My love for my dogs throughout my life has always scared me. Growing up, my mother was the dog lover, and we almost never owned less than two at a time. There was Jamie 1, a Shetland Sheep Dog,a Scotty named Lizbet Lloyd’s of Scot, and then Jamie 2. There was Crumple, a gun shy Golden, & another Lizzie, a Katie, and a Gypsy, plus a service dog that barked at phone ringing, microwave pinging, and doorbell sounds. We think she had been trained for a deaf person. I played with these dogs, let them sit in my lap, and cried when they died, but they were not my dogs. They were my mothers’.
My first very own dog was rescued as a pup from the SPCA. He was a Golden Lab mix and fit perfectly in the small area under the back window in my VW Beetle, where he threw up all the way to his new home. I named him Cracker Jack for his coloring. He was an affable guy, grew to weigh about 80 lbs., and expensive. So energetic, after a while, I felt it necessary to hire a dog runner, a high school teen who would take him running once a day while I was at work. My reward for that simple act of generosity was unbridled devotion and love. He slept with me in my bed to keep the night shadows away. He was my best bud.
I fell in love with my then boyfriend, now husband, because he helped me search for Cracker when he ran away one blue skied Sunday morning – either in search of his teen aged runner, or me, teaching Sunday school and was killed instantly by a driver, who waited by his side, until police arrived. The emptiness in my heart did not compare to the void in my bed at night for months afterward.
Bingo was tossed out of a moving car and found by friends who thought my heart needed heeling from the loss of Cracker. They were right. Bingo grew into the size of his large black and white feet. We thought he was an undocked English Springer Spaniel, but in reality, I think he had Border Collie in him. He had a sweet disposition until our honeymoon, when the boarding kennel owner, who liked him too, took him into his house and allowed his kids to tease him. Poor Bingo was a snapper from then on in.
Rugby had a large square head and beautiful black velvet coat with unusual white highlights. Though stubborn at times, he was given to moments of needing extended cuddling. He liked to dig. Sometimes our black and white dog was brown and black. Rugby came with the name of Rocky, but we liked the sound of Rugby better. Though he was the runt of a litter of 8 Springer Spaniels he was larger than life for us. What a character. He had soulful eyes that would make me melt right where I stood. Rugby was an adapter, bonding with Bingo, and my newly married lifestyle right away. When he felt neglected and would howl, a spot of beer would calm him down. We lived near a wooded area, and off-leash, I loved to watch him run. Bingo was a sniffer, while Rugby roamed. He wasn’t too sure about my husband, tho, who often lost his Alpha male standing when a bed was involved.
When it became apparent that our crazy next door neighbor was bound and determined to “poison the life right out of your band of dogs” (always contained in our fenced back yard or inside our house), we moved to an acre with a fixer-upper, and tried to treat Bingo’s old age sudden onset acute pancreatitis. What a horrible disease for such a sweet dog. Surely a survivor since his unceremonious toss from a moving car, Bingo would sneak scraps from the garbage, and then hemorrhage. We had a great vet who knew exactly what to do, but Bingo’s heart and lungs gave out before the disease was conquered. Thank God for euthanasia so that beloved dogs do not wither and waste. But, though peaceful, it is the worst thing to witness when your pal closes his eyes forever.
Rugby was great with our newborn. He’d position himself at the door to the nursery and let us know when the baby was awake, better than a baby monitor. My son likes to say he was raised by wolves, because after a while, we didn’t mind when he was licked, or shared a cookie with Rugby. This faithful friend would also follow the baby around the house when he crawled, rode in a baby walker, or walked. They shared Cheerios and occasionally a pacifier. Rugby became our son’s self appointed dog guard. My husband built a tree house for our son, and Rugby taught himself to climb up the ladder, down the ladder, bark at the treetops, and back up again, just to keep our son safe. We have photos of this, positive no one would believe a dog could do such a thing.
I think it was when I lost Cracker and the horrible guilt that I felt because I hadn’t kept him safe, that I began to fear my love for my dogs would endanger them. What if I loved them too much? Would God punish me for such adulation? Or was it infidelity I was committing? Loving a person more than my dog who had shown me nothing but sheer adoration. Cracker, then Bingo, then Rugby were merely dogs. I would have died to save my husband, my son, but also all of my dogs. Does that make me abnormal? I have friends who never let their dogs inside their house. I have friends whose dog wears a collar zapper to keep him out of the living room. And, I have friends whose dogs spend every night outside. Some of my friends kick their dogs. I cannot claim I haven’t gotten angry at my dog for bad behavior, but all of my animals are like family to me. They have at one time or another shared my bed, my sofa, and certainly, a swim in the ocean.
