I’ve had dozens of dogs. Some great—some quite forgettable. One common thread has passed through all of them—loyalty… What makes dogs the greatest creatures on the planet is unconditional love and loyalty. I’ve witnessed horribly abused dogs that stick by their masters through all kinds of abuses. That’s true unconditional love and loyalty. I think if you abuse a loyal and loving creature, there’s some terrible Karma waiting for you somewhere. I firmly believe all dogs go to heaven—even the mean ones. The mean ones are mean because some human taught them how to be that way.
I think the world would be a better place were it run by dogs. Why? Dogs live in a pack mentality—a pecking order from the most dominate to the least. With dogs, there’s law and order. Some dogs, by instinct or by nature, just naturally lead the pack. Others will tend to challenge the leader and either take over or get mowed over. You will find there are also dogs happy to follow the pecking order within the pack. They’re not interested in leading. There’s always the Alpha dog in every pack who leads the pack and calls the shots. From the top down, there’s a proper pecking order and this seems to work in the dog world. It gets a little more complex in the human world. Your relationship with your dog should always be you being the Alpha—the leader.
With dogs, I’ve found there’s no facade – no BS. They either like you or they don’t. If they don’t like you, you better walk away clean and mind your business or expect a soft tissue injury. I think dogs are the best judges of character. They can smell a bad person. If they don’t like you, there’s a solid reason why they don’t and perhaps you need to take a long look in the mirror.
The whole time I was growing up, I wanted a dog. My mother was a cat lover. We always had cats—Manx cats—the ones with no tail. In fact, I got so used to tailless cats that whenever I saw a cat with a tail, it looked odd to me. We had a succession of litters of kittens who grew up to be Manx cats. It all began with a single black and white Manx named Puttins from a pet shop in 1965.
When I reached adulthood and entered the United States Air Force, I made up my mind I was going to have a dog. Of all the dogs I’ve had over a lifetime, I remember Susie and Buster most—mother and son miniature dachshunds—my first ever doggies I got when I got to my permanent duty assignment in Southwest Oklahoma. My neighbor, a retired USAF master sergeant who was also my landlord, presented my first wife and me with a young female doxie. She was a sweet little female. We named her Susie.
A year later, we found a nice couple in Blair just north of where we lived in Altus who had a miniature male dachshund. The two doxies met, fell in love, and a litter of puppies ensued. I believe there were six puppies, which looked like a basket full of tiny sausage links nursing on their mother. Buster was one of those puppies. Susie and Buster became the best of friends.
Susie and Buster were an inseparable pair until Susie succumbed to heart disease and testicular cancer took Buster. Buster was most memorable of the two because when he was defecating in the back yard, his tail would curl up like question mark, which begged all kinds of questions I couldn’t answer. Susie was a sweet lover. She’d sit outside our bedroom door and cry, laying in an indelible guilt trip that lives with me today. I heard her cries and always gave in. She’d come in and nibble on my ears and neck.
Years later, there was Brawny, a combination Shih Tzu and long hair Dachshund, who used to sit in front of my Magnavox stereo console and listen to whatever I was playing. He would listen, cock his head to the changing tones, and gaze into space. Poor Brawny ingested antifreeze in our garage and died from ethylene glycol poisoning. It was a miserable lesson—a horrible mistake I would never make again. I didn’t know dogs loved the taste of antifreeze so, without thinking, I left a bucket of antifreeze in the garage. We left him in the garage with that bucket of antifreeze not understanding the dangers. We came home to a very sick dog with no way to save him. His kidneys had crystallized and he plummeted into renal failure.
There was a succession of Afghan hounds. Most memorable was Shan or “Shanners” who was a beautiful dog. When I wasn’t paying her enough attention, she’d take her long muzzle and—given her crouch level height—would nudge me right where it would get her the most attention. Ignoring her was never an option.
Dog lovers and owners are a unique breed unto themselves. Unless you’re heartless and leave your dog outside unattended day and night, you become your dog and your dog becomes you. They do backyard time and share walks with you around the block. I speak to my dogs like I do people. They enjoy the interaction and actually sit there and listen to my boring dissertations. I hug them and show them abundant love. Although they don’t speak my language, we understand one another. Sometimes, you get lucky and find a four-legged soulmate who becomes an extension of you to where the two of you become right and left-brained. They know what you’re thinking and you know what they’re thinking.
When I think of colorful four-legged soulmates, I think of my buddy Fritz who passed a few years back from old age. He was a Chow mix who was the puppy from hell. He tore up everything in sight. He was a Walmart litter dog picked up from someone giving away Chow pups. I knew when he laid his head on my wife’s chest there was no escaping the experience I was about to be handed. This dog was going home with us like it or don’t. He was a bit of a chore as a pup and we seriously considered finding him a home. Instead, we took him to a professional trainer and had him neutered. He evolved into the greatest friend I’ve ever had. He just had to mature and mellow. Fritz and I were the best of friends and for a long time. He always knew what I was thinking. When I was bummed and in a funk, he’d nudge me with solid eye contact, I’d pet him and my troubles just seemed to melt away.
Fritz had an autoimmune disease that caused muscle degeneration. A couple of times, we thought we were going to lose him. Yet, he endured. He lived to be 15. In those last days, he took a mental vacation and slipped into dementia. He’d blankly stare into a corner and pee right where he was standing. His once puppy face had turned gray. Watching Fritz was like watching “On Golden Pond” as the seasons changed. A once young and vibrant dog had grown old and it had come so fast.
We took Fritz to Doctor Dave at the Antelope Valley Animal Hospital. Dave looked at him and said, “It’s time…” We all knew it was. I held Fritz’s head close to my face while Dave administered the sedative that allowed Fritz to slip into a deep sleep. I heard his breathing slow. I sent my wife, Barbara, and son Jacob out of the room. Doctor Dave gave Fritz the lethal injection and felt my best friend slip away.
I weep as I write this.
There came a time when I believed Fritz needed a friend. We encountered a litter of Husky mix puppies. One of them, a sweet female, placed her chin on a milk crate and glared at me with her big brown eyes. It was destiny much as Fritz was. I tried to look away. There was no looking away. She had her eye on me. We took Rosie home and introduced her to Fritz. Rosie has been a great companion for nine years. Like Fritz, she always knows when I am in a funk. Her wet nose will nudge my elbow and I know she understands. She has been in a funk ever since Fritz died. Sometimes, we sit and weep together at the loss of a great friend. Like Fritz, Rosie is growing old too and is beginning to fade. I feel that all too familiar ache in the middle of my chest.
Dogs are very social creatures who thrive on interaction with other dogs and with their human companions. To live good healthy lives we must show them love and affection and treat them like our human companions. With that, they live longer and give us back way more than we will ever give them.
If I may offer any advice to boomers, it is to tie your heart to a great dog as time continues to slip into the future. As we enter our twilight years, it is vital to connect with a great pet be it a dog or a cat. Cats tend to be independent, yet a true cat buddy will always walk up to you with its motor running and rub its whiskers again your hands and face. We share the planet with hundreds of thousands of different species. Let us show them love, embrace them, care for them, and let them know what they mean to us.