Harvey Albert got a hair cut this weekend. He looks so handsome. This handsome fellow caused me to reflect on the dogs in my life, starting with the very first dogs.
I don’t have a photograph of my mother’s dog, Squeaky. I remember the dog, in that corner of my memory that is more sensory than pictures: he was a nippy little dog and I didn’t like him very much. I vaguely remember being awakened by him nipping on my fingers and toes. He didn’t try to hurt us and our parents thought he was amusing, but i didn’t like him. I think he was a Chihuahua-terrier mix of some sort.
Squeaky died some time after Butchy adopted us.
Butch looked a little like the dog in the old photo above, except 1) Butch was not all Cocker Spaniel and 2) he was a lot like Farley Mowat’s “Dog Who Wouldn’t Be” than an actual dog. Butchy wandered into our lives when we lived in Elko, Nevada, before I was even in Kindergarten. He brought a lot of bad habits into our lives, but he also brought a larger-than-life personality.
He could not be restrained. We had an 8′ tall chain-link around our back yard. Butch climbed it.
Butchy, along with a handful of other dogs, was “grandfathered” in when they finally passed a leash law in Winnemucca. I could name them all: old dogs that had never been restrained, had never threatened anyone outside of their own yard, and were known to always be at the heels of children. All of them were the dogs that made growing up a treasure: dogs that were bigger than life.
Butch, for instance, chased rocks. You could throw a rock into the muddy Humboldt River and he would dive until he found the same rock to return to you. Sometimes, he would be underwater so long, you thought surely he would drown. But then he would be dog-paddling with his short Spaniel legs back to short and he’d drag his impossibly long Labrador body out of the water. Between his teeth would be a rock so similar to the one tossed that we were certain he’d sniffed out the original.
Butchy was good with cats, kids, horses, and grocery store owners. He was not so good with garbage collectors, uninvited salesmen, and other Alpha dogs. My mother once used him to chase off the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Salesman, who, as he kicked and scrambled out of our driveway, yelled back that he would “sue” my mother for turning the dog loose on him. Butch didn’t follow him beyond our driveway, and didn’t do too much damage to him: Butchy was not much more than an ankle biter.
He chased cars. I was ten years old when he died of a “high iron diet” and our father took him off to bury him privately. Each one of us kids mourned him privately and publicly, and we all swore there would never be a dog as wonderful as Butchy.
My best friend’s family had a Norwegian Elk Hound they called “Nipper” because he nipped. I knew Nippy for years, and never saw him nip anyone, so I always figured it was a puppy misnomer. Nipper was fun because you could point at a hole in the desert sand and say, “Get him!” Nipper would dig to China as long as you kept telling him there was something to dig for. The story behind Nipper was that someone turned loose a bunch of puppies at the city park and told the kids standing around that “if you catch one, you can have it.” Of course, Nipper’s parents could not refuse the triumphant boy who lugged his (nipping) prize home.
After Butchy died, my dad was content to just have the cat. My mom, however, could not live without a dog and mourned the loss. Someone dumped a purebred Miniature Schnauzer in the almost-ghost town of Paradise Valley. The folks living there – ranchers, for the most part – told my dad that they were considering shooting the dog as it was a pestilence, running loose and chasing stock.
He brought the dog home. Mr. Tack stayed with us for a couple of weeks, but it didn’t seem like he was happy or my mom was any happier. The dog moped. Reluctantly, my mother allowed my dad to return the dog to the wilds of Paradise Valley. She regretted the decision almost instantly, and soon the registered (but now paperless), abandoned, and moody Mr. Tack came to live with us.
We knew he was our dog when he first howled in the back yard and then began barking at people passing on the streets.
Tacky, as he came to be called, was obnoxious. I took him to 4-H to learn obedience training and to learn how to train a dog. Tacky defied every rule and even laid down in the show ring and went to sleep! Worse, when my mother was mad at one of us, she no longer yelled, “Terryjackiedenny!”, she now yelled, “Terrytacky-jackiedenny!” My name was continually mixed with Mr. Tack’s name.
Mr. Tack’s only redeeming feature was his connection to my mom. He talked to her; she replied. He bit every family member, but he never nipped her. He attacked the garbage man. He ran away. He nipped the dog groomer. But he was devoted to my mom. She loved that dog.
