My first was Charlie. You always have a soft spot in your heart for your first. He was a blonde who had the subtlest hints of caramel. I loved running my fingers through his hair. He was short, a bit overweight and not at all athletic but he made up for that in enthusiasm. He was always so happy to see me- my best friend really. He gave all the girls the same amount of love though, so I can’t be sure I was his favorite. Charlie was a great listener. He would stare at me like I was the most fascinating thing on the planet especially if I was eating something. He really understood me. Sometimes we would just lay on the floor cuddling. He would stay there forever as long as I rubbed his belly, scratched behind his ears and dropped crumbs in his general vicinity.
The Shea Girls with Charlie
Man, I loved that dog. I’d like to say he was my favorite, but I can’t because the truth is I loved every single one I have had. I am a dog person. I come from a long line of dog people. I used to listen to my dad’s stories about his bird dog Goosoise Francoise (pronounced Goose-swaz Fran-swaz – don’t ask because I have no idea where he came up with that one). He was apparently an underperforming and possibly near-sighted Brittany Spaniel. There was Betty Blue who was Charlie’s disinterested mate. She had a Great Dane attitude in a Dachshund body. Then came Arnold, who was my older sister’s black Miniature Poodle, and Nelson Rockefeller, my Lhasa Apso. They reminded me of a mob boss and his intellectually challenged sidekick. Arnold would charge to the back of the couch to bark out the front window at every passerby. Nelson would lope after him and then stop, check to see that Arnold was still barking, let out a sad little woof and wait for his next orders. Nelson was a follower. If they knocked over a convenience store, Arnold would take the cash and Nelson would be left wondering what just happened. Nelson’s hair bounced when he pranced through the house and he had a habit of patting you with his furry little paws when he wanted your attention. Then came Madame Clousseau who was a Bassett Hound like Charlie. My dad renamed her Dopey because, well, she was. Dopey was all mine when it came to her heart. We bred her, and I loved chasing after her pups. They were easy to catch because they had enormous paws and long ears- a deadly combination for a short dog. They would tumble about or drag each other by the ear. Dopey was always up for a walk in the woods. I was never alone with her. Bassetts are such easy going dogs. My dad had two more after I left home, Albert and Herbie. He loved those hounds and they loved him.
(1/125 sec., f/4, 200 ISO, 55 mm)
When I had my first adventure in Alaska, I got an alleged American Eskimo Dog from a box of puppies someone was giving away in front of a liquor store in Skagway Alaska (my husband still rolls his eyes at this story). Lesson learned, you cannot trust the pedigree of a free dog near a liquor store. I named him Igloo after the liquor store and he lived in my shower for a couple weeks before I had to admit I couldn’t keep a dog. I sent him home with friends to my parent’s house. My dad pitched a fit and then he fell in love and changed Igloo’s name to Clyde. Dad nearly got rid of him when he ate the hose in the front yard, which was the last straw in a long line of behaviors that indicated the dog might be too dumb to train. As I understand the story, my dad’s attitude changed when a bear ambled out of the Cedar River Watershed into the front yard while my youngest sister was there. Clyde stepped up and chased it off. He might have been dumb, but he was fearless, so he lived out his days in front of the wood stove. When I was in college in Alaska, I tried dog parenthood again and I found two Springer Spaniels, a brother and sister who I named Levi and Strauss. Levi was a bruiser, the monster of the litter. I intended only to get him but when I arrived to pick him up the runt of the litter latched onto his ear and held on for dear life. I took this as a sign from the universe that they were meant to be together. With only a little argument from my then boyfriend (now husband), he relented and fell in love with Levi. It was a trick to train two puppies in winter in Fairbanks, Alaska but we pulled it off. Some days when we let them out to do their business all you could see was the tops of their heads and their ears bobbing around in the snow. They loved the snow. Sadly, Levi was stolen from our yard one day. The thief was thorough and took his food and water dish, so we knew we would never see him again. Strauss was brokenhearted as were we all. Not long after though, a friend of mine found a puppy wandering the railroad tracks after her mom was hit by a car so we added a Yellow Lab – Greyhound mix to the family. Sadie was a handful. She could chase down a rabbit at 50 yards, so we had to keep her on a leash. Sadie railed against that. Sadie and Strauss were a pair- inseparable. When our daughter came along, they included her in their pack. I would put her on a blanket in the yard and they would surround her while I worked in the garden. As she got older, they took turns herding her around the house. I remember the sad day when the time came that I had to put Strauss down. She was 16 years old. I called my dad crying on the way home from the vet. I was heartbroken to have lost her, but I knew as I held her in my arms that I was doing the right thing. Heartbreak is heartbreak though, even when you are doing the right thing. I asked my dad “What am I going to do? How am I going to tell Shannan?” He reminded me that I loved that dog more than most and took such good care of my friend and was blessed to get that love back. He told me to tell Shannan that Strauss was in heaven. I was shocked, by the way, that this actually worked. Shannan wanted Strauss to be happy in heaven. The next day Sadie slipped out of the yard when the gate was left open. We never found her. I imagine she was looking for her friend. It was a few years before we were ready to have puppies again. Eventually, we found a couple of Boxers in Eastern Washington and surprised our daughter on her 7th birthday.
Shannan, Buddy and Finn Napping
Buddy and Finn
(1/125 sec., f/4.5, 200 ISO, 80 mm)
Buddy and Finn were mischievous littermates. They ate the kitchen. Literally, they ate the kitchen. We had to remodel. They were rambunctious. They once dragged Grandpa through a mud puddle. They were also cuddly and loving and protective. We lost Finn one day while on a walk. He had a seizure and never regained consciousness. Shannan and Buddy spent the rest of that weekend under the dining room table crying and snuggling each other. They weren’t the only ones crying. Two years ago, we brought home Buttercup, another Boxer. Our worries that the old man, Buddy, would not accept her were allayed the moment he saw her. He was so gentle. Buttercup took her place on Buddy’s bed and in his heart right away. Though he does have to school her occasionally, it is obvious he adores her. It’s hard not to. She cajoles him daily into playing with her. Though his bones creak, you can tell he is happy.
Buttercup Has Something to Say
(1/1250 sec., f/5, 400 ISO, 75 mm)
I feel so lucky to have had a lifetime of four-legged best friends. A lifetime of being greeted at the door by a tail wagging so hard it shakes the whole beast. A lifetime of being nudged by a cold nose when I am sad. A lifetime of curling up to a friend who forgives everything, keeps all of my secrets, and listens intently even when I talk on and on about nothing. Dogs are the best first best friend for a kid. There is so much we can learn from them about living: Forgiveness is a gift we should give often and accept easily. A hug goes a long way in healing a broken heart. Take care of the people you love. Be brave. Show people how happy you are to see them. Listening is more helpful than speaking. Don’t hold a grudge. Never pass up the chance to take a nap or go for a walk. Life is short, love big. Growl only when absolutely necessary. No matter how old you are, play with kids. Take every chance you get to let the wind blow through your hair.
Shannan and Buttercup in Deep Discussion
(1/1250 sec., f/5.6, 400 ISO, 200 mm)
Buttercup and Buddy
1/10 sec., f/7.1, 100 ISO, 38 mm)