Tag Archives: Dogs

The Truth – In Comparison

We got a puppy a couple of weeks ago. The stars aligned, and we welcomed Delta, a brindle boxer, into our home. We had been planning it for some time.  Buttercup missed having someone to play with since we lost her older brother, Buddy. The humans missed having a puppy to cuddle (and completely blocked out the joys of potty training). IMG_1889

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Buttercup is the sweetest pup.  And that is how I have always seen her: as a pup. But she is not a pup. She is 4 years old, which is middle aged for a Boxer.  Still, she was playful and cuddly like a puppy.  She still is.  The weirdest thing happened, though, when we brought home Delta.  As soon as we set Delta next to her on the floor, Buttercup grew into this brawny, muscled, big dog. It was like watching Bruce Banner turn into the Hulk (but without all the anger and not green). Suddenly, Buttercup looked like a dog. All the puppy just disappeared.

I realized that I had been seeing Buttercup as things were. She was still the puppy who played with our big dog. Even when we lost him, she stayed a puppy in my mind. That is until we had someone to compare her to. Enter Delta. Next to Delta, Buttercup appears full grown. The fact is that she has been full grown for a long time.

IMG_1992Buttercup acts like a mature dog. She quickly took on the role as leader of the pack schooling the little girl. Though they play constantly, Buttercup is putting on a show. She knows Delta is a little puppy with an oversized image of her own might. Just like Buddy did for her when she was a pup, Buttercup lets Delta nip and bite, but only pretends to do that herself. Buttercup knows she’s the adult.

This made me realize how we think we see something or someone so clearly, when the reality is that we see things and people through our memories and through comparisons. Maybe we can’t see something clearly until we have that comparison. Could we know what tears of joy are without experiencing tears of pain? Could we know loneliness without feeling kinship? Could we understand safety without experiencing fear? And so, it was with Buttercup. With nothing to compare her to, Buttercup remained a playful puppy in my eyes. Compared to a wiggly, twelve-pounder with twice as much skin as she needs, Buttercup became a musclebound sentinel.

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This has been a season of comparisons revealing what is true, starting with the pace of life. I used to see life as a bit of a tornado that I would get swept up in. That was until I was forced to stay home for 8 weeks straight.  I can see that there are a lot of things I chose to do, but always thought I had to do.  In fact, once I surrendered and accepted this situation, I let go of so many busy things I did.  I can’t even remember what they all were. They must have required a lot of gasoline, though.  I also remembered what meaningful feels like. I knew meaningful before this. But if you are spinning in a tornado, it’s hard to distinguish between the things that are just racing by you that you should let pass, and the things that are racing by that you should reach out with all of your might and hold onto like your very life depends on it.

IMG_2227It sounds dramatic but the truth is that these are the tiniest moments in life. Maybe that is why we cannot see that they are so meaningful without a comparison.  Like sitting on the back patio, drinking coffee and talking to my husband as we watch Canine Etiquette 101 and Tug o’ War 201. Or really checking in with my team to make sure that they are not too overwhelmed with managing school and work from home. Laughing with girlfriends over Zoom as we have our monthly dinner party.  

What I can and cannot do right now has illuminated what I value. It has slowed the tornado to a brisk breeze, allowing those heavy things that plague my To Do List to fall to the ground, and allowing me to hug the things that lift my spirit. It has separated the boredom remedies from the soul feeders. As things pick up again, I hope that I will examine each thing I add back in and try to see it for what it truly is. I am guessing there are a few things that I have not been able to do in the last 8 weeks, that I will chose not to do in the future. I will hold them up in comparison. I will replace them with the things that matter more.

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What will you let go of? What will you hold onto?

