This is a story about our quasi-rescue dog Buddy. He’s a 10-year-old Bichon Frise whom I call my “white shadow,” as I can’t seem to get more than three feet away from him, which I really don’t mind. There is a backstory.
Humankind’s relation to certain other members of the animal kingdom is often posited as a preference limited to cats or dogs as in, “Are you a cat person?” or “Are you a dog person?” I’ve yet to hear snakes, gerbils or ferrets as options in this timeworn question and pick-up line, although snakes, gerbils and ferrets are, with some people, popular animals to have as pets.
Actually, the only animal from that list that is willing to subject itself to the status of a pet is the dog. That fact may contribute to my being a dog person. (You’ll soon meet my grandfather.)
Cats, of which our family has had several, teeter on the edge of feral no matter their pedigree. They don’t really like us or the food we set out for them and as they slink by us they are actually plotting our demise or, at the very least, looking for shoes into which they might vomit. If they care to show any affection at all, it usually comes in the form of their doing figure eights around our ankles. The domesticated cat represents the one animal that comes closest to our being able to cohabit with a wild animal. Except for snakes. They are wild and do not belong in an aquarium, especially if their only function is to be brought out to remind dinner guests that it’s time to go home. Gerbils remind a certain age group, of which I am a part, of too many jokes about Richard Gere. Ferrets? Give me a break. Like Harvey Weinstein, they are members of the weasel family, though not as slimy.
My maternal grandfather was a dog person. He was a newspaper publisher in Nebraska and a stalwart New Deal Democratic who cared deeply for mankind and had no use for people. He loved dogs because, I believe, dogs are generally obedient and don’t complain much, qualities he admired in mammals. As long as you give them a little something, they seem to be happy. That was basically his position on people and politics.
I am first and foremost a horse person. However, horses are not pets and if you treat a horse as a pet you will get hurt. Possibly quite seriously.
So, by default, I am a dog guy.
I did not grow up with dogs. As an infant I showed a serious allergy to dogs and my parents had to decide between me and a Boston bull terrier named Happy. While I’m pleased with their decision, my sister was not. I eventually grew out of my allergy to dogs. I am, however, still allergic to country music, which is a whole other blog.
When I was in the seventh grade we moved to a farm outside of Batavia, Illinois, a little town on the Fox River about thirty miles west of Chicago. We got a dog, a German shepherd/Labrador mix we named Lady and who was relegated to a life in the barn. Our farm, it should be noted, was fifty-three acres of dense woods, three acres of horse pasture, and two acres of manicured lawn. I was the designated manicurist.
In the meantime, my mother had read that French poodles lacked whatever it was (dander) that made people allergic to dogs and so she procured a handful of them and gave them French names. While they didn’t make me sneeze and gasp for breath, they annoyed the crap out of me as they tap-danced incessantly on the kitchen linoleum. A couple of them actually bit people.
After leaving home, I wandered about the country dog-less until I arrived at the University of Illinois almost four years late. There, I got a German shepherd puppy. Many of the girls on the Quad loved him. He committed suicide by diving under a moving car.
And then there was Sappho. I found her as a puppy in a front yard of a house in one of the many of Champaign-Urbana’s student ghettos. I brought her home to my squalid apartment and named her after two of my women friends showed up and the dog would have nothing more to do with me. The next day her siblings were advertised in the local paper as thus: “Free to Good Homes: Puppies from AKC-registered Cairn Terrier with Loose Morals.”
Sappho was with me when I met and subsequently married Geri, and she remained with us to threaten to bite anybody who might come near Courtney (our first-born). Sappho was a little dog with burnished-blond, wiry hair that stood straight up. She looked as if she was in a constant state of cartoon electrocution. She barely tolerated our next dog, Kona, a pure-white Husky mix who craved salad and barked violently at anything Geri cooked that humans had also rejected, most memorably an eggplant soufflé that looked like wet cement in an elegant china serving dish.
Next came Trusty, a Golden Retriever-type who gained recognition in the national press after I performed mouth-to-snout resuscitation to save her life at a garage sale. Don’t ask. The brain damage was significant and she spent her golden years intently watching small pieces of crisp cellophane flutter before the air stream created by our refrigerator’s compressor. If she happened to be outside she would contemplate a single leaf for countless hours. My friend Tim Cahill, who afforded Trusty’s fifteen minutes of fame in Outside magazine (September, 1998), said the dog, with her graying patrician nose, reminded him of Bertrand Russell.
Aja was next. He was perhaps an Ibizan hound (who really knows about these things?) who could leap six-foot fences in a single bound. His each and every eye-contact with anybody was just a dare to open a door wide enough to facilitate his escape. Other than that, he pretty much kept to himself.
Finally then there was O-P, a tragicomic canine cross between a Beagle and a Shar-Pei. While she grew out of her wrinkled puppy body, she never outgrew an innate stupidity that kept her from being sure about her own name. My sister, who would have preferred the Boston bull terrier to me, was crazy about this ineducable dog. There must have been some deeper meaning there.
When O-P died Geri and I decided that our dog days were behind us.
Enter Buddy. He arrived on Christmas Day, 2015, courtesy of Courtney and her boyfriend, now-husband, Sean. It was a surprise and it was love at first sight. Actually, I had bought the dog’s affection with a piece of ham, so it was love at first bite.
What can I say? He’s cute as all get out and has loads of personality. The cat can’t stand him, but so what? He’s well-behaved and seems contrite if for any reason he hears the word “no.” He appears to be sad and tortured when I leave the house and deliriously spin-in-small-circles happy when I return, even if only a minute or two have elapsed.
I’d like to say that he’s really smart but I’m not sure how dog intelligence is assessed, though any sense of time is clearly not part of the equation. He doesn’t show much interest in books or music, and his language skills are limited to high-pitched yips when Geri gets home or ferocious-sounding barks directed at birds who dare to enter our backyard at any altitude. He stares at me blankly when I tell him jokes.
Like most dogs, he has several favorite places to sleep and moves from site to site, depending on my location, to get his twenty hours of daily rest. The remaining four hours of each day are spent being playful, annoying the cat, looking for food and moving from one favorite nap site to the next.
We cook for him. Geri bakes yams or sweet potatoes and mashes them with spinach. That concoction is then warmed and mixed with sour cream or cottage cheese (small curd) and it becomes Buddy’s evening meal. As an appetizer each evening, he gets Black Forest ham. Kibble, a really expensive organic and allergen-free kind, is then poured into his dish to provide for his random snacking.
On Saturday mornings, Buddy gets a scrambled egg mixed in with his kibble. On Sundays he gets a brunch of lamb or chicken, rice or potatoes, and a scrambled egg. If there happens to be leftover carrots (his favorite), he gets some mixed in with the other stuff.
He seems happy and well-adjusted, not to mention well-fed. I’m glad that the dog days have returned.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska