A few weeks ago, my daughter and I embarked on a new venture as licensed pet sitters. To market our new business, we marched door to door in the early summer heat in a few of the nicer neighborhoods in town, passing out fliers and introducing ourselves, hoping to drum up a new customer or two. Surprisingly, we found that a good percentage of the people we visited didn’t have any pet at all! As people who have had dozens over the years, this was a shocking revelation. I’m not sure how someone can live without the company of non-human creatures, especially since, at least to me, they are the only source of uncompromising, unconditional love.
All my life I have had pets, pets of all kinds: turtles and frogs liberated from piney forest streams, crabs harvested from marshy banks carried home in dixie cups full of sand and salt water, goldfish won playing ring toss games at school fun fairs, kittens rescued from dirty ditches and dogs brought home in the backseats of cars. Each and every one was lavished with love, toys and leftover bologna, given names and all my good intentions. Some stayed only a little while, some stayed a lifetime, all were gifts from heaven for me to practice my stewardship of God’s love.
According to my mother, my first word uttered during my diaper years was not mama or dada, but Bo. Bo was the name of the Cocker Spaniel puppy my family owned from shortly before my birth until years later when he died of old age, still carrying his favorite squeaky rubber duck around like a captured flag. He was the first animal I knew and I was immediately certain where my heart belonged. He was the first of many dogs in my life, but there have been two that I truly called my own good dogs.
The first was Laddie. Laddie was a registered full-sized standard Collie, complete with a lion’s mane of white and a tail that swept coffee tables clean. He wasn’t mine at the start, but as my siblings grew up and moved away, he became mine by default and was my best company during those tough middle school years. He had a needle-nose capped with short spiky whiskers that he would push into my face for hugs after long days at school. He was my constant company during the Florida summers under the scuppernong vines in our backyard, sharing the warm sweet fruit with me endlessly. I would squeeze the sweet bulbs of those grapes between the tiny teeth in the front of his snout, one for you, one for me. I’m surprised I didn’t make him sick. More importantly, he was my therapist. Every time I had an adolescent cry, Laddie was there, leaning into my side and crying along with me. He had an empathy that went beyond words, one that still makes me wonder if God’s angels don’t have wings at all, but rather have fur coats and fleas.
For my children, Sheila was that good dog. My ex-husband brought her home one day in the car, trembling and tucked under the driver’s seat so tight I had to drag her out. It took weeks for her to decide that we were trustworthy, but when she did, she proved herself to be the best friend a house full of girls could ever have. With few exceptions, Sheila hated men, and after I separated from my husband, she made it her business to be our house protector. No man could come in our house without her say so, and even then they were suspect. We didn’t have to fear any intruders, Sheila was on the job. We knew she would have laid her life down for us. My daughter had her for a friend and circus performer, teaching her tricks and advanced rope jumping in the front yard. She mothered countless kittens and reared a stray puppy or two. None were her own, but she didn’t care much about origin, only that her charges were well behaved and lived up to her standards. She had no bad habits, made the perfect toe-warmer, and had the tolerance of Job. Again, God’s angels don’t have wings.
So now, even as we are trying to find housing in another city, we are doing so with certain standards. If they won’t accept our pets, then we won’t accept the place. There is no place for us that won’t allow us our angels. They are our hearts on four legs, fuzzy, drippy hearts that we can’t have broken for very long. Our dog Linus is waiting for us now while we live temporarily in a small apartment looking for a house to rent with a yard and a pet-friendly policy. Someday soon, we hope to bring him home, another good dog with a furry-faced grin to grace us after these long, hard times. I can’t wait for that day, when our dog days are over and our days include a good dog again. Everyone should have at least one.