Now I am only going to tell you once. If you happen to be the parent to a horse crazy, dog crazy or cat crazy kid and you try to keep them from having a pet they will do everything their power to find animals on their own. Once they leave you and start their own lives, they may end up with a houseful of stray cats and dogs a barn full of horses and chickens and sheep and an always empty pocket just make up for lost time.
Or at least that was the way it was with me. If you remember from my last column, my parents were not keen on the idea of letting me have a pet so it became my mission to be around animals no matter what.
I remember being only about eight or nine when I began searching the neighborhood for houses that had dogs. There was a dog a block or so away that I could only catch glimpses of between the boards of their 6 foot privacy fence. From the pieces of it I did see, I could tell it was big and yellow.
It would run to the fence and try to press his nose through the boards while I lay on the ground and reached under the fence to touch him. He would comply by lying on his back so I stroke his soft belly fur. I could only reach with the tips of my fingers. It was awful to be so close yet not be able to really see or play with him.
When I was a little older I began to approach people out walking their dogs and beg to pet them. Pretty soon I became known as that kid who was crazy about dogs and that I would be happy to take them for walks when their owners didn’t have time.
By the age of 12 I had a pretty tidy little business going. I would take a dog for a walk for the princely sum of 50 cents. Word spread and soon I had up to 6 clients a week. Everything from a nosy Beagle to a high strung Siberian Huskie that could pull me on my bike like the wind. One of my favorite dogs was a big male German Shepherd that acted like he owned the world but would never hurt anyone. Because of him, I have always tried to have a German Shepherd in my life.
About this same time I joined 4H. I was to participate in the horse project and the dog project. I had the horse thing figured out, I had begun to lease a horse from a local barn but the dog project required I find a suitable dog to train. I signed up for the free dog obedience classes offered by the county extension office on the hope my parents would see that I just had to have a dog of my own.
Again I pleaded with my parents to let me get a dog but again I was told, NO PETS.
It was clear that my parents were not going to give in. No matter how many tears and promise of extra chores it just wasn’t going to happen. Family allergies and a hectic lifestyle made that perfectly clear.
So I had to settle for the next best thing, one of my dog walking customers had a beautiful sable collie and they agreed that I could take the dog to classes and show him at the county fair. His name was Cheetah and he was to become my partner for the summer.
And so began my first taste of real dog training. Every Tuesday night for the next eight weeks our 4H leader would load us up with our dogs and haul us to a school grounds in a nearby town where we fell under the watchful eye of the 4H Dog Obedience Instructor. She dutifully taught us how to work with our dogs and make it fun for them while they learned to sit and stay and prepare for the big show at the county fair.
Cheetah was a quick learner and worked hard at understanding what I wanted from him. He seemed to know when I was down and would rest his head on my lap while I petted him. He was a good dog and I loved him but it always made me sad when I gave him back to his real family he seemed to forget me the minute I let go of the leash.
We went to the fair and we did well at the show. Cheetah and I earned a blue ribbon. My parents were pleased that I seemed to filling my dog needs and I was happy to have at least one dog to love, even if he wasn’t mine.
Things probably could’ve gone on for some time like this. My parents were happy, Cheetah and his owners were happy, and I was as happy as I could be with a borrowed dog.
The fair was over and we were still meeting on Tuesday nights preparing for the state 4H Dog Show when Cheetah and the dog next to him decided to get into a fight. It was a good sized shepherd mix and I grabbed at Cheetah’s collar to separate them. Cheetah reared back still fighting and bit me in the face. I fell back, pulling Cheetah away as the dogs owner, a teenage boy got control of his dog.
Blood begin to drip from the puncture wound on my cheek as I fought back tears.
How could Cheetah bite me? The Instructor came to me and handed Cheetah to my friend to hold while she gently took me inside and washed my face. The bite didn’t hurt so much as the fact that Cheetah had turned on me. I was devastated. The dog leader tried to explain to me dogs act out of instinct and Cheetah’s aggression wasn’t directed at me.
We went outside and I took Cheetah back. He wagged his tail and licked my hand as if nothing had happened. I petted his head and tried to forgive him, but I was still hurt.
When we dropped him off and the owners saw what had happened they told me that perhaps it was better I didn’t walk Cheetah anymore. And although they weren’t blaming me for the incident, they didn’t want to see me get hurt again.
Not only had I been bitten by a dog I loved, but now he was being taken away from me.
I held back my pain the rest of the way home, but when I opened the door and found my parents watching TV in the living room I burst into tears. They held me close as I told them what had happened and how not only did I get bit, but also that they (Cheetah’s owners) had told me I couldn’t see Cheetah anymore. It just wasn’t fair!
And then it happened. Something changed and my Dad looked at my Mom and said that enough was enough. They couldn’t have me getting bit like this. I had to have my own dog. My mother began to object but one look at my anguished face convinced her that maybe the time had come after all.
I could not believe my ears. Did my dad say I could get a dog? A real dog! Visions of collies and shepherds and goldens and mutts began to dance in my head. A dog! A dog! My own dog!
I began to jump up and down wanting to shout this to the world when my mother suddenly laid out her conditions. It would have to be a Wire Haired Fox Terrier and nothing else. Her sister in Idaho had one and they didn’t shed. It had to be a male and to top it off it had to be $50.00 or less.
My heart sank. She may as well have told me to find a needle in a haystack and I would have better luck. Fox Terriers were a rare bred in our area and even common breeds of purebred dogs didn’t go for less $200.
Even though it was fairly late, I found the paper and quickly scanned the want ads, Beagles, Cockers, English Setters, Lab puppies and then I saw it, an ad for Fox Terriers. In all my years of scanning the ads for dogs I wished I could have, I had never seen an ad Wire Haired Fox Terriers. I joyfully showed the ad to my parents. They were surprised that I had found some so quickly and my dad said, call them up. I picked up the phone and a man answered. Breathless, I asked if he still had any puppies. I have one left, the man said. It’s a little male with a black patch on his eye. My heart leapt in my throat. What does he cost? I asked. Waiting for bad news, I said a prayer under my breath, please please, please…
Well, he is the last one, the man said. You can have him for 50 bucks. Miracle of miracles! I turned to my parents and said, 50 bucks, he wants 50 bucks! My dad seeing how close he was to having a dog said, tell him you only have $40. I only have $40, I said and he said ok, you can have him.
I was stunned. It was really happening! I handed the phone to my dad and he got the address and arranged to get the puppy the next day. I hugged my parents and jumped around and danced around the room, it was finally happening!
My mom began to cry when she saw how happy I was. Maybe she never realized how important to me having a dog was. She smiled and told me I better go clean my room if I ever to hope the find the puppy again in all that mess once I brought him home.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God! I was happy as a child could be.
The next morning my dad and I drove to St. Paul and picked up the eight week old Fox Terrier puppy from the breeder. We didn’t have a crate so I held him in my arms all the way home.
He licked my face and I knew that even though he wasn’t a shepherd or a collie or a lab at least he was mine.
That was many years ago and much to my chagrin my parents have always had a dog ever since.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
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