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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dogs in My Life


I've written before in this blog about my pets (see below), but today I want to tell you about my dogs.

I grew up in a home that always had one dog, never more, but that dog was a treasured member of the family. On the other hand, since we were an Air Force family, there was lots of moving, and frequently the dog did not go with us, so there were a number of them. I loved them all.

The first was a German Sheppard named "Wolf," who my father purchased primarily as protection for my mother and me (age 1 or 2), and then my sister Mary Beth, who is two years younger than I. This was in Jackson, Mississippi, where Mary Beth was born (allowing her to claim to be a Southerner). All I remember of Wolf is from pictures, but my parents swore that dog would grab me my the diapers to keep me from crossing the street. Alas, they had to get rid of Wolf since he was too protective of me. I've always had very curly hair that little old ladies liked to touch, making Wolf growl deep in his throat. Dad, afraid of losing a little old lady, gave him away.


The first dog I do recall was a very smart cocker spaniel named "Kimmy," (Pensacola, Florida). She was so clever that Dad would say to her, "Kimmy, go get a shoe," and she would trot off to his closet, snag a shoe, and bring it to him. If he said that wasn’t the right one, she'd take it back, bring another, and when one was finally accepted, immediately fetch its mate.

Me, Mom, Mary Beth, and Aunt Mazzie (wet Kimmy)
When we went to Japan (1954-57—I was 10 to 13 in this period), the first dog we acquired was Tomadachi, a spitz, but she didn't last long, having female troubles. The dog we had most of the time in Japan was a big stray mutt who hung around our house until my soft-hearted mother started feeding him, at which point he moved right in. We called him "Harko." He wore a choker chain that was too small for him, had a number of brutal scars, and obviously had been physically abused by men because he kept a careful distance from Dad, not even letting him pet him. Robert Whaley, who'd grown up with birddogs, worked patiently with Harko until they were great buddies. Dad always said that Harko was a "perfect gentleman. Dad put effort into taking Harko back to the United States with us, but couldn't get permission for him from customs and, with much regret, had to Harko leave behind. At one point the old choker chain was clearly biting into Harko's neck, so Dad took him to the vet. When the chain was finally cut off (three men holding Harko), the dog took in a large gasp of air, yowled with pain because it turned out the chain had grown right into his neck, but then spent days of frisking about, happy as canines get, which is very happy indeed.

We moved to Nashville in early 1957, where I attended the first three years of high school. Dad, again wanting protection for his family when he was away on Air Force business, took Mary Beth and I, over Mom's objection ("No more dogs!") to a professional breeder of boxers, and we selected a puppy, all ears and big feet, and delighted to play with anyone near him. We took him home, loosed him into the house (the three of us huddled conspiratorially on the porch) and let the oversize puppy find my mother, who, in spite of protestations to the contrary, was a sucker for dogs). "Ah, look at him! Come here, puppy!" solved the Mom problem, and so "Honcho"—Japanese for "group leader," like the island—came into our lives.

Honcho was a great dog: smart, funny, loving, mischievous. But if someone came to the door and Dad wasn't home, he leaped into protective mode, and had to be held tightly by a choker chain to keep from devouring the intruder. Once satisfied said intruder was benign, Honcho then helped welcome this person in, insisted on being petted, and then would fall asleep, snoring contentedly. You could play complicated games with Honcho. One favorite involved getting on your hands and knees opposite him with a tennis ball on the floor between you. You would count to three slowly and when "three" was said either you would snatch away the ball with your hand of Honcho would have it in his teeth. He understood the game perfectly, but humans typically won, and he didn't like that. So he would cheat. He's snatch the ball on "two." Chastised for that, he'd sulk and refuse to play. Or, accepting he couldn't grab the ball on "two," when that number was announced he'd calmly put his huge paw on top of the ball to hold it in place for the upcoming "three." That too was declared a rules violation. The real solution was to let him win enough times that his heart was in the game.

I was a teenager during the Honcho period, and that meant I liked to sleep in a lot. Mom would get annoyed that I wasn't up and doing chores or whatever. My bedroom was on the second floor and I'd hear her calling up the stairs. "Doug, are you awake?" "Yes, awake and dressing, Mom," (a lie, as she knew). "Doug, I'm not calling you again!" "Good!" "I'm sending up Honcho!" "Aaak!!!" "Go get Doug, Honcho!" There would then be a noise like the Fifth Battalion Marines thundering up the stairs, my bedroom door would burst open, and 90 lbs of loving boxer would spring, drooling with excitement, into the bed, ready to lick my skin off. At this moment there were two choices, both with the same ending. Either I would get up, or I would hold him tightly until the excitement died down and he was willing to try and sleep with me. But that meant a slobbering (and frequently farting) dog in bed, and I would rise.

When we moved to Virginia for my senior year of high school, base housing would not allow dogs, so Honcho was given away to a friend of the family who lived next to a golf course.

He was the last of the dogs in my life. After my heart transplant the infectious disease doctor said that I had to get rid of my parakeets, and eventually he cleared me for "a mammal as long as you don't deal with the feces." Well, in today's world that's impossible with a dog, but there exists a self-cleaning cat litter box, emptied once a week (by my cleaning people), so now I have two cats described in prior posts, Mama and Barney, and we're having a good life together. Mama (smart as cats get) still thinks she's in charge, Barney (lovable and stupid) just wants to be petted and played with, and it's a happy home. Mama is so clever that the other night, trapped in the bathtub with a towel on the floor out of reach I briefly wondered if I could communicate to Mama the idea of dragging it over to me. Thinking it through I decided that I actually might be able to get her to understand the task, but then I'd have a further problem. Her reaction (could she speak) would certainly be, "What an idea! I'm a cat. I don't do chores."
Barney and Mama
But, like all these animals, she loves me, and, really, that's all I ask.
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Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
"Parakeets and Me," February 5, 2010
“Bears,” February 23, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Milking Cows," June 8, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
"Barney Cat and the Big Mammal Nightmare," January 7, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

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