They listen without interrupting or judging your faltering words. They are there to lift your spirits just by standing at your side. At times they try your patience, but quickly work to mend any wrong with a lopsided look. Their eyes convey only admiration and love for the one they call master and a good belly rub is a priceless reward for their dedication. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to own a good dog knows these things are true. There is no better friend than a faithful companion who loves and listens unconditionally.
From childhood I have always been a dog person. Cats have never really appealed to me. No offense to all you feline lovers, but my experiences with this species has never been pleasant. Canines on the other hand are my kind of critter. Throughout my life we have always had a dog. Whether they were dad’s beagle hounds or a family “mutt” there was a four legged friend around the corner somewhere. It wasn’t unusual to see our dog walking around with a shirt or a doll dress on. I figured they were the perfect buddy to play dress up with although the poor animals probably did not appreciate my fashion sense.
Everyone most likely can remember at least one great dog from their lives either as a child or into adulthood. I have been fortunate enough to have known several. When I was a little girl my Papaw McKinney had a black lab named “Digger”. Digger was by far one of the most patient and protective dogs I have ever known. He tolerated all of us grandkids climbing on him and loving him to the point of aggravation. He was a constant porch companion for my papaw and signaled the coming of any car down the driveway. One of his most admirable qualities was his protectiveness. During the hot summers my cousin Christy and I would take off across the road on Hardwick’s Creek to wade in the cool creek water. Digger always followed along which definitely made us feel safer. One day as we were wading and walking along the creek bed we noticed he took off ahead of us. Suddenly he began barking frantically without stopping. It made us nervous so we doubled back and headed toward the house. Digger wasn’t there and didn’t return for a little while. When he did we found out why his barking was so urgent. He had been bitten by a snake right in the neck and it had already swollen to the size of a tennis ball. Digger was our hero that day because if we had kept walking in that direction we would have found the snake instead.
Dogs or any pet for that matter, have a way of latching onto your hearts and literally becoming a part of your family. It is true they may sleep outside and get in the trash at times, but you love them. That love makes the loss of a good dog extremely heartbreaking. When my oldest boys were just two, we decided they needed a dog. We wanted a tolerant, family pet that would literally grow up with them and be a faithful sidekick. After a little searching we decided on a Labrador Retriever because they are known for their love of children and gentle patience. We found a family who bred this type of dog and took the boys so they could get their pick of the litter. It wasn’t very hard for them to decide because when they went to the fence all of the puppies scurried away except for one little guy. With his tail wagging he met the boys straight on and there was no mistaking their instant bond. Out of all the puppies in that litter this one had a small black spot on his back leg. He was an odd ball so I knew he would fit in well at our house.
We affectionately named him “Harley” and he became a part of our family. He was a playmate for the boys and became a regular farm dog for my husband. When the feeding needed to be done Harley would tag right along. His biggest problem was that he wouldn’t stay out of the water and since my mother-in-law had recently installed a flower garden fountain this became an issue. He also had a thing for chewing on trees. My dad had planted some new saplings across our front yard and Harley decided they were his personal chew toys. He would literally take a run, jump, and grab hold of one in mid-air wrestling it to the ground. In an effort to salvage what I could I got the ingenious idea of coating them with red pepper. After I had sabotaged the trees I went in the house and waited by the window because I knew it wouldn’t take him long to make a dash for his favorite chew things. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard. He sneezed and rubbed his nose completely confused as to what had just happened. Eventually my plan backfired on me. Harley got to the point that he enjoyed the extra spice on his teething trees.
One day I was petting him and my heart sank. I sadly realized the fullness around his chest area was not just hair. He had always been an extremely hairy dog so we just assumed his coat was getting fuller. A quick trip to the vet confirmed our fears. Harley, at only two and a half years old, had developed a tumor around his heart. We tried to save him with repeated treatments and trips to the vet, but his quality of life was quickly diminishing so my husband and I were forced to make the heartbreaking decision to have him put down. My husband called me in tears as he held Harley when he took his last breath. Our boys were devastated, and still talk about him to this day.
The value of a good dog is immeasurable and the heartbreak felt when one is lost is undeniable. Anytime you find a friend that is always there for you, always listens, and always loves it is a lifetime bond. When I was a little girl I convinced myself that God keeps all the lost animals and family pets in the Garden of Eden and that when we go to heaven we will be reunited with our furry friends. I may be older now, but this is one childhood wish I still believe in.