My very first dog was a black dauschund named Spooky. Check out those matching pot bellies! :) What in the world were they feeding us back then? I don't remember a whole lot about Spooky, just that I loved him and he was fun to play with. Dogs who live with young children need to have lots of patience and be a good sport.
The first dog that I remember well is Taffy, a kind and intelligent Golden Retriever mix. She stole my heart the moment I laid eyes on her, and broke it when she left us. That's the problem with loving dogs - they don't live long enough. I sure did love Taffy. I loved her in that enthusiastic,
'we're-all-gonna-live-forever-and-be-happy' way that we love people and pets when we're young. Without hesitation, without fear, without thinking of anything other than today. Come to think of it, dogs love this way too. Perhaps that's why dogs and children make such a good match.
Taffy's birthday was February 25th. Why this date has stuck in my head for three decades, despite the fact that I can hardly keep track of the birthdays of flesh and blood relatives, I have no idea. But it was a warm spring day about six weeks afterward that my mom, my sister and I piled into the family's Chevrolet and headed out to a stable in the country, where the newspaper claimed that a litter of puppies awaited good homes. The smell of hay and horses confirmed to my young city nose that we had arrived somewhere exotic. I heard the yipping of puppies, and followed the sound while my mom talked to the stable owner. One glance was all it took. My 14 year old heart melted as soon as I saw that fuzzy little ball of fluff. She rode home on my lap and threw up on me. No matter. I was in love.
I doted on her when she was a baby, and in the years that followed, Taffy became my best friend. She greeted me each day when I came home from school, and most mornings I awoke to her leaping onto my bed, licking my face amidst a great fanfare of tail wags and happy body wiggles. "Where have you been all night?? I missed you! Oh joy, joy, we're together again!" She was smart and quickly learned every trick I taught her - except for how to be a good jogging companion. We never mastered that one, the passing scents were just too interesting.
There was a hide and seek game we played around the hallway and kitchen that always made me laugh. I've tried to teach other dogs that game, but never had any luck. The dogs I've tried to teach always get quite confused. "Look, if I just follow you to your hiding spot, this is all much simpler - I won't lose track of you in the first place." But Taffy got it. When you are a teenager, you think that no one else on earth has ever been through what you are going through, and no one understands you. Taffy understood me.
Unfortunately, we had Taffy for just seven years before losing her to kidney failure. I was away from home, in my third year of college, and I was devastated. My dorm roommate, bewildered by my profound sadness, and probably worried that I was going to fail my final exams, attempted to reassure me.
"It's okay, you can get another dog."
I can still hear her gentle, concerned voice. It was instantly and dramatically clear to me that my roommate was a different sort of being, one who had never known the love of a family pet. She was genuinely sorry for my sadness, but she could not relate to my loss. I appreciated her attempt to comfort me, but I could no more easily "replace" Taffy than I could replace my sister. Anyone who has ever truly loved, or been loved by, a dog will understand this.
Thankfully, time eased the pain, as time always does. But the years have not erased the love I felt for my childhood companion. If I close my eyes I can still see her big doggie smile and that beautiful feathery waving tail. I can even feel the silky hair on top of her head. In my mind's eye I see her trying to sneak up on me in my hiding spot by the pantry, and I smile at the memory. Hmmm... German Shepherds are smart. Maybe I could teach Lady the hide and seek game.