Welcome, sweet Russet, to my Canine-American Hall of Fame. Along the walls of my heart hang memories of dogs who crossed my path on their way to the Rainbow Bridge.
On the first wall, my childhood, is Shakespeare, a Beagle, named after a brand of fishing tackle.
Only seven at the time, I remember having one of the first arguments with my mother over Shakey, a handsome, tri-colored hound.
“But, Mama,” I protested, stamping my foot, “ I want to marry him!”
“Honey,”she patiently explained, “little girls don’t marry their dogs.”
Old Shake was quite a singer. Tossing back his head, he howled in harmony as I played the piano and sang a duet with fire truck and ambulance sirens in my neighborhood.
Shakey loved lizards. He loved tossing them into the air and shaking them so vigorously that his leathery ears flapped.
Four years later, Shakespeare met his Waterloo when he dug his way out and, nose to ground, sniffed his way up to East Lancaster Avenue, where a car ran over him.
With a heavy heart, I managed to finish the sixth grade.
Hating to see his little girl so heartbroken, my daddy, a radio announcer, broadcast that he was looking for another dog. Before long, a listener called in.
“I have a Border Collie she might like,” she said. “Would you like to see it?”
T.V., named so because he came in ” beautiful black and white” before most people had color t.v., was like Mary’s little little-lamb. He followed me to school every day, causing me to turn around and take him home.
Although only a pup, T.V. developed a nasty habit: nipping the mailman. A few days later, when Mama went to the mailbox, she saw the words, “Bad Dog” written on our mail. When the carrier threatened to stop delivering our mail, Daddy took T.V. out to a rural area and let him out, hoping some family might adopt him.
Once more, I was heartbroken. Inconsolable.
Soon it was spring, a time of hope. I had come home from school when Daddy called me over to him.
“How was your day, honey?”
At first, I couldn’t speak. Then, I collected myself.
“It was hard,” I said, choking up.
Daddy reached for something behind him.
“Hold out your hands, Kimmie.”
Into my hands he transferred a warm ball of quivering fuzz.
“Careful, now, she got a little sick on the way home. Her name’s Terita. ‘Little Terry’.”
The black-and-tan ball yawned and stole my heart.
Months later, Terita’s belly dragged the ground. Within weeks, her babies – Big Sis, Poteet, Appaloosa, and Bugle –- tumbled into the world. After Terita weaned them, Mama fed them and then bundled them up to take them to the pet store, but not before every one of them christened the copper-colored vinyl seats of our new Buick with a mixture of sliced weinies and stomach acid.
We kept Bugle, my favorite. With her figure back, Terita did what some human mothers do. She took off to see the world.
Daddy watched my face grow longer with every day Terita didn’t show.
“Kimmie, if ol’ Tereet doesn’t come back, let’s make this our last dog, okay?”
Hearing Daddy’s plea, my lips whispered “yes,” but my heart hollered “No!”
That summer, we had returned from vacation. When I rushed next door to a friend whom I had asked to watch Bugle.
“Kimmie, I don’t know how to tell you…Bugle got out.”
Her brown eyes, brimming with tears, filled in the rest. She waited for me to look up at her before wrapping an arm around my shoulders.
“I’m so sorry.”
After years of being a dog-widow, I became a wife and mother of two toddlers and a dog, all in various stages of potty-training. Terry wore diapers. Tam, training pants. And Sean O’Dogg, our black cocker spaniel, nothing but fur between himself and the floor. When we returned to Texas, friends of ours had Border Collie pups to give away. On our way home, that night, Shelly shivered with puppy angst, as she peered first at my husband, then me, and back to him.
With the new season of my life, I barely turned around before Sean and Shelly were gone.
In January of 1986, I was ready for another puppy. One Wednesday night, at church, I cast the net to friends.
“Our dog just had puppies,” Sherry told me. “Why don’t you drop over and see what we have?”
The next night, I looked at the puppies she and her husband had to offer. All were fluffy black and white bundles of cuteness. Still, none of them wrestled my heart to the ground.
“Hang on,” she said, opening the back door. “There’s one more.”
In scampered Booger — long, low-slung body, stocky Basset legs, Doberman markings, and and a Chow’s black tongue. As she slathered my face with puppy kisses, I couldn’t separate who chose whom.
I was going to name her Sugar, but after coming home to a carpet strewn with puppy calling-cards, I changed her name. Even after she became house-trained, Sugar remained Booger.
Even as a puppy, the Chow in Booger made her fiercely protective of me. During our evening walks, people would rush up to her.
“ What a cute little puppy!” they would gush. Planting herself in front of me, Booger growled.
A line in the folk song, “Turn, Turn, Turn” is all about the changing of seasons. I was not only single, again, but was, also, grieving the loss of Mama and Daddy. To help me cope, God blessed me with another dog. Enter Boaz, a gentle, yet feisty, little Corgi mix. Coming home from a race, one Saturday, I stopped at a PetSmart where I barking and howling. Seeing that the “Open Adoption” sign, I parked the car and and went inside.
I’m not going to get a dog. I’m not going to get a dog, I chanted to myself. Mid-chant, I saw him: soft tan-and-white coat and the most woebegone doe eyes I’d ever seen. He hung an imploring paw over my finger.
At that point, my heart overruled my head.
“He has heartworms,” a volunteer cautioned. “The treatment is sometimes risky. You could be setting yourself up for heartbreak.”
But the heartbreak I had already experienced: becoming a middle-aged orphan, losing my grip on a marriage I should have set on the curb years before, was much worse than sharing happiness and hope with a fragile, seven-year-old dog who might or might not die.
No, those people from the shelter didn’t scare me.
“Just how much time are any of us guaranteed?” I asked them. “If this little fella were to die tomorrow, he will have received more love from me than he’s known his whole lifetime.”
Minutes later, Boaz and I were on our way home. During the next five years, he rode with me on the roller-coaster my life had become. At night, he sat in my lap and let stroke him. Lying quietly beside me, he made sure I got off to sleep. He played hide-and-seek, making me laugh so hard I had to catch my breath. And he scrambled down the stairs ahead of me, as he herded me to the door.
Early one morning, after six short years with me, Boaz slipped quietly across the Bridge.
Soon, Russet – my auburn Shepherd princess – you will join your four-legged forefathers, Shakespeare, T.V., Bugle, Sean, and Boaz, and foremothers, Terita, Shelly, and Booger, when you, too, are inducted into my Canine-American Hall of Fame.