Going to the dogs
I spent most of my childhood begging my parents to let me get a dog. For years I dreamed of having a furry friend that would follow me everywhere, be my constant confidante, my defender and guardian. But the fact is, there are two types of people in the world: dog people, and everyone else. Dog people not only love dogs, they need to have a dog in their lives.
My parents are not necessarily what I would call dog people.
In fact, it's possible that my mother could be described as anti-dog - particularly when it comes to the dog peeing on her oriental rug.
But rather than simply saying "no" (which, in the end, we all know would have been futile), they took a different tack: distract and divert. My parents allowed me have every other pet under the sun, if only I would forget the idea of a dog for one more year, or month, or week. Thus ensued a parade of small and strange creatures through our house.
There were the dwarf hamsters that bit everyone who tried to touch them and escaped their cages at least once a month (exciting, but not the greatest pets); the gerbil "brothers" that ended up spawning several litters of tiny gerbil pups (never trust a pet shop); frogs that needed to be fed live crickets once a week (needless to say, fugitive crickets chirped around the house for months); Butterscotch the bunny (turned out my brother and I were allergic to her); and a brief stint with mice that were so smelly my mom insisted we return them to the pet store. And that's literally not even the half of it.
But when I turned twelve my parents finally decided I was old enough and responsible enough for a dog. Either that or they caved after an incident with my new pet, Rambo. After all, they probably thought, could a dog possibly be worse than a diarrhea-afflicted iguana?
So my dreams came true in the form of Spike, a four-year-old rescued Bichon Frise. He looked a little like a pink eraser when we got him (his hair had been shaved down due to mats), but he was a sweet, mellow little guy who endeared himself even to my mother almost immediately. Well, within a few years anyway.
Sadly he passed away last year, at the ripe old age of fifteen. I mourned him for quite some time, but I finally think I'm ready for a new dog. Of course, that puts me in a bit of a predicament now that I've moved back in with my parents. They loved Spike, but I have a feeling they are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of another dog.
Maybe I'll ask them tonight. I wonder if they'll offer to get me a turtle instead.
My first dog was Buttons, a terrier. Here's the only thing you need to know about Buttons: he died on Christmas Eve, when I was five. After suffering a betrayal like that, how can I be expected to love dogs? I've known for nigh on 60 years that you just can't trust them.
To be honest, the sudden demise of Buttons wasn't as traumatic as you might think. Back in the day, at least in the coal towns of Eastern Pennsylvania, folks just weren't as sentimental about their dogs as most people are today. A case on point:
My Old Man and I were fishing out at Bear Creek in the Poconos. I was maybe 14 or so. Along the trail comes Johnny Snyder, a farmer who lived up by St. Joe's Cemetery in Jim Thorpe. He was out running a young hound. Dad and he knew one another - Pop was a bricklayer and employed Johnny's son Jimmy as his helper at the time - and so they chatted for a while.
Two hours later, we ran into Johnny again, as we were making our way back to Pop's pick-up truck.
"Where's the dog?" asked Dad.
"Back there," Johnny pointed with his thumb. "He ran a deer down the trail at me. When he came down after it, I picked up a log and hit him between the eyes. If he comes home on his own fine. If not, I don't need no dog that's gonna chase deer."
I treated Buttons a little better than that. But he lived outside with my Pappy's hounds and ate what they ate. No frills for my pet.
Then there was my brother Leo's Golden Retriever, Pellie, that ate a couch… that's a story for another day. Right now, I have to run out and buy that turtle.