Category Archives: dogs


Lovey eyes his nemesis with trepidation. Notice her sock.

Lovey eyes his nemesis with trepidation.  Frances guards a purloined sock.

As I narrated in my blog post Crocapuppy , my parents brought home a Great Dane puppy when my brother and I were teenagers, thereby providing our vituperative cocker spaniel Frances with an object towards which she could in perpetuity vent her already considerable spleen. You’ve heard of love objects; Lovey was a hate object. So long as Frances lived, she waged a merciless Reign of Terror against Lovey, restricting his movements by physically blocking his access to this set of stairs or that room and controlling him with a potent and baleful stare that clearly mesmerized him. One of my most vivid memories of those years was of Lovey, who stood 6’5” on his hind legs and weighed in at over two hundred pounds, tearing through the house, ears flattened, tail between his legs, with rotund little Frances barreling along in hot pursuit, snarling and snapping at his heels.

George Booth's great cartoon

George Booth’s great cartoon was a favorite in our house.

Mom was fond of observing, “Life was more genteel before the dogs.” This might have been true, had there ever been an epoch in our household which could have been described as, “Before the Dogs.” The addition of a gargantuan dog to the mix, however, raised the dearth of gentility to a whole new level.

When we ate dinner, Lovey would sit beside my mother, his muzzle poised about two inches above the table, drooling. Anyone familiar with Great Danes will know that their capacity to drool is staggering. A pool of saliva would start to form on the table; this would gradually increase both in volume and in reach, wobbling, viscous and oozing. At some point one of us would be dispatched to the kitchen to retrieve a towel with which to mop up the drool and Lovey would be ordered to lie down. This he would do, his enormous front paws inevitably protruding just a fraction into the area beneath the table – Crocapuppy territory. At this rash intrusion into her domain, Frances would spring into frenzied action, lunging and randomly snapping – more than one ankle was bitten in these nightly frays. At length  Lovey would retreat a few feet and Frances, the enemy repelled,  her borders once again secured, would subside back into a seething heap of grrr-ing menace.

The Urban Dictionary defines the verb “snorfel” as “the act of holding someone close and inhaling their scent at the base of their neck;” it dates the word’s usage to 2009. In this, the Urban Dictionary is mistaken. My mother used that word at least as far back as 1970 to describe the way a dog greets you when it sticks his or her face in yours and performs some perfervid combination of sniffing, snuffling, snorting and mush wiping. Lovey was a master snorfeller; he just stuck his big old jowly face in yours and had at it. For all the years that he and I shared my parents’ home, Lovey snorfelled me awake. “Go wake up Sister,” my father would say. Moments later, Lovey would poke his nose through the crack in my bedroom door, lope over to my bed, stick his face in mine and snorfel me into consciousness. People who live in horror of dog germs will find this alarming, but we survived, some of us to a very great age, and counted ourselves lucky that Lovey had not proved a licker, given the Slobber Factor.



Out back of our house was a fenced in area for the dogs to do their business in. During Frances’ solo turn, it had remained a pleasant enough idyll, with a ground cover of grass and ivy and several mature camellia bushes that were beautiful in bloom.

Then Lovey arrived on the scene.

Dad regularly brought home bones from the butcher for Lovey. By bones I mean, leg bones. Of cows. These large bones required large holes in which to be buried; Lovey provided those holes; he also uprooted all the camellia bushes and ran around the back yard with their trunks clamped in his jaws while the rest of us shouted, “No! Lovey!  Stop!” Soon the enclosed area began to resemble a cross between the trenches of World War One and the lair of a serial killer — muddy and pitted and strewn with femurs. My father, ever one to look on the bright side, reckoned this a deterrent to crime. “Somebody would think twice about breaking into a house with a back yard that looks like this!”

Lovey in repose

Lovey in repose

There comes a point in every dog’s life when it must take pills and that point for Lovey coincided with the time I left Chapel Hill for graduate school in Toronto. When I returned home for Christmas, I went to my closet to don a pair of pinkies I had left there – these were the fuzzy pink slippers that were my mother and my preferred footwear – only to find a hard lump of something peculiar wedged into the toe end of each slipper. I shook the slippers and two lumps of hardened, congealed dog pills fell to the floor. After some deliberation, we realized that Lovey had only pretended to swallow the pills my father doled out to him, then sneaked into my bedroom and spat them into my pinkies, where, over the course of my absence, they had accreted into their present iteration. This sleight of mouth on Lovey’s part gave me new respect for the Great Dane, who had never struck me as but so bright. Clearly Crocapuppy’s lessons in guile had not gone entirely unheeded.

