Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Memories: Dogs and Cats

Today I thought I’d write a little about the various dogs and cats I had when I was a kid. A word of warning: for the most part, these stories do not end well.

The first dog I ever remember was a sweet little cocker spaniel named Taffy. I was around four or five at the time. I don’t know for sure how long my family had had her, but she got sick and died fairly soon after I got old enough to remember such things. I don’t recall the cause, but I do know my parents weren’t the sort to get immunizations for their dogs or to take them to the vet when they got sick. They weren’t exactly cold-hearted about such things, but they had both grown up during the Depression and they were . . . pragmatic, let’s say . . . about a lot of things. A pet dies, you get another one and go on.

We didn’t have much luck with the next dog, either, a little fluffy white spitz/poodle mix whose name I don’t remember, because we had her only a few months before she came down with distemper and passed away.

With that sort of track record, it might not have been a good idea for us to get another dog, but we did, a female beagle/terrier mix named Lady. My parents didn’t believe in getting pets fixed, either, and since Lady roamed loose in the neighborhood, it was inevitable that she’d wind up with a litter of puppies. They gave all of them away except for a fat, clumsy little pup I named Egbert (I was already a weird kid). We called him Eggy.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I don’t remember what happened to Lady. We had her for several years, and she and Eggy made a good pair. I think she got sick and died, but she may have gotten hit by a car. I just don’t recall. But then for several more years, Eggy was my only dog.

His problem was that he really liked to wander and would be gone for several days at a time. One time when my mother was driving along the service road beside the highway about half a mile from the street where we lived, she spotted him inside the fenced front yard of one of the houses. There was no doubt about it being Eggy. He had wandered that far and the people who lived there had claimed him as their own.

Now, I have some issues with my mother to this day, but that day she rose to the occasion and marched up there to get Eggy back. Problem is, nobody was home. So my mother called him over to the fence (of course he knew her, she fed him part of the time), reached into the yard, and stole him right back from those people! I was very impressed when I heard about it.

After that, I got my dad to strengthen the fence in our back yard and we started keeping Eggy in there instead of letting him roam free. That worked for a while, but I know from later experience that when a beagle wants to get out, even a part-beagle, most of the time it gets out. And so did Eggy, and a day or two after he disappeared, my dad found his body out on the highway where he’d been hit by a car. He brought Eggy home but had to go on to work, so my mother and I buried him behind the barn down on the back of our place, not far from the creek. I was a freshman in high school by that time and that was the first time I lost a pet that I’d had for a number of years. Eggy must have been seven or eight years old when his luck ran out.

I wanted another dog but didn’t want to have to deal with one getting out and getting killed like that, so I talked my dad into putting up a good chain link fence around the back yard. We put it up ourselves, one of the few projects like that we worked on together when I was a kid. It wasn’t escape-proof, but darned near. Of course, as it turned out, our next dog was content to stay home and had no desire to get out at all.

My dad knew a guy who raised pure-bred border collies and sold them all over the United States. (No matter what you wanted done or what you wanted to buy, my dad “knew a guy”.) This breeder had a female pup who wasn’t worth anything as a show dog because of some minor misconfiguration, crooked teeth or something, so he gave her to my dad. I named her Tippy because her tail was black except for a white tip. I convinced my parents to get her fixed so she wouldn’t want to roam, but I’m not sure she would have, anyway. She was a great dog, loving and loyal and at times my best friend in the world. I sat on the cement steps leading from our back door out onto the back porch, and she would sit right beside me while I poured my heart out to her about whatever angst was going on in my life at the moment.

I finished high school and went off to college and Tippy stayed home, of course. Then Livia and I got married, but we lived in an apartment so we couldn’t take Tippy with us, and honestly, I wouldn’t have uprooted her from what was really the only home she’d ever known. I always enjoyed visiting with her whenever we went over there, though. When she finally died of old age, Livia and I buried her down behind the barn, not far from where Eggy was laid to rest. I could take you right there and point out the spots, but somebody else owns the place now.

While we went through all those dogs, we also had a cat. That’s right, a cat. His name was Tiger, and he started out as a yellow tabby kitten I brought home with me after a visit to my aunt’s house in Blanket. He was a stray who’d been hanging around her place. I was six years old. As you might guess, Tiger never got his shots or went to the vet and he had free run of the neighborhood, but he was a tough son of a gun and survived hundreds of fights over the next ten or twelve years. He would disappear for days and then show up again, battered and chewed but looking pleased with himself, as if he were thinking, “You oughta see the other cat!” Once he was gone for two weeks, and I thought, that’s it, he’s never coming back, but then I looked out the kitchen window one morning and there he was, sitting on the porch, calmly washing himself and waiting for somebody to feed him.

Of course, the time came when Tiger didn’t come back. He was a good cat, and despite his rough life, he always seemed happy.

I’m sorry this post is a bit of a downer, but that’s part of life, too, I suppose. To quote Irving Townsend, “We who chose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”


Walker Martin said...

I've had dogs but I have bad memories about them dying. So I can't handle the grief anymore and at present I have no pets. Who ever rules the Universe, god or mother nature, really screwed up when they arranged for dogs to live 10 or so years but mankind lives around 80. Why? Because dogs are really man's best friend and it's so terrible to see them die such early deaths.

Rick Robinson said...

We had to have our 16 year-old cat, Belle, put down just a month ago, with all of the sadness that attends such events. I didn't think I could go through that again, but three weeks later we adopted a 4 year old male, who we renamed Dexter. All of our cats have been exclusively indoor pets, so they live a little longer, but still. We know we have signed up for that eventual pain. The love during their lifetime is worth it.