"The Canines of My Life"
My best friend left this world last year and I still miss him terribly. Today I am thinking about the dimensions he added to my days and it made me realize that every dog that has walked through my life, wagging their tail and staring at me with puppy dog, soulful eyes, has added substance to it, and made me a better person.
Those dogs taught me how to care and trust. From the first puppy my dad bought for $8.00 in a pet store who I named Shelly, I have been the recipient of canine teachings.
Shelly was my companion every moment I was home from school and every morning when I woke up, she was at the foot of my bed. We were inseparable and on weekends I’d put her in the little basket at the front of my bicycle and we’d ride the neighborhood together. Shelly was my best friend and taught me to explore the world around me and feel the quiet connection she gave me.
When Shelly left us, and not long after she left, I was walking down my street and found a stray dog. It was a beautiful setter mix with a deep red coat and brown eyes and I called out “Shelly” and the dog came to me. Of course I knew it wasn’t Shelly but I was still heartbroken and wanted her back.
I did not name this dog Shelly, for every dog deserves their own name though I believed Shelly sent her to me. I named this dog Cindy for the color of burning cinders that her coat resembled. Cindy was beautiful but I didn’t think she knew it. She would look down instead of at you and seemed sad. So I told her every day she was beautiful and I believe she finally began to understand she was, and she thrived.
Cindy lived twelve years with me and my family and we all loved her and saw how she had changed each one of us and the texture of our lives. We all have our favorite “Cindy” stories to tell too.
When Cindy passed away I tried to replace her too soon, I didn’t wait for the universe to bring another Cindy to me, as it did with Shelly, and I forced it too soon.
I wanted to fill the void I felt and went to the local shelter and was given a large dog named Josette, and I took her home, but she was not happy to stay in a house, or maybe just not our house. We didn’t have the backyard space in my childhood home she may have needed but we walked to the park everyday. Still, she was not happy with us and we never did feel bonded. One day, not long after bringing her home, she decided she would find her own home and she ran out the door when she saw an opportunity to escape. When a friend was coming in the door she rushed past their legs and was free, she didn’t look back as we called her. We ran after her but we weren’t able to catch her and had to let her go, she was lost to us. I felt horrible not knowing if she were alright out in the world, alone, but Josette taught me a lesson in serendipity.
I do believe she was meant for someone else and she ran away to find her family. I don’t know this for sure but it feels right when I think of all my experiences with the dogs in my life and how they came to me. I think dogs have their life path too and we were not Josette’s.
From Josette’s running away, I learned not to force the healing; I was not over the loss of one canine member of our family and needed to grieve that loss.
And then there was Sniffles.
If Snoopy was personified in a canine and was female, it was Sniffles.
My sons were young, they were ages four and eight, when my husband finally accepted they wanted a pet. I had always been on their side so it was their father who had to come on board with us, and he finally did.
I took the boys to the Long Island pet shelter and we were shown two puppies about ten or so weeks old.
One puppy was a fairly large German Shepherd mix and the other a tiny, short haired pointer mix, although I think she may have been a pure bred. Each son wanted one of the puppies until the tiny pointer left my older son’s arms and walked over to my younger son and sat down next to him. She tilted her head then crawled into his lap and looked up at him with soulful eyes and he caved in too. He agreed he wanted the little runt too.
On the drive home my younger son named the small black and white short haired pointer puppy, Sniffles. He said it was because all she did on that ride home was sniff at everyone.
Sniffles had a personality all her own and it was big for a small mid-size dog of forty pounds or so. She truly had a Snoopy like personality.
When I would scold one of the boys or both, she would jump up on the highest place she could to be seen, coffee table or chair, and I promise you she would make sounds like she was scolding me back, defending the children, it was like the grunting Tim Allen did on home improvement my boys would say. Other times it appeared she was mocking me and we would all laugh and the scolding became a teaching moment instead.
Sniffles taught me to lighten up.
Sniffles also loved to travel and if a car door opened she’d be the first to jump in and she wasn’t budging, so you better just agree to take her along and we did, everywhere we traveled.
As we drove, Sniffles would go from side window to side window and tap the window control when she wanted it opened, no one taught her this trick so we supposed she’d learned what opened the window by watching us. After she’d get a good sniff of air and whatever news she was wanting she would sit back down signaling you could now close the window.
