Whether well-heeled with the right papers or the more common variety, everyone should strive to be a best friend.
By George Valadie
For some reason, I feel compelled to tell you about our dogs, the ones still with us and those of the past. Most all of us have had a pet at one time or another, haven’t we?
Our family’s choice has always been dogs, though some prefer cats, gerbils, birds; one time, my nephew got a really long, slimy-looking lizard thing. We didn’t visit much after that.
Our first dog, Ellie, went blind. She never complained. In fact, we had no idea how long she’d been that way before we finally noticed.
One evening, I pitched some popcorn her way, but she never flinched. Before that realization, we had never noticed her bump into things; she had never failed to maneuver the front steps; she had never failed to eat or find her food.
Apparently, it was us who had failed. What do you think? Is it worse being blind … or being blind to someone’s blindness?
Think of the transition, seeing one day, darkness the next, with no help from your family. When our vet said it was hopeless, we all cried. She was a good friend.
Barney came next. He was the offspring of a full-blooded basset hound mother who apparently got lost in a moment of unbridled passion with an unknown neighbor. Having one blue eye and one brown, he was far from the perfect offspring for which his owners had hoped, thus his asking price fit nicely into our wallet.
Barney loved to roam in spite of our telling him about the leash laws. He dug under our chain link fence and ran through the electric one. And as we thought might someday happen, his desire to see the outside world led to an untimely passing. If dogs have a heaven, he probably didn’t stay. He was a good friend.
Then we received a most unexpected gift. Coffee, a huge, full-blooded, chocolate Labrador, came with a gorgeous brown coat and all the paperwork and documentation of those other high-society dogs. We just never told him.
His dish was an old cooking pot with a broken handle, his water bowl had more than a few nicks in it. Officially, he had four names, but we didn’t tell him about those either. We treated him like the family pet; he treated us like we were his.
Coffee loved to eat and the menu never mattered. In no particular order, he ate our laundry room floor, our cable TV wiring, a leg on our kitchen table, and a sizeable chunk of the back door.
We endured it all because we could imagine breeding him for our retirement income. We could go as long as he could. But neither he nor we ever got that far. His doggie testosterone went into overdrive, causing an overblown sense of territoriality that caused a little too much aggressiveness, which caused us a big problem with the neighbor kids.
We were forced to prematurely adjust his plumbing and were left wondering if having three sons would have been hugely different from our three daughters. He never held a grudge.
The day Coffee died of cancer, we all cried then, too. He was a good friend.
Sure she was sad and anxious to get another, but we surprised my wife with a female shelter puppy who had looked too forlorn to leave all alone. I was surprised as well when I realized Nancy wasn’t anywhere near as anxious to move on as I had imagined.
So with revenge on her mind, she named the dog Maggie, after a coed I’d been smitten with during my college, we-almost-broke-up days.
Not long after, we added a male one, too, having heard that puppies were easier to raise if they had a best friend and playing partner. In the years since that day we returned from the shelter with her new “friend,” Maggie has not spoken to us since.
Nancy didn’t want Maggie; Maggie didn’t want Charlie.
Almost 100 pounds now, Charlie annoys the dickens out of Maggie, but he could fit in one hand the day we found him.
A distant cousin of our previous eat-anything Labrador, Charlie prefers bricks — he’s eaten two thus far. And those don’t come out like you think they might. Sadly, it wasn’t until after that second surgery that we discovered pet insurance really is a thing.
All in all, he has learned to sit. She flirts with our guests, and walking both at once semi-resembles a leg of the Alaskan Iditarod. We’re one big happy family.
Reflecting back on them through the years, they were all different. They were all in need of obedience school. And they were all the result of a moment of unbridled passion. Our kids, I mean.
It’s easy to see how the species parallel, isn’t it?
Some of us humans have wandered far from home, too, while others have hung close. Some of us are annoying; some prefer the quiet of their corner.
There have been times we, too, have been known to treat the blue eyes differently from the brown eyes. Some have been well-bred and some have not.
And sadly, some families have been known to cast out the rogue who never turned out as they had hoped.
But we should be different though, don’t you think?
Dear God — What a great life if my epitaph read simply: “He was a good friend!” Help me make it so. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.