Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pet Loves

I come from a long line of folks who could be classed as animal lovers. It's a trait that is predominant on both sides of my family. My dad's family almost all lean towards dogs but on my Mom's side, it can encompass just about any type of pet that comes into one's life.

When I was only about six months old, my Mom's younger brother brought home a puppy that was a collie/shepherd mix and Lady was shared by my grandfather and me. Although she was a devoted watchdog to me as I grew up, she was really more attuned to Grandpa and he, to her.

When I was twelve years old, Grandpa died and about six weeks later, Lady followed after him. For the few weeks she lived after Grandpa's death, it was more than obvious that she was mourning him. Always an outdoors dog (she had a really thick coat and didn't particularly like being inside unless forced to come in the house when the weather was really terribly cold, snowy, icy or some such), after Grandpa died, she developed a routine each day.

First, she would go to the neighbor's house almost directly across from ours and would sit out by their coal shanty for a period of time. Then she would walk to the next neighbor's home and sit there a little while too. Pretty soon, she would go on to the third neighbor's home and sit there, waiting, it seemed for him to come out. Finally, she would go down the street to the home of my Grandfather's older brother and would sit on their front porch, again waiting for Grandpa to come out and walk home with her.

When he never materialized at any of these places, she would begin the walk back home but always with her head down and tail tucked between her legs as a sign that she was looking for her owner and evidently grieving for him to return.

Over the years since the passings of Grandpa and Lady, there have been a lot of dogs and cats that have been part of my life, and that played big roles too within the family for my children and for me. We've had more than our fair share of dogs - Duffy, Cindy, Jingles, Harvey, Cactus, Willie, Sheba, Fred, Ceaser as well as several cats - Frosty, Aces, Bengay, Tom, George and Gracie. Today, we only have the one cat - Gracie - who has been part of the family for almost 15 years now. She is really my daughter's cat but I have to confess I love her dearly too.

But the one pet that was a part of my life from 1958 until 1963 was really the absolute most special. That was Duffy.

I remember how I came to acquire him. I was in confirmation class at the time at our church and our pastor's dog had had a litter of four pups which were just barely old enough to be taken away from the mother and he was desperately searching for homes for these pups because he had to attend a conference out-of-town for a week and there was no one willing to care for a mother dog and four little pups. So he offered each of us in the confirmation class first choice on taking one of these lovely little beings home to be part of our family.

I selected a little male - roly-poly, with a belly so round it drug on the floor when he tried to walk. My mother was not pleased at all when I came home with him either. She had liked Lady, the other dog well enough, but since Lady didn't really want to be an indoor dog, Mom got along with her fine that way.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table across from Mom, holding this puppy next to me and his face snuggled against my cheek as I stroked him ever so lovingly and pleaded with my Mom to allow him to stay with us. She tried every argument possible as to why she didn't want another dog, why he couldn't or shouldn't stay with us and I kept on badgering her. At one point, this pup turned his face to look at Mom and with those big sad puppy eyes staring at her, she finally relented.

"OK, you can stay," she told him and added "Now quite giving me a guilt trip with those eyes!"

Living with Duffy was quite an adventure. He was allowed in the house or let loose to roam outdoors freely too. The latter is not something pet owners can do these days because if a dog is left to run outside alone, they end up being reported to the dog catcher and if caught, the owner then faces a fine. But, that was a different era totally and Duffy came and went pretty much as he pleased.

And roam he did too! One day, after being out exploring, he came back to the house and tracked blood all over the floors of the downstairs from a cut he had managed to get in one of his back paws. Mom was angry at the mess he had made but still the nurse in her made sure his wound was all cleaned out and properly bandaged, treated over the next few days so it healed properly.

Another time, before he was a year old, he had followed my friend Kate and I up to church one night as we had to attend choir practice. On the walk back home, he was flitting around us, back and forth across the road, and was struck by a member of our church who, thankfully, was driving slowly down the road. Duffy let out a yelp and took off running and in the darkness, we searched and searched for him but couldn't find him. In tears, I came home and told Mom what happened and insisted she get the car out and we went driving along the road, up and down the hill where he had been hit in search of him until well past 11 p.m. that night. Mom insisted we had to go home and just wait to see if he found his way back on his own by morning and if not, we would go out and search again in the daylight. I was so upset I couldn't go to school the next day but about 9 a.m., the tears changed to cries of glee as he slowly meandered down the road and to the front door, barking to be let in. Apparently he was only bumped and very frightened by the accident and only suffered a little bit of bruising.

Then, about a year after that, he came home late one afternoon - again, bleeding - and upon inspection, Mom discovered he had been shot. The bullet apparently had entered around his neck and lucky for him, had just traveled under the skin along his rib cage and exited down by his hip but never penetrated anything under that. That marked Duffy's first trip to the vet to be treated for that injury and he recovered just fine and dandy.

When he was about 3 years old, he had picked up a nasty case of mange - so severe that his back was basically raw from his tail up to his neck. Because any time Mom, my grandmother and I went to visit any of my aunts and uncles for a weekend or longer, Duffy always went with us, and we happened to have gone to Jamestown, NY for a short visit with my aunt and uncle there and that uncle was so upset with the dog's condition, he insisted on taking him to the vet there to be treated.