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2020

A Girl’s Best Friend

I remember when we picked him up. After months of looking, we found him at a breeder in Omak.  My husband has a knack for tracking down the best pups.  Dog-less for a year or more, we finally decided it was time for our daughter to have her own dog.  After much negotiations on breed, color and sex, we settled on a brindle Boxer of either gender. We weren’t planning to breed so it was a moot point anyway, although personally I leaned toward female dogs as I found them much more protective and loyal than males.  As the days slowly passed, I started to think that this new puppy was going to be very lonely. I mean there he would be, all day in his kennel, no one to play with.  If he was cold or scared, he would be alone.  One dog? Two dogs? How much work was it really?  Besides, they would play with each other.  If they were playing with each other, they wouldn’t be bored and eat things.  So really, two dogs are less work, if you think about it.  I can make a compelling argument for just about anything.  So, I made one -or three. I can’t remember. Fortunately, there was one pup left in the litter.  So, I was getting a puppy for her birthday too, which was totally fair after 19 hours of labor.

I am not sure how we hid this secret from our daughter, but we did. We wanted it to be a surprise and, until we had a healthy dog in hand, we did not want to get her hopes up.  On Friday, we dropped her off to spend the night with her godfather and his family.  I felt so mischievous keeping this secret that I just wanted to blurt out.  But I held it in. After all, I’m the mama and a grown woman…on the outside.  On the inside, I was a little girl, hiding at the top of the stairs waiting for Santa, holding in my giggles with both hands.

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After procuring the basic puppy necessities (and several that were definitely not), we headed east of the mountains.  We fell in love the minute we saw their googly eyes and fat bellies.  One brindle for our daughter and one fawn for me.  I had named the fawn Sir Finnegan McMuggles, but we called him Finn.  On the long ride home, the brothers (who we affectionately referred to later as the Bruise Brothers) snuggled in the back, alternately lying on top of each other. They were still asleep when we led our daughter to the truck and told her that her birthday present was on the back seat.  Of course, that didn’t last because no one can sleep through the gleeful shrieks of a little girl discovering a puppy.

“Are they mine?!” she asked.

“The brindle one is your’s. Finn is your mom’s,” my husband replied.

“Does he have a name?” she asked earnestly.

“No,” I said, “You get to name it.”

“I will have to think about that, “she said. “I will just call him Buddy for now.”

My husband and I looked at each other and said, at the exact same time, “The dog’s name is Buddy.”

And it was. And he was.  He was her Buddy every day.

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The Bruise Brothers were playful and loving.  I found them often sleeping on her. Later, she would sleep on them.  I was right that they would keep each other company. I was wrong that they would be less destructive together.  They were about three months old when they ate my kitchen one day. I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way or a metaphoric way. I mean that literally. They ate my kitchen.  We had to remodel it.  We built them a kennel in the garage.  Boxers can jump five feet in the air easily.  Though we built the walls high, they were hard to contain.  One day, they managed to pull a Skill Saw off of a high shelf. To this day I do not know how they did it but one standing on the other’s shoulder is not beyond the realm of possibility.  By the time we got home, the only thing left was a cord, a couple bolts and the blade.  It was hard to be mad at them though. They would look at you like they knew they did something wrong, and they were really (really, really) sorry but couldn’t make any promises about better behavior in the future.  They were soft and sweet.  We always forgave them.   They always forgave us.

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Being litter mates, they were inseparable.  We kenneled them once apart and they nearly broke the wall down trying to get back together.  I made sure to tell the kennel they had to sleep together after that. Boxers have the unusual habit of sitting on each other.  These two were no exception.  At first, I could not figure out what was going on. Buddy would be laying there, and Finn would walk backward until his was on top of Buddy. Then he would just plop right down.   They both had this expression on their jowly mugs like “What? There’s nothing weird going on here.”  It was both bizarre and endearing.

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Finn passed away suddenly after having a seizure while on a walk with my husband and me.  It was such a jarring tragedy for all of us, but none more so than Buddy and our daughter. They spent days snuggled together. As she cried, Buddy burrowed in and loved her the only way he knew how- with all his heart. And he had a very big heart.  They were inseparable.  At night, I could hear her talking to him as they fell asleep.  It reminded me of all the pups I had as a kid. I was so grateful she had this loving animal to keep all her secrets.  I always knew when she had a bad day because she would lie down with him on his bed in the living room and pet his ears.  He would put his big jowly head on her belly like he was anchoring her to the earth.  He would rush to the door when her heard her car pull in and greet her with such joy.

