My first girl friend and my first dog were both named Judy, and they were both female, but the similarity ended there. Neither of them knew the other, and that was a shame, for they were each quite memorable in unique ways. My relationship with each of them was quite different, as it should have been, and thanks to them I learned a great deal about life. They both taught me about love, loyalty, friendship, and companionship. What my girlfriend Judy taught me was not to take these things for granted. That's something many people can't learn from a dog.judy1jpg

Judy the dog was an Irish setter that my parents bought when I was born. Judy and I grew up together. She was part of the family, albeit the quiet part–ever present, always loving, forgiving, tolerant, and a constant companion. She and I explored many woods and fields together. Her presence was something I took for granted with an unconscious pleasure that was only recognized and truly appreciated after she was taken away from me.

Judy died on Christmas day when we were both twelve years old. I vividly recall my father and I carrying her lifeless body out of the house and digging a grave for her in the hard, frozen ground in our back yard. Everyone cried that Christmas day–my mother, my older sister, my father, my grandmother, and I. There was no question that our family was not complete without a dog, and that we would get another. It was early spring when my dad and I drove out to a dog breeder that had advertised black lab puppies. I don't recall how or why we decided on getting a black Labrador, but once you see a puppy it doesn't really make much difference what breed it is. You want it. We came home with a female puppy, and I named her Cheetah because she reminded me of one I had seen in an issue of National Geographic.

Cheetah quickly became my dog. She slept in my room and often would sneak onto my bed after I had gone to sleep. I still recall the night I dreamed I was being crushed to death by a car that had overturned on me. I awoke in a panic to discover Cheetah lying across my body.

Instead of having Cheetah spayed, my father wanted to have her bred when she was old enough. I think he wanted to teach me about the birds and the bees by using Cheetah rather than having to actually explain anything sexual to me. Unfortunately she came into heat early and managed to get pregnant from some unknown sneeky dog. cheetah1.jpg

Our vet, Dr. Cryan, informed us that Cheetah was too young to have puppies, and that she would not be able to nurse them. The puppies would have to be put to sleep as soon as they were born. My father, having been raised on a farm, was not about to pay a vet do something that he could do at home. Years later I was watching a television documentary about ranch life in Wyoming where they interviewed a number of old ranchers. One of them, who reminded me of my father, was talking about self-sufficiency and said, "Any man who can't shoe his own horse or shoot his own dog, isn't much of a rancher." When the day came that Cheetah started giving birth, I had to accompany my father throughout the process of watching each puppy being born and watching my father killing it. There were nine of them.

At about the age of six, Cheetah developed breast cancer and needed surgery. That was about the time that I left home to go to college and subsequently the Air Force. Cheetah died while I was gone, and I always felt guilty for leaving her after we were so close for those six years. I know she loved me more than she loved herself, because that is the way dogs are, and anyone who doesn't recognize that, appreciate it, and feel some guilt about it, shouldn't have a dog. As someone once said, "The dog is your friend, your partner, your defender. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion."

Once my life had settled down to a routine where I could have a dog again, I didn't hesitate. That meant being married. It wasn't the only reason I got married, but it was a good reason. Years later, long after I had divorced, I was attending my mother's funeral. I was standing around talking with some of her friends–most of whom were well into their 70's. One of them said to me, "You need to either get married or get a dog." I replied, "Well, I guess I'll get married, because you get awfully attached to a dog." I know a lot of people who have divorced their spouses, but very few who have divorced their dogs. I feel sorry for the former, but I have no respect at all for the latter. If dogs could talk, perhaps we'd have more trouble getting along with them, but I doubt it.

sean.jpgMy wife and I purchased a male Irish wolfhound puppy that, at only 12 weeks old, weighed 57 lbs. I named him Shawn, and he joined a growing menagerie of pets that included a golden spider monkey (Vicky), a Siamese cat (Tasha), a boa constrictor (Wyndham), a parakeet (Pete) and an adopted dog named Randy. Randy, a puppy, was abandoned at an apartment complex in Moore, Oklahoma, where we were temporarily living. Randy got along well with Vicky, the monkey, so Randy joined the family. Randy never grew to be more than 25 lbs but Sean grew to be 180 lbs.

Irish Wolfhounds don't live very long. Their average life span is approximately seven years. Shawn lived to be seven and a half before having to be put down due to bone cancer. We were living in New Jersey at the time and a friend of mine, who had a three-year old Irish wolfhound named Arrow, was living in New Mexico. Arrow had gotten much bigger than they anticipated, and they had a new baby and were afraid Arrow would eat their baby. I wanted to tell them they were idiots, but they said I could have Arrow. I drove for four days in a small economy car to get Arrow, who was so big that when he sat in the back seat, his head stuck forward between the seats next to my head.

Arrow joined our family for four and a half short years before also succumbing to bone cancer. Randy also died from cancer of the stomach about the same time. The cat died of a spinal problem, my wife and I divorced, and then Vicky died. Quite suddenly I found myself single and living alone with a snake. I like snakes, but somehow they don't fulfill the same needs as a dog or a wife.

One of my favorite dog jokes is most illustrative of the nature of a dog. As the story goes, a guy visits his vet and asks him to cut off his dog's tail. The vet asked why. "Well, my mother-in-law will be visiting us next month, and I want to eliminate any possible indication that she is welcome."

Acquiring a dog is as close as you can get to choosing a relative. I was looking for a new relative after my divorce, and Ben entered my life. Ben was a mutt (Airdale mix) that I paid for. People were amazed that I actually paid for a mutt, but these were not dog people. When it comes to women, I don't believe in love at first sight, but when it comes to dogs, I am a believer. I have spent the last 28 years of my life in the almost constant companionship with a dog. Ben was with me for 13 years, and then I adopted Nina, an abused puppy from a rescue organization. Nina, became my silent partner for 12 years. Both Ben and Nina were love at first sight.

Dugan, my third Irish Wolfhound, joined Nina and I when he was 4 months and Nina was ten and a half years. They both, as Ben once did, accompanied me to work each day, waited in my office while I was teaching classes, waited in my vehicle when was out eating or at a movie, lay by my side when I watch TV, read, studied, and worked at my desk.

Nina had a stroke and had to be put to sleep three days before Christmas. She was twelve. Dugan lost his close companion and was so clingy to me that I purchased another Irish Wolfhound puppy that spring. Fiona and Dugan and I are now a very close family. The longest I have have been apart either of them is eight hours. And that only happened once. Occasionally, I lie down next to them and take a nap. They are both here now as I write this, quietly awaiting my next move, instruction, word, or activity.

"With eye upraised his master's look to scan,
The joy, the solace, and the aid of man:
The rich man's guardian and the poor man's friend,
The only creature faithful to the end."

--George Crabbe.

"Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring -- it was peace."
--Milan Kundera

"A good dog never dies. He always stays. He walks besides you on crisp autumn days when frost is on the fields and winter's drawing near. His head is within our hand in his old way."
--Mary Carolyn Davies

"Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to."
--Joe Gores

To Judy, Cheetah, Shawn, Randy, Arrow, Ben, Nina, Dugan, Fiona and...?