Sometime in my childhood, I encountered dogs that were not good with children. there was Princess, the German Shorthair Pointer. She was kenneled most of the time with her dam, Queenie. They were used strictly for bird hunting. Princess would occasionally escape and when she did, she would attack children and other pedestrians. She was not a well-socialized dog.
There was Kelly, the Black Lab. Kelly took it in his mind to bark and attempt to chase children. The thing with Kelly was this: if you bent over as if to fetch a rock to throw at him, Kelly was back on his own front porch in no time. His bark was worse than his bite.
Then there was the Gordon Setter that belonged to the woman who had the <shudder> pet <shudder> monkey. Her name was Jackie. The monkey was evil, vicious, and, well, evil. I’m not very fond of monkeys, either (especially Spider Monkeys). This Gordon Setter nearly bit me in the face. I’m not going to lay the burden of guilt on the dog: we were telling ghost stories and he was the dog in the room (Jackie was the aunt of a friend). The Setter smelled fear. It growled a warning. I stood up, real fear settling in. Dogs will attack the scent of fear: the dog leaped at me and I jerked back. I felt his teeth slide across my face harmlessly.
The damage was done: if the dog was not a family member, I was afraid of it.
In my early twenties, I attempted to adopt a dog of my own.
I found this sweet Dalmatian at the city pound. Mandy. She was a nervous, purebred wreck of a dog. But she came to love me unconditionally. Unfortunately for her, I met a man, fell in love, and when he discovered she was gun shy, it was only a matter of time before she had to be re-homed. I have always regretted losing Mandy.
Then came this dog. Dogs like Butchy don’t happen twice in a lifetime, do they? I found her in a newspaper ad: part English Pointer, Brittany Spaniel, and English Setter. She was three months old when I stole her home to surprise my husband for his birthday.
We named her Rosie. People mistook her for a Beagle. She had a heart as big as the ocean, and she was a darn fine bird dog.
Rosie was good with children and cats. She was great with male dogs, for the most part. She was never good with other female dogs.
We moved into a trailer park in Rose’s twilight years. Everyone warned us to watch our dog around the Chow-Chow at the top of the hill, Bear. Bear didn’t like other dogs, we were told. We laughed: Bear hadn’t met Rosie.
Bear did come down to meet Rosie, his hackles high and a growl in his throat. Rose saw him coming. She balled all of her energy up and ran at him, hitting him square in the shoulder and rolling him. Bear ran all the way back up the hill, completely cowed. Rose was the new Big Dog in the neighborhood.
If those jammies look like the same jammies in the other pic, they probably were. My son wore the same jammies his sister outgrew. He can be happy this isn’t a photo of him in the pink ones.
Rose, like Butchy, died of a high iron diet. We buried her under a little Douglas fir.
Then came the first dog we paid for. Rejoys Hannah’s Promise. That was her registered name. We called her “Sadie”. She wasn’t much of a bird dog, despite being a pure bred English Pointer. But she was a great family dog.
She was awkward and ungainly, always too skinny, and ever so loyal. Cancer took her, and we sat in the vet’s office, crying as she drew her last breath.
Nearly a year later, Murphy came into our lives. Entirely my husband’s dog, a bull-headed, and way-too-smart Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. He is our second papered dog, purchased – as Sadie was – from a reputable breeder. The difference between Sadie and Murphy (aside from brains) is that Sadie came from show stock. Murphy came from hunting stock.
If I was of a mind to give him credit, he’s a better bird dog than Rosie. He’s a little too stubborn, too strong-willed, and too big for me to completely credit him. He greets me at the end of the day as if I was the only person in his world. He will be seven this May. It is hard to believe we have had this dog for almost seven years!
And then, there is Harvey.
Sometimes, I think Harvey is Mandy reincarnated. I always wanted a Dalmatian; she was my Dalmatian. I love English Setters; he is my Setter. The similarities between the two dogs are amazing (except Harvey is not gun-shy). Harvey will be five this year. That is hard to believe.
I think, more than anything, I am so blessed that Harvey and Murphy think they are litter mates. There have been some cross words between them, but not very many. The one and only fight they have had was over gravy (Harvey won – he actually hurt Murphy). Murphy is the Alpha dog, regardless of the one fight he lost with Harvey.
They are such good dogs. And I have come a long, long way in recovering from my fear of dogs.
(But I still want a cat. Of course, I still want a horse, too.)