My parents named our dog “Heinz” in reference the Heinz catsup slogan, “57 varieties.” They figured our friendly mutt had 57 varieties of dog coursing through his veins. I have old Polaroids of me barely tall enough to pet him. He licked my face when I cried, let me bury myself in his white fur, and gracefully slipped away one night in his sleep.
Little black part-Alaskan-huskie Sootie loved me through even more tears than Heinz did. Having neglected my friends for teenage romance, its demise left me with no one but the little black dog dancing at the door each dateless Friday and Saturday night. Our long walks and Sootie’s simple affection saved me from complete despair. But I didn’t really return the loyalty. I went off to college, forgetting about my friend, who, according to Cesar Millan, died at 69 in dog years (14-2=12×4=48+21=69).
A few years into our marriage, Michael acquired the noble border collie Pal from a neighbor. Soon after, babies came—our babies—who would poke at Pal’s kind eyes and stick their fingers in his uncomplaining, never-biting mouth. What a gentle animal! But those babies and Michael’s commitment to provide for us absorbed our attention, leaving Pal to languish. Rumors of dog thieves skulking through town followed his disappearance. We shuttered, cried, and prayed they’d use him for breeding instead of testing.
Babies grew into girls who wanted pets—thus the parade of ducks, cats, a chicken, a rabbit, two sheep, and various small birds and rodents that lived and died in our midst. One day two puppy-eyed girls said, “We want a dog.” How could we refuse such an innocent request? We followed an ad for free puppies, choosing the cute, pitiful runt. He was already named Akiela, and he had the most noxious gas I’ve ever smelled. Somehow harnessed into spray bottles, it would have driven off a thousand zombies. But we loved him. He was small, compact, glossy black and almost frantically affectionate. How tragic that he bit small children who approached his food bowl. How sad that neutering didn’t help. How hard was the decision to put him down. I buried him in the back yard, swearing that he’d come back to me in the sweet by and by, with a re-created, non-biting brain.
The girls grew and left the nest. One recently hit a rough patch and engaged in a bit of “retail therapy.” New clothes, makeup and perfume? No. She’d learned truer sources of joy. Already the proud owner of a Chi, she went to the pound and purchased two Chihuahua mix puppies who have acquired the names Rooney and Fred. This fall, she’s bringing Fred to us. Since losing Pal, Michael has struggled to find room in his heart for a dog, but he saw the light right at the moment he saw what the groundhog did to his broccoli. How will a four pound Chihuahua fight off a ten pound groundhog? That, my friends, is a question for another time.