Whoever said that “a dog is a man’s best friend” deserves a Beggin’ Strip. A whole one. (Was it Michael Vick..? Sorry.) Our cockapoo Sam, outside of my wife Jan, maybe, is my bestie (beastie?)…

…But I didn’t always feel this way about dogs; I liked them well enough, but always could–and generally have—live(d) without them. I’ve always felt about dogs the way some people seem to view their grandchildren: while you may love them like crazy and enjoy their company, it’s a major bonus that they live in somebody else’s house.

When I was growing up, there came a point in my life, like most kids, I guess, when I desperately wanted a pooch. Mom would hear none of it, though. It wasn’t so much that she disliked dogs as it was that she was skeeved out bigtime by the baggage that they necessarily bring: fur, muddy paws, poop, pee, fleas and what-have-you. Her house was so clean that you could not only eat off the floors, you could actually perform hip and knee replacement surgeries on them, if needs be. Dogs were not welcome at 28 McKinley Ave.

When my own daughter was around five or six, she and my wife conspired against me to dogify our family. Many heated discussions ensued over that proposal, and the phrase “over my dead body” was uttered more times than I care to admit, but that phrase clearly meant something different to my girls than it did to me. My body, dead or otherwise, was soon besieged by Biscuit, a Tibetan terrier who came down from the Himalayas for the sole purpose of tormenting me.

I should have had a clue when we went to the Tibetan Dog Lady’s house in the foothills to view the latest liter. There were eight or ten little mongrels in this pen in her basement, and all of them, save one, immediately rushed over to us, tails and tongues wagging in doggie greeting. “Which one is ours,” I inquired. The Tibetan Dog Lady simply pointed to the lone pup who was sitting off in one corner of the pen eyeing us disdainfully. “She’s a little shy,” she said, through her Sherpa interpreter. Shy, indeed.

ImageBissy, as we called her, wasn’t a bad dog, she just had no use for human beings, except at feeding time. She never actually bit the hand that fed her (Bissy was too cool to waste a fraction of her energy on biting any of us); she well knew that it was much more effective to simply ignore us. Which she did, most of the time. There was a lot of cat in Bissy, in this regard, but, try as we might, we could never get her to use a litter box.

My wife and daughter decided that the problem with Bissy was that she was lonely. So, after stepping over my once-reanimated-but-now-dead-again body, we soon had Tibetan terrier #2, Fred, in our home. Fred was actually a pretty good dog; much more friendly and welcoming of our advances. The problem with Fred was that he was as neurotic as Freud himself and prone to relieving himself whenever and wherever the impulse presented itself.

Sadly (yes, in spite of myself, I was sad) both dogs passed before their time: Bissy of a kidney problem (we actually gave the poor girl dialysis several times a day for the final months of her life), and Fred of a cancerous tumor. Fred’s passing came when our daughter Carolyn was away at college and—crazy me—I insisted that we quickly get another dog, so that she wouldn’t come back to a house bereft of canine influence. And so we acquired Sam, a cockapoo so tiny, as a pup, that his breeder could not say for certain that he wasn’t a “toy.”

I’m not sure why, but Sam’s care became my responsibility from the get-go. And I embraced it wholeheartedly, reason being that I would give this dog-thing one last chance before giving up on the whole canine companions scenario for the rest of my miserable life. You know what? I was hugely rewarded for my efforts. Sam, to paraphrase Dickens, became “as good a dog as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”

ImageI’ve spoiled The Great Samboni with love, because love is what he craves, and it is what he gives freely and unconditionally. This is a bad thing? When we first got him, I would place him on my chest as I lay on the couch watching TV at night. Six years later (and at least twenty pounds heavier; no, he wasn’t a toy), that’s still one of his favorite places to be. Now that I’m retired and around the house most of the day, he rarely leaves me alone, and demands virtually constant attention. Is this annoying at times? Yes it is. But one of the things that I’ve learned after sixty-six years of life is this: occasionally being annoyed by an abundance of love is, after all, a condition that everyone on this great earth should be fortunate enough to experience.

Clearly, the adage “a dog is a man’s best friend” is true. You just have to find the right dog.


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