I always said that I didn’t want to be within a one hundred mile radius of Chapel Hill when Lovey died. I couldn’t bear to witness my parents’ terrible grief. As it turned out, I was in Toronto when he passed and my parents’ grief was indeed terrible … until the following day when they went out and bought another Great Dane, black this time and named Tennessee’s Waltz.

And with that, a whole new era commenced, the chronicle of my family being divided into epochs not by the ascension of Presidents to office  or  kings to thrones, but by a succession of dogs.

Ughy — My Ur Dog

Dad with me, Peter and Ughy.

Dad with me, Peter and Ughy.

My father courted my mother with puppies.  The first was a mixed breed called Pot, who was summarily run over. The second was a black cocker spaniel  named Ughy.  Ughy arrived on the scene four years before I was born, at a time when Mom and Dad were both married to other people, but clearly gearing up to bolt – you don’t give just anybody a puppy, not in my family. And Dad gave Mom two.

My mother’s childhood dog  was Poochie, a terrier who spent his dogs days asleep in the sunny middle of the street in front of their house in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Unlike Pot, Poochie died in the fullness of time and of natural causes — for the dozen or so years he was on this Earth cars just edged around him.  If this seems extraordinary, consider this: my grandmother never learned how to back up a car.   She didn’t need to.  She only went two places — her beauty salon and  the grocery store — and both her hairdresser and the boy who bagged her groceries were more than happy to turn the car around for her so that she could drive herself back home.  That’s the kind of town Stillwater, Oklahoma was — women could drive cars in one direction and dogs could sleep undisturbed in the middle of its streets.  Of course, if you were a black man and dusk was approaching, you would have been wise not to count on the same degree of insouciance.   We’re talking Oklahoma here and some things don’t  change.

People assign names to dogs; their dog names emerge with time.  Thus Bill’s Fancy became Mary Frances; Luv (allegedly Danish for Lion) became Lovey;  Tennessee’s Waltz became Tenney, which also happened to be the name of the circle we lived on. Ughy’s given name was, improbably,  Lord Ogilthorpe, thence Oggie, thence Ughy, a.k.a, Boodle Dog.  My Grandfather Zant always called him, “Black Dog.”  “Hi, Black Dog,” he would say.  “Come here, Black Dog.” Ughy adored Grandaddy, perhaps because Grandaddy recognized his true essence.  He was, after all, a black dog.

Ughy watching over my bassinet . . . or was he?

Ughy watching over my bassinet . . . or was he?

My mother told the story of how Ughy would drop his toys into my bassinet. She maintained that this indicated a desire on his part to share his toys with me.  I think it’s more likely that he was actually trying to take me out from the air. Then again, he used to bring Mom mice that he had killed and how can that be interpreted other than as an act of largesse?  In his seventeen years, Ughy only bit me once and that was because I stuck my face in his food dish.  I would do the same to anybody who stuck their face in my food dish.  Consider that fair warning.

Growing up, I was convinced that Ughy could talk; I figured he was just holding out.  On weekends, my father would take me and Ughy along on various errands and, while he was in the Hostess Outlet Store or at the roadside corn stand, I would edge closer to Ughy and whisper in his silky ear, “It’s all right.  He’s gone.  You can talk now.”  That’s when parents left kids in the car and no one thought a thing of it.

Golden Retriever with false teeth.  You get the idea.

Golden Retriever with party teeth. You get the idea.

Ughy had two tricks.  He could sit up on his hind legs for hours  while wearing one of my Dad’s white t-shirts, and he would happily circulate amongst party guests, gag teeth clamped  between his jaws, for so long as people applauded. He taught himself those tricks in his spare time, which was copious.

Ughy buried bones in the carpet.  He would dig and dig and dig, creating no hole whatsoever, then deposit the bone in the no hole  he had dug.  There it would remain until someone glanced over at it, at which point he would promptly dig it up from the no hole and bury it in plain sight somewhere else.  Once a kid on our block dared to call Ughy fat and I beat him up.  He was the only person I have ever beaten up and I never felt a shred of guilt about it. Call my dog fat: you’ve crossed a red line.

