives us all the love we can handle.