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It’s a Dog’s Life

My earliest memory is of our family dog, Lawdy.  She was a beautiful Sheltie who met an untimely demise following an accident.  That’s the problem with having a truly beloved pet.  We are never ready to say goodbye.  After Lawdy, the only other dog who has made a significant impact on my childhood memories was a dog we were given when he was about eighteen months old.  His name was Smokey and he was smart as a whip.  He was a Boxer/Shepherd mix and was as loyal as he was obedient.  None of us children, or our parents, ever doubted this dog would give his life for any of us.  My brothers taught him to chase someone, catch them, then hold them to the ground until the release signal was given - all in an afternoon.  The day ended with the boys showing Smokey’s prowess at obediently following commands based on head, hand and finger signals.  It was their triumph but one they never would have realized had it not been for the loyalty and trust Smokey put in all of us.  Life wasn’t easy.  He disappeared from our yard one day.  Over the next three days we all spent time calling for him to come home, scanning up and down the street looking for him and plenty of tears were shed as I considered what life without him would be like.  Word came that someone thought they’d seen him in Meath Park - a far cry from home in Candle Lake, especially for a dog.  A trip was taken to look for him anyway.  I wasn’t supposed to know.  But the silent, grim faces and non-verbal messages passed between the older ones in the family told the story no one wanted to say.  We heard rumours of a dog matching his description in a ditch along side the highway.  Not our Smokey, I reasoned with my eight year old brain.  He was too smart to be so close to cars on the highway.  And then on the fifth day he’d been away, I saw a muddy brown body determinedly making its way up the road toward our home.  He was so dirty I didn’t recognize him but there was something in his gait, I just knew it had to be him.  “Smokey?” It seemed too good to be true.  “He’s here! He’s here!”  Somehow, even though I HAD been first in line, my brothers greeted him first.  He was tired, hungry, a mess but so happy to be home!  As he whined and cried with joy, all of us were painfully hit on our legs with his thick, solid wagging tail but we didn’t even protest.  His body was writhing in the pure joy of being back with his people, and as he moved, caked mud fell from his coat.  An hour later he was bathed, brushed, had food in his belly and was asleep with the six of us checking on him to make sure he was really home.  Smokey wasn’t perfect.  Far from it.  He liked to intimidate people so he’d put his nose in the crotch of any strangers who came to visit.  Or, if someone he didn’t know made a sudden move that he felt was confrontational, particularly against a female, Smokey would hit their hand with his nose.  He never opened his jaw.  He never crossed that line.  But for as courageous and brave as he was, he disliked when we went away.  He’d gather a personal item of clothing from each of us and make his bed with it.  He refused to come out for the dog sitter and he wouldn’t eat, the grief of our absence was so profound for him.  Whenever we had a thunderstorm, he’d huddle under the blankets seeking comfort from one of us children.  It’s the only time I ever saw him quake with fear.  Thunder bothered him but when he stood face to face with a big black bear, eventually putting the bear up a tree for fifteen minutes, he didn’t move an inch and he defiantly stood his ground.  Smokey was the best. Dog. EVER.

Every dog we’ve had since, I feel sorry for. They are compared to Smokey and fall short.  It’s not that they aren’t smart, beautiful and sociable animals but Smokey really spoiled me, as a dog owner.  And I think one of the reasons I feel this way is because Smokey was a rescue dog.  He’d served his purpose, he was retired and now he could go to his forever home.  Have you ever seen a child who has never learned the responsibility of earning luxuries in life?  They’re the person who sees a toy on a shelf in a store and, upon learning they won’t be receiving that “want” today, they throw themselves to the floor in a fit of rage.  When someone earns something, they take care of it, in my opinion.  They are less likely to be irresponsible with it because part of the item’s value was a personal investment of hard work to receive it.  For me, I have noticed the rescue dogs who were our family pet were loyal and faithful companions because they’d learned having a forever home is a gift.  Dogs who haven’t had that life experience simply want to nip at the hand that feeds them and throw a fit when they can’t have their own way.  