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Two years ago, we decided he needed a friend.  It was a tough decision as he was already an older dog and we didn’t know if he would accept a puppy.  Again, my husband went on the hunt and found a breeder in Yakima.  We picked a fawn female.  Our daughter was older and much harder to hide a secret from, but we pulled it off. We needed a night without her to make sure that Buddy was fine with this new addition.  I remember I was sitting on the floor of the kitchen with her when my husband let Buddy in.  Buddy rushed to us and I was momentarily afraid that I might have misjudged the situation.  As soon as Buddy saw little Buttercup, he stopped in his tracks.  He leaned down and gave her a sniff.  He looked up to my husband.   He looked down to me. And then he started bouncing on his front paws – a sure sign of joy in a Boxer. He loved that little girl and she gave him a whole new lease on life.  He had been slowing down.  As soon as she came into our lives, he started acting like a young pup himself.  Oh sure, he schooled her more than once when she got out of hand.  Mostly though, he let her goad him into playing with him. They were inseparable. (You can follow Buttercup’s antics on Instagram: @buttercupboxerpup .)

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Last week, we said goodbye to Buddy.  We are all mourning his loss deeply.    It is worse, I think, because it is so painful to watch your child grieve the loss of her best friend.  Buddy had an accident and broke his leg. He couldn’t recover from it. We had time together to care for him. We had time to talk as a family.  Still the pain of loss is sharp.  It seems this year, we have experienced a lot of loss- too much really.  We have to remember that this is the price of big love from a big heart. What is the alternative?  To insulate yourself form the pain of loss by refusing to give or accept love.  For me, I would cry a thousand tears now than to have missed even one minute of knowing true love.  Knowing the love of a big-hearted dog – true, unconditional, freely-given, forgiving, endless, unselfish, loyal, trusting – I would not trade one tear.

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Buddy and His Girl

 

 

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Buddy in His Prime

 

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

Just the Facts, Mom.

One of the challenges of parenting is knowing how much information to give your child. I remember my daughter once asked me where rain comes from.  In retrospect, the correct answer at the time was “It falls from clouds in the sky.”  But I was a science teacher, so I was a full paragraph into the technical aspects of the water cycle before my husband intervened wisely with “It comes from clouds in the sky.”  Her eyes had glazed over and it took a moment before it registered that he had answered the question. As she skipped off happy with this explanation, I knew my instincts in this area were not to be trusted.  In fact I had an assistant principal once (ironically who had no children) who repeatedly reminded me to answer the question that was asked and only the question that was asked.  I was not a quick study in this area.  Sometimes my ill-advised explanations were met just with an eye roll. Sometimes I made a mess that I had to clean up.  Such was the case when the first dog my daughter knew passed away.

I had gone three long years without a dog of my own when we found her.  My husband had cats. They hated me. I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic sense. They actually hated me. In fact, I am pretty sure they were actively trying to kill me or at least run me out of town.  In the middle of the night I would be awaken by Fallon who would try to push me out of bed by burrowing under the covers and putting her claws to my back. She and her partner in crime shredded all of the long skirts in my closet. They took turns slinking silently atop the shower door where they would wait patiently like feline ninjas until my head was soapy.  Once my eyes were closed, they would strike.  I nearly broken my neck every time I felt a paw hit me in the head.  Suffice it to say, they gave my husband fluffy and cuddly.  They gave me claws and teeth.  I was so excited when we finally moved to a house where we could have a dog.  It was late fall (which is actually mid-winter in Fairbanks) and I heard about a litter of Spring Spaniel / Border Collie pups.  It is not ideal to have pups at this time in Fairbanks as the frigid temperatures and snow pack made housebreaking nearly impossible. Despite the challenges, I fell in love with the pups right away.  They were in a crib wrestling around like puppies do.  One was clearly bigger than the rest and moved about like a bulldozer.  He was plump and fluffy and bold.  I picked him immediately.  When we came back a couple of weeks later to pick him up, the runt of the litter attached herself to his ear and held on for dear life. I couldn’t bear to separate them, so we took them both.  We named them Levi and Strauss.  Strauss was a sweet girl. She went just about everywhere with me. As soon as I picked up my keys, she would jump into the bed of my pickup. In the winter, she would sit beside me on the bench seat, leaning gently against my shoulder as she stared through the windshield. True to her Border Collie nature, every living thing that entered our house became her herd.  When we played in the yard, she would stick close to my toddler contently enduring the petting, which was much more like awkward slapping.  She started to slow down at about 14 years old and I knew her time was short. She was 16 when the time came to let her go.