Ughy was my first dog –  the original dog; the archetypal dog; the Ur dog.The worst thing I could imagine, apart from the death of my mother or father, was Ughy’s demise.  I would lie in bed at night and try and imagine what a world without Ughy would be like.  But then I’d have to stop myself; his loss was too painful even to contemplate.

The last year of his long life, blinded by milky cataracts and wracked by cancer, Ughy was falling apart the way old dogs do: at the seams. During that sad period Dad carried him tenderly up and down the stairs as required.  My husband and I can relate. For the better part of three years we hefted our aged and enormous Golden Retriever up and downstairs, hoisting him into cars and airlifting him onto beds. Recently a fit-enough looking neighbour  told us he had been forced to put his Springer Spaniel down because she could no longer climb stairs.  As soon as he was out of earshot, my husband and I looked at one another, aghast.    “He couldn’t carry a Springer Spaniel up and down stairs?” we asked.

Ughy contemplates his Christmas stocking

Ughy contemplates his Christmas stocking

Every night Dad fed Ughy his green cancer pain pills, stroking  his throat to make him swallow, as he sang:

“Green pills, they taste so good/

when doggies eat them like they should./

Green pills, they taste so nice./

They taste like they’re made out of sugar and spice.”

He sang this to the tune of Green Sleeves.

Then one day it happened — Ughy was gone.  A chasm opened up in the earth and in we fell, only to struggle out, not twenty-four hours later, with the parti-coloured ball of fur and bad news who would become Crocapuppy – the infamous Frances of the Socks.  If Ughy was a true gentleman — and he was — Frances was bitch incarnate.  Life goes on and new dogs come on stream — one after another. And then they die, and you feel like you’re going to die, and then you don’t.

. . .

And then you do.


Harry with Sabrina.  Harry appears to be working on a shoe.

Harry with Sabrina. Harry appears to be working on a shoe.

In the dead of the winter of ‘86, when my twins were one and Brina four and a half, my ex and I decided that what we really needed was a puppy.  And not just any puppy.  A Scotch collie puppy.  This was because my ex’s thesis supervisor had owned a succession of Scotch collies and imitating him in every respect seemed to my ex a prudent course.  Accordingly, one cold and snowy night we wedged the diapered duo into their car seats, sandwiched Brina in between, and slip-slided our way down the 402  to a farm outside of Sarnia.  There, in a barn, we found a rattled looking mother collie and her litter, asleep in the hay, and returned to London with Harry zipped inside my coat.

It is hard to house train a puppy in the winter. It is even harder to house train a puppy in a house with no door opening onto a fenced in yard.  It is harder still to house train a puppy with perambulating one year olds whom you dare not leave alone while you are escorting the puppy outdoors lest they fatally injure themselves or their twin.  Because Alice and Will fought from the moment they achieved sufficient muscle tone to deliver a reasonable facsimile of a wallop and didn’t stop until they were teenagers, when they went all twin-y.    Looking back on it, I must have left them alone the occasional time, figuring that screams would alert me to any true danger.    Perhaps I instructed Sabrina to look after them, knowing full well that she was still on the fence as to whether we should keep them.

Harry was beyond long suffering.  The kids would sprawl on him, sucking their thumbs and twiddling his fur. He would lie on his side, looking put upon, but resigned.  Occasionally his lip would flicker, revealing massive fangs and he would say, without conviction, “Grrrr.”

Collies are herding dogs, which worked because my kids were a wayward flock, always trying to scatter or make a break for it. Collies are also watch dogs.   If a leaf fell in the front yard, Harry barked.  If a car drove by, Harry barked.  If, God forbid, a person should walk down the sidewalk, Armageddon!   Harry barked when he was awake and he barked when he was asleep and, if I had had a gun, that’s the way he might have gone down — barking. Only I didn’t, so he didn’t.  One more argument for gun control.

Harry liked to couple the pleasures of barking with lunging, usually at windows.   He broke through the pane glass window in the front of the house on four separate occasions and was saved from hurtling to his death from an upstairs window by a astonishingly resilient screen.  I would appear at the glass repair shop, carrying a window with a collie-shaped hole in it.    Harry was famous at the glass shop.