My sister brought a chihuahua home about five years ago.  She’s no Smokey!  The dog, not my sister.  At some point, for reasons beyond my scope of understanding, she decided she hated my brother.  Again, the dog, not my sister.  Whenever my brother comes to visit, her hackles rise and she barks ferociously, throwing herself at his ankles trying to bite him as she jumps away from him at the same time.  We’ve tried everything to get her to calm down.  He brushes her, feeds her, has her sit with him … all to no avail.  She’s generally an obedient dog.  Just not when my brother comes along.  Smokey would never act so disgracefully.  A neighbour once called the police saying Smokey was aggressive and something needed to be done as we had no control over the animal.  The RCMP stood at the door and pushed it open to step inside.  Smokey took three steps forward and barked, hackles up and fangs bared. I was in front of the police man and I was taken aback.  This was a side of Smokey I’d rarely seen.  Dad was sitting at the table reading a western.  He didn’t even look up from his book when he very calmly said, “Smokey that will be enough.  Come sit down.”  Smokey went to my Dad’s side and sat down.  Dad quietly told him, “Lay under the table and be silent.”  Smokey obeyed without hesitation.  The officer asked a lot of questions and stayed for a time to observe things.  He asked if Smokey was the only dog we had.  He was.  We didn’t need more than him.  He was more than enough.  The officer thanked us for our time and no one ever returned if more complaints were made about Smokey.

Recently my sister moved which necessitated she get a dog for her new home. She decided she’d get a pup and train it.  Sugar plum dreams of creating a Smokey clone danced in her head, I think.  Remember the kid throwing a fit in the middle of the store? Cue my sister’s dog.  It started before my sister every brought her home.  She went to a local pet store (my sister, not the dog) and bought a slightly expensive name tag and collar for it.  Expensive - think a good sized bag of dog food, a couple of toys and two dog dishes and it might cover the cost of what she paid for a tag and collar.  Again, this dog hasn’t earned these luxuries but it breathes, therefore it is entitled.  My sister named the dog “Rosie.”  And she picked the dog up and took it home.  The next time they came to PA, the dog came prancing into my house as if she owned the place and I made it clear if she left even one scent marker she would no longer be welcome.  It’s my home, not her toilet.  My sister was a bit offended … “Rosie would never!” Rosie did.  On the floor, not the furniture, which was her saving grace. Well that and -35 degree weather.  I won’t abuse a dog just because it hasn’t been properly trained. And accidents happen. Hers wasn’t an accident but I digress. Where my sister goes, Rosie follows.  And if my sister leaves the house without her, the dog leans on the back of the sofa wailing at the top of her voice.  She often stays home so I’m not sure why she throws a tantrum at my place - except that I make her listen.  When she takes a child’s toy I make her give it to me and give her one of her own toys.  It’s a fair trade.  Except she wants her toys to look pristine.  It’s not as much fun chewing a toy that belongs to you and also that you have permission to destroy.  The third time I have to give her toy back to her and take another child’s toy away from her, I put her on her leash and kept her near me.  No more sneaking downstairs to the toy box for more of the children’s toys.  When my sister came home, the dog’s true DNA showed itself… she is a RAT!  When my sister returned the dog wrapped itself around her legs and whined, crying about the injustices and grievances she holds against me and proceeds to chew on the leash to show her displeasure. This poor dog is so unbelievably entitled.  My sister continues to love and coddle it though.  Ultimately, I am enjoying the last laugh with several layers of funny tweaking my funny bone all at once.  Firstly, “Rosie” is actually a Gus, Tim or Andrew - anything but a she.  I’m not sure how someone mistakes girl parts for boy parts but, what’s done is done.  They’ve bonded now.  Well, one of them has bonded because…. Second, the dog prefers my brother.  They’ve instantly bonded and I think if my brother had a place to keep it, he would have taken the dog to live with him already.  When my brother comes and the dog is here, she hugs his legs with her body, kissing him and whining in delight. Thirdly, as smart as it is, this dog will never have even a ghosts chance of being a Smokey and fourth … the “Rosie” name tag is now attached to my sister’s key fob for her vehicle.  She could have just bought a key chain from the dollar store but no, only the best for Rosie… oh, how Smokey and I would have laughed if he’d been here for me to cuddle him and share this story with him.  Nothing compares to him.

A few years from now I’ll likely think back to this story and the sad beginnings “Rosie” and the chihuahua had in making a good impression with me.  Smokey will still be number one.  Lawdy is definitely number two.  The chihuahua and Rosie can fight it out for fourth and fifth place because Otter is number three in best pets our family has had.  Otter is my rabbit.  She’s the best. Not quite as good as Smokey when it comes to greeting strangers but she comes when she’s called and she has a feisty personality that I really love.  And she knows how to calm me down when I’m riddled with anxiety.  If I can’t have Smokey, I’m glad to have her.  Still, as I watch Rosie and the chihuahua play with each other, snuggle in for a quick nap with one of my boys amongst the blankets on the sofa or stare out the window as the birds feed off the seed bells… I see that even the dogs could still move up the list of best pets we’ve had … as one of the best living pets we’ve had.  And whether the dog is acting like a brat, a rat or a pest - it’s a dog’s life and if you’re going to be spoiled there’s not a better place to be.  

Take care and have a great week everyone.    

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Wednesday March 13, 2024