I pulled into the driveway one afternoon to find my husband waiting in front of the garage bay where I normally parked.  He put his hands up to stop me.  I remember he said, “I’m glad you’re home.  Strauss can’t get up. I am going to run to the store and get some toenail clippers.” With that, he jumped in his truck and left.  My husband is a strong man with a big heart.  Though his comment really made no sense, I knew he was trying to make things better. He knew how much I loved that dog.   I could tell just looking through the windshield that toenail clippers were not going to solve this problem.  Strauss lay on the cement panting though it wasn’t hot.  She wouldn’t move and barely acknowledged me when I called her name.  I called our vet and, with tears in my eyes, told her it was time.  She was a big dog so it took all the strength I could muster to lift her into my car.  She whimpered, and it broke my heart that she was in such pain.  Our vet was a kind woman who allowed me to sit on the floor with Strauss as she examined her. When the time came, I held her in my arms as she passed.  I could feel my heart break.

As I drove home, I sobbed. I called my dad crying so hard that I could not talk.  At first, he thought something had happened to my husband or daughter but I finally choked down the sobs long enough to tell him that I had put Strauss down. He was a dog lover and I knew he understood how sad I was. He tried to comfort me by saying that, “You loved that dog more than most people love their kids.”  I asked him how I could tell my daughter. She was going to be heartbroken too.  He said, “You are going to do what every parent does. You are going to tell her that Strauss went to heaven to live with God. That is all you are going to tell her. Keep it simple.”   I pulled into the garage dreading what I was about to do. I blew my nose and wiped my tears. I found my daughter on my bed watching cartoons.  I took her in my arms and asked her to turn off the TV for a minute.  Then I said, “Strauss isn’t coming home.”  She asked, “She’s not?  Where is she going?”  I took a breath in hopes that I would not break out crying again and said, “She’s in heaven with God.” She searched my eyes, “She is in heaven? With God?” “Yes”, I said.  She pursed her lips and said, “OK, can I watch Sponge Bob now?” I could not believe that worked!  My dad was a genius! I was home free.

But grief, even realized much later than the passing, still must be experienced. Sometimes the distance from the event does not really lessen the pain. Several months after Strauss died, I was driving my daughter to daycare on the way to work.  We passed a cemetery that saw every morning. On this particular morning, she noticed it.  She asked what it was and I told her the name. She asked what happened there.  I explained that when people died, they were buried in a cemetery.  She asked if I knew anyone who died. I explained that my mom had died.  Her eyebrows stitched together.  “Your mom died?”  I said, “Yes. She is heaven with God.”  Her eyes grew wide. “She is heaven?!  With God?!” “Yes”,  I said.  She looked at me stunned and screamed, “Strauss is dead?!”

It was in this moment that I learned three important things about parenting.  The first was to answer just the question asked.  Kids will let you know when they are ready for more information.  The second is that you might think a child understands what you are saying when they really don’t.  Finally, never talk about difficult or complicated things on the way to day care… or work… or school… You are going to be later for work and your shirt will be covered in tears and snot. Worse than that, you will relive the situation all day long.

 

I chose these photographs of my daughter and her puppy posse: Strauss (black and white) and Sadie (fawn).  I remember this day vividly. I was weeding the front garden and I put her on her blanket in the spring sun.  The dogs immediately took their places next to her and sat patiently as she crawled on them and patted them. At one point a young dog got loose from down the street and Strauss jumped in front of her while Sadie ran down to chase him off.  Once the threat was gone, they resumed napping in the sun together.

