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Remembering my dog days

Well, considering we’re into the dog days of summer, seems fitting that I started reminiscing about the dogs I used to have in my life, and it occurred to me that in all my years, I’ve never actually had a dog that I was particularly close to.  For one reason or another no emotional bond ever developed with any of the dogs I knew, at least to the extent that I could understand why they were called “man’s best friend.”  It all started with the very first dog I can remember from my childhood, a generic looking mutt that my maternal grandparents had named “Biscuit.”  And while it belonged to my grandparents, my mom often dog-sitted for them, so it spent a lot of time at my home as well.

This dog… seriously, will disappear like Jimmy Hoffa as soon as you dropped the leash.   Not even give you any time to react, just *POOF* and instantly gone like the wind.  We couldn’t even keep it in the front yard with our sturdy chain link fence, because she could expertly climb right over it and then bolt for destinations unknown.  We used to spend HOURS a day looking for her, and when we’d finally find her she’d start playing a game of chicken that had us zigzagging halfway around the neighborhood until we could finally put the leash on her.

Forget about playing fetch too.  Toss her a ball and she’ll run and get it… and then never come back.  She could be sweet otherwise, but at the same time she always seemed distracted and not really focused on me… nor anyone else in my family for that matter.  At the tender age of 5 or so I remember thinking I just wanted a dog that would never leave my side, and would always want to play with me and shower me with affection.  You know, everything Biscuit wasn’t.

It would be a few years before my parents would finally get a dog of their own, I think partly because shedding and allergies was a concern, so when the time finally came to bring a dog into our lives, my parents narrowed it down to a male poodle we found at one of the local animal shelters.

Now THIS particular dog wanted to hump everything in sight.  Seriously, it didn’t matter what it was.  NOTHING WAS SACRED OR SAFE.  Even after it got neutered too.  I don’t remember much else about the dog except that shortly after it was fixed, it turned incredibly violent and viciously bit my father’s hand one day (which in hindsight, is probably the best thing it ever did).  Sadly, it had to be put down, and despite not being particularly close to the dog, my mom and I took it very hard.  I was around ten at the time, but that was the last time we ever had a dog of our own.

A divorce and a few years later, we moved into my stepdad’s house, and his parents had a dog named “Whisky.”  I think this dog was picked out as a pup by my stepsister if I remember right, and Whisky was another one who regarded me as one of her peasants rather than a member of the family.  She was pampered silly by my stepdad’s parents, and spent most of her time living upstairs with them.  Occasionally she would come down to sniff here and there, and when she did I’d try to pet or play with her, at least when she could manage to sit still for 30 seconds.  Every time I did pet her, she would react quite affectionately… by urinating on me, and then happily prancing right back upstairs with not a care in the world.

I hated that dog.  To me it exemplified everything that I utterly despised about my stepfamily: self-absorbed, cold, emotionally distant and mentally unstable narcissists (sans my stepdad, who was the one good apple in a completely rotten bunch).  I know it wasn’t the dog’s fault, but she had become an unwitting sponge absorbing all the ugly traits of her owners.

During those days I was ready to give up and conclude all of God’s creatures would always hate me, and I probably would have too, were it not for a cat that suddenly showed up out of the blue at our doorstep one day.  Apparently it had made the decision of deeming us worthy to be its new caretakers, and refused to leave until we took it in.  For the first time in many years, we had a pet again.  A few days or so after the cat’s arrival, Whisky (otherwise known as Queen Sheba-Dog of the mighty suburban jungle) came downstairs as usual and started sniffing around until it noticed we had a new resident.  So she waltzes up to the cat for a good sniff, and the cat regards Whisky for maybe 2 or 3 seconds… and then rips into her face with her claws.  The dog SCREECHED like the little weenie sissy dog it was and BOLTED right back upstairs.  At that point I don’t think it ever came down again, at least not indoors.  Teh Kitteh now ruled the jungle.

I think that’s when the worm finally started to turn.  At last an animal had taken my side and become my ally and my friend.  Indeed, whenever I was sad or depressed, Teh Kitteh was always there to comfort me.  Somehow she just knew when she needed to be around to keep me company.  I was in a truly dark place then, but my cat (and it was indeed MY cat) proved herself a true companion who helped me get through it all.

It’s been over a decade since Teh Kitteh’s passing, and while I never did have occasion to own another dog or cat since then, I noticed my encounters with animals have become much more amiable over the years (except for slugs and ticks, which I will always hate with death’s hatred).  Almost every time I saw a dog in public now it would look at me and practically smile.  I remember the first time I noticed it too: while on vacation a few years back, I visited a stable to go horse riding, and a labrador mix lumbered up to me and started showering me with affection like I was the bestest friend it ever had.  I was 27 years old, and yet that was the FIRST time I had an experience with a dog like that.  Sheesh, where WERE these dogs hiding my whole life???  It’s funny, because as brief and random such moments with these awesome dogs would be, I can still remember them fondly because they stood in such stark contrast to my experiences as a child.

Still, in spite of the dark cloud that seems to have been lifted in my relationship with the dog kingdom, I wonder if I’ll ever have another real opportunity to emotionally bond with a dog and enjoy the kind of canine friendship I’ve always yearned for.

Or maybe I’ll just get another cat.

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