Next came Molly. My son, 7, asked for a pound puppy for Christmas. They were popular with little kids then. But Toys R Us sold out fast. So a few days before the big C, during a horrendous snowstorm, my husband drove 15 miles in to the country to bring home Molly, another Springer, “eyes certified” from a breeder. Rugby liked Molly and Molly liked him. She was our first liver and white and absolutely adorable, but very loyal to me. Frighteningly loyal. She tolerated Rugby, and my son, but clearly she was a momma’s girl. She too had beautiful markings. Her eyes were a lovely amber brown. Unbeknownst to my family, however, she was suffering from Rage, which sometimes occurs from excessive inbreeding and presents itself in vicious flares of temper. It was only a matter of time before she’d become a danger to us all.
While working for an animal rescue non-profit, our next dog, Nellie, a Walker Hound, came into our lives. I didn’t want a 3rd dog; I was trying to get pregnant, and learning how to cope with diabetes. But Nellie was more wanting than me. Out of 58 dogs rescued from a dog fighting ring, only 3 survived. Nellie, age 3, weighed 50 lbs and had lost part of an ear flap, had suffered a broken nose, and was absolutely terrified of dog crates. I brought her home with me to domesticate her for adoption, but couldn’t give her up. She was a ravenous eater, and preferred to spend her days curled in a barrel chair. I couldn’t let her run off leash ever, as her hunter nose would lead her at about 50 mph towards prey. Her favorite acts of mischief were eating soap (having been starved into supposed meanness to fight harder in a dog fight, soap tasted yummy as it is made with animal fat), and pulling an entire 15 lb ham off the dining room table and devouring it in 10 minutes flat. Nellie should have had a charmed life after her rescue. It was certainly my intention. However, also my ignorance, because I had two hunting dogs under one roof, both bitches, and both loyal to me specifically, Nellie, on my son’s 11th birthday, was attacked by Molly in a fight to the death. Nellie died, because Molly had claimed her territory, and it was me.
I was beyond myself with grief, guilt and unanswered questions. Why why why? What do you do when one of your beloved pets kills your other beloved pet? Nothing the vet said would console me, not even his belief that two females under the same roof were poison. I was at fault, and deserved this pain of loss. Again, I had attempted to choose one love over others, and my punishment was just. My heart splintered, not only from Nellie’s forever absence, but also because our pound puppy Molly had suffered no injuries due to her thick coat, and lived. Plus, I didn’t trust her anymore. Would she attack my son? My husband? Guilt remains with me today. To look at Nellie’s pictures still hurts, and it’s been 20+ years since it happened. Molly lived to be 14 but most of the last year of her life she was muzzled. I always wonder why we didn’t put her down right after the fight, a human’s way of rectifying an animal’s horrid behavior. I don’t know why, but I do understand that Molly, bred to be a hunter, was doing only what came naturally to her – stake her territory and defend it to the end. Her arch enemy was gone, and I was Molly’s master once again.
Duncan, our next Springer, followed the demise of Rugby, who lived to be 16. But because we still owned Molly, Duncan had to be watched over like a hawk. Bought from a breeder in Amish country, we think he might have been a puppy mill Springer. He came to us defective, suffering from epilepsy. Under heavy doses of phenobarbital, Duncan spent most of his 14 years stoned. Everything scared him. Wrapping paper. Shadows. Can openers. And when scared, he’d shrieked. But he was my baby when my real baby went to high school, and when I took up running, Duncan never once strayed from my side, thereby teaching our next Springer, Angus, to do the same. In fact, we never once had to correct Angus’s behavior – Duncan took care of that with a low growl that Angus instinctively knew to heed.
Angus was also rescued from a less than ideal living situation where the entire litter of 3 puppies were sick. We had wanted another of the puppies but it was too weak to lift its head, so we bought the liver and white one instead. He gurgled all the way home, due to pneumonia, and when he saw Duncan, searched for teats to feed from. It wasn’t until Angus was 6 mos. old that he began to starve to death. Everything he ate came right back up, undigested. After 3 intense months of switching dog foods, and racing back and forth to our vet with this thin poor little guy, did we find out he suffered from a rare, inbred malady. Megasophagus is a pocket in the esophagus. When a dog eats solids, the food collects in the pocket, and when the pocket overflows, the food is regurgitated, undigested. The dog receives no nourishment. The vet didn’t think he’d live long. But, now, at age 10, Angus is thriving on dog food smoothies twice a day. he slurps them down while standing in a vertical plank, and knows no other way to eat. Whenever we travel with Angus,so does our blender. Very even tempered, there is little doubt that this only dog owns us, and we had better behave accordingly. Sometimes he hunts and brings in, through his doggie door, a rabbit or bird. Maybe he knows we did everything we could to save his life. Maybe he knows he was rescued. Maybe he knows we also spent upwards of $3000 to have his ear canal rebuilt when he endured 2 years of untreatable bacterial of ear infections. But what is most important is that Angus is not just a dog to me. He is my heart and my soul.
And while i still have an irrational fear of losing this furry little love, I’m not wasting any time loving him.