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Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

A Warm Welcome and A Wiggling Butt

If you visit our house, you will get a warm welcome from the four-legged creatures and, of course, the two-legged ones.  Buttercup, our two-year-old Boxer (or The Toddler as we affectionately call her), monitors the door vigilantly.  One must be prepared, after all, as friends can appear without notice.  As soon as she hears someone approach, she trots to the door and waits to determine who has come to call (“on her” is implied- I mean why else would someone come to the door?)  This seems very important to her.  Unless you are her friend Lucas who she mauls with love on arrival, she looks everyone over very intently and then heads for the living room to pick out just the right toy for the person and occasion.  As a Boxer, her tail is docked so she has to put in extra effort to let you know that you are getting the wag.  It’s not unusual for her head and behind to connect in her frenzied wagging.  Her body takes on the shape of a comma making it difficult to travel in a straight line so she generally meanders sideways sometimes bumping into walls, sometimes going full circle.  Though we have tried to train her well, if she really likes you or you show any inclination for permissive parenting, she will jump on you and give you a big kiss.

Her warm greeting, with accompanying wiggling butt, are not reserved solely for visitors.  She greets her whole family this way.   Being welcomed home by Buttercup  is a great way to end your day. She doesn’t want to talk about it or “process” anything. She is just so glad you are alive and that you came home – again!  She acts like you’ve been gone forever, and she missed you so much. Buttercup lives in the moment and knows what is important.  Right now, right here, you are with her.  What could be better?  The potential is immense.  You might rub her ears. You might play fetch with her. You might snuggle her.  There might be a treat hidden somewhere on your person. Who cares about the minor disagreement you had this morning over the “missing” sock or refusing to come inside for breakfast?  Who cares if you tried to wedge yourself under the new fence yesterday?   That is in the past. Right now, she has a ball (or lamb or squirrel or beaver or octopus) and she has you.  She knows a hug heals. She knows play and laughter are  good medicine. She knows what is happening right now is what matters right now.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we took a cue from our canine (or feline) family members and greeted each other with a little more enthusiasm?  You don’t have to bring a toy (unless you want to – no judgment) but what if we brought unadulterated joy at seeing each other?  What if we let things go a little more easily? What is we tuned out rehashing the past and worrying about the future long enough to enjoy each other’s company?  I think it’s time we figured out the human equivalent of wagging our tails and let people know, unequivocally, that we are so glad they are here.

Here’s what I came home to today. Aren’t I lucky?
(The blog picture is Buttercup breaking into a photoshoot with my daughter. She hates to be left out.)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

If you believe you are a Labrador Retriever….

I was having coffee with some friends recently when, inevitably, the subject of our dogs came up.  Three of us have medium to large dogs and one has a smaller, hypoallergenic one (which is brilliant since I think EVERYONE needs a dog).  I mentioned that I grew up with Basset Hounds, but that these have been ruled out since my husband has a strict rule about only having dogs who can jump into the truck on their own accord. The Mastiff owner shared that he knew a guy once who had a Basset Hound – Black Lab mix (visions of the Island of Dr. Moreau popped into my head).  The dog apparently had the body style of a Basset and the head and coloring of a Lab.   Despite his ground-skimming physique, he could jump into a truck.  To which I remarked, “Well, I guess he didn’t know he was a Basset Hound.”

