Dogs have always been an important part of my life. Although I don’t remember my first dog, my parents told me stories of a feist we had when I was two or three years old. That dog would go out in the yard when pecans were falling, bring one to me and crack it with its teeth so I could pick out the meat, according to my parents.
Growing up I never had an inside dog. They were yard dogs or hunting dogs, or both. Daddy’s two English setters were not pets, they were hunting dogs and lived in an old chicken house about a mile from our house. Other dogs lived under the porch and lived on table scraps. They had no real job other than sleeping and getting petted every once in a while.
Since Linda and I got married we have had six dogs, half of that number now live in our house. All have been “rescue dogs,” one from a shelter, one from the ditch in front of my house, one wandered up at a rental house and one showed up at my farm. One even showed up at a gun club meeting and went home with me. The last one I rescued from a trip to the shelter from a renter that could no longer take care of it.
The first three were sources of great joy but also great sadness. Merlin, our first dog rescued from a city pound in Maryland, slept under our bed for 14 years. She went everywhere we went from Canada to Clarks Hill and spent most of the days I went fishing in my boat with me. She was mostly border collie and extremely smart, constantly amazing me with her abilities.
Squirt was in the pipe in front of my house one morning when I went out to get the paper. He was so tiny I could hold him in a cupped hand but grew into a 115-pound cross of two breeds, Labrador and big. He was lovable and affectionate but gave lie to the claim all labs are smart.
Rip showed up at my farm one day. I tried to run him off but for two weeks he greeted me every time I drove up to the barn with wagging tail and smiling face. Like most labs, he was the happiest dog in the world and everyone seemed to know it. He loved to ride in the back of my truck and went most everywhere around town with me. I seldom came out of the grocery store that someone was not petting him. He just oozed friendliness and happiness.
Those three are gone now. Merlin at 14 and Squirt at 13 years old got hip problems and I had to put have them put down when they could no longer stand up. Rip managed to dig out from under the fence around the back yard and got hit by a car when he was ten and had injuries so severe he had to be put down.
All three are buried under the pear tree in the back yard. I softened the ground with tears as I dug the graves.
Ginger, a pit bull, showed up at a rental house. She had a broken choke collar around her neck and was skin and bones, covered in fleas, and very weak. But she was friendly and wanted affection. I took her home and washed her with flea shampoo then took her to Memorial Drive Vet Clinic where they found she had heart worms. The treatment was expensive but now, five years later, she is healthy and happy. And she proves Pit Bulls are not vicious, even though she had a hard life before I found her.
Cinnamon, the other Spice Girl, showed up at a gun club meeting the Monday after I had to have Rip put down. It was almost like fate sent her there. She was young and very friendly and happy. She is some kind of hound with a good nose but all she gets to use it for is finding tennis balls in the leaves. She loves to fetch.
Mika is a full blooded, registered border collie. One of my renters had to get rid of him and I agreed to take him. He lives to chase a tennis ball and will jump high in the air to catch it. I think he would run after a ball until he turned into butter!
I have had many kinds of pets, from hamsters and flying squirrels to cats and raccoons, but dogs are special. No other animal so closely identifies with people. They seem to adopt our habits and characteristic and some even seem to look like their masters.
Dogs are also useful, helping us hunting, working and playing. It is very difficult to hunt quail and raccoons without dogs and they make rabbit and hog hunting much easier. But they are also important for playing, sharing in our fun in many ways.
The only problem with dogs is their relatively short life. We almost always outlive our dogs and have to see them age and weaken much faster than we do. But they seem to get a lot out of their relationship with us other than food and shelter.
There are many stories of dogs traveling long distances to get back home after being lost. And there are examples of dogs going to their owners graves every day, refusing to accept the fact their human companion is gone. And the videos of dogs re-united with their owners when separated, even for years, are common. There is great joy on both sides when a soldier comes home and sees his dog for the first time after his tour of duty.
My three are not old in human years yet, but I still expect to outlive all three, even at my age. I dread the day I again have to dig graves under the pear tree but know it will happen three times.
That makes me even more determined to enjoy the time we have together.