The first time my ex and I spent a night away from the children, we hired an older woman to babysit.  When we returned home, the kids roasted the sitter.  She was mean.  She had thrown a book at Alice.  She had locked Harry in the back room the entire time.  I didn’t believe them.  Then Harry, who was not a small dog, climbed onto my lap and leaned all of his weight against my chest, pinning me to the chair.  He lifted his fabulous needle nose to the sky and began to keen.  We never hired that sitter again.

One Canada Day, Harry was listless.  He lay on his side looking pooched.  “That dog’s sick,” my neighbour said.  “You’d better have him seen to.”  It was a national holiday; the regular vet was closed.  I took him to the emergency vet, who stuck his finger up his bum, announced, “This dog has gas,” gave me a bottle of Pepto Bismal and charged me $100.  Another time, Harry swallowed a bouncy ball, which lodged in the opening  between his stomach and his intestine.  The operation to remove it cost $800. The vet let the children in to visit Harry, who was lying on the floor of the animal hospital with IV tubes coming out of him.  They ran up to him, his flock of unruly sheep, and fell to their knees, embracing him and cooing.   Harry’s tail thumped.  “Operate,” I said.

Harry contracted Lupus at age seven and died too soon.  Writing about him, I remember him.  Remembering him, I miss him.  Harry was two good dogs ago, but I guess the pane glass window wasn’t the only thing Harry put a collie-shaped hole in.  He put one in my heart.


My brother Peter and Frances

My brother Peter and Frances

My family had a rule: the time between dogs should be as short as humanly possible.  No sooner had Ughy, our beloved seventeen year old cocker spaniel, shuffled off this mortal coil than his replacement was locked down. And by “no sooner” I mean that same day.  I’m not sure whether the new puppy was on Mom and Dad’s radar or whether, immediately upon  Ughy’s demise, they rushed out into the street, crying, “A puppy!  Dear God!  Let there be a puppy!” I rather suspect the latter, given how ill advised the choice of Fancy, a.k.a, Frances, a.k.a. Crocapuppy, turned out to be.

To say that Frances was overbred would be an understatement. Frances was the product of incest. A lot of incest.   She was a parti-colored cocker spaniel, meaning that her coat was two colors, buff and white.  The breeders were aiming for a completely white cocker spaniel, so kept mating the lightest male in a litter to the lightest female, which, as often as not, turned out to be his mother.  And this had been going on for generations before Frances wobbled balefully onto the scene.

Whenever you bent down to pet Frances, she was so overcome with excitement that she promptly fell to the ground, rolled onto her back and  proceeded to pee all over her stomach, resulting in chronic and piteous eczema of her nether regions.  This unfortunate propensity, however, was the only evidence of submissive behavior that Frances served up over the course of her life.  The rest of the time, she was just an ornery old mess.

Frances was a hoarder. Her specialty was socks.  She would filch them from our respective dirty clothes hampers and add them to an ever-growing heap in the little hall that separated the dining room from Dad’s study.  There she would guard them until, as my mother used to say,   dark circles would start to form under her eyes and someone would have to go in and save her from herself, not to mention the socks.



This was all made more complicated by the fact that Mom and I used to give Frances our hand-me-down pinkies. Pinkies were those fuzzy pink slippers popular in the sixties and Mother and I both wore them.  Frances would sashay around the house, exuding innocence, the pinkie of the moment clamped between her jaws.  No sooner had she had lulled us into complacency, however, than she would raid the dirty clothes hampers of the house, cramming the purloined socks down in the depths of the pinkie, and make a beeline for the Hall of Socks.  For years after her death, my brother Peter and I would catch ourselves hesitating on the threshold of that narrow passageway, the image of an obsessed and furious  Crocapuppy  lodged in our memory like a tooth. Eventually all of Frances’s pinkies went to the dark side and we would have to wrest the offending slipper from her and bury it in the back yard.   Which was OK.  There were always more pinkies where that came from.

Like any respectable dog, Frances was voracious. She was also bold.  One night my parents were hosting a cast party for a production of The Boys in the Band, which centers around a birthday party. In keeping with the birthday theme, someone had contributed to the feast a large sheet cake complete with many small candles.  Since this was a drinking party, however, the cake had few takers . . . until Frances jumped up on a dining room chair, then onto the table itself, and proceeded to hoover the entire cake down, candles and all, before anyone could rouse him or herself to action.  Then she proceeded to throw up the entire cake, complete with intact candles, while madly sprinting around the entire house.