The vet said we had to leave him there overnight to be bathed, scrubbed down really good, really, and then treated in the morning for the mange. When we went back to the Vet's the next morning to collect him, the vet came out and asked if one of us would come back to the treatment room and hold the dog because he wouldn't allow the vet or his assistant near him. When I walked into the treatment room, poor terrified little Duffy was laying on the examining table and upon seeing me, he leapt from the table right into my arms, shaking and shivering in fear. I held him tightly, close against me, while the vet took an electric razor and shaved up his backside, right over those open sores from the mange. And all the while the vet was doing that, Duffy cried and cried. And, so did both my Mom and I too! We wept right along with him for the pain he had to endure that morning.

The end for Duffy came in June of 1963. I came home from work one day and Mom told me to not go near him because he was sick and she wasn't sure what was wrong with him but was very worried because he was frothing at the mouth.

My immediate reaction was to go find him and hold him and crying, I insisted we ahd to take him to the vet. And so, off we went.

The vet's diagnosis was not good - he felt this beloved pet had contracted spinal meningitis and he really didn't hold out much hope for his recovery. The only thing that could be done he said was to give him a very strong injection of sodium pentathol which would knock him out for at least 48 hours and after he came out from having been under that it would be touch and go then if he would recover completely.
With orders to turn him every two hours to prevent the fluid from accumulating in his lungs, Mom and I brought him home and tried to make him comfortable as he "slept" out on our backporch. I sat with him and sobbed each time I lifted him to turn his small body.

Meanwhile, two elderly neighbor ladies who were very close family friends had come to visit my Mom - to pay more condolences to us since my Grandmother had passed away about 3 weeks earlier and there I was nursing this sick dog. These two old ladies held very different views about pets. The one, was an animal lover and very sweet to me as she came out to look in on me as I cared for my pet. She tried to console me, telling me it would all be ok and he would get better and I cried some more as I turned him again, trying to believe in her words. Then, her sister came out to check on me and she was not quite as optimistic. She also didn't really care all that much for having animals in one's house either. I remember her telling me, with her soft Swedish accent, "Oh you'll see, Yennifer (she pronounced the "J" in my name as a "Y"), it vill be better when he's dead. You'll see!" And again, as I dissolved into more tears, I shook my head and agreed that she was probably right in her assessments too.

Duffy lasted not quite 36 hours under the dosage of the sodium pentathol before his spirit left his body and he was gone from me. We buried him in the backyard beside Lady, the first dog that had been part of my life.

Besides getting into his little scrapes and his medical issues here and there, Duffy was my constant companion over the five years we had him.

Always the tomboy, I spent most of my free time, year-round, riding my bicycle, which was a beautiful boy's bike - a Schwinn Hornet - and I had a wicker type basket on the front of the bike, along with something else no one else in town had, an odometer! I would put Duffy in the basket on my bike and away we would go, riding up and down the road in front of our house. I can still see Duffy's ears, flapping away in the breeze as I pedaled away at the top speed I could achieve on that great bike.

Duffy followed me all over if my friend Kate and I went for walks too and it was always really hilarious to see how he would react as we would walk past our neighbor's house, three doors up from ours. That family had two beagles that were indoor pets and when those dogs would see or hear us coming up the road, they would run from window to window in the front of their home, peaking their noses between the venetian blinds and barking loudly at Duffy. Now Duff was not really notorious for being a brave dog, just a loyal one but as long as those two dogs were in their house, he would run down along their front porch and bark in response to them, sounding really ferocious in the process. But, if those two dogs happened to be tied up out front of the house, Duff would walk alongside of me, very quietly, narry a peep out of him until we were well beyond that home!

We used to joke about him being such a wonderful watchdog too. NOT! Mom always said if someone tried to break into our house, Duffy would probably show them where the key was as long as the offenders spoke kindly to him as they tried to make their entry. Yep, he made friends very easily, that's for sure.

He loved to lay on the old sofa on our sunporch and sleep too. And, the parakeet we had back then had learned to talk and had a habit of bouncing back and forth in his cage, whistling like I would do when calling the dog in, then Billy (the parakeet) would call out "Here, Duff, Here Duff!" and the poor mutt would rouse up from his nap, look around to see who was calling to him and realizing he had, once again been fooled by the bird, finally lay back down and go back to sleep.

He also liked to come into the living room in the evenings as Mom and I would be watching tv and while Mom always sat in this one chair that had an open space under the armrest, he would squeeze in between that chair and the sofa and put his head under the armrest into Mom's lap signaling her that he wanted her to pet him. As she would sit there, watching tv and stroking his head, he would then begin the slow process of adding one paw into her lap, then another and before she knew it, he would have managed to crawl completely up, through that opening and would end up perched in her lap!

And here it is now, 43 years later, and I still miss that dog. For all the other animals that have come and gone in my life, there has never been another dog that was quite as wonderful as Duffy was and I doubt there will ever be another pet that could possibly begin to measure up to him.

Where ever you are today Duffy, I still miss you.

Funny, isn't it, how one small mutt can influence your life?

1 comment:

Paige said...

My dog was named Butch, black lab mix. He had a hard life from the beginning. Parvo, allgery to fleas (not just the usual itchey) hit by a truck-busted jaw, wired shut, dislocated hip & broken leg, heartworms (even tho I gave him his meds just like I was supposed to). I nursed him threw it all. I love that old dog. Butch has been gone now for 18 years. I still dream about him, jumping in the bed and curling up behing my knees. I hope if I should make to heaven that he will be there, one of the many to greet me.