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[personal profile] lindahoyland asked me to talk about my pets. I've had some pretty special animals in my life (but anyone with pet dogs and cats feels that way, no? :) so this will be a little bit on the memoirish side.

It's a memory more manufactured than real, yet I can see it in my mind's eye like I lived it--which I did--and remember it--which I likely, truly, do not.

Our neighbors raised sheep and had a notoriously aggressive German Shepherd. I was playing in the backyard one day when the German Shepherd jumped the fence and advanced on me in my infantile innocence, playing amid the dandelions in the grass. (Probably playing with ants--which I loved more than anything else until a relatively advanced age--but that ruins the scene somewhat. The dandelions are better.) Slick white teeth bared, a growl low in the throat, the dog advanced upon me, and I wailed for my imminent maiming.

But for Buffy.

Buffy was a stray dog that hung around my dad's office building in the city. He was a medium-sized mutt with long, buff-colored fur. So the story goes, my dad took Buffy to a vet--he was infested with fleas and ticks--and then brought him home. Buffy was, as a result, the Best Dog Ever, forever grateful for his rescue. (Actual rescue. I won't start on people who adopt purebreds from no-kill shelters and call them "rescues" for that fact alone.) Buffy, according to lore, would not eat food placed at his level unless invited to do so. Buffy would, however, escape at every opportunity to run away to the Gunpowder River and return reeking of fish. Buffy would hide if a bath was coming, even if neither of my parents said the word, because he had a fish-smell-divesting sixth sense. Buffy also hated the rain and would fast until the rain stopped so that he would not have to go outside in it. He once went two days, according to family lore. Buffy was also fiercely protective of me, the first baby born into his family. He once stood over me when I was an infant, snarling most uncharacteristically at the workman who arrived to make some repair on the house.

This was more or less what happened the day the German Shepherd jumped the fence into the yard. I wonder of the German Shepherd was quite as fierce or Buffy truly as brave as is told, but as the story goes, he placed his little body between the other dog and me and held the larger dog off until my mom came out and rescued me. He saved me. That was the moral of Buffy's story.

I was too young to appreciate Buffy's death. I remember riding home from the vet's office with a frozen Buffy in a black trash bag on the floor by my feet, ready to be illegally buried in the backyard. I remember being most fascinated by the fact that the vet had a big enough freezer to hold Buffy, who seemed big to me, even though he really wasn't. I may not have been old enough to mourn Buffy, but I remember him in the way one remembers the lore of oral tradition, and I love him still. A few years ago, my grandmother-in-law was getting rid of some things, and in the pile was a statue of a dog. I took it and kept it because it looks like how I remember Buffy. Buffy watches over me at my work, from the bookshelf in the study, as ready as ever to jump to my rescue.




It is never said but can be intuited that Buffy's death was crushing for my dad, who saved him and speaks of him to this day in worshipful tones. As a result, it was many, many years before we had a pet in the house again.

No, I'm forgetting one: Mickey. My parents one day brought home a miniature schnauzer from the pet store named Mickey. This was before awareness of puppy mills was widespread, although they'd get schooled quickly because poor little Mickey's personality had been twisted by suspect breeding. I remember my parents letting him lose into the backyard and him taking off, yapping and snapping, after my sister and me, shrieking as we scrambled up the sliding board and away from him. He was no Buffy.

I never felt anything for Mickey. He wasn't pleasant. He was marred by his puppy mill breeding and the long, lonesome weeks spent in a tiny cage at the pet store. He had separation anxiety. He destroyed things. He mostly destroyed my mom's things, as though targeting her for leaving, even for a moment. Even if she walked down to the mailbox, she came back to him having destroyed something of hers. Mickey didn't last long in our family. We were clearly not a good fit for him. A friend of my parents' loved him and rehomed him, and Mickey lived to ripe, happy old age as a beloved family pet in their home.




There were a pair of semi-stray dogs in our neighborhood. They had a home but were neglected and roamed the neighborhood. My Uncle Wodie used to yell at them to "Git! Go home!" because they pooped in every yard but their own. My mom would make threats about gathering that poop into a bag and leaving it on their owners' front steps as a message: CARE FOR YOUR DAMN DOGS.

They didn't have names that we knew, when we were young, so we called them Hitchhiker and Hitchhiker's Baby. When my sister and I got older, we briefly befriended the girls at the end of the road, including the girl who lived in the house that owned Hitchhiker and Hitchhiker's Baby. We learned that their names were actually Moose and Sunnie, and Moose was Sunnie's son, not the other way around. (We'd always called Sunnie the baby because she was smaller.) They were both mutts; Moose looked like a big yellow lab. Sunnie looked sort of like a Golden Retriever with a thick shaggy coat and a white face, but her folded ears weren't Golden Retriever-like at all.

