What I will remember most about my wedding is coming home with my new husband to a home that was totally and completely destroyed. It looked as if burglars had rampaged our home with the pure intention of leaving nothing intact. The sofa cushions were shredded around the house, the carpet in every room had been gnawed to demolition, button eyes, yarn hair, and cloth from my childhood Raggedy Ann doll (made by my mother) were strewn in unrecognizable pieces throughout the house and even pieces of trim, molding, drywall and our brand new cabinets had been chewed, clawed and ruined. The sparkling new comforter and pillows given to us at our wedding shower had been reduced to rags not even worthy of washing the car. Down feathers were floating through the air and slowly but surely a stench was rising to greet us. Pee and feces! Ah yes, the joys of owning a dog.
We toured through our own home in utter disbelief and horror- yet the two likely culprits Duke & Stimey were somewhat oblivious. They whined, scampered, jumped, barked and wagged their tails with such fury that my legs were bruised. They were one by one dropping tennis balls (the only thing not destroyed in this crime) at our feet, stepping over mounds of poo and behaving as if they had been locked up for 6 months. The truth was that we had only been away for 4 days and that a dog sitting friend was left to take care of the mutts. She left us a note on the front door that said “Sorry, I tried to clean up; but your dogs are crazy!” So much for her appreciation gift.
Immediately I knew this was Duke’s fault. My dog the cute and lively black lab had never in her life destroyed anything. Okay, perhaps the occasional shoe; but nothing as catastrophic as this. I began scolding Duke as he ran to hide behind my new husband’s legs. “Bad Dog” I said pointing my intense finger and opening the front door as to discard him. Sure enough, my husband put his arms around the dog embracing him with the kind of hug a man should only save for a woman and whispered loudly enough for me to hear “It’s okay we all know Stimey put you up to this.” Meanwhile, Stimey (my dog, the black lab) was no where to be seen and Duke was peering through his tranquil green eyes, tail tugged under but still wagging a bit with a ball in his mouth ready to play. Poor Stimey I thought, she must be traumatized by all this blatant and horrific dog behavior she had to witness. Inevitably, this turned into the first fight of our marital life and to this day lingers from time to time.
In the years that I have owned dogs I have been baffled by the things that I have put up with. This particular ordeal decided very quickly that my husband and I would do no more traveling; unless of course the dogs could come along. No vacations to the beach or anniversary trips. We just stayed home from that day on. Us and the dogs! As a matter of fact we began to figure out our work schedules based on the dogs needs as well. If I worked nights, husband would be home during the day to ensure the dogs got out and fed as needed. But the joys of owning a dog kept continuing to surprise us!
Once a neighbor accused our dogs of going under his house and busting his gas line which we ended up fixing. Unable to figure out why our dogs would go under his house to begin with the neighbor told us they were chasing his skanky cats. They never chase our cats, they might steal their food every once in a while – but never chase. Probably his cats just ran (dumb felines)! I still think he was just looking for a hand out. Another time we spend 6 hours looking for the dogs through the woods because they had decided to go on an adventure. They beat us back to the house with a hutch of baby bunnies (not eaten but dead) as gifts. Nice return for allowing them to share our bed I suppose. We have had luscious steaks disappear off the counter tops right before dinner (Duke again), cleaned up more puke from the carpet than imaginable and have went through an array of vacuums in effort to get up all the hair. Not to mention we have spend thousands on vet bills, medications and flea & tick controls just in the hopes that they would stay well and not infest our home with parasites.
We also realized at some point that our dogs needed some training . Neither cared for a leash and living on 70 acres they never really needed it The first training session was a joke and the dog trainer knew it. He recommended private lessons and we opted for allowing the freedom of the farm. After all they never really had to become civilized. . I just wanted Stimey to learn how to swim because she was seemingly the only black lab in the world afraid of the water. Once her paws reached the wet she would whimper and shake retreating to the sturdy and dry grass. I dropped a small fortune using a pet psychic to help me try and unlock her past life trauma or whatever it was that was holding her back. She never did swim though.
