Saturday, 3 December 2016

Of Dogs and Children

Years ago my former sister-in-law posed the question, "Why do people have dogs?"

Why indeed.
Me, Dad and Pabby
Our first dog was Pabby, rescued by my grandmother from a box on the side of a country road. My other grandmother called Pabby a "borderline collie"- some kind of cross between a border collie and a spaniel.  In my parents' photos, Pabby paces protectively between me and the lake or the river or whatever other possibly dangerous situation my parents had placed me in.

Later on, we adopted Leslie, a greyhound who had been abandoned in the campsite across from the Chisholm fire tower.  I only heard Leslie bark twice, both times when she thought the family was being threatened. Leslie loved little kids. They could crawl all over her and she would just lie there and take it.
After we got married, we had Emily, a loyal cocker whose biggest flaw was that she loved everyone equally. When we lived in Viking, the neighbour lady hated dogs and struck Emily with her purse. Undeterred, Emily continued to approach strangers with the idea "the only reason you don't like me is that you don't know me well enough."  Not long after we got Emily, our first child was born. When the baby cried, Emily tossed her ball into the bassinet as if to say "This makes me happy, you try it." We used to put the baby in her Jolly Jumper in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. We would throw Emily's ball through the doorway and Emily would charge past, setting baby spinning. That was the first time we heard our baby laughter. Uninhibited, deep and unexpected laughter-the kind only babies make.
Russell at the lake

After Emily, we got Russell, the smartest dog I have ever known. Companionable, curious and always wanting to learn; he had a particular affection for children and tore up both the interior of the van and more than one windowsill trying to get at some children to play with them. I am sure he thought of himself as a child.

For a time, we had a day-home operating next door.  We cut a hole in the fence and Russell would drop his ball through the hole and the kids would throw it back at him. When we went for a walk, these same day-home kids would ask us if we were Russell's mommy and daddy. For years we met parents who asked us how Russell was doing.

The kids taught him tricks and hosted birthday parties for him and gave him Christmas presents, which he cleverly found and unwrapped well before Christmas every year. He slept outside my daughter's door, watchful and protective. 

A year after we got Russell, we also got Anna, an inbred Jack Russell who came from a low rent puppy mill on the poorest farm I have ever seen.  Anna was not too smart. But she was loyal and loving and had the best sense of humour. She was particularly attached to our youngest and thought up endless ways to taunt him into playing with her.

My husband's family always had a dog. Taffy was the first. In almost every photo, there is Taffy. At the skating rink. On the sled hill. Sitting at the picnic table in a campground. Taffy was followed by poodles Dusky, Gatsby and Topper. 

In the in-law's house, the family dog was revered to the point one Christmas my father-in-law was dispatched to London Drugs on Christmas morning to get the dog a Barbie because "it's not fair that the girls have dolls and Gatsby doesn't."

After Anna and Russell died, we did not hesitate to get more dogs even though we no longer have kids at home. Sometimes we think we are crazy. Why do we have dogs?  They are a hassle. You have to clean up after them. They always want in or out. They track in dirt. They need to be bathed. You need to book dog friendly hotels and make arrangements when you travel. Why? Why have dogs?

Dogs never judge you. They don't care what political party you belong to or what race you are or what your status in life is or how much money you make. They love you unconditionally. Dogs are loyal. They don't abandon you because they disagree with you. They don't even stop loving you when you are mean to them. Dogs are unique. It's an adventure finding out what their personalities are and discovering what their talents will be. Dogs make you get outside yourself when you are feeling down. They remind you that the world isn't just about you. Dogs care about how you are feeling. Dogs never lie. They are just who they are. Dogs love life. Your smallest word of praise makes them happy beyond words. If you give them their freedom, their joy knows no bounds. And if you have treated them right, they always come back. Because they love you. Kind of like your children, when you think about it

Why have dogs?
Why indeed.

Finian and Pippa