My parents have always taken in strays, whether animals or people, and the sorry plight of Moose and Sunnie became increasingly apparent as the dogs hung around our house more because of our friendship with the daughter of their owners. They were often locked out of the garage where their water was kept, so a silver dog bowl was purchased and water kept in our garage for them. They took to laying in our yard, then in the garage itself, especially when it was hot. Then a box of dog biscuits came to be kept in the garage. Then my grandfather got a can of dog food on sale, and Moose and Sunny shared it, and you know what they say about feeding strays. Then, one day that I still see sharp in my memory, the dogs were invited into the house to eat vanilla ice cream of all things with the rest of the family.

Soon, we were fully caring for Moose and Sunnie. Sharon and I were devoted to them, but we never dared to hope for more than the privilege of loving and caring for them. But in what may be the greatest Christmas gift ever, we came home one Christmas Eve to a pair of dog collars--one blue, one red--hanging on the tree with our names on them: "To Dawn and Sharon." Unknown to us, my parents had contacted Moose and Sunnie's legal owners and given them an ultimatum: Either they cared for their pets, including keeping them on their property, or they transferred ownership to us. They chose the latter option.

It was not an inexpensive or easy choice my parents made. The dogs were old and sick; Moose was infected with heartworm and had to undergo expensive, painful treatments that left him staggering with nausea and weakness. But they were wonderful dogs and lived quite long, given the neglect they'd experienced: Moose to 15 years and Sunnie to 16. As is often the case, Sunnie did not live long after Moose died.




Crosby was the next dog in our life. He was nine years old when we brought him home and, from appearances, was a mix of Irish Setter and Golden Retriever. A family friend had just had a baby, and the baby was severely allergic to him, and he had to be removed from the home right away. She took him to the shelter and my dad went that day to pick him up, terrified that, because of his age, he might have been put down before he arrived.

Perhaps because my dad adopted him, Crosby was obsessed with my dad. If my dad went outside to cut the grass, Crosby would follow him from window to window. If he went into the shed or the mower passed out of view, Crosby cried and cried till he reappeared.

Crosby is the reason my dad won't ever have another dog. We had him a little over a year when my mom felt a mass on his shoulder, and Crosby snapped at her when she touched it. Our vet removed the mass, but the cancer was in the bone, and short of amputating his leg and part of his shoulder, there was nothing to be done, and my parents rightly refused to make him go through that.




But my parents had two cats in the interim: KC and Jack. KC and Jack ruined cats for me forever because they were perfect cats, which most cats frankly aren't, and my attempt to own a cat paled in comparison to my memories of KC and Jack. Jack, we would swear, was Crosby reincarnated. He was orange like Crosby and sat on the steps in the same way. He was obsessed with my dad.

He particularly like imported Polish ham. Only imported, mind you; my dad bought him the cheaper domestic variety once, trying to fool him, and Jack wouldn't eat it.




Alex was the dog who stole--and broke--my heart.

Bobby and I were married less than two years when a coworker announced his brother was looking for homes for a litter of Golden Retriever puppies. Two days later, we had Alex.

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You would never know from that besotted post I just linked, but Alex was a horrible puppy. HORRIBLE. He came to us infested with fleas, sick with Lymes disease, and clearly with little to no socialization. He was a biter. We used to call him the Carpet Alligator because he was the same color as the carpet in our apartment, and he'd wiggle on his belly across the floor and CHOMP! right on unsuspecting feet. He cried in the night. We'd lay in bed, unmoving and barely breathing, trying not to wake him.

He was highly intelligent but not in the obedient, compliant way that Goldens are supposed to be intelligent. No, he was intelligent in the defiant, willful, deliberately provocational way of a gifted child.

Because he was so sick, he was tiny when we got him and stayed tiny for a while, then grew all of the sudden into this gangly, awkward creature with these enormous legs and feet like a full-grown dog stuck onto a puppy's body.

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We bought our house in Maryland for Alex. We first saw it from the street and fell in love with the big, fenced yard for him to run around in. He was about nine months old at the time and quickly outgrowing our apartment.

Alex and I did not get along well for the first two years of his life. My parents say now in full seriousness that they expected to hear that I'd either killed him or given him away. I did say without joking that, the next time someone complimented him--because he was a beautiful dog--that I'd ask if they wanted him, and if they said yes, they could take him then and there.

As I said, he was willful, as am I, and stubborn and stubborn don't mix. He once tore up an entire bed of lilies I'd planted. I'd tell him not to bark before I let him out at night, and I knew he understood me, and he barked every fucking time. I'd tell him not to do something, and he'd look right at me with a wicked gleam in his eye while he did it. He stole socks. He tore up tissues and paper towels if he could get a hold of them and leave them strewn across the room. Bobby would sometimes find my underwear out in the yard where he carried it off if I dropped it while hanging clothes on the clothesline. He once nabbed my stuffed unicorn Nelyo from my arms in the small hours of the morning, leading to a bleary-eyed chase across the apartment. When we lived in the apartment, he'd often wake me to take him outside, then do nothing but sniff around.

To be fair, I picked on and pestered him too.

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Perhaps because our love was given a trial by fire, I eventually came to adore him.

