I spend a lot of my time these days with our dog, Doc. Doc is a Golden Retriever. His full name is Dr. Teddy Benson, due to diverse views about naming him. He was Benson for a couple of days, but the kids wanted to call him Teddy. I prefer single syllable names for calling purposes, so “Doc” worked fine for me. As we intended to train him as a therapy dog, he quickly became Dr. Teddy at Oak Grove School. Indeed he did pass his dog therapist test (which included walking over food!) and he is a compassionate and pleasant companion. He is not much of a retriever, chasing balls or sticks, but then refusing to bring them to you. But he is a fine companion: positive, friendly, enthusiastic and appreciative to be included in any activity. And he likes to please. He easily adapted to fly fishing with me, keeping to my left, not disturbing the pond or molesting the fish that I would bring to net. We have recently begun to take him golfing and he will stay with the cart, guarding it while we go off to putt. He is happy on any trail and simply ecstatic on the beach where it is his joyful duty to be certain that no bird is allowed to stand on the shore, where no day is complete without the digging of a massive hole….which is odd, as he never digs otherwise.
Whenever I could manage it in my life, I have had a dog. Before Doc, there was Bilko (didn’t choose that name either), who was a gentle giant of a dog, a shepherd/malamute of 170 lbs who seemed straight out of a Jack London novel. Meredy was always frightened of large dogs, but Bilko cured that. She was simply in love with him. Bilko was the son of dog from a nearby farm who had the unique habit of articulating her thoughts, so Bilko was also a “talker”. Most of the time, he made complete sense. He was a remarkable being and one day I might have to write a full piece on him. Meredy came to our relationship with Maxine, a very small dog…a teacup poodle… with a very large personality. At that time, we had Max, who had lost a leg to cancer at four, but lived on to 16. As Maxine grew up with Meredy’s children, so Max was the companion to mine…especially Dylan, with whom he slept. If one has enough dogs, as with having children, it is easy to learn that they each have their own unique personality and, like children, they respond well to love. Yet, unlike children, they adore you always.
As a child, we had a succession of dogs, but few of them lasted long. We briefly had a Scotty dog, but he spent entire days scratching at our back door until he destroyed it. One day he was gone. We very briefly had a small shepherd, but he was very aggressive and he was finally given to a friend who needed a guard dog for his car lot. There was a very cute little beagle, named Lady (yes, it was from Lady and the Tramp) but she sprinted onto 26th street one afternoon to meet her demise. She was followed by Kelly, an Irish Border Collie who was an escape artist, running away every chance that he could, evidently to screw his way across Santa Monica. (It never occurred to anyone to have him fixed.) We had a high ivy covered fence in the yard and he learned that he could scramble over it with a running start. After about the sixth time we bailed him out from the dog pound, I think that my Mom just left him there. Perhaps not, but our Mom did not really care for dogs, or any animals at that. We were not allowed to speak of any animal at the dinner table. Honestly. She would say “Oh, Dennis. Don’t talk about (dogs, horses, snakes, cats….) at the dinner table.” Unfortunately, Kelly was also an inveterate crotch sniffer. If he got into the house while my Mom had friends or aunts over, he would go through the room like a heat seeking missile, pressing his nose into women and the harder they pushed him away the more persistent he would become. For this reason, Kelly had to live in the yard. I would sneak him in each night and he would sleep under my bed.
Currently, some dear friends are nursing their dog, Jesse, through her final days, yet just when they are set to call the vet, she brings them her ball or wants a walk. Several other close friends, recently said goodbye to old dogs, long-time friends, nearly children to them. The loss was like putting a child down: Stanley, Cedar, Roscoe…dear souls. My heart goes out to these folks. In fact, the only downside of dogs is that they do not live long, but still they are quite worth it. As, right to the end, dogs remain true companions, open hearted, unfailingly positive, and completely lacking in criticism. We should all be such.