I was thinking about this and it occurred to me that a dog’s self-perception is not really limited by the stories in his (or her) head in the way that people’s self-perceptions are.  Puppies don’t have self-limiting beliefs.  A puppy doesn’t react in the present to some story his mom told him about how he’s never really been good at playing fetch and probably he should learn how to howl.   Dogs are all basically instinct and direct experience.  Take Stumpy, for example (I just named him that because BH-BL seemed too impersonal for such a courageous heart).  Maybe Stumpy watched his mom, a leggy Lab with a shiny Black coat, leap gracefully into her owner’s truck every morning.  Not realizing he inherited his dad’s stocky build, he just followed her one day. (And yes, I do understand the biological unlikelihood of this scenario but stay with me, I have a point.)  Maybe he didn’t reach the cab the first day. But he kept trying because, after all, he’s a Lab. Labs ride around in trucks and go duck hunting.  Imagine what would have happened to poor Stumpy if someone told him that his dad was a low riding Basset Hound better suited to rooting out bears in the bramble than gracefully retrieving the carcass of a Mallard.  Dogs operate on instinct. They don’t stop trying because things are hard. They do what comes naturally. When unsuccessful, they work around it.  Take Sadie and Strauss, for example. Sadie was a lithe Grey Hound – Lab mix. She was lightning fast and loved the water.  Strauss was a Border Collie – Springer Spaniel mix. She loved to round things up.  When we would play catch by the river, Sadie would always beat Strauss to the stick. Strauss really had no chance of catching her. But she wanted that stick. Eventually she realized that if she met Sadie at the edge of the water as she was bringing back the stick, she could herd her until Sadie was so confused and tired that Strauss could steal the stick right out of her mouth and bring it to us.  Strauss didn’t give up playing catch.  It was fun! (Who doesn’t want to hear “Good girl! Bring it here!”  a hundred times or more?) Strauss didn’t try to out run Sadie. She figured out her gift and applied it until she got the job done.  Trust me, Sadie would run herself ragged, but she couldn’t escape Strauss’ herding skills.

I recognize we are not dogs. Humans have more complicated lives and we do more complex things than other animals do. But there is something to be said for taking a cue from our four-legged friends.  What if we all believed that we could get better at something, master it even, just by learning from our mistakes and trying again?  What if we didn’t have a story about the past that limited our experience in the present?  What if we saw our failures as learning and not as personal deficits?  What if we believed we could change the outcome merely through increasing our effort and applying our talents?  What if we acknowledged and acted upon the possibility that we might have talents we have not yet discovered?

I remember when my daughter was learning to walk.  It went really fast and I am not sure what her ultimate goal was, but she always had the most determined look on her face.  Just like all other children, she started by standing on her wobbly legs leaning against the couch. She fell. A lot. In fact, she fell so often that we finally just started calling it FDGB (Fall Down Go Boom) to save time. But she did not stop trying. Once she mastered standing and leaning, she tried standing alone. When she mastered that, she took her first step. Every new thing she tried, she fell down.  After every success she had, she tried something harder and failed immediately.  But she didn’t stop.  She cried, dusted herself off, got a hug and off she went.  I didn’t say to her after the second fall or even the tenth one, “It’s OK.  I don’t think walking is for you.  You’re probably just not good at walking. Let’s go back to crawling.”  It sounds absurd doesn’t it?  I said, “You’re fine. You’ll get.  Try again. I am right here.”  I reassured her that she might not be able to walk yet. Sometimes we forget that last part – yet.  Take math for example, has anyone ever said to you, “It’s OK. You’re probably just not good at math.” Or did they tell you, “You’ll get it. It’s hard now but keep trying. You just haven’t learned this yet.”

 

We are all different. We all have different gifts.  I am not suggesting everything is within our grasp. For example, I am 5’ 4” and stocky. Genetically, I lean toward people who hauled in fish nets or thatched roofs.  No amount of effort or will would turn me into a figure skater or a gymnast (trust me, I know physics).  But that did not keep me from enjoying a lifetime of sports more aligned to my physique. What I am suggesting is that we examine the stories we tell ourselves, and more importantly, the stories we tell our children through our actions and words, to make sure that we are sending the right messages:

I believe that I can get better at something, master it even, just by learning from my mistakes and trying again.

I will not listen to the stories about the past that limit my experience in the present.

I see my failures as learning and not as a personal deficit.

I believe I can change the outcome merely through increasing my effort and applying my talents.

I know I have talents I have not yet discovered.

Do you? Will you?

 

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Learning to Walk

 

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.

First Love

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.

Shea girls and Charlie the Basset 1971The Shea Girls with Charlie
May 1971

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.

DSC_0024Herbie
(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.

DSC02981Shannan, Buddy and Finn Napping

DSC_04084Buddy 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.

DSC_5999Buttercup 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.

DSC_0656Shannan and Buttercup in Deep Discussion
(1/1250 sec., f/5.6, 400 ISO, 200 mm)

DSC_7107Buttercup and Buddy
1/10 sec., f/7.1, 100 ISO, 38 mm)

Copyright Catherine Matthews 2018.