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.
End of Part One. Next time, Part Two.