After Flash and I had been married for almost 14 years, we decided to add to our family. My brother, Doc, repeatedly told us, “Cowboy needs a dog.” Eventually, his mantra worked its magic on us, so we started our canine research. It was a big decision; Flash and I had differing opinions on living arrangements. He believed in cohabitation; I believed in segregation.
“It’s cruel to make dogs live in the backyard,” he began his deliberations.
“Aren’t dogs descendants of wolves?”
“They are domesticated. It’s hot outside; then, it’s cold outside. It might rain. There are ants. And it’s humid.”
“The house will smell like dog,” I countered. “Have you smelled Sally’s house?”
I had him with that one. Walking through her front door was a slap in the face with odiferous fumes from animals that lived like people. No amount of air freshener can undo dog stink, or worse, a litter box. Which, by the way, is disgusting. You might as well put the family toilet out in the living room and ask everyone to please not flush. I know all of you cat lovers just stopped reading and logged off. Go stick your nose in Fluffy’s sandy outhouse, with a few packages buried in it, and tell me it smells like a lovely spring morning.
Neither Flash nor I were bending in our convictions. At that rate, Cowboy would be 60 years old before he picked out his first pet. For his sake, I waved a white puppy pad in surrender.
Flash and I continued reading about various dog breeds, researching more than NASA did for the first flight in space. There’s an abundance of cute dogs in the world, but some ugly ones too. Even the most ardent canine fanatics must admit that some dog babies are ugly, as are some human babies. I heard you gasp. But there are infants who take the better part of 30 years to grow into their large ears or noses. Regarding less-than-attractive animals, people say, “They’re so ugly, they’re cute.” But nobody would dare say that about an ugly baby. Instead, they’re described as having a “nice personality.”
In the cuteness category, Flash and I voted for a Yorkshire terrier. But while looking on line, I decided to search for “dogs bred for special-needs kids,” and found a breeder in Oklahoma. Those particular dogs were mixtures of several breeds, so I researched each breed.
After conducting an interview, i.e., interrogation, with the breeder, Flash and I decided on a female puppy. Based on a description of Bobbie Barker, which the breeder’s son called his favorite dog they were selling, she was a perfect fit for Cowboy. Never crate trained, Bobbie slept with the breeder’s son, so she would be accustomed to sleeping with a child. She was described as extremely patient and tolerant with children; that’s more than I could say about myself on a bad day. We picked Bobbie based on personality, and hoped for the best in the looks department.
It would be the best Christmas surprise ever.
Then it snowed in Oklahoma, for days. The snow was too thick for Bobbie to be transported to the airport, to fly to Houston. January rolled around, and Jack Frost finally took a break. On the day Bobbie would arrive, I told Cowboy, “Let’s go take a drive.” We’d been taking him for drives since he was two years old, and he didn’t seem to think it was strange that Grandma came over to drive with us. When we arrived at the airport, we parked and went inside, explaining, “We’re here to pick something up, Cowboy,” as we headed to the baggage claim area.
It was Cowboy’s first time in an airport. He took it all in stride, acting as if this were an everyday occurrence. Several crates were unloaded, each with a dog inside. Since we bought Bobbie sight unseen, we had no idea what she looked like. Flash and I searched for our name on each crate. But Cowboy wasn’t interested in what we were picking up; he was enthralled by the luggage going around and around on the carousel. We kept a close eye on him in case he decided to board the ride.
Finally, a crate with our name attached was brought out and placed on the floor, to the side of the carousel. Inside the crate was a small, shivering-with-nervousness, reddish-brown and white puppy dressed in a Christmas outfit, with her little toy bear beside her.
We walked Cowboy over to her and said, “Surprise! This is your dog, Cowboy.”
He remained unimpressed. It was a bit anticlimactic. At our coaxing, he leaned down and petted her, and the two of them stared at each other. Then he walked back to us, ready to get in the car and drive some more. Because, you know, we drove to the airport only to pet a strange dog.
“We’re taking her home, Cowboy. This is your dog!” He stared at us and nodded. That was it. After nine thrilling years of my watching Elmo and Barney with him, ad nauseum, he couldn’t have feigned over-the-top excitement for me? Indulged me a little? If we’d picked up a canine Muppet, he would have been beaming.
Once inside the car, Bobbie snuggled up to Cowboy; there was no light of day between them. Cowboy leaned away from her apprehensively, but stared at her all the way to PetSmart.
“Okay, let’s go buy some things for your dog,” I told him, as we unloaded Bobbie to go with us. Cowboy laughed at our taking a dog inside a store, and he grinned as he walked her on her leash by himself. It was a match made in heaven; our hearts melted. She slept at the foot of Cowboy’s bed every night after that.
Her name remained Bobbie because Cowboy liked it, and it was easier for him to sound out, with all the “B” sounds in it. With his approval, we changed her middle name to Sue; she was deemed Bobbie Sue, after the old Oak Ridge Boys song. I rewrote the lyrics and personalized the ditty for our newest family member.