We never understood how the smells were different on either side of the car but she did this every time, checking the smells in the air on both sides of the car.
She traveled everywhere with us so everyone in our family, in every state, came to know Sniffles too and they loved her.
Sniffles grew up with my boys but she also grew older. We felt blessed to have had her in our lives for fifteen years but when she passed my husband was with her when she took her last, natural breath and it affected him deeply.
He had not wanted a pet and gave in to our desires only because the boys were relentless and he told us then, he was not taking care of it. Time proved him wrong. He not only bonded with that dog, he loved her and cared for her unconditionally and, like the rest of us, he was devastated at her passing.
My husband had not grown up with a pet so this was his first lesson in what a dog can bring to your life.
I remember one time in particular, when Sniffles and my husband communicated completely. We were moving from NY to FL, and the car trip took three days because of having to make frequent, accommodating bathroom stops for Sniffles.
We were driving through Washington D.C. and there was nowhere to make a pit stop on the drive round the D.C. loop and there was traffic slowing us down too. Sniffles was in need of a break and knew to complain to the driver- my husband- that she needed to go now!
She placed her paws on the console between the front two seats, her back end on the back seat, and looked right at my husband and made sounds I have never heard a dog make before. She was in distress and told him so in no uncertain sounds and he understood her, and he answered her, as he would a human.
“Ok, I know, I know, but I can’t stop now so hold on. I’ll stop as soon as I can, ok?
I swear to you she listened to him and although she was not happy with what he’d said she did hold on. And as soon as traffic cleared and we came to a resting place we stopped and let her out of the car. She just made it, just made it, I stress this purposely to note she did hold it, and I think she even sighed with relief afterward.
So my husband and Sniffles had forged a bond that he’d never had with a pet before and he was devastated when she left us.
After her passing none of us wanted another pet, Sniffles had been too big a personality and too much a part of our family, like another child, and her presence was impossible to fill. We could not think of bringing a different dog into our home, but as I said, if you wait the universe will decide that for you, when the time is right, whether you think it is or not.
And that is exactly what happened.
Only two months after losing our best friend, a manager where I worked said her son had found a puppy he’d seen it tossed from a truck near his job and brought it home but he couldn't keep a pet where he lived. So she decided since I had lost my pet, I had a home ready for another.
I said no but they brought the dog to work and when my son who happened to come by to see me, saw it, he melted. Then I went outside to see it and I melted too. My younger son took it to our home and my older son melted, but my husband did not, he was not ready to accept another dog and told us, no more dogs.
I had to give the dog back and the manager said she’d try to find it a home but, if she couldn’t, it would go to the ASPCA.
It took a month of talking to my husband until he finally agreed to take the dog in but only for me to find it a home.
The day Frankie came to stay, he never left.
Frankie was an old soul, if Sniffles were rambunctious and had a big personality, Frankie was calm and steady and trusting of everyone from day one and his knowing eyes melted every heart. Frankie’s quiet eyes linked to our souls in a way I cannot describe; it was a healing and a privilege to meet him.
Everyone who met him instantly connected to him, even those who didn’t necessarily like dogs, but Frankie was more than a dog and I don’t know how to describe that if you haven’t met him, but he was a gift to know.
Frankie grew to be a big dog, a very big dog with teeth like a wolf and he topped at 120 lbs of black Labrador. But as big and scary as he might look, he was a mush. He’d lick your leg as you passed him just to connect. He was so loving and gentle, if he picked something up I didn’t want him to have I could easily take it from his fanged mouth, even if it was food. He’d let me, he trusted me, he trusted all of us even as we knew he had been hurt by human’s before us. Frankie did not hold a grudge. In fact, he’d loved us at first sight. He was a very trusting dog and my husband did bond with Frankie, I think even closer than he had with Sniffles as each day passed.
Unfortunately, Frankie did not live as long as Sniffles but his mark on us was just as deep and permanent.
We cannot replace him or that space he filled. There is no Frankie out there to bring home to us but I do not say I will never have another dog in my home for I have learned if the universe thinks you need another life lesson a canine can teach you, a dog will show up on your door step to teach it, and love you, and you will love it back.
(Picture shown is Sniffles - our Snoopy like puppy)