Friday, April 9, 2021

All My Darling Dogs

"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." -Roger Caras

Gracie on a leashless walk. She could certainly find work as a crosswalk safety guard. 

 "Wait, did you get a new dog?"

Stepping back a respectful six feet from the woman I'd just passed, I called the leashless Gracie to my side in a heel, and stopped to chat with this stranger on the street. 

Well. She was a stranger to me; I'd never seen her before in my life. But apparently, I was not so unfamiliar to her.

"Umm, four years ago?" I stammered, wondering what exactly she was getting at.

Glancing at Gracie, she smiled. "You used to have a different dog. He was so wonderful." 

Oh. She was remembering Ranger.

Yes, he was wonderful. Like anyone whose lost a beloved pup, my grief for my dog in heaven normally lies quiet, molten lava under the surface of my heart, but quickly bubbles up at his mention.

"I loved to watch him walk with you, on that long, long leash. He would strut along such a handsome way; he always looked like he was having so much fun.

What a wonderful, familiar, treasured picture her words made in my head.

Sunday Grace, the lovely lady who currently keeps me on my toes, last week. 

I thanked this kind soul for sharing her memories with me, turned and continued on my walk with Grace.

As I strolled along, one eye ever watchful on my well-behaved girl up ahead as she marching down the middle of the sidewalk and carefully stopped to wait for me at the crosswalk, catching the eye of every astonished human driving past as a model of proper deportment, my own memories of sweet Ranger burned bright in my heart.

Ranger Streicher chilling at Kalaloch Beach, 2006

He was a tender-hearted boy, but up for a bit of mischief now and then, such as waiting until everyone had gone to bed and the house was dark and quiet before he stole back downstairs to the kitchen where he was fully capable of opening the fridge and rummaging through the sturdy storage containers to find the non-dog-proof take-out boxes, and carrying them off to the privacy of the dining room where he might help himself to the delicious leftovers. Still, I could only smile at these very occasional and incredibly clever outbursts of naughtiness, and every night, as I laid down to sleep, he would hop up on the foot of the bed, circle once or twice, then curl himself in a tight little ball perfectly snuggled into the crook of my knees. He always managed to land just so - cuddled up to my side-sleeping legs so we made pleasant contact, but never crushing or overcrowding me. A sweet way to end each day, and I was endlessly grateful for his cozy companionship.

* * * * *

As I mused over my years with Ranger, my thoughts drifted back even further to the dog of my childhood, Kelly, and the first dog of my own family, Casey.

Hillpoint Shamrock Kelly slept under a forsythia bush 
in our front yard when he wasn't sailing the open seas, circa 1971.

Kelly lived a charmed life on a country lake in Michigan, slipping and sliding through the snowy winters as my brothers and I ice skated and sledded our days away. Summers we spent swimming and sunning around the lake, and I logged many hours in our aluminum rowboat, usually powered with a ten horse outboard, and Kelly loved nothing more than to travel with me. As we skimmed along the waves, headed for maybe the sandbar in the middle of our Ore Lake where I might drop anchor, lie back on the seats and gaze at the clouds till we were ready to swim, or possibly down through Little Ore to the quiet spots missed by the main currents, where we slipped among the water lilies and scouted out turtles taking lazy sun naps on the flat, floating leaves, Kelly assumed command of our little ship. Paws up on the shiny triangular bow, standing tall on outstretched legs with his lush red coat flowing out behind him in the wind, he barked at the top of his lungs for the sheer joy of living. God love him, he was an adventurous soul.

* * * * *

Case O'Whiskey, escape artist extraordinaire and a fence-jumping Evil Knievel, didn't mind a little quality time swaddled in a baby blanket, 1990.

More than any of my other dogs, Casey was bred for the hunt, and I spent a considerable amount of time and energy during our life together trying to help him scratch that instinctive itch. He was a notorious bolter, and since I couldn't dream of letting him off leash in the middle of suburbia to follow his nose - he had zero respect for streets and the superior might of human vehicles - I was constantly challenged to find him a safe place to scent quail and run free. At the downhill end of our neighborhood lay an untamed retention pond, a man-made wetland wild with grasses, cattails and a lovely bit of water, lots of room for an energetic red beast to romp, and best of all, securely fenced in on all four sides save for a single opening about ten feet wide. During the years of my daughters' babyhoods, I spent many an afternoon at that opening, entertaining the girls with little games and songs while also defending the goal-sized gap against my marauding pup who, while satisfied to romp about in this muddy paradise, would much rather slip past me like a caroming puck and run the streets of the neighborhood in gleeful, utter abandon. And oftentimes, that's exactly what he did. 

* * * * *

Happily caught up in my memories, I suddenly remembered. Today, April 8, is the birthday of both Kelly and Casey, 1969 and 1986 respectively, a very special date in my dog-loving life

And in her kind recollection of my boy, Ranger, my newfound friend has helped me celebrate this sentimental day by reminding me of all my darling dogs. 

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