Our dogs went on every car ride with us. Actually, as soon as they heard the keys jingle they were jumping in the front seat whether you wanted them there or not. One evening on my way to my best friends wedding, adorned in a pink satin bridesmaid dress they jumped on my lap irreversibly staining and wrinkling my clothes with red Georgia clay. Interestingly enough, they came along for that event too – and gave my husband an excuse to listen to the football game while waiting with the dogs in the car.
When we found out I was pregnant, the first question that my husband and I considered was “what about the dogs?” Twins were coming and the house just wasn’t big enough for the dog kids and human kids. Could we really get rid of the kids? Instead, we began to build them a pen (the dogs that is). We spent $2500 fabricating an outdoor dog pen bigger than most people’s yard complete with a roof, comfortable dog houses and an automatic watering system. At 6 feet high, they both still scaled the fence and we ended up attaching another 3 feet of hog wire at the top to try and keep them in. Often Duke, the craftiest of the two still made his way back to the front door. They barked for 3 months straight, every night – all night. Maybe they were just kindly preparing us for the arrival of newborns. Whatever the reason, I missed the 160 pounds of dog that shared my bed at night. Both dogs had slept with me since they were 7 weeks old; heads on my pillows and paws tugged neatly under the covers. They made me feel safe and warm. It didn’t matter that they were now cumbersome, big and that some nights they would scratch and drool all over the bed. This was one of the many joys of owning a dog.
The joys of dog ownership are countless. There are few things in life that bring us as much partnership and companionship without being forced to give something back. The dogs love us no matter what. When they are bad; they know they are – yet they also understand that we will forgive them. When they are good they smile with the whole of themselves unlike any other creature on Earth. Dogs are never moody, never bored, never boring, never nagging, and never critical or mean and always upon always are ready for love. They are a willing giver or recipient of the good stuff in life at every opportunity and seem to have an uncanny knack to know exactly what their owners need. Coined as man’s best friend they seem to know us better than we know ourselves. They make us better people, parents and they add something to our lives that can’t be obtained by any other creature big or small.
Duke & Stimey grew old together and with me. Both topped out at 15 years old before meeting their fate. Since their sad departure, we have had other dogs. One in particular steals exactly one shoe from each member of the household during the night. We wake up to find them (most of the time) somewhere in the yard, luckily unscathed and still wearable. We often put up with rolled over trashcans that look like they have been swarmed by raccoons with every itty bitty piece of garbage shredded so small its impossible to pick it out of the grass. If Duke were still here, I would blame it on him. When the dogs quickly shy away upon seeing us, we know it was them. Even with my new dogs that I love, I have always looked, hoped, and longed to accidentally run into another version of Duke & Stimey. We found both of them on the road side near our home and every time I see something stirring along the curb I slow just to see. So far nothing has come close. We keep pictures of Duke & Stimey on our mantelpiece right next to those of the kids because seemingly they are just as important.
Duke & Stimey are buried side by side among the fruit tress in the orchard outside our back window. It is the perfect spot. I can remember the night that my husband and I stood with tear stained eyes to bury each of them and the small indention of the Earth above their grave serves to always remind me of the large one they made on my heart.
We have lots of memories, some sad and some menacing about the endless trouble, worry and love we have gained from our dogs. It surprises me often that an animal can have such an impact on a life as they did (especially as bad as they were) and I miss them very much. There is nothing in this world that I would trade for not knowing all the joys of owning a dog.
Just last week, under the washing machine – I found the missing button eye from my Raggedy Ann Doll torn up so many years ago (by Duke of course) and it gave me great pause to consider that maybe, just maybe it was their way of saying hello. Maybe one day, as a surprise I will find the other one and it too will fill me warmth as I remember all the good times that I have had with my dogs.
Having discovered a fondness for insects while pursuing her degree in Biology, Randi Jones was quite bugged to know that people usually dismissed these little creatures as “creepy-crawlies”.