As I sit here at my computer, at my feet lie two sleeping dogs. My son is napping and this is their “alone” time with me, and freedom from an over-zealous toddler who hasn’t quite yet learned the difference between hugging and choking.
Before my son was born we had three other “children”, Elizabeth, Joey and Simon. The first two are Cocker Spaniels, the third an enormous Weimaraner. They were all inside dogs and terribly spoiled. I know, crazy right? Two dogs are manageable, three is starting to get out of control. I remember commenting to an old friend from college about how our house was like a zoo one day and she replied, “Yeah, well you’re not supposed to have a whole pack of dogs.”
How did we end up with three dogs? It was mostly my fault. When I was a kid I wanted a dog of my own more than anything. My parents always had a reason for why we couldn’t have one. First it was because my dad was a pastor and the church that we were at didn’t want us to have a dog in the parsonage. Then we moved and lived in a rented a townhouse that didn’t allow dogs. When I was in six grade my parents bought a house. I thought I would finally get that dog, but they said it wasn’t fair to leave it home by itself all day. In spite of it all my childhood longing for a furry, slobbery companion of my own never died. I remained ever hopeful, looking forward to the day I would have one to call my own.
After we’d been married for about two years, my husband and I bought our own house. I wasn’t thinking of the investment in equity, the American dream or the privacy of a single family home. I just wanted to live where I could have a dog. We didn’t live there very long before I made my husband take me to the pet shop.
When we walked into the store there she was, a sweet, little, blond Cocker puppy, just like Lady, the character in one of my favorite childhood movies. It was love at first sight. We brought her home and she was mine. At last I had a dog to cuddle and pet and sit with on the couch. It was all I had wanted those many years. We named her Elizabeth and she made herself right at home. The house looked so cozy with her curled up in the easy chair on a cold night.
When Elizabeth came to live with us we had two cats in the house already. I am not a cat person. Cats live in our home only because my husband wants them here. I will tell you the difference between a cat and a dog. Dogs have a sense of humor and do not take themselves seriously. Cats taking nothing but themselves seriously and do not find anything funny. Well, about four months after Elizabeth came to live with us, one of our cats ran away. Believing that the other cat who was used to having feline companionship was lonely, my husband insisted that we must replace the run-away. Usually you can find free kittens on every corner, but when we needed a cat there were none to be found. We went out to a pet store to buy a kitten. While my husband looked at cats, I browsed the puppy section.
In one of the crates was the most precious puppy I’d ever seen. He was small and red and curly and had big, sad brown eyes. He looked right at me and never turned away the whole time I stood at the window looking at the other puppies. My heart melted when the store clerk brought him to me and I held him. We didn’t get a cat that night, but we came home with our second Cocker Spaniel, Joey.
So that you won’t worry, we did finally get a companion for our lonely cat from the Humane Society. We now had two dogs and two cats in our house, but that wasn’t the end of our menagerie building.
One night after church we were out of dog food, and stopped to pick some up from a pet store that was on the way home. When we went inside I, of course, had to go to the puppy section. In a bottom crate was a grey puppy, more legs than body, who was the size of our one-year-old Cockers. He was much too big for the space they had him in, and I felt sorry for him. The clerk told me he was nearing the 12-week mark, and that if someone didn’t buy him soon he would be put down. Unable to bear that thought I asked to see him. He went running through the store helter-skelter, clumsily running into everything, finally jumping up on me. I fell in love again and Simon, who would grow to be a huge Weimaraner, came to live with us.
I believe now that I collected so many dogs because I was making up for lost time. If you figure the average dog lives about 10 years, at my age of 32 I would have had owned about three dogs by now.
For the next four years life revolved around taking care of these animals. We spent all kinds of money on vets and expensive dog food and a nice place for them to stay when we went on vacation. Then one fateful day our poor canines’ lives were forever altered. We brought home a baby.
Suddenly Joey, who is most attached to me, couldn’t sit on my lap all evening because the space was occupied by a hungry, squirmming infant. Elizabeth found that she couldn’t play fetch in the house any longer because the ball might injure the baby.
Simon, the most sensitive of the three dogs and most attached to my husband, had what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. The first week after we brought my son home from the hospital the dog didn’t eat, drink or sleep. His eyes were bloodshot, and he made himself so sick he almost passed out in the kitchen one morning. We had to force-feed him to get his strength back. Simon was so jealous of my son, especially of the time he spent with my husband, that the dog’s whole disposition changed and he became depressed and mopey.
When my son started to crawl, and then walk, Simon started growling if he got to close. We tried to keep my son away from Simon. One afternoon I made the mistake of turning my back for a second, and the next thing I knew Simon was growling and snapping at my son who had tried to climb up on the couch next to him. Simon didn’t actually bite him, but it was too close for my comfort. Afraid of what might happen next time, we relegated Simon to the kitchen and shut him in with a baby gate. This was the final insult for Simon who lost all hope after that. Realizing it wasn’t a safe situation for my son, and an unfair situation for Simon, we took him to an animal adoption agency to find a new home. That was a sad day, especially for my husband. We both cried on the way home. Sometimes I still miss Simon, especially the way he would lay his head in your lap and look at you with his pale green eyes like you were his world. I guess we were his world, and we turned it upside down when we brought home a baby.
Joey and Elizabeth have adapted pretty well to my son’s presence in our home. He is learning to play nicely with them, and they are starting to all form a bond, the one I so longed to have with a dog when I was young. Though the dogs no longer rule the house, they still occupy a huge space in my heart. They are only animals, but I love them so. There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog on a bad day. Their loyalty is unfailing even on days it seems the rest of the world has abandoned you. Their soft brown eyes shine with admiration, their tails wag at you with delight, the softness of their fur under your fingers is a comfort. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows what I am talking about. I truly believe God gave us dogs, and yes even cats for you mislead feline lovers out there, exactly for this type of companionship. And while I am not a militant animal rights activist, I do think that we should do our part to be caretakers of dogs, cats and all of God’s creation. I take extra care make sure I give our pets, including the much maligned cats, the attention and affection that they need. And I teach my son to be kind to them and how to care for them.
I hope our dogs are with us for a long time. I am so glad I was able to finally fulfill the dream of that little girl who so wanted a puppy to play with.