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Humane Traditions

The Chevy pickup pulled out from the curb several hundred feet ahead of us. Two heads appeared through the truck’s rear window. The man driving wore a baseball cap and sunglasses, while the passenger snuggled next to him had rust-colored hair that flipped out at the neckline. I studied the figures for a few seconds and then asked my wife, “Do you suppose that’s his girlfriend or his dog?”

“What makes you think it’s not his wife?” my spouse replied.

I glanced at our seating arrangement––bucket seats, with an elbow-high, plastic console separating our bodies and sufficiently dividing our opinions. I looked up at my wife, back down at the console, and then back at her.

Her eyes rolled toward the roof. “Never mind.” Then she added, “Actually, I was about to ask the same question.”

I grinned.

We followed the Chevy to a stoplight, both of us monitoring the truck’s occupants along the way. At the light, the redhead slowly turned and peered lovingly towards the driver.

“Yikes,” I said. “Either that’s a spaniel, or that woman really needs a nose job.”

Then the passenger licked the driver’s cheek.

My wife shook her head, then smiled. Not quite the same kind of adoration the guy in the pickup received, but at least she was agreeable. Then again, perhaps my romantic conversational skills needed a refresher course.

While waiting for the green light, my mind switched to pondering the human attraction and devotion to pets. What was it about dogs––okay, cats, too––that made us so enamored with their presence?

Following the go signal, my wife and I continued toward town, me now paying particular attention to the abundant canine presence. Dogs of many breeds poked their heads from other vehicle’s side windows. Additional pickups passed by with furry friends either riding shotgun, or patrolling the truck beds––a violation of a state statute where we lived, but one that appeared to be commonly overlooked. Regardless, whether large or small, the dogs’ jowls and ears flapped in the wind. I just knew that, in their own way, each of them was laughing. Fido as a co-pilot seemed to be a tradition, a practice my spouse and I also participated in.

Upon further reflection, I had to admit––and that’s the first step, right?–– I was and still am addicted to animals. I’d been involved with dogs since I was two––before that if you care to include our neighbor’s Bull Mastiff using my head for a chew toy. That incident had prompted my mother to postpone pets in our household until after I had achieved my second birthday. My brothers and I never quite understood Mom’s reasoning, but the wait proved to be well worth it.

Frisky was our first pooch, a puppy that grew to be a mid-sized mutt, with an attitude that matched his moniker. Because neutering for cats and dogs was not considered standard procedure in the 1950s, Frisky was never altered. Once he matured and recognized his stature, he appointed himself neighborhood stud, a duty he seldom failed to fulfill.

Yep, whenever love was in the air, Frisky would manage to disappear. Because I was the youngest member of our family, I usually received the blame for leaving the backyard gate open. It took us a while to figure out that Frisky was also a canine conniver that waited until no one was looking, then climbed the four-foot fence and took off.  Sure, we could have tethered him, but that would have been like putting me and my brothers on a leash.

Each time Frisky went on tour, I worried about whether he’d come back, but he always did. Several days, or maybe a week after his escape, he would plod home, his head low, and his tongue nearly dragging the sidewalk. We’d always reprimand him––after we hugged him––then watch him drain his water bowl and sleep through the next day.

Frisky and I were pals. We grew up together, and both left home the same year––me to college, and Frisky to doggy heaven. For days after his passing, I continued to hear his nails click on the tile floor.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to share my life with six other canines. From mixed-breeds, to pedigree pups, each furry resident became more like household members, participating in family outings and considered part of the plans. Each dog displayed unique and endearing traits that established their place in my family’s hearts, our home, and, of course, a spot in the car. Canines under our roof also helped instill my appreciation for pets within my two sons.

For my wife and me, our Coydog, Bailey, held the distinction of being the “last” pet to occupy our home. We often questioned whose name should actually be inscribed on the mortgage––ours or our dog’s. A Humane Society find, Bailey was listed as a German Shepard/ Heeler mix––a good ol’ mutt that would reach between fifty to seventy pounds. Her physical characteristics, personality, and a winter weight of no more than forty pounds, however, convinced me that her daddy was a coyote. Because we were Colorado mountain dwellers at the time, that was okay––perhaps apropos. Part coyote or not, Bailey turned out to be the most playful, intelligent, and affectionate (and occasionally most irritating) canine companion we’d come to love.

Unlike her precursors, travel plans always included Bailey. Motels received consideration by their pet acceptance first, rather than AAA or AARP discounts. My wife and I were Mom and Dad. Bailey was our little girl. No day was complete without her presence and a game of catch or fetching the mail. It never mattered how long it took for my wife and I to get home after work, Bailey was always glad to see us. Simply, Bailey was a joy to be around.

As adults, my wife and I also understood the reality of pet ownership. The day would come when Bailey would leave us in favor of a plush dog bed in the sky. As with her predecessors, we knew that day would prove both painful and memorable––and it was. It was a day that we would want to forget, but knew we never could.

Following Bailey’s passing, once again my wife and I looked at one another face-to-face and insisted we’d never bear the sorrow associated with losing another special pet. As our track record indicated, however, in the back of our minds we also knew the void created by Bailey’s loss would eventually work against common sense. Sooner or later, we’d pay another visit to the Humane Society or similar shelter, where another fur ball, with irresistible eyes and a laughing smile would capture our attention and our hearts. Despite knowing the inevitable, we’d abandon thoughts of canine mortality, buy new bowls, collars, and leashes, and settle in for the duration.

Although another dog has yet to grace our lives, my wife and I understand that it’s merely a matter of time until, once again, and for as long as the Good Lord allows, we’ll discover another four-legged best friend and maintain our humane tradition.

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