In my household, pets are not simply a four-legged creature that takes up space and occasionally eats your garbage. For me, pets are family (who may occasionally eat your garbage). They are simply a furrier, less talkative member, which honestly might be better sometimes!
The current love of my life, Fisher King Long.
Our March/April issue of the Roanoker has a lot of great content, but I admit that there are a couple articles in there that particularly hit home for me. We're talking about our Best Pets in Town in this issue, where a few of my coworkers' animals are featured complete with bios and best advice from their owners. Publisher Richard Wells wrote about his dogs, Lucky and Lily (click here to read his piece), and how some animals have a way of sneaking into your life when you least expect it.
It got me thinking about my childhood. I grew up constantly surrounded by dogs and there's no doubt in my mind that it factored into the person I am today. You see, my family raised dogs. Specifically, we bred Old English Sheepdogs. These loyal, protective dogs were smart, too; with 12 acres of land, they were free to roam, but they knew how to find their way back at dinnertime each night. I grew up as an only child and had no problem spending hours reading with a puppy in my lap or wandering the woods, imagining myself as a great traveler with her trusty four-legged sidekick to help her discover treasures.
I remember the puppies best. To many other kids, dogs were just a fun distraction from homework or something they HAD to have because their friends had one. For me, dogs were a joyful responsibility, a creature that depended on me for survival - and I would never want to let them down. My father didn't shield me from the job, instead letting me be a part of the circle of life. I helped bring many of those sheepdog puppies into this world; my mother still has a framed photo of six-year-old me (grinning like a fool) sitting in the circle with the mother, covered in black and white babies that were just learning to walk. I can still remember the smell of puppy chow as my mother made rice and boiled chicken. Ethel the sheepdog once birthed sixteen puppies. SIXTEEN! Every one of them lived to find a caring new home, as we were very careful of who they went to. My dad often told the story of how one afternoon, he walked out into the backyard to find me sleeping, 16 puppies covering nearly every inch of me as we snoozed in the sun. I woke up nose to nose with one, his brown eyes staring me down in that happy way that said it was playtime. That is easily one of my favorite childhood memories.
Sheepdogs weren't the only breed we offered a home to, even if their stay was temporary. There was Jake, the insane black Lab who ate everything in his path. I'll never forget coming home one day to find my Barbie dolls strewn throughout the house, as well as the trauma of seeing them head- and limb-less (presumably because Jake ATE THEM). To this day, I still laugh when I think about that moment we found him, tail wagging and looking supremely satisfied with his day's work (it's much funnier now than it was then). He might not have been the smartest guy on the block, but it's hard to be mad at a dog when he's so cheerful and happy to have you home.
Tutti-Frutti was a little Boston terrier, a neurotic, yappity guy who was terrified of nearly everyone. It took a while for him to warm up, but it was important to me - even at ten years old - that I didn't give up on him. I was rewarded one chilly night when he chose to sit on the couch next to me and didn't run away when I dared snuggle in a little closer.
Then there was Daisy, the American cocker spaniel who became my closest confidante. She was mine, and mine alone, and I bawled my little eyes out the night my parents gave her to me. Daisy got me through childhood and high school, my parents' divorce, and the drama of being a teenager. She had nothing but love to give and I remember her better than most of my high school friends who have long since lost touch.
It was she who taught me that a dog will always be there for you. They might not have the capacity to understand the details of your life, but I guarantee they'll be by your side when you laugh or cry. People don't give dogs enough credit; they are smart enough to understand your emotions and tone of voice. I know mine didn't leave my side when I was sick (only a couple weeks ago, Fisher stayed in bed next to me, or sat by the door waiting to be let in because he knew he could comfort me).
When my husband and I adopted our first dog Oliver, we had three wonderful months with him. We lost him very suddenly (perhaps a heart defect or otherwise unknown cause) and while it's certainly not equal to losing a child, the week without him left me heartbroken. The following Saturday, we could no longer stand the empty house, so we made an hour's trip to meet our new family member, Fisher (pictured above).
He's the first Jack Russell terrier I've owned and just like your dogs, he brings me immense joy. He is smart and photogenic and has more personality than any other dog I've owned, which, as you can see now, is saying something! I often joke that my husband gives more affection to him than to me - but who could blame him with Fisher's adorable face? We do not have children, so we give all our love to him. (So does my mother, who spoils her grand-dog with toys, sweaters, and more things than a dog could ever want or need.)
No matter the different characteristics of each breed in my life so far, there is one common factor: your dog adores you. He will be there for you through thick and thin; she will greet you at the door, tail wagging and ready to play; they will lick your tears away, lay with you in bed to their heart's content, and never, ever give up on the hope of a human treat. They are predictable, and in that way, dependable.
Dogs can teach you how to be empathetic. Because of how I grew up, I began volunteering at the animal shelter at 14; even now, I still jump in to help where I can with Angels of Assisi Christmas photos or sharing RVSPCA photos in hopes someone will adopt. I am quick to pet any friendly dog coming my way (an easy way to break the ice with a stranger), as well as passionate about topics such as leaving your pets out in the snow or in a car on a hot summer day. I have purpose as a dog-lover and protector. I have endless amounts of love as a dog owner.
Being raised by dogs made me a better person. I've often remarked that I love dogs more than people and while that's only a half-joke, I don't think I'd be hard-pressed to find others who agree with me.