My family and I are “dog people.” My family has had dogs since before I was born. In the 1980s, Before spaying and neutering was a widely accepted, encouraged, and mandated practice, our dog Rose had at least three litters from neighboring dogs.
One winter before I was born, Rose was heavily pregnant when my parents visited my maternal grandparents in Walburg, Texas, a small town about two and half hours south of Dallas. My grandpa had grown up with outdoor dogs. My grandpa and grandma have never been a fan of dogs in the house, mostly because my grandma is allergic, but also because it is not how they were raised. My family was always respectful. However, this winter, it was quite cold. My mom and dad convinced my grandparents to let the expectant mother Rose inside. She settled in on my grandparent’s couch. A little while later, my grandparents said she better not be having puppies on their couch. My dad kept assuring her, “There is NO WAY she’s having puppies on that couch.” He even walked over to Rose to emphasize his point. He inspected her closely, only to find that Rose had started giving birth. After some hurried scrambling, they set up a space heater in the garage. Rose gave birth to a large litter. My uncle Danny taped it on a video camera. Rose and her pups stayed at my grandparents until they were old enough to be moved.
For one of Rose’s litters, my parents suspected a local male lab to be the father. The fathers of Rose’s puppies were eager male dogs who had jumped our fence when Rose was in heat. The father remained a mystery to us. My parents advertised lab & golden mixes to their friends and family and gave them away for free. My dad had promised a pup to his boss at work who was eager for a lab mix. The puppies were born and given to friends, family, and my dad’s boss. My grandparents also kept two, which they named Tank and Bandy. As the puppies grew, my mom said they grew longer instead of taller. It became clear that these were not lab mixes. They were long low-riders whose legs resembled basset hounds or corgis. Some had golden retriever facial features. My dad’s boss called him a couple months later to say his wasn’t a lab mix, but he would keep the pup.
Our dogs have always lived in the house with house with us. When we were little, my parents let my sister and I pick two golden retriever puppies. She chose a playful male who jumped up to play with her and lick her face. I chose a tubby ginger female sitting in a corner by herself. We named them Saint and Nikki after Saint Nicholas because they were Christmas puppies. Sadly, Saint was hit by a car when he was a few years old. Nikki lived to be old, grey, and larger than life. It’s mostly my fault. I thought fat dogs were cute, loved to feed her people food, and didn’t take her on walks as much as she aged. We playfully called her Nikkopotamous. She lived until the ripe old age of 14. My dad eventually built a ramp for her to walk down our tall stairs in the backyard. Now, after much education and guilt, I keep our pup in good shape and take him on long walks.
After Saint, Bodacious, nicknamed Buddy, was our next boy. Late February 2005, my sister’s dog Buddy had been sick. He didn’t want to eat much, so my mom made him chicken noodle soup, and I would feed him Vienna sausages. My sister was in college at University of Texas but planned to come home for the weekend. My mom would hold the phone up to Buddy’s ear while Lauren begged him to eat for her. I was at home in senior year of high school. Our senior year of high school, we ate lunch off-campus. My house was less than 10 minutes away from the school, so we would eat lunch there on occasion. My friend Kristen went with me to take a break, check on Buddy, and have lunch at my house. We walked in the front door, and I walked through our living room to check on Buddy. As I looked at him, he looked so cute and peaceful with his tongue out, I took a few pictures on my Motorola Razr cell phone and my camera. I opened the back door, called him to get up, but he didn’t move. He had died. I had taken pictures of his dead body. I deleted the pictures, called my mom, and burst into tears. She drove home from work. Kristen and I sat on the front porch, but I had an English assignment due. I went to school, tears pouring down my face, to turn it in to my teacher. My teacher said I could have sent it with Kristen. I drove back home. My mom and I grabbed a blanket, hoisted it under Buddy’s body, and lifted him in the car. It was our tradition to have our dogs buried under a tree on my grandparent’s property in Walburg, Texas. My mom and I drove two and half hours with Buddy’s body in the backseat of our car covered in a blanket, and Nikki in the seat beside him. My sister met us at my grandparents to say goodbye. We put Buddy’s body in the digging bucket on the front of the tractor. She walked up and fell to her knees crying, while we did our best to comfort her. My grandpa hopped in his tractor and laid Buddy in his final resting place beneath the tree.
The very next year in 2006, my mom would make the same trip with my dog Nikki. I was sitting in bed when I answered the phone and she told me Nikki had died. Her and Nikki were laying on a quilt in front of our fireplace in our living room at our house in Dallas. Nikki laid her paw on my mom’s hand and took her final breath. I drove from College Station and met her in Walburg for the burial. After my grandpa passed a couple years ago, we scattered some of his ashes near that very tree.
In time for Easter, I will also share a story from my xanga from Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006. I was 19 years old and had come home from college for Easter.
“Standing in the doorway to my house, I’ve just returned from church with my mom and dad. My dad is so in love with Samson that he didn’t even make it to the front door, instead, he went around back to check on him. My mom and I walk in the front door, and she promptly asks me, “Sammy says, ‘I’m ready for an Easter Egg hunt. Mommy promised me.’ Will you have an Easter Egg Hunt with Sammy if I hide the eggs?'” Samson is our dog. To those who don’t know my mother, this might sound a bit strange. To those who do know my mother, (and know that she used to sing a song to my dog while she was brushing my dog’s teeth) this seems right on cue. So, she tells me not to look and she goes outside to set up the Easter Egg hunt. Samson can’t stay away from the windows acting like 6-year-old human. He was more excited than most little kids because my mom bought him a rawhide Easter basket. The entire basket was made of rawhide, with rawhide eggs inside. As she sets up, Samson runs to the window, and I shout out that he’s cheating. My mom says to move him away from the window. Instead, I take pictures of his excitement. Finally, mom finishes hiding all our eggs, and she tells us we can go out. My dad barely cracks the door open. Samson attempts to dart out and starts shaking from overexcitement. I can barely contain my laughter. At this point, we’re released into the yard and Samson, because he is inexplicably smart, only picks up the rawhide Easter eggs and none of my plastic ones. It was amazing. I had the best Easter egg hunt with my dog. Lauren, you missed out.”
Once we were grown and Lauren had a place of her own, it was only a matter of time before she got a dog. Lauren was living in an apartment in Austin. She walked by an adoption event with dogs. One of them was a black female border collie mix named Digimon. The person running the operation, obviously a pro, told Lauren she could take the dog home for the night for a sleepover and then return her if it didn’t work out. Lauren called me that night to tell me she had taken a dog on a sleepover. “So, you got a dog?” I asked playfully. She knew the answer. It was a similar story for her second dog, Zoey. Although Zoey, nicknamed Valentina, we saw at an adoption event. She had been born around Valentine’s Day. We knew we could have another dog since Lauren and Brian had moved in a house. For the first few weeks we had Zoey, Sadie was not a happy camper. She would growl and then attack her when Zoey got too close. With the advice of a behavior team from the shelter, we set up a baby gate and kept them separate. We slowly introduced them. Sadie finally warmed up to the newcomer.
We were told Zoey was a Great Pyrenees mix. We bought a huge crate for her and prepared ourselves for an extra-large dog. She fooled us when it came to size. She maxed out at 43 pounds, the smallest of Lauren’s three dogs.
Their last acquisition, Tucker, was a dog Brian found by an oil rig in west Texas. Brian suspected it had been dumped with another dog, as there were no houses nearby. Brian brought him home. Lauren and Brian had two dogs, Sadie and Zoey, and a human baby on the way. They chose to find a home for the young friendly black lab. Brian’s best friend wanted a dog and loved labs. Brian’s best friend was in basic training but would take Tucker as soon as he was done. He even chose the name Tucker because it was what he had named all his animals. A couple months pass. Brian’s best friend was supposed to come get Tucker. However, we had all become attached, Lauren most of all. She told Brian she couldn’t bear the thought of giving Tucker away. He and his best friend knew better than to argue with a pregnant woman. Tucker stuck around and so did the name. Don’t worry, Brian’s best friend later adopted a Tucker of his own.
As I’ve mentioned before, Brian worked two weeks on, two weeks off in west Texas. I lived with Lauren and Brian during this time and for a little while after their son Harrison was born. Brian was working during this adventure. Very late evening or early morning, depending on how you look at it, Lauren had let Sadie outside to go to the restroom. When she was done, Sadie would usually whine at the back door to be let in before settling on the dog bed in Lauren’s room or on Lauren and Brian’s bed. Well, this night went a little differently, as Sadie ran in and quickly ran upstairs. She never ran upstairs. Upstairs in their house, they have two bedrooms across from each other. I slept in one and the other one had a guest bed. It’s close to 2 am when a smell awoke me. It was horrid and bitter. I walked, bleary-eyed, down the hallway. The smell became stronger. I turn on the light to see Sadie panting heavily and lying on the bed. I walk up to her and took a whiff. I gagged . . . a few times. I flipped on the lights and ran downstairs. Lauren soon woke up asking about the smell. I told her Sadie had been skunked. Smartypants Sadie, knowing she wouldn’t be able to crawl back in bed with Lauren and wanting to stay inside, retreated upstairs to hide. I knew what we must do. I looked up our options. Though people commonly use tomato juice, a more effective solution was hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap. We were out of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Lauren was pregnant at the time and had to work the next day, so I looked up the closest 24-hour store. I bought the supplies and returned home ready to give Sadie a bath. Lauren and Brian’s bedroom had the only walk-in shower, so Sadie and I went in together. I held my breath and suppressed my gag reflex. We took a few showers. The solution needed to soak for about 10 minutes to work best. I let Lauren sleep while also stifling my laughter. Fun fact: hydrogen peroxide is a chemical used to bleach hair. Sadie’s fur is black. After our shower time, parts of her fur had bleached to an orangey brown. It was better than the smell. The smell did stay on her muzzle for about a month. She hasn’t been skunked since.
As for myself, I lived with people who owned dogs and worked at a dog daycare and an animal shelter but never owned a dog as an adult. Now, my wife and I own a Heinz 57 mutt, as my grandpa would call it. We think our dog Waylon is a basset hound & lab mix. He is as stubby as Tank and Bandy. He’s our very own low rider. My sister has Zoey, Sadie, and Tucker. My parents have Noble, a male golden retriever and Maple, a female golden retriever rescue. We’ve all gone to the dogs.