I want a puppy. Except maybe I don’t.
I have had three dogs in my life that I would call mine. We’ve had lots of dogs, from an Irish setter when we lived in the UK, to a rather promiscuous “Lady” whose trips to the collie up the road produced many beautiful pups, one of which was my first dog, Mutt.
Mutt was a smart dog who didn’t get challenged very much. He learned how to live with us and did pretty well. He’d never been house broken, but one very cold winter, he was allowed on our front porch. Somehow that became permanent. Mutt died while I was at college. He loved to run beside the road, chasing cars. But with the snow built up, the side of the road wasn’t available. My mom had to call and tell me he’d been killed.
I was in graduate school when I got my next dog. I was in an apartment, living by myself, and I got a Black Lab and named him Kal. When I went to pick out a puppy, Kal was one of only a few pups available. I took him out to the yard, he did figure-eights around my legs and puked on my shoe. He christened me, so I picked him. I had lots of free time, which was good, though not a lot of energy, which wasn’t so good. Kal would get hyper and run figure-eights around my apartment. I would pull my feet up on the couch and let him go. Around the couch, around the table, around the couch, around the table, over and over. When I got him home from school, the same thing happened, except he’d dash out into the hay field and circle back to me, then dash into the field on the other side of the lawn, doing huge figure-eights, with a mad dash at the back of my knees if I wasn’t paying close enough attention.
Kal was another smart dog, smarter than me sometimes. He had to train me to recognize when he needed to go out, though I did accidentally train him not to poop in short grass. He even knew a few hand signals. He was a Lab who hated water, and loud noises, and guns, and wasn’t a great retriever. Luckily, I’m not a hunter, so that mostly didn’t matter. The only real problem with Kal was that he wouldn’t let you do anything to him. He’d take your head off if you tried to cut his toenails. Bathing was out of the question. A vet trip required a muzzle. As soon as you quit doing whatever it was he didn’t like, he was a love bug.
Kal also died on the road. I don’t really know what happened. We had extra people in the house. I didn’t even know someone had let Kal out. My aunt found him on the road when she went out for a walk. I never saw him. My dad and uncle buried him before I was even awake.
It took a few years before I was ready for another dog. My uncle had a litter of three he was trying to re-home. I looked them over and picked out the one that seemed to be the most laid-back of the three. At eight weeks, I got Dexter. They say there’s no such thing as a free puppy and that was so very true. Dexter had been living in a barn. He had ringworm and an infection from scratching. A vet trip got him his first shots, a prescription for antibiotics and a bottle of lime sulfur dip. “Lime” doesn’t sound so bad, but it’s not that kind of lime. The stuff stunk and I had to bathe my pup in it every couple of days for a ten days. The advantage, Dexter was not Kal, not by a long shot. He didn’t like bathing, but he only complained a little before giving up any sort of struggle. It was a blessing.
Dexter turned into a fifty-pound lapdog. He was a little cat-like. He liked to snuggle when he wanted to, but he was fairly aloof. Oddly, he was a better retriever than Kal, though he really preferred to run things down with a shoulder. Dexter also liked to wander. There were days he didn’t come home at all. As he got older, he settled down. I was worried about a limp, so we were attached for most of the time, keeping him to a walk with me for short morning and longer evening walk. One advantage to living in the middle of nowhere, when he got better, I could take him out and let him off-leash when we got off the road for our night walks.
Dexter had just turned five in November when I noticed a lump on his chest. Kal had had a number of fatty deposits as he aged, so I wasn’t too worried. But, two days later, the lump had grown enough that the skin of his chest was hanging down. I was going to call the vets office, but it was Saturday morning. Dexter went out that morning before I was up for work. He didn’t come back. Since he was a wanderer, I didn’t worry much at first, just decided to wait until he came back to call the vet. But he didn’t come back. I looked up and down the road in case he’d been hit. I checked the local shelters. Called for him and waited. After a week, I told myself that if he could have come home, he would have. At a month, I really did give up hope. I had three theories: someone shot him, someone took him home, or he went out to die. If I had to pick one, I’d go with the last.
As the time has passed, I miss having a companion. Late-night walks make me feel uncomfortable without a dog or a gun (downfall of living in the middle of nowhere: wildlife). Besides, there’s just something about having another life in the house. I keep thinking about wanting another dog. My life has been very busy lately, but it’s finally settling into something close to normal. I don’t have any travel plans. Nothing to keep me from being able to deal with a new life. Other than the need to clean my room.
But then I remember how much work a puppy is. So, maybe a dog, instead. They’re always puppies, anyway, right?