Sunday, December 31, 2017

Black Dogs

A lifelong study once led me to conclude that black dogs are the best. This update makes a case for including other colors.

 In 1958 my great uncle Otto found us Rusty, an unkempt brown cocker spaniel who spent his formative years chained to a tree in a distant front yard. I was about four years old, but I can remember Rusty being tied to a support beam in our basement, where he affirmed my parents belief that he got his name by leaving rust-colored stains on the tile floor, the living room carpet, or anywhere else he had a chance to pee. He did not understand, “Stay!” and ran away every chance he got. 

My dad was not an athletic man, and the fastest I ever saw him move was running after Rusty up our driveway at full throttle into our neighbor’s backyard graduation party one early June afternoon. He muttered a number of things when he brought Rusty back to our house, literally at the end of his rope. We had Rusty less than two weeks. 

Our next dog was Rebel. It was a big name for a toy poodle who looked his shaggy best just before a periodic topiary haircut turned him into a living French evergreen. He was neurotic but loving, a total lap dog we bought as a puppy. A puzzled aunt once commented, “What’s wrong with his little pink tongue?” when Reb sat throwing her kisses from across the room, licking her face from afar. He turned gray and died at the age of ten, just as I turned twenty. He was my first dog-bro.

Yankee (do you see the creative pattern here?) was acquired at no charge from a farmer whose black Lab and Collie got together and had love puppies. He was a dust-covered ball of long black hair that chased tolerant but annoyed horses around their pasture and was thrilled to come home and be my friend for four short years. He slept outside the door of my room, ate furniture, aluminum chain link fence filler strips and giant rawhide bones. My frightened grandmother held him at bay with her cane until the day I suggested she cautiously hand him a Milkbone. That was the beginning of his weight-gaining period. She had the same effect on me. It was her way of showing love.  

Yankee was an undisciplined runner and not much of a bodyguard. Sadly, he took a tumble down a flight of outdoor wooden stairs and injured his spine. After a month of medication to rest his paralyzed back legs, I had to make one of the hardest trips of my life—wearing very dark sunglasses. 

Our next dog came after a long hiatus and with the advent of kids. Jett was black too. Jet black. A sad-eyed orphan found on the streets of Waukegan, he was a complete but extremely well-behaved mess who cleaned up into a handsome young man-dog. He spent eleven years with us, filling every moment of our family life with a presence that lived on in happy reminders that left us wishing for another friend this good. He took his last breaths while I laid beside him on the floor and comforted him. He seemingly waited for our daughter to rush home from college to say goodbye and for everyone to go to bed, as if it was then ok to go. I carried him to the vet the next day, carefully wrapped in a little brown blanket. Another of the most painful memories of my life. 

Jett had a “cousin” named Mo. He was a large black Lab who visited us with his “Mom” and donuts on weekends. You felt safe when he was around because he looked like a panther but would submit to lesser dogs, and was no protection at all. He was a good boy who asked little and gave much. 

On a lighter note… I eventually found a dog I do not love. He lived nextdoor to the house we just moved away from and is a true sociopath. Unlike his tan, fuzzy nextdoor neighbor across the street who looks skyward and happily chases planes, Buster chased ducks, killed raccoons and dragged a dead baby skunk into his house. He is a hunting dog living in the suburbs. He ate my pond fish, dug holes in our yard, chewed up our aluminum downspouts and stared crazily at us through our living room window. He is insane. He is not a black dog. 

But then our son bought a dachshund puppy while he was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. The dog’s name is Griffey, and we first met him via Skype. He cost 1000 quetzals, which sounds like a lot of money. In Guatemala dogs don’t get much respect. They are utilitarian for the most part, serving as guard dogs. Griffey looked like a burrito when my son held him up for viewing and was completely cute. He speaks Spanish and is brown. He changed my mind. When we vacationed in Guatemala we of course stayed with our son. That meant sharing flea-infested quarters with Griffey, who wanted nothing more than to snuggle while we slept, but was literally covered with blood sucking insects. The poor little guy was repeatedly sent away from our beds to a patch of concrete floor until he quit trying. He went on to father seven pups with another dachshund down the road. They were adorable.

And this brings us to the latest member of our family. His name is Toby. Our daughter went with us to the local shelter while on a break from school. We intended to “just look.” As Melissa strolled ahead of us past a cage with a brown and white Jack Russell Terrier/Dachshund mix, the little guy practically threw himself on his back for a belly rub and won her heart. We rushed back on a lunch hour the next day to make sure nobody else adopted him. He’s been with us for about five years now. He is a constant challenge. Smart, high energy and a complete alpha male, he makes us laugh, keeps us on our toes and is so territorial that not even birds flying overhead go unannounced.

So given recent developments, I have to say that all dogs are best. And it really isn’t about color, or even the animal. I really believe that dogs are inherently good creatures. Owners create bad dogs and bad behavior. It’s not the dog’s fault.  

1 comment:

  1. Vic, you probably even love Buster. We dog-lovers can seldom draw a firm line... with the possible exception of the back of a dead baby skunk. Nicely done my friend. Heartfelt.