Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dogs: Man's (and Woman's) Best Friends

We have been dog owners for all the thirty-six years of our marriage. During all that time, whenever we became dog-less through doggie-death, another stray would show up soon and take up residence with us; these have all been big dogs, usually two at a time. We have actually sought out, on purpose, only three dogs—Flash, Alex, and Taz. During those years, we have always had at least one cat, once as many as nine, including kittens.

Flash was an adorable Bassett hound mama dog who had just given birth to six puppies. Our children were begging for a Bassett hound for Christmas. The owners of Flash and her puppies offered us a puppy, but when I went to get one, I could see that they were not going to look like Bassett hounds; their daddy was somebody else. So, I offered to take the mama. The owners were delighted at this unexpected turn of events. I took a picture of her and put it in a Christmas card with the assurance that this doggie would be ours as soon as she finished her motherly duties. She was a wonderful, loving pet. We had her spayed, and she lived with us for about two years before getting run over by a car while wandering with our current stray. (We live in the country where dogs run loose.)

Several strays later, our daughter wanted a black lab puppy for her high school graduation gift. We found the perfect one and had her registered: Alexandria (Something) Callarman, who became known as Alex. We had her spayed, and she lived with and loved us for thirteen years. (You’re right: our daughter went off to college when she finished the local junior college and left Alex right here with us.) Even though Alex weighed about seventy pounds, she had to sit in our laps sometimes. She went wandering often with the strays and was eventually killed on the highway.

After Alex, we had two strays, Bubba and Jack; actually, they overlapped with her. They lived with and loved us for about twelve years altogether. After they died, both of old age, we decided it was time to become dog-less for a while. That lasted for about six months.

During the time that our yard and garage were unguarded, we realized that possums and raccoons were coming often to eat the cat food. One night, hearing noise, I looked out and saw a skunk and a raccoon having a shoving match over the cat food. They tried to shoulder each other out of the way politely for a while. Then the battle escalated. They were rear to rear, pushing each other as hard as they could. We decided it was time to get a big dog or two.

Since no stray had appeared, we looked on the Internet and found Taz, a big neutered male black-lab mixture, at Rescue the Animals. From the moment we got him, he became our best dog yet, although he has a close rival in Spot, a big stray who came along to join Taz. That was almost three years ago.

Taz was owned by someone who kept the gigantic dog indoors and fed him nothing but dry dog food. He had (and still has) impeccable manners—has never once jumped on or slobbered on anybody. The first night, we had to keep the garage light on all night because he was afraid of the dark outdoors. He would rather be petted than eat; he seems to live to be near us. When we come out, he dashes over as fast as he can and sits politely as close as he can, hoping we will talk to him and pet him; he will sit as long as we will keep petting him. I rub his silky ears and neck and call him my “sweet baby.” He loves that.

Soon after we got him, we discovered that he is obsessed with chasing a tennis ball. We keep a supply for him, since they often get lost. He has all the neighbors, the grandchildren, the meter readers, the plumber, the electrician, and the air conditioner man trained to throw the ball for him. When we come home from somewhere, he grabs the ball, brings it to the car, and deposits it in the floor of the car in hopes of some good throwing.

Like Flash, Alex, and all those strays, Taz loves us with no strings attached. If we hide his ball so that we can get some outside chore done, or because we get tired of throwing it, he never holds a grudge. He understands and accepts the fact that we won’t let him in the house, and he adores us anyway. I believe God created dogs with this ability to love without conditions, without manipulation, without inhibitions, so that we can see a picture of his kind of pure love. We should love God and each other in the same open, clear-eyed, unconditional way that our dogs love us. That’s how love is supposed to be.

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