Frances had many enemies, most of whom were dogs eerily resembling herself who hid out in mirrors and in the panes of glass in French doors. These she would attack with vigor on a regular basis, hurling herself repeatedly against them.   Our house had two double sets of French doors and two single French doors.  They kept her pretty busy.



Her arch enemy, however, her very nemesis arrived on the scene the day my mother and father unexpectedly brought home a Great Dane puppy named Lovey.   Mom had a notion that, because Frances was a female and Lovey was a puppy, she might feel motherly towards the interloper.  In this she was sadly mistaken. Frances loathed Lovey from the moment she laid eyes upon him.  And it didn’t matter that she was a lowly and rather overweight cocker spaniel and he grew up to stand 6’5” on his hind legs.   First impressions count, especially with dogs; Lovey was terrified of Frances her entire life.      Whenever he wanted to go upstairs, Frances would lie on the lower landing and look baleful.  (There was no dog that could do baleful like Frances.)  Lovey would hesitate, dancing on the spot, his claws clicking against the floor, then tentatively take a step or two towards the stairs.  Frances’s lips would quiver and then slowly draw back to reveal her teeth.  She would growl. Lovey would retreat in confusion.  This would go on until Mom would cry out, “Frances!  For Heaven’s sake! Let Lovey go upstairs!” At which point Frances would grudgingly rise and insolently trundle downstairs, giving Lovey a look in passing that clearly meant, “I’ll deal with you later.”

My brother and I felt sorry for Frances.  She had not been enough dog for my parents and so they had supplanted her with Lovey.  When I went looking for photos of Frances for this post, there were precious few.  Of course, once Peter and I were teenagers, there were precious few of us either.  There were, however, dozens and dozens of photos of Lovey – Lovey with his ears taped, Lovey lying on his back in inadvertently lewd  postures, Lovey sprawled upon my parents bed, which he shared with them,  Lovey standing with his front paws on Dad’s shoulders.  If strangers were to look at my parents’ photo albums, they might be forgiven for thinking that this couple had two adorable children who, just before puberty, were tragically killed in a car accident along with their cocker spaniel, after which point the couple got a Great Dane puppy upon whom, going forward, they focused all their attention and affection.  Peter and I agreed that, if Mom and Dad were going to neglect Frances, we ought to try and brush her more and take her out for walks.

But, of course, we were teenagers so that never happened.

Frances died when I was away in graduate school. Dad woke one morning to find that she had gone in her sleep.   I don’t know where she was in the house when she died.  In my mind, it was not in my parents’ bedroom, but in some more remote part of the house, alone, perhaps in the Hall of Socks.  She did not live nearly as long as the venerable Ughy had – eleven to his seventeen years — but neither was she as loved as he was.

RIP, Crocapuppy.

Free range children … and dogs

Queenie I through VIII

Queenie I through VIII

When I was a child, we roamed the neighborhood in packs comprised of kids ranging in age from ten to two.  “Whatever you do, don’t let Stevie get run over!” a mother would advise as she assigned a toddler still in diapers to our insouciant care.

There were boundaries beyond which we were forbidden to venture, but our geographical range was surprisingly large and fraught with possible danger, bounded as it was on one side by a raging river in which we could quite easily have drowned and dotted with ravines in which dangerous strangers might lurk, their pockets bursting with candy.  That this latter danger was not idle speculation was attested to by the occasional disappearance of a child, sometimes without a trace, sometimes with – famously all that was found of one little girl were severed fingers under the bridge.

Notwithstanding all this, we were left more or less to our own recognizance for most of the time we weren’t in school —  constructing rickety tree houses out of scrap lumber bristling with rusty nails, playing in discarded refrigerators and narrowly avoiding falling into empty, abandoned cisterns.  None of these things were deemed scary.  You know what was?  The plastic your Dad’s dry cleaning came home in. That stuff could kill you.

Of course, all this was possible because the neighborhood was chock full of stay-at-home Moms – depressed, pill-popping women struggling with the “problem that has no name” . . .  and probably some gals who were happy to tend to their roses and do their vacuuming in a shirtwaist and pearls.  The fact of the matter was, no matter where you were within the assigned boundaries, some Mom was close at hand and more or less ready to rise to the occasion of saving your sorry ass bacon, provided that was still an option.   The assumption was that childhood was not without risk.

