Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Dogs and Their People

My family has always had dogs.  We're just dog peopleand the family unit doesn't seem complete unless there is a dog or two at our heels.  I hardly remember a time when we didn't have one around.  I do remember each of them fondly of course, as one should any family pet.  Sam, Josie, Mike, Lilly, Jasper, Max, Toby, Crackerjack, Molly, and Mickey.  My wife's family is the same way- dogs are a prominent part of the organization and we can't do it without them.

We've had cats as well, but it's been a long time, and not since this was a family of my own creation.  Not that I don't like cats, but I just much prefer the companionship and loyalty of dogs over the the aloof pretentiousness of cats.  I'm joking a little there, but not much, and I like to tease Sarge to some extent with how dogs are better.

Dogs are just more friendly and laid-back than cats.  If a cat could talk and saw you sitting on the toilet, it would say with a little disdain "Hmph, you are sitting on my drinking bowl."  If a dog saw you there, it would say "Cool!  You can drink with your butt!"

The Teenangster LOVES cats, but they don't like her.  Like me, she's horribly allergic to them.  If we even pet a cat for just a moment, our sinuses get their revenge shortly thereafter, with itchy eyes and nasal retribution second only to tear gas.  Pre-medicating with Benadryl when she visits a friend with a cat seems to do the trick though.  The cats we used to have when we lived in the woods of Oregon were all outdoor cats.  Good hunters, every one of 'em, to the point that we barely needed to feed them, the cat food going untouched for days, except maybe for the the occasional thieving Blue Jay.

I don't really remember what became of them- probably lost in the woods to one predator or another.  Not a long life I suppose, but grieving over the cats isn't something we did.  We had plenty of animals on that little farm of ours- dogs and cats, chickens, goats rabbits and ducks.  The goats we gave away.  Chickens became dinner after their usefulness (egg laying) became less frequent.  The dogs were the cause of an inauspicious death to the poor ducks, since the little pond off our creek didn't offer any protection like the chicken coop.  The rabbits were delicious in the stew my dad made, but I was sworn to secrecy by him, lest my sisters discover that those cute little bunnies were no longer.  There were several stews of course, since rabbits do what rabbits do.  I'm sure my folks made up some excuse about selling them or something innocuous.

But back to cats for a moment.

We never did anything that entertaining with our cats, but we didn't do much of anything with them.  They weren't really pets as much as they were part of the farm- ridding our woodshed and little barn of vermin.  So when we didn't have them, there wasn't any mourning or sadness, partially because they were just gone- no little kitty carcasses for us to find and feel bad about.  Other than my little sister, none of us got very attached to the cats, or any of the other animals.  Maybe I'm just a little callous, but the animals had a job on the farm, not a place in the family.

The dogs were different.  We loved them and they loved us.  They were allowed in the house, and could run free during the day; chaining them up wasn't an option.  Josie, Mike and Max all ran away, or so we thought.  It wasn't until the advent of Facebook that I got in touch with an old neighbor I grew up with.  She confessed that her dad had killed each of them, just for them walking on his property.  Out in the woods, there was no trash service.  You just burned it when the pile got big enough, or the 50 gallon drum was full.  Everyone had at least 5 acres, so that was done far enough from the house to not be a nuisance.  Our dogs digging through that pile was too much of a nuisance to him however. 

Special place in hell.   

But anyhoo.  The rest of those loyal companions had had more traditional end of life stories.  Lilly- old and sick.  Toby was given to another family after all us kids moved away and my mom couldn't have pets in her new apartment. Crackerjack slipped a disk in his back due to being overweight, so his relief received no doggy treats whatsoever.  My wife had to put him down when I was on deployment which was hard for both of us.  The kids felt it as well as he was their first pet.  After him we only waited until I returned from deployment to fill the open position- A beagle named Molly, the fat thieving gluttonous Houdini pig dog as I nicknamed her.   The worst behaved dog we've ever had, but the one with the most personality, smarts, and which brought the most joy to us.

“Dogs are great. Bad dogs, if you can really call them that, are perhaps the greatest of them all.” 
― John GroganMarley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog

That's her being quite the diva, sleeping soundly on the couch, which was completely against the rules of course, but that rule apparently was only enforceable until we left the room.  That was one of her more minor infractions, the more egregious ones being food-related.  As a hound, her nose was incredible.  I once spilled the tiniest drop of steak juice on the counter and she was immediately there sniffing just below the spot on the counter.  She could go to any length to get food.  We couldn't put dish towels on the fridge since she learned how to pull it open.  While she got relatively heavy later in life (food thievery, not overfeeding) and we thought that the counters were impossible to reach, she somehow found a way.  We once caught her buddy, the ever-springy Jack Russell Terrier on the counter pushing a loaf off to her waiting jaws.  The items pilfered included countless loaves of bread, a whole bag of Hershey's kisses (foil and all), 2 lbs of peppermint bark (not enough to kill her, but she couldn't keep it down), a box of Cheerios, probably a dozen boxes of Girl Scout cookies over the years, Valentines/Easter/Halloween/Christmas candy, a single lollipop that had fallen between our mattress and headboard (from which resulted in a partially shredded mattress), bags and bags of chips, leftover lunches (and shredded backpacks), momentarily abandoned steaks at the dinner table, scented soaps, boxes of tea bags, 29 out of 30 pills of cherry-flavored seizure medication (stomach pumping and doggy rehab followed), and so much more.  She was fine after eating those meds by the way- just stoned out of her mind.

