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Dogs and such (1.1)


“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”—Groucho Marx

Childhood pets weren’t a part of my life, Granny being the fastidious clean-freak that she was. But I’ve more than made up for that deficiency in recent years.

Mitzie moved here in 1885 with her owner Peter Vandervort. She was ten years old at the time and I became her step-parent for ten years more. You do the math.

Miss Mitzie never weighed more than eight pounds; at the time of her death she weighed only six. Blind, deaf and nearly toothless, we learned to read the range and tenor of her bark: “Pick me up.” “Put me down.” “Take me out, let me feel the grass and smell the dirt so I can relieve myself properly.” “It’s time to eat, please.” I can’t reproduce the sounds she made—I lack her nuance and subtlety—but her requests were clear enough. Was it selfish to keep her with us so long?

A landscape student asked one day if we had a Shih-Tzu. I said “Yes, technically a Shih-Tzu/Poodle.” So, very soon we inherited an elderly Shih-Tzu, the student’s grandfather’s dog; a farm dog, no less. Can you believe it? A Shih-Tzu on a farm? Max came with a name and a host of medical problems: beneath a carpet of hair matted from months of no grooming we found a shy little fellow with a tumor on his left eyelid, a fibulating patella on his right rear leg, a level-3 heart murmur and the unnerving tendency for grand mal seizures at the least convenient times. Max required four medications three times a day, several of them what humans take for the same afflictions. We gave Max two better years than he otherwise would have had.

One day at Petco’s checkout, we chatted with someone who had found a stray dog that she couldn’t keep. Later that week, we welcomed a large Cocker Spaniel sans name, but his size and propensity for being in your lap very soon christened him Mister Moose. The very night he arrived, after Moosie had settled in on the bed, a drunk walked into our kitchen through an unlocked back door. The dog sprang into action defending turf that had only been his for a matter of hours. We knew that Mister Moose belonged.

In the meantime, a puffy grey cat began sunning on our deck. She seemed homeless, so dry cat food was added to the grocery list. Lingering over her bowl one day, I invited Missy Kit into the kitchen. Glancing up at me, she strolled in, did a long thoughtful analysis of the current menagerie and decided to settle down. “I can handle this motley crew” was written all over her face, which only confirmed her new name, a reference to the “Gunsmoke” character Miss Kitty (played by Amanda Blake), proprietor of the Long Branch Saloon. Missy Kit developed kidney failure and left us on terms other than her own.

Somewhere along the way, I did a year of graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin and adopted a Lhasa Apso named Rambo. Who would do that to a dog? Behaving more like a Scots Presbyterian than Sylvester Stallone, he soon earned the name Angus and flew home with me at Thanksgiving to join the other three. Milton Yergens used to watch me from his old office window walking the lot of them. “Die unendliche geschichte,” he would chuckle, describing the sight of three such mismatched dogs (8, 16 and 25 pounds) and a cat running along beside, squatting where the dogs relieved themselves. I honestly believe Missy Kit thought she was one of the pack.

Ultimately each of them left us, buried by the back porch in ground I consider as sacred as any cemetery. Clumps of hosta mark each of our five old friends, but we couldn’t stay pet-less for long. Lillie, another Shih-Tzu, and Bob the Tabby cat—handsome fellow; refugee from a neighborhood apartment house fire—constitute the current family. They too will leave us when the time is right (though it never is); they too will find space by the back porch. And they too will be followed in due course by other rescue animal companions.

I write this simply because we lost another good friend today: Eddie, boon companion of Cindy, Mark and the Divine Miss Emma. The void in their home is huge and sudden, though not unexpected. All I can say is that Eddie’s place in their hearts and ours is sure. Eddie fought the good and worthy fight.

If there is a lesson I’ve learned from our companions, it’s this: Don’t let saying goodbye to an old friend deter you from saying hello to a new one.

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