The same was true of dogs.  When I was growing up, dogs roamed freely.   They chased cars.  They ran away.  They bit people – frequently children.  Sometimes they got rabies – always exciting.   My childhood is replete with dire narratives about children getting rabies shots every day for upwards of three weeks – in their stomachs!

Dogs also got run over at a great clip.  Our next door neighbor had a serial Schipperke named Queenie.  When Queenie I got run over, she purchased Queenie II.  When Queenie II was hit by a car, she acquired Queenie III.  When Queenie III lost her brief battle with a Mustang convertible, Queenie IV appeared on the scene. And so on.  By the time we moved away, we were eight Queenies down and counting.    Years later we learned with sadness that the poor woman had committed suicide.     Certainly she had reason to be discouraged.  How many Queenies did it take to convince her to end it all?

Now children are closely guarded, their ‘free’ time free in word only, and dogs are kept inside or on leash.  Certainly there is  less carnage in the streets than there used to be; fewer scenes of rifle-toting fathers putting the foaming family pet out of its misery.  And that is good.  But there was something about roaming free that makes me happy to have been born when I was.

Black Dog Day

My dopamine is down a pint; I’m having what Dan Carlin calls a Black Dog Day.  I’m not sure why.  Generally I’m relentlessly cheerful, but today . . . today not so much.

Speaking of Dan Carlin, he of Common Sense and Hardcore History, it’s partially his fault, him and all the other podcast pundits I listen to on an ongoing basis: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Jack Clark of Blast the Right, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, the New Yorker’s Political Scene, every podcast Slate does except the sports one, (because, as I have long maintained, I don’t do balls); The Nation and Washington Week in Review and PBS Newshour and The Daily Show and The Economist and Bill Maher’s Real Time and  Time Magazine, always and for decades, cover to cover.

You get the picture.


I am an idealistic skeptic. I worship heroes and have delusions of grandeur . . . for them, not for me, which explains to Seasoned Readers why I think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass. I also thought it shone out of Martin Luther King’s ass and the collective asses of the Kennedy brothers and, oh, yes, Right Wingers, FDR’s ass as well. Especially FDR’s ass. (I hope that thought is sending you into convulsions. That would make me very happy.) I have been a political junkie from the tender age of seven, when my Dad woke me up on a cold Indiana November night, took me outdoors, pointed to a night sky chock full of stars and announced, “Camelot begins tonight.” He also gave me a juice glass of Coke – to celebrate.  My mother never let us have pop, but the night Jack Kennedy was elected. . . .  That was a big night.

Of course, it doesn’t help my present slough of despond that I am listening to an audio version of Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World in my car. (The Nazis are just launching their program of racial cleansing.  Mother of God, were they evil!)  As for my read-read,  I’m midway through Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which is about how the Internet is turning our brains into sparkly yo yos.  And it is.  I used to get lost in a book for hours.  Now I can barely hold out for ten minutes before the urge to multitask overwhelms me and I leap to my feet and dash off to do several things at once, one of which, incidentally, is this blog.

To top it all off, just this past weekend my stunningly beautiful twenty-five year old daughter told me she was worried about getting old, that she was afraid of losing her looks.  (I prudently stopped short of confessing that I still fret about my figure and whether I’m “pretty”.  Hello! I’m fifty eight years old.  The answer is:  No.) Then she showed me how, with only a slight bit of manipulation, she could make her under-knee crease resemble either her bum crack or what we used to refer to as her  “cluny.”

As my father used to sing whenever anybody whined, “Everybody hates me/ nobody loves me/ I’m some ugly child/ I’m going out to the garden and eat worms.”

Or maybe I’ll just cook supper while I’m unloading the dishwasher and ironing the napkins, all the while listening to Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars on my i-pod. (Speaking of which, move north.  Come 2036, it’s us who’ll have all the food!)

My dog just died

For me the line from Leonard Cohen’s, “I’m Your Man” that goes, “Everybody got this broken feeling /Like their father or their dog just died,”  has always been powerfully evocative.  I’ve been worrying about my dog dying since about age seven.  That’s when I realized that dogs actually do die, as cruel as that seems given how much we love and depend on them.

Well, on March 11, 2010, we had to say goodbye to Buddy, our nearly fourteen-year old golden retriever, and here came that broken feeling, in spades this time, because Buddy, of course, was THE best dog ever and THE best dog ever turns out, funnily enough, to leave a huge, gaping hole in your heart — a hole, in fact, the size and shape of an overweight golden retriever.