The Teenangster and her pup in younger days.
Plenty of things on that list that should be VERY harmful to a normal dog, but not her as she apparently had a cast-iron stomach.  Unfortunately, she died of a brain tumor in her sleep at 10 years old, and my wife is still sad about it, although how she coped was cathartic.  That left us with only Mickey, who is now 17 years old.  That's quite old for any dog and he's really showing it, having trouble getting up, getting down, walking, holding it in, and pretty much anything.  My wife brought out his leash last night which normally would have gotten him excited, and did up until a few weeks ago, but he just sheepishly turned his head and laid down in his spot.  The bad days almost outnumber the good days now, so I know he won't be around much longer.  I had hoped he'd last until my daughter went off to college- very fond of the old guy she is- but that's a half a year a way and he's aging before our eyes.

This one will be the hardest.  Molly was so much fun, and her passing was unexpected, but Mickey is going to be the last and I know I'll be quite sad.  You see, he's going to be the first pet I've had to put down myself, almost all the others were the responsibility of my Dad, or they had less-than-normal end of life stories.  Except for Crackerjack; he went down for the long nap on my wife's watch.  And we've decided that all the travel we'd like to do over the next decade or so wouldn't be fair to another four-legged family member.  

For all the grief the dogs gave us, especially Molly, I'd do it again in a heartbeat if my kids were young again.  The joy they brought to us was immeasurable and when I think back on our life stories, the dogs lives are tightly interwoven into each chapter. 

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. 
It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” 
― John GroganMarley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog


  1. It is a little hard to imagine today when all the politicians seem to be all about me, m, me. But, once upon a time there actually were politicians who could actually give a speech that wasn't all about themselves. I give you Senator George Vest:

    George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903 and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog. During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, and when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.

    Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

    The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

    If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

    George Graham Vest - c. 1855

    1. There have been moments where I wanted to exact some sort of revenge on that evil neighbor, maybe some quid-pro-quo. However, that wouldn't be fair to his dogs. But shooting him? That might be justifiable.

  2. Great post, Tuna! Coulda been me writing it, our animal situations are that similar. At that high point animal wise, we were living with 4 dogs and 3 cats inside and 12 outside cats. Don't believe the old wives tale that Cats can't breed when they're feeding kittens. The indoor cats have passed on. The outsiders come and go, and do a great job on varmints. The 4 dogs get augmented on a fairly regular basis when the Son and Daughter-in-Law's dog comes TDY as he is now. Couple that with the 3 dogs, my Sister (who lives on our property) has, and any dogs guest staying in our B&B bring, we've got quite the menagerie. That doesn't include the horses. But they all add a quality to our lives that would be strongly missed if they were not there.

  3. Yes, cats are aloof and can be somewhat critical of we mere humans, they are, dare I say, much like Master Sergeants.

    All that aside, great post. In my family there are cats AND dogs. Not normally under the same roof, but when The Nuke and The SeaLawyer come to visit, they are accompanied by my granddogs. Then we have the excitement of two cats and two dogs under the same roof. They have learned to co-exist, much like the folks on either side of the DMZ at Panmunjom. It's a wary and suspicious co-existence. And yes, the cats play the role of the NORKS. Very well I might add.

    I remember well the first time I had to make that decision regarding a beloved pet who was suffering. It's tough.

    Because I do love dogs, but am a cat guy, I will forgive your catty remarks regarding felines. ;-)

    Again, great post Tuna.

    1. I think every kid should have a dog or cat, for the love, for the responsibility in it, and the inevitable life lesson that comes from their death, probably (and hopefully), their first experience in loss.

  4. I grew up with a dog and two cats in the home. Wouldn't change a thing. All three gave us much fun and pleasure. Managed to keep a dog most of the rest of my life. Spent two years working in a Siberian Husky kennel (40 dogs . . . 2 cats). Now . . . no pets at all. Miss having one but it wouldn't be fair to the animal. The wife and I have too many health issues to properly care for a dog. Wouldn't have a cat anymore . . . the road we live on has become a speedway and I see too many carcasses flattened on it every day. I thought of trying fish . . . but the power goes out all too often and we've had to leave the house and sleep in a hotel a few times the last couple of years. Tropical fish + New York winter is not a good match. Two daughters keep pets (both dogs and cats) and we get to sit them every now and again for a day. That will have to be enough for us.

  5. I wouldn't have either a dog or a cat.
    Except somehow this four legged [insert favorite expletive here] was left in my care.
    Okay, so he liked me best.
    And now he lets me sleep in until 6 most mornings, later when he's out all night.

    1. They do find a way to get under your skin, or your blankets, or your arm, which is just sitting there doing nothing when it could be petting them.

  6. There's another quote from Marley and Me which I didn't use, but it had to do with there being no bad dogs, just bad owners. Molly was a Beagle and that nose comes with her. Being very food-centric is just in her blood so we just needed to be better at keeping things put away, which we were for the most part, but not always. The Houdini bit came from her being so good at getting into things that were supposedly impenetrable or thought to be too high.

    1. Our next door neighbor had a dog who was an escape artist.

      No matter how high the fence was, she'd find a way through it, under it, or over it.

      She learned where the gaps were in the initial attempt at an electronic fence, then when the gaps were repaired, she discovered that the shock was temporary. She was a very smart dog. Mostly Portuguese hunting dog. Very even tempered she was.

      She eventually stayed home because SHE wanted to.

  7. Another very enjoyable post! I completely support the "no bad dogs, only bad owners" notion.


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