It’s that time of year again. Predictably, the Christmas catalogs are appearing in my mailbox. Just as predictably, they all end up in the recycling bin except for the ones with cute puppies on the front sporting names, such as “In the Company of Dogs.” I peruse them carefully, dog-earing page after page, marking each gift I intend to purchase. I take note of rawhide bones, sweet potato chips, and winter sweaters for cold days. I drop squeaky plush toys into my virtual shopping cart for my oldest and a tug-of-war rope for my youngest. If I’m feeling particularly lavish, I add tee- or sweat-shirts with printed sayings like “I like big mutts, and I cannot lie” for myself.
My husband, Guy, has long claimed that there’s a family totem pole and that he is so far to the bottom that he’s in the dirt. I take offense at that accusation as I’ve always prided myself on fairness and parity. I have two kids who I go to great pains to shower equally with my love. I remind my husband, nearly daily, that I hit the jackpot when I found him. But my family insists that my dogs rank above them all. First comes Josie, my thirteen-year-old Spanish Water Dog, who follows me as faithfully as my second shadow. Next is Freddie, my skittish Shepherd mix, who’s favorite place is next to me in bed. Then there’s Lula, the baby, a Boxer/Pit mix who joined the family two years ago. Although Lula is 60 pounds of solid muscle, she sees herself as a lap dog – any lap, she’s not choosy. Next are my son and daughter who argue over their place in the hierarchy – that’s a subject for another story. Then, at the bottom in the dirt, is Guy.
My passion for dogs started when I was nine with Maurice, a sweet Bassett Hound that my parents were too lazy to neuter. He loved when my girlfriends would come visit and was quick to show them how much he loved them. Next was Gus, a subpar replacement when Maurice died. He was a nasty, cranky creature that snapped if your hand got too near his food. It was more of a relief than grief when he departed this earth.
Then came Clifford. He was the first dog Guy and I adopted, and everyone who met him adored him. Unfortunately, he was from a rough background and had a host of health problems. On days that his medication was upsetting his tummy, I’d bring home organic chicken and painstakingly cook it, heat up broth, and mix it with Lundberg Jasmine rice. My daughter’s clearest memory of those times is forlornly asking me when dinner would be, and me responding, “You’ll have to wait. I’m cooking for Clifford now, can’t you see? Your father will bring home Taco Bell.”
When Clifford, the essence of dog perfection, died at the age of four, I didn’t think I could handle the heartbreak of losing another beloved pet. After a year, my mother finally convinced me to go against everything I believed in and buy a purebred dog. “It will have guaranteed health,” she suggested. “For once, give yourself a break.” So, for the first time, I didn’t go to a rescue shelter or bring in an animal I found on the street. I bought Josie from a breeder, and her unwavering adoration helped heal my broken heart.
Three years later, we decided Josie needed a friend. I went back to my bleeding-heart roots and found Freddie at a nearby shelter and decided to give him the life he deserved. The dogs’ gourmet meals consisted of Merrick’s premium canned stews, mixed with organic peas and carrots, with a dollop of canned pumpkin for extra fiber. My family got whatever was on sale at ShopRite. Everyone at the holistic vet’s office knew me by first name because the dogs never missed their bi-annual checkups. They regularly had bloodwork, shots, teeth cleanings, acupuncture for sprained muscles, herbs and homeopathy for allergies. At one point, they were both diagnosed with Lyme Disease and got antibiotics, probiotics, home-cooked chicken and rice while they recuperated. My kids went to the doctor yearly for their school check-ups and got some Vitamin C tossed at them if they had the sniffles.
A couple of years ago, my son was living in Vermont and told me about this dog a friend of his was fostering. I said, “Send me a picture.” That’s all it took. I drove seven hours to adopt Lula. Lula had some adjustment issues, primarily centered around her wanting all the food and toys – EVERYONE’S food and toys. Off she went to the dog psychologist and the trainer. She’s now a well-behaved dream dog with multiple offers for taking her off our hands if we find three dogs to be too much. Nope. She’s not going anywhere.
What could be more incredible than walking in the door after having been gone for a week, or even twenty minutes, and being greeted by the yelps and excitement of three loving and attentive dogs? My husband doesn’t greet me like that. Neither do my adult children. Is it any wonder that it’s my dogs who star on my social media platforms and take up 90% of the pictures on my phone?
I don’t know what my kids and husband are complaining about anyway. I say goodnight to them every night. Even my kids, who don’t live at home, get a nightly goodnight text from me. Then, I get Josie into her feather top orthopedic bed, plump up her pillow and place it under her head, and tuck her fleece blanket around her. Freddie likes to hop onto the king-size bed with me where I arrange two body-pillows around him and pull his blanket up to his chin. Lula has a much shorter coat than the other two so tends to get chilly. She’s appropriated the heating blanket my daughter gave me for Christmas last year and likes it under her, then a lightweight satin comforter on top of her, even covering her head.
My family has also become impatient with me because I’m not as flexible with my availability as I once was. While I’m good for a three-hour jaunt, I don’t like to be away from the dogs for much longer than that. My daughter wants me to hang out with her in Brooklyn for the day, but how can I leave the dogs for that long? Someone needs to let them out and dole out their assorted medications on time. My son will be living in Paraguay for the next few years as he serves with the Peace Corps. He’s excited at the thought of us all spending next Christmas with him in South America. I’m already getting a nervous stomach, though, just thinking about who’s going to stay with the dogs. Plus, I can’t leave them alone on Christmas, can I? Or, maybe Guy could stay behind with them.
As of November 26, I finished all my Christmas shopping for the dogs. They each have a new toy, a sweater, some bully sticks, assorted gourmet dog biscuits, and chicken liver treats. Their stockings will be jammed to bursting. I guess it’s time to start thinking about the rest of the family. Hmm…my husband may be right. The dogs may be at the top of the totem pole.