There were many.
Before any other, there was Peanuts, a beastly Malamute/German Shepherd mix from my Hammond, Indiana neighborhood. With a fierce teeth-bearing bark and a heavy chain hooked between him and a maple tree in front of his house, he was feared by most in the late 1960s/early 1970s blue-collar neighborhood.
The furry beast had gotten loose one day and interrupted a game of frozen tag. All the bigger kids had run off when they saw him approach. Frozen in fear, I offered up my hand to Peanuts in hopes that he would sniff and let me pass. Instead, he opened his mouth and took my hand into his carnivorous chamber, halfway to my elbow. I half-expected to find a nub at the end of my arm when he was done, but instead, he licked and licked.
In retrospect, it may have been the remnants of the Dreamcicle I had earlier that afternoon that encouraged this greeting. Regardless of the reason, we had an understanding from that point on, and he became my trusted friend that day. There were countless times in my early youth, I would sit under that maple with him and share my deepest secrets, sometimes soaking his fur with my tears and a falling asleep curled up next to him. Without judgment and with the utmost compassion, he would listen and made me feel safe in a world I was quickly learning wasn’t always kind.
To this day, he still visits me in my dreams and visions, bringing comfort.
It wasn’t until adulthood, I finally brought a dog into my everyday life. The first was Achates, a gregarious chocolate lab who would balance any item on his head for as long as the human required. He saw me through my first act of dog motherhood in all its grandeur and error.
Scout, the broken-legged puppy found off the highway that my vet pawned off on me with the expectation that she may limp and never be particularly mobile. Wrong. Scout made a habit of jumping our three-foot fence in a single leap several times before we figured out how she escaped the backyard.
Doc, the one not quite wired right. His Weimaraner energy was endless. He ate two couches and was constantly counter surfing no matter of how much he was exercised. A day after emergency surgery from a burst spleen, he tried to go for a run. If I had to come up with one word to describe him, it would be “Go!”
Then there was Earhart, the quiet, stoic and protective one who had more dogonality than any other I’ve known. She would wait for the right opportunity to grab a piece of food off the table when you left the room, would turn her back to you when she didn’t get her way, and learned in her senior years, the joy of unraveling toilet paper rolls… Though she was never overtly affectionate, she would show her love by finding a spot next to you and lean in with all her weight.
During my Doc and Earhart years, I was also joined by Tucker and Maddie, my step-dogs, who were as much a part of my family as any other. Maddie had the spirit of a youth. When we’d take her hiking in her elder years, she would fearlessly bound up and down the hollers leaving herself nearly lame for a day or two afterwards, but always with a glint in her eyes. And Tucker, a giant yellow lab, who I’m fairly certain was the Buddha incarnate.
Also, in October 2005, there were the hundreds who touched my heart during a 10 day recovery effort in Tylertown, MS, post-Hurricane Katrina. In particular, those big canines in the Back 40 at the Best Friends Animal Rescue sanctuary will always be embedded in my soul. I learned more about trust, forgiveness, resilience, and love from these beautiful beasts than any human ever could.
And then there is, of course, Norbert the Miracle Mutt, who my same vet of 25 years who brought Scout into my life, brought Doc back from near death, and has cared for all my fur companions through the years (it’s no wonder her birthday falls on National Dog Day), brought this little man into my life. Even at five weeks, his eyes would study my every move and there is no doubt, we imprinted on each other at a critical time in both our lives.
Words cannot truly describe what dog is; what “dog” brings to our lives. Yet I know that many understand, even without the words.
So, I’ll go get a baked dog treat and dip it in some organic peanut butter and present it to Norbert and tell him he is the best boy in the world and he will look at me and say, “OMG! It’s peanut butter AND a treat! PEANUT BUTTER ON A TREAT!!! YES! This is the best thing in the world ever!!!!!!!”
What more could anyone ask?
Happy National Dog Day to all the canines!!!