Six weeks have passed and we’re getting on with life. We’ll get a new dog after we’ve gotten in some of the traveling we put off during Buddy’s last years because we couldn’t bear to kennel him when he’d never been kenneled before and when it took two of us to get him up and down stairs.  In the meantime, my idle moments are spent looking at puppy porn on the Internet — puppies advertised on Kijiji or breeders sites or YouTube videos of puppies chasing ice cubes across the kitchen floor. But I must say, the house feels as empty as my heart.  That doesn’t seem to get easier.

Which leads me to reflect upon what dogs bring to our lives. . . .   Yes, they give you unconditional love, but, in my opinion, that’s not the real reason why we love them.  (Unless you’re totally pathetic and your dog really is the only one who likes you, in which case, I’m sorry.)

Here are some of the reasons that come to mind.

  • Dogs are funny.  In fact, they’re hilarious.  (And don’t think they don’t know it.)
  • Dogs are, by and large, cheerful.
  • Dogs are easily amused.
  • You can always make a dog happy.  I have three children and I could never make all of them happy at once.  The dog, I could.
  • Dogs are glad to see you come and sad to see you go.
  • Dogs perform important kitchen duties — the pre-rinse cycle, for example, or cleaning up after those little spills.  Buddy used to do an especially great job on my Cuisinart.
  • Dogs are hopeful.
  • Dogs like to hang out with you.
  • Dogs mean that you know your neighbours.
  • Dogs mean that you go for walks in the woods.
  • Dogs mean that, on those mornings after the night before, you get a blast of cold air in your face first thing and feel slightly revived.
  • Dogs provide an excellent excuse to leave places you no longer want to be (old, incontinent dogs work especially well for this.)
  • Dogs are as good an anti-theft device as your house is likely to get.
  • Dogs remind you that Garbage Day is tomorrow. (That’s why God created The Last Pee.)
  • Dogs remind us that we are not the only species on earth. Or the cutest.
  • Dogs make a house a home. For me, a house without a dog (or cat, for you cat lovers) is a cold and lonely place.

When I was a child, I briefly attended a little Sunday School run by a young woman who was headed off to Africa to be a missionary.   She told me that animals did not go to Heaven because they did not have souls.  I was very upset by this and ran home to tell my father.  He comforted me by saying, “That’s all right.  We’re going to Dog Heaven. It’s much nicer there.”  And I’m sure he was right.  Because there are dogs there and, where there are dogs, that’s where I want to be.

Goodbye, Buddy.  I’ll see you in Dog Heaven.

Buddy Trevenna -- Best Dog Ever

Ken Burns’ new miniseries on the National Parks — watch it and learn!

Starting tonight on PBS (Sunday, September 28) and throughout the upcoming week is Ken Burns’ new miniseries on the National Parks. I am a huge Ken Burns fan. I know I didn’t properly understand the Civil War until his series on it (despite reading Gone With the Wind five times; wait, maybe that was the reason I didn’t understand it so well); nor did I have much of a clue about WWII before his The War. This despite a keen interest in history and reasonably decent grades in school. And my Dad was a navy lieutenant stationed on a submarine in the South Pacific during the latter years of WWII!

Now it’s the National Parks turn . . . and the timing is perfect in that it demonstrates that government can and does do some things well, like create and maintain these amazing nature preserves for which I, at least, am intensely grateful. So put that in your pipes and smoke it, Right Wing nut jobs. If it was up to you, all of these places would be strip malls or trailer parks or theme parks. . . . You get my drift.

I have only been to three National Parks in my life: the Grand Canyon, Acadia and, of course, the Smokies, which I know very well, having spent seven summers on the Qualla Boundary, adjacent to the park. I would love to go to all of them, but first we must wait for Buddy, our aged Golden Retriever, to shuffle off this mortal coil.

A piece of advice for prospective dog owners: get your dog used to being boarded so you can leave them occasionally. For most of his life, Buddy was left with relatives, but then my sister in law got divorced and my daughter moved to Montreal and my son broke his femur (really, he didn’t need to go to such extremes just to get out of dog-sitting) and Buddy is way too old and coddled (not to mention addled) to be boarded at this stage, so, bottom line: he goes, we go. Which means the National Parks, never mind Greece, are on hold at present.