As I said, he was smart and beautiful, with long legs and flowing feathers and a beautiful gait. All dogs and cats have their own personalities, beloved by their owners, but Alex's seemed larger than life. It seemed he understood what I was saying to him, and his opinions (usually not favorable) registered on his expressive face. He continued to be willful and do things his way until the day he died. A retriever, he loved to fetch a ball, but he would never return it but plop down in the yard and chewed it. If it squeaked, all the better; if it squeaked obnoxiously so that it got on my nerves, that was best of all. He would also rarely humble himself to running after the ball. Instead, he'd stand in the part of the yard where he knew we were most likely to throw it and wait for it to come to him.

When he was almost a year old, Lancelot came into our life, much as Alex had. We were walking Alex in the housing development down the hill from our house when a pudgy, red Golden Retriever puppy ran into the street. Just like Alex, he was the last in his litter, looking for a home. His owners asked if we wanted him. Just like with Alex, we needed only one night to think about it.

Alex was a good--if reluctant--big brother. Lancelot adored him from the start; Alex was the only other dog I think he truly loved, although he's learned to like Guinevere. Lancelot would curl up against Alex, who would wait patiently for him to fall asleep, then get up and move two feet away.

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Lancelot is more of a typical Golden, minus his aggression to other dogs. He is smart in that obedient, eager-to-please way that is so typical of the breed. He was easy to train in just about everything (except carrying around throw pillows from the couch). He likes to play with the ball ... and he will actually chase it and bring it back.

The two of them were central in our lives, so deeply embedded that it was hard to notice or appreciate fully how much we'd shaped our lives around them in the house we'd bought for Alex. They traveled with us, whether to get an Italian ice in the next town over or to Ocean City for vacation. People knew them: friends and family but even people across the world with whom I had the barest contact. Friends would tell me that they had friends eagerly awaiting my next picspam of the Goldens.

We lost Alex in late summer of 2015.

He was eight years old and beginning to slow down. Eight is the age when dogs his size become senior citizens, and we didn't think much of it. But we came home one day to find him more lethargic than usual and seemingly in pain, so we found a vet that would see him that evening, and later that night, at the emergency vet in Towson, we learned that he had a tumor on his spleen and was bleeding inside. He was eventually diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive blood cancer that is very common in Goldens.

I don't want to talk again about the last month that he was with us. It's on the first page of the #alex tag on my journal, already written, for anyone who doesn't know it already and wants to. It's still just to hard to write about. I'm crying just after scrolling through that page of posts and reading some of them and seeing the pictures of when he was a puppy and remembering how awful and wonderful he was.

But a week before we lost him, we took him to Ocean City. Both of our families managed to go also. On our last day, they left in the morning, and Bobby and I took Alex and Lancelot to the beach at Assateague and spent the day there, then back across the bridge to Ocean City where we ate pizza and the Goldens shared an Italian ice in the car. I remember at the time being so alive to the joy of that day and knowing I would want to tuck it away and remember it forever. But we eventually had to drive away.

Losing Alex was crushing to both of us. We didn't intend to get another dog right away. We knew we wanted another dog eventually because we prefer to have two, so that they can play together and keep each other company. We also knew we wanted another Golden, and not knowing if we'd stumble accidentally on another one in need of a home, Bobby called a breeder we knew in the next town over where we'd stopped once to visit with a litter of Golden puppies out playing in the yard. They usually have their litter in the spring, and we thought we might reserve a puppy, and maybe we'd be ready then.

But it'd happened that they'd had a litter in the fall this year instead. And the old pattern reasserted itself: one puppy left that they'd be unable to place. A little girl this time, timid, with off-white fur: Guinevere.

 photo Miche at PetCo_zps6yzhlmly.jpg



Gwen was shy and the breeder was defensive of her--I suspect her timidity was why no one had taken her because the white-furred boy was the first to go--but we knew we wanted her when we stepped into their yard that day. She's very calm and sweet (although not when she kicks me violently in the middle of the night like she sometimes does!) and very different from Alex--actually, almost the exact opposite of Alex with his energy and his willfulness. She is smart in the obedient way of Goldens and learns quickly. She is a pale cream color that I prefer to describe as the Before picture in a tooth-whitening ad. People always comment on how calm she is. In a couple of weeks, she will begin training as a therapy dog and will have a job working with children who are the victims of trauma.

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Now that we live in Vermont, the three of our dogs are still here with us. Alex died in Maryland, and we buried him in our yard there. When we moved here, my mom and I disinterred him, and he made the two-day trip to the Northeast Kingdom in a florist's box in the back of my car. He lives now under the crab apple tree on the edge of our woods. Whenever we are traveling, I find Capella--my favorite star--and ask her to watch over my Alex for me.

Lance and Gwen--despite a rocky start to their relationship (that was all Lance, I should add)--are now friends and we have a center to our world again. Lance is getting old but still climbs mountains beside us. Guinevere is game for anything. She especially loves the ocean and the beach, just like me. On cold Vermont mornings, they're as often as not both crammed into bed between Bobby and me. If one is on the couch with us, they both have to be. It's the way of Goldens.
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