I really do mean canines.
(Though there’s only been one, so far.)
Last week at lunch I was reminiscing with my dad about my first dog, a beagle named Missy who a) bit me on the foot, b) ate my dad’s last Snickers candy bar (he’s still not over it) and c) ran away, never to be seen again, as soon as we arrived at my grandparents’ farm. I don’t think any of us were too upset.
It must have been soon after that my grandfather’s dog (also Missy, but an English Springer Spaniel) gave birth to puppies and each of the siblings’ families took one. That’s how I met Raleigh. I can still remember standing next to the kennel with all the puppies running at our feet. I/we picked Raleigh because of the perfect white, heart-shaped tuft of hair on his head. He didn’t disappoint.
When I took the memoir writing class this summer, one of the prompts was about a farm, or something … anyway, it led me to write a story about Raleigh. I cried and everything, both when I wrote it and when I read it to the class. Embarrassing. I guess it was some sort of emotional catharsis, since I’ve felt guilty about not being with him once I went to college. I’m not even sure that I knew when he died. He was my constant companion, and I totally abandoned him. I hope he’s forgiven me. Myself I’m still working on.
Raleigh was my best friend, my protector, my foot warmer and a source of unconditional love. We met when I was nine and my family was just back from a trip to England, where I’d been entranced by stories about the dashing explorer to the Americas, Sir Walter Raleigh. That’s how he got his official Kennel Club registry name, but we were never planning to show him.
His parents were my grandfather’s frumpy Missy, a true farm dog. His father was Sam — this iconic, pampered Springer who lived on a yacht at Hilton Head. My uncle still says Sam was the most beautiful dog he’d ever seen.
Raleigh and I romped together through the woods and splashed in the pond at the farm. He never met a body of water he wouldn’t try out, even when there was an alligator in it. He was an outside dog, and he cuddled in his bed at night with our cat Pebbles — they were so devoted to each other. But occasionally when the weather turned too cold we brought them inside, and I always had to turn up the TV to cover his snores and dream-barking as he chased squirrels and rabbits (I assume) in his sleep.
Every day after school, he heard the bus coming and met me at the top of the hill to escort me back home. He put security systems and bodyguards to shame. He growled and would charge anyone he felt was a threat to our family … even if it was my best friend, who nicknamed him “Cujo.” Dogs and bees smell fear, you know.
Because of his ferocity for uninvited visitors, we sent him to live with my grandmother after my grandfather died. She needed company and companionship, but also a warning signal since she lived on a remote farm all alone. I was in college, but I saw him when I visited. He always knew me and came over to sit on my feet. It was a way of loving me, but also of “claiming” me.
Eventually he went to live with my uncle, who had open land where he could roam free. Whenever he saw my mom or me, he carefully stood on his arthritic haunches and I could see that he remembered us. His hair had grayed and his eyesight began to fail, but he always enjoyed a good ear rub.
Anyone who’s ever owned a dog will understand. There’s just something profound about that relationship. It’s why we all — men and women alike — sobbed during Marley & Me. In my case, at both the book and the movie. I’ve been thinking about having another dog for a long time, but I just haven’t felt that my lifestyle affords it yet. I did babysit for McKenzie one weekend, and despite the lack of sleep, I think she helped me through a mentally-demanding, stressful school period. They say that owning a dog extends your life span, right? Must be something to it.
Many of you know about Oliver, my phantom future pug. I’m also seriously considering a mini-Schnauzer. They’re apparently terrier-like in that they don’t shed much, but they have a completely opposite personality. Like they don’t walk out of the room when you walk into it (yes, you, McKenzie). I’d like a snuggler.
So, we’ll see what develops once school calms down a bit and I can get past the idea of pet hair in my house. Stay tuned.