I’m an admitted forever hopeless doggie addict. It all began when I was a fifth or sixth grader in my little home town where dogs ran free and nobody locked the doors of their homes. Must have been around 1949. “Blackie” and I roamed the town free as the wind. He was a cocker spaniel mix and a fierce defender of me when any of my buddies, some of whom were bullies, gave me a hard time. He didn’t know many commands, but there was one he always knew: Sic, sic, sic! Given this command, he would bolt after any person or dog or cat, whatever. And, he knew how to bite. In those days, a dog that didn’t bite was not a good dog.
Blackie was totally obedient when I whistled for him. Every winter I had to make sure his doggie house could withstand the cold blustery winter wind and snow that came howling over the Illinois plains. My mother never allowed him in the house, no matter how cold it got, and cold winters are ever present in Central Illinois.
Blackie loved to chase cars and the high-speed Bluebird Chicago-St. Louis train that roared through town twice daily, once heading south bound and once heading north bound. Finally, one day he was in hot pursuit of the Bluebird and must have stumbled under its iron wheels. Fortunately, I didn’t see it happen, but a neighbor did and told my mother. I was crushed with remorse and tearful for months afterwards. Even today, 70 years later, when just thinking about my best childhood friend I get teary eyed. It’s absolutely true that a boy and a dog are forever.
Somehow, I don’t know why, I didn’t rush out to find another dog, but I do remember my dad bringing home a hunting beagle one day. That dog could hunt, alright, but it was really dumb. My dad didn’t go for a dumb dog and kicked him around too much—but that didn’t make him any smarter.
The high school and college years were dog-less, just too many things going on, but a few years after Kay and I moved to New Carlisle, Ohio, and our daughter was just a baby, we adopted a boxer. This dog was everything you would expect a boxer to be, except for one nasty habit—whenever he got loose outside, boy, did he take off with me in pursuit. And without fail, he would find something to eat that he shouldn’t, like old, stained towels that were tossed out behind grocery stories. Finally, after many experiences I gave up, and we found a new home for him.
Some years passed and once more we decided to adopt—this time a little black dog named Charlie. He was cute, playful, and loyal. Alas, one day he got behind our car and we hit him. He didn’t recover. Sad!
Onward to Florida years later. We decided that we would add another dog to the family household, one that didn’t smell or shed. Mandy was a white poodle that weighed 25-30 pounds. She was a wonderful animal but, boy, did the fleas like her. I gave her many, many flea baths, but those little buggers just kept coming back. Mandy, a Florida born dog, was with us for 12 plus years. We took her with us on our move from Florida to Northern Illinois. Alas, she didn’t make it through that first winter—she literally died of old age. And it was a heart-breaking experience for me, because I had to take her to the vet to be put down. Having seen her steadily deteriorate, I said to myself—”I never want to die of old age!”
During Mandy’s time with us in Florida we bought our daughter a little chocolate colored poodle. That little guy was a super delight. He could jump five feet in the air and land in your arms. But Hershey, as he was named, also suffered from epilepsy — a common disease among poodles. He would stiffen up, and his whole body would shudder. We would take him in our arms and comfort him, but there was no cure. Heart breaking once more.
We moved back to Florida to retire in 2004 and a year later acquired a beautiful male Golden Doodle. I nicknamed him “baby dog,” as he weighed in as an adult at 100 pounds. He loved to chase tennis balls that I would throw in a nearby field and always had a loving personality. He never growled or bit anyone, although he had a ferocious bark. We lost him at 9 years of age while we were in China. To this day, we don’t know what brought about his death. We were very, very sad to get the call from out daughter that Sammy had passed.
Several years before Sammy died, we decided to adopt a second dog so that Sammy would get more exercise. Emmy, nick named Sweet Pea, is a black lab-mix that weighed in at 30 pounds and 8 months old when we picked her up at the Tampa Humane Society. She has been with us 12 years now and weighs 60 pounds. She has only bitten one person, our pool service lady, who got nipped on the behind as she was wielding a pole cleaning the pool. We think Emmy was bummed out by the pole. She did have a difficult puppyhood, being abused in some manner.
Dogs are truly God’s gift to mankind. And, as a family member, it really hurts when they pass on to doggie heaven. I’ll never forget my sister, Juanita, saying that when her little guy, Waldo, passed she cried for three days. If doggies didn’t exist, we would have to invent them, and friends, oh are they! Harry Truman once remarked, “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” How true, is it not?
Don Menzel is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, author and international speaker on ethics reform. Before his recent move to Colorado, Don organized OLLI-USF’s China Special Interest Group. He also served as an OLLI-USF faculty member for over 10 years.
Aside from Emmy, the dog photos are not Don’s dogs. They are public domain photos from Pixabay.