When I was a child, a dog was always a member of the household. Our pets never went to the veterinarian, and they roamed our rural neighborhood freely, coming home for meals and attention. As a young adult, I didn’t know to do things differently.
The first dog that my husband and I adopted was Fritz, a small terrier who I dearly loved. He died when he was less than four years old, from an ailment that a simple vaccination would have prevented. We then had a string of short-term dogs, that were sent away or given away when they refused to be house-broken, or brought home fleas, chewed the furniture or snapped at the baby.
I shouldn’t have been allowed to have dogs at all, at that age. I’m ashamed of that young person that I was, and feel guilty for my treatment of the dogs. Did they even realize why they weren’t allowed to stay? Certainly, I spent more time looking for problems than I ever devoted to training. My heart breaks at the thought of them.
Now, older and more sensible, dogs have come back into my life. Over the last twenty years, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to make up for my errant ways. And I’ve been rewarded a thousand-fold for my efforts. My latest dogs:
- Maggie. Margaret Mae was her full name. She was a mix that included Malamute and Lab. Maggie belonged to “Drywall Mike” until a series of accidents and resultant health issues caused him to have to leave Beaver Island. He couldn’t take the dog, so left her with a young woman he’d worked with. Maggie had played, often, with that woman’s young West Highland Terrier, so Mike thought it would be a good fit. To the young woman, he said, “Just take care of Maggie for me; I’ll be back in two weeks to pick her up.” To Maggie, he said, “I hate to leave you, girl, but you’re gonna have the good life. You’ll be rich!” Eventually, the young woman realized Mike was not coming back. That’s when she contacted me, to see if I’d consider taking his dog. Maggie and I were already friends. When “Drywall Mike” lived in a little cabin off the Fox Lake Road, I’d often stop to get Maggie, to walk with me and my Aunt Katie’s dog, Baxter. My house – and my life – were not set up to accommodate a dog, especially an old and ailing dog, but she fell against me with a big grin and a wildly wagging tail when I stopped to see her, as if she knew I was there to save her. So, she became a part of my family. She never seemed to mind that we weren’t rich.
- Clover. Clover was a member of my daughter Kate’s household, wonderful with her children and loved by the whole family. However, because Clover was a mix that included American Pit Terrier, more commonly known as Pit Bull, there were issues. Many communities have banned the breed; often they are not allowed in rental homes. Kate and her family were moving, and Clover was not able to move with them. That’s when she came to live at my house. She and Maggie became good friends.
- Rosa Parks was one of a litter of five puppies born in Kate’s home. She was adopted by my other daughter, Jen. When it turned out dogs were not allowed under her lease, Rosa Parks came home with me. By that time, Maggie had passed away; Clover welcomed the new little dog. She taught Rosa the finer points of chasing chipmunks; Rosa Parks reminded Clover how to play.
- Darla. After Clover died, I worried that Rosa Parks was lonesome. She was nervous and less adventurous on walks, without Clover by her side. When she had to go to the kennel, she was frightened and defensive. I thought a companion would make her life richer, and be good company for her while I was at work. I found Darla at a no-kill shelter on the east side of the state. She had spent much of her first six years there, having been adopted and returned a half-dozen times. The workers assured me it was only her breed that was the problem (like Clover, she was a Pit Bull, Boxer mix, though about 25 pounds heavier), and that she was good with cats, dogs and children. I think, given the choice, both Darla and Rosa Parks would have preferred to be my only dog, but they managed to work it out.
- Blackie Chan. Now, nearly fifteen years after Kate had to give up Clover, she is moving again. That has delivered another little dog into my life. Blackie Chan is a litter mate of Rosa Parks, and I kind of imagined them remembering each other: “My long lost brother!” “My precious little sister!” That didn’t happen, but they do seem to appreciate the similarity in size. Darla, the gentle giant who was the least of my worries, turned out to be the problem. She did NOT like the idea of another animal in this house, and she made her position very clear. Now, though, a little over a week in, things have settled down, and Blackie Chan is a welcome addition to our family!