Dog Stories: Angus, Jake, Luna

I never had pets as a kid. Instead, I had allergies. Dogs and cats were off limits for me, just like chocolate and wool. But no one in my neighborhood had pets. So, being pet-less was not a concern. That’s hard to believe when I look at where I live now. Dogs are walked all day, every day. Cats are seen in windows of houses that are walked by.

Decades, schools, and jobs went by without a sighting of Duke or Miss Whiskers. But, eventually, I married and we found a home in a different area of Philadelphia. Neighbors moved in next door and they had dogs.

The progression went something like this. We chatted over the back fence. We exchanged jokes, opinions, and current events, shoveled snow together, and, at some point, began to chat with the four legged members of the family. Especially Taylor. Taylor Jane, if her behavior was, eh, imperfect. Taylor liked to eat food left outside a refrigerator. For example, an Easter ham –a Whole ham. Fish fillets caught early in the day off the New Jersey shore. A dozen of them. Bacon –eaten straight from the frying pan. She liked protein.

And she was cute. She was the yellow lab you see in Subaru commercials. So we began talking to her, and petting her, and playing with her. And we were hooked. Plus, we noticed some things changed about us. We looked forward to our time with Taylor. We calmed down quicker after a difficult day at work when we spent time with her. We relaxed. Taylor was better than any blood pressure medication. We were never angry in her presence. We spoke softer and smiled more. The hands with which we petted her got kissed. Technically, I guess they were licked. But we paid no attention. We were not interested in the finer linguistic points.

We began to talk about bringing a dog into our lives. It was not a long conversation. No lists of pros and cons were made. The decision was an easy one: we wanted a yellow lab for our yard, and car, and lives, too. Doesn’t everyone?

We bought Angus (pictured below) from a backyard breeder without thinking about any political correctness. He was the largest of the litter. He curled into our arms, money was exchanged, and we drove home with our new four-legged family member.

The first months were difficult. We almost lost him to medical concerns that should have been dealt with by the breeder. But a good vet got him, and us, through a rough start. And we bought toys and treats, and large quantities of food for our growing lab, and went on car rides where he had to put his head out the window for the breeze and new smells. And our neighbors loved him, too. Taylor and he played and became friends. Our relatives loved him and found another reason to visit us. My wife took him for walks. He and I played ball in our back yard. We had a two-story, brick home. The yard was rather large, for a home in a big city. I threw balls against the back of the house and Angus caught every ricochet, absolutely every one. I held myself to the standard 100 pitch limit. My arm gave out before his energy did. But he accepted that, as well as his treat after every ball-playing session. Major leaguers didn’t field so well or work for so little. Willie Mays, on the best day I saw him, was no better than Angus. And pitchers, no matter their won-loss record, did not have as much joy as I did. Every day. No once-every-five-days rotation for me and Angus. We played every day, for free.

He was accepted by everyone and I remember the exact moment when the last vote of acceptance came in. My wife’s Mother, a widow, lived near us and we spent considerable time visiting her. Plus, family functions took place there. We decided to take Angus with us to see how things went if he joined the extended family activities. He had seen my Mother-in-law at our house so it wasn’t surprising when, upon entering her home for the first time, he ran to her, stood up, placed his paws on her shoulders and “kissed” her face. Mom was less than five feet tall. Angus, standing, looked down into her eyes, and I think he smiled. We walked over, quickly, and helped Mom maintain her balance. Angus was not only taller, but outweighed his “older” friend. He was 118 pounds and Mom significantly less. We brought his bowl so he could eat next to, if not on, the table at family gatherings.

Time passed. Mom died. And then Angus suffered his own ailments. An operation bought him sometime. But after eleven and a half years, we had to say good-bye to him, too. And that was the way it felt. We were losing a family member. It hurt. Even worse than we thought it would. We had his ashes, but not him. To quote Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s, or he’s, gone.” Who would play ball with me and who would go for walks in the neighborhood with my wife. And who would make us calmer, better people. We had lost a true friend, and they are rare. “Rare as hen’s teeth,” my farmer Grandfather used to say. And he was right. The house was quiet. The yard saw no more ball playing. Treats, toys, surprises, an extra person to shop for on Holidays –all gone. His absence left a hole in us, our home, and our lives. We mourned for months We would always have wonderful memories friends told us. And they were right. But we didn’t have Angus.

 

Angus

End of Part One. Next time, Part Two.

 

 

 

 

 

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About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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