In Brief— With apologies to James Herriot, the author rambles through some of his experiences with the beloved dogs who enrich our lives and are a part of the animal kingdom that shares the planet with us.
Man’s Best Friend—
“Oh, you shouldn’t do that, Nikko,” she said in a simpering voice. Her dim-witted King George Spaniel, probably the stupidest breed in the world, was on the table eating the snacks intended for us humans. No doubt my daughter would chide me saying, “It’s the owner, not the dog,” but in this case it was both.
For a change of pace and a jump up the intelligence scale, we bought our first family dog in early 1995. Our children, ages 9 and 12, were