OPINION: More than just a dog
If you peeked at the calendar on our kitchen wall, you'd see a small note on this date: Dodger '91. Similar notations are scattered throughout the months of the year. They generally mark the birth day and year of various members of our family. I'...
If you peeked at the calendar on our kitchen wall, you'd see a small note on this date: Dodger '91.
Similar notations are scattered throughout the months of the year. They generally mark the birth day and year of various members of our family. I'm there, Nancy is there, the kids, the grandkids, parents, nieces and nephews, siblings, the whole lot are there. When we finish a year, the notes are transferred to the next year's calendar.
"Dodger '91'' is the notation for the birthday of a favorite family dog, the pet we owned longest of them all. Dodger was a goofy, big-hearted, generally good-natured cocker spaniel with thick, black fur and a way of behaving that made it clear he believed he was part of the family, maybe even the one in charge.
Some people may think it odd to mark a dog's birthday on the calendar. For us it's appropriate to include Dodger with the other family members. Our younger son, Andy, talked us (mostly his mom who then persuaded me) into getting a pet when he was in the seventh grade. Andy and Nancy scouted the newspapers for just the right dog. They found a place in Mitchell with cockers for sale. We'd tried a couple of other dogs early in our family years. Either we weren't trainable then or the dogs we chose weren't intelligent enough to make us behave like respectable owners.
We tried a few cats over the years, too. One ran off. Another ran into the street at the wrong time. The biggest and best of them, Otis, might have achieved family-member status, but he couldn't stand to be indoors at night and he never did figure out that the fresh tuna in that steel box in the yard down the street was bait in a trap. After paying to bail Otis out of pet jail a couple of times, we found a rancher who was looking for good-sized cats to control the mice and rats in his outbuildings.
I was pretty matter-of-fact about each of those animals. I'd grown up on a farm, after all. We always had pets - several dogs over the years, two or three cats all the time, a rabbit or two and a parakeet that our mom favored. Each of those animals, one way or another, eventually left the farm. Our dogs and cats sometimes disappeared for a day or several at a time, and then they'd return. They always seemed happy to see us again, but none of them ever seemed apologetic for running off. They don't write, they don't call, you know.
Even Trixie, a black-and-white collie of some sort, died on us. She had a gentle nature and a quick mind, suffered without complaint the attention of little children and came and went as she pleased. She was my favorite from the farm years. A black Labrador named Nipper a close second. When each of them left us, I felt bad, but only for a bit. We grew up knowing animals come and go. There'd be others, or there wouldn't be. That seems callous, but it was realism on our farm.
Well, along came Dodger. He belonged to Andy, but I helped with the early training, sometimes standing in the rain in the middle of the night holding an umbrella over a tiny ball of fur while it did its business. My dad would have laughed his head off, but a grown man and a young pup really can bond in an April shower on a dark night.
Dodger and Andy were inseparable. When granddaughter Lara came along, she and the dog became inseparable, too - companions, playmates, fiercely protective of each other.
Dodger grew old. White hair streaked his black fur. Arthritis attacked his hips. He suffered a stroke. He quit eating. It was time to let him go. Family members came to say goodbye. Lara and Dodger had a final outing. After that, Nancy and I sat with the veterinarian on our kitchen floor, cradling and petting the old dog as he left us.
He was just a dog, but he earned his spot on the family calendar.