I am a dog person — no doubt about it. Oh, I’ve had cats before… two to be exact. A beautiful black and white cat — Miss Kitty — that walked through my front door one day when I was in high school and never left. The other cat was her daughter. Miss Kitty ran away during a little get-together I was having and returned three days later, pregnant. So, for a while I had two cats. But, after I had been away at college for a couple of years, my mom was tired of sneezing — she was highly allergic to cats. Miss Kitty and her kitty spawn went to live on a farm — never to be heard from again. But, this story is about the dogs.
Growing up, our family dog was a beautiful Collie named Honey. Honey was extremely smart, to us anyway. She would come when we called her. She would sit when we told her. She would play with us when we wanted — and she would leave us alone when we wanted. My parents got her when I was just under a year old. We grew up together. Honey was an outside dog. Some of my favorite memories about Honey are from when it was cold outside — when it got too cold, my mom would let her come inside. We would spread a towel in front of the fireplace and Honey would go straight to that towel. Never even attempting to move off of it until we told her. On many of those cold nights, we would sneak the towel to our rooms and place it on the floor next to our beds so Honey would sleep there, with us.
Honey got hit by a car — and survived. She got hit by a motorcycle — and survived. She stopped chasing cars and motorcycles. But, it was too late. Her reckless ways led to arthritis and eventually, I awoke one morning to discover that her back legs were paralyzed. The vet said there was nothing to be done — she was fifteen and that was very old for a dog. I said my good-byes and Dad took her to her final journey to the vet.
Now, when you have a dog as good as Honey, it really puts all other dogs at a disadvantage. I vowed then to never have a dog unless it could be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the new dog was as great as Honey.
My husband and I had rented a cabin on the lake to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary — I was twenty-four. Honey had passed away nine years earlier and still no dog had entered my life (pause for jokes about my husband being a dog and entering my life). We were eating lunch at the marina before heading out to fish and enjoy the boat on such a glorious summer day. Staring through the door into the restaurant was the cutest dog we had ever seen — she looked just like a Golden Retriever. But, she was tiny, only seventeen pounds. We commented to each other about how lucky someone was to have that dog, waiting for them to finish their meal. But, patron after patron left the marina, and the little dog stayed… staring through the door. When we were leaving, we asked the waitress if that dog belonged to anyone. She laughed and told us that it had been hanging out around the lake for a couple of weeks.
As soon as we heard that, we knew — this would be our dog. But still, we were on vacation and we had plans to enjoy the week at the lake. We left the marina, got in the car, drove around the lake back to our cabin — I watched in the side view mirror as the little dog trotted along behind us… the whole way. We got back to the cabin and ran inside, quickly closing the door. When we finally opened the door to exit, there was the dog — sitting there, staring at the door. From that moment on, she was ours. We spent the rest of our vacation taking her to the vet, bathing her (we counted 37 ticks on her little body), and running to the store to buy a collar and dog food. That was our lake vacation, taking care of our new little puppy.
We named her Lucy after Lucille Ball (her coat was strawberry blond). This was the dog who could help me get over the loss of Honey. The vet estimated her age at about two years when we found her. She was brilliant. Everyone loved Lucy. Every night we tucked her into bed with us. Everyday when we returned from work, there she was…waiting for us. She could spell — we had to spell words that would get her excited — g-o, o-u-t, w-a-l-k. But, she still knew what we were talking about. Every time we brought one of our children home after their birth, she was waiting for us at the door . She knew with each new human addition, that her role as a dog became more prevalent.
When Lucy was around eight years old, we felt bad about continuing to have real children, so we decided to get her a dog of her own. My son was just a few months old when we got Scout — who herself was only a few weeks old. A lady at work had a Husky who inadvertently had relations with the neighbors Yellow Lab — we took one of the dogs off her hands. Scout was adorable as a puppy — and just what Lucy needed to fill the void of our growing absence from her life. Scout immediately bonded with us and our kids. And, although Scout weighed about eighty pounds more than Lucy, Lucy was always in charge. Scout would wait for the “OK” from Lucy before she ate or drank. If she ran off, Lucy would bark a couple of times and back Scout would bound. Lucy had a baby of her own.
When Lucy died, we were all deeply affected. Her death came just months after my father had passed away. We cried for days… still cry now at the memories we didn’t get to experience. We buried her in our back yard. The kids all placed an item in her grave to ease her journey. I said a prayer. And Scout stood there, bewildered — the loss could be seen in her eyes, straight to her soul. For weeks, we couldn’t get Scout to eat. She paced the house at night, scared to settle down. She wouldn’t walk outside unless we walked beside her. Lucy had taken care of her all those years. Lucy was the one who woke us up in the middle of the night when Scout suffered a stroke. Lucy was the one who came and got us when Scout hurt her leg and couldn’t walk. The loss for Scout was beyond measure.
So, once again, we decided that Scout needed a dog of her own. To hopefully get her out of her depression. Just a few months after Lucy had passed, we went to the shelter — just to look. If you’ve ever been to a shelter with your children, you know that just looking is not an option. There he was, the most adorable ball of fur we had ever seen. He was shaking with fear, so timid. We spent about thirty minutes with him before I filled out the paper work to make him our own. The workers told me he was a cross between a Blue-Heeler and an Australian Shepard and would be about forty-five pounds — we had struck gold. Boo would be his name (yes, there’s a To Kill A Mockingbird theme in our house). Boo passed the forty-five pound mark when he was about four months old. Turns out the shelter worker was a little off on his breed combination theory — the vet says Great Pyrenees is more likely in his blood. Our adorable ball of fur now weighs about 120 pounds.
But, he did his job. He brought Scout out of her depression. He gave her a reason to be the adult. Scout lets Boo know when he is allowed to eat and when he should come in. Boo exercises his free will a little more than Scout ever did. And, he definitely is having trouble learning the leave us alone when we want trick. We’re still hoping the smart gene kicks in on him, soon — he’s a little over a year old now — we’re tired of waiting.
Scout is getting older, she is twelve now and not in very good condition. The stroke left her with some lingering problems. The torn ACL in her knee requires that she use the wheelchair ramp in the back of our house to get in and out. But she smiles… still, and she loves Boo — so we try to follow her prompts and love him too. We will miss Scout when she’s gone… we try to prepare ourselves for that time — we weren’t prepared for Lucy’s death.
But for now, we love our dogs. They keep us safe. They keep us entertained. They help us understand unconditional love — lessons they don’t even realize they’re teaching us. I am a dog person — no doubt about it.