Five months later, we hosted the breeder and her son in our home, so they could make a presentation to our autism support group, and possibly find homes for some other dogs. Twenty-three dogs stayed in my backyard. Strangely, Flash didn’t fight for their right to be inside. Apparently, his compassion has its limits. It was a family reunion for Bobbie Sue, and Cowboy loved having a herd of dogs in his yard.
Every time I glanced out the window, I thought of the dog party in Dr. Seuss’s Go Dog, Go. And every time I walked out my back door, I was greeted by a fanfare of panting faces and wagging tails. But one puppy in particular looked right at me, intently. Look away, I told myself. Don’t let him draw you in. He was a smooth operator, tilting his head to one side and then the other, as if to say, “Hey, aren’t I cute? Don’t I look like I belong in a dog food commercial?” Why yes, he did. It was a well-executed plan.
“Flash, come look at this dog. Every time I open the door, he looks right into my soul and does that head thing.”
“I know! He’s my favorite one!”
I was stunned; it was a sign from God. When we agree that quickly on something that involves money, I know it’s divine intervention.
“I’ve heard it’s better to have two dogs rather than just one. They could keep each other company when we’re gone from home. They can teach each other,” I started my deliberations.
He was making it too easy. The voice of reason loomed overhead, whispering, “Extra costs, more responsibility.”
The time came for our new friends to leave. Their trailer was packed, and we were saying our goodbyes. I looked at Flash, tilting my head to one side, then the other. He gave me the green-light nod.
When I told the breeder we were interested in a second dog, she told me to take my pick, and there would be no charge. But we wanted to pay her for her work, a kind of hard work I’ve never known. We negotiated a price, and I told Cowboy, “We're going to have two dogs now!” I don’t know what he was thinking, but it felt like Christmas in June to me.
Again, I came up with a long list of names for Cowboy to choose from, and he picked Peter, Pete for short. Due to our differing in musical taste, Flash and I gave our boy dog two different middle names. To me, he is Peter Gabriel; to Flash, Peter Frampton. Although I admit, Pete’s hair does resemble a young Frampton’s.
Bobbie Sue taught Pete important things, like how to use the doggie door to get to the backyard, and how to be terrified of thunder. They rivaled for my attention for several months, but eventually learned to share. Although they are still prone to pouting.
Two weeks ago, Flash commented, sadly, “Bobbie Sue’s looking older.”
“Yes, she has some gray on her head.”
“Is Pete getting cataracts?”
“No, the vet said their eyes start looking hazy as they age. They are 10 years old this year, so they are seniors.”
“At 10? Already?”
“Yeah, I’d expect them to live to about 15, although my dog when I was growing up lived to be 18.”
Flash gasped. “Fifteen? That’s it?”
“Yeah. I know, it’s going to be hard. I can’t imagine life without them.”
Flash immediately starting petting both dogs. He’s been more attentive to them since then.
I often wish my dad could’ve met Pete and Bobbie Sue. He and my stepmom, Gaga, were animal lovers to the extreme. When I was growing up, Dad didn’t like felines. But, like many of us, he mellowed with age, extending his compassion to any cat or dog that needed it. Every stray in Cherokee County, Texas, knew where to go for food, shelter, and love. For many years, Dad said, “I have the only cathouse in the county,” referring to the trailer they had behind their home. It housed some of their 20 cats, with air conditioning, heat, and room service. In spite of losing many pets over the years, they continued to open their hearts to more who came their way.
Our dogs have been a comfort to me on sad days, curling up beside me; they seem to sense what I need. They’ve been tolerant with Cowboy, as he’s learned how to care for creatures that need his help. And for Flash, they’ve been a happy welcome for him every day when he walks in from work; they bark and wag as if it’s their first time to meet him.
Life in our home has been complicated, loud, and often self-absorbed. The dogs haven’t had the daily walks we vowed to take them on or the weekly treks to the dog park. Helping Cowboy with his autism took precedence, and often we were too tired for anything else. Now that the dogs are elderly, I often feel guilty. I wonder if we were the best home for them. Would they have had more attention somewhere else? I ask myself.
“They have a doggie door, a nice backyard, and an air conditioned house. They’re fine,” Mom has reassured me.
But, being the Guilt Queen of the Universe, I still wonder.
Then, I see them trot into Cowboy’s room as we start to do our nightly Bible reading and pray with him. They join us every time, with their tails wagging. Sometimes, Bobbie Sue stands up, puts her paws on the side of his bed, and crosses her paws, as if she’s praying with us.
Or I watch them dance in the kitchen when I open the pantry, as they anticipate another “treat” – a word I have to spell in their presence if I don’t want to give them one yet.
Or I see Pete snuggle up next to Cowboy on the couch. Or watch Bobbie Sue play ball with her boy; Cowboy kicks the ball, and she volleys it back with her nose. She’s quite the soccer player.
Every day, I see love in our dogs’ eyes, regardless of our moods, our time demands, our laziness, or our absences. I take comfort that our life has become theirs. Indeed, they are home.
In loving memory of our own Lady Gaga. We miss you, and know you are enjoying your reunion with Dad and all your four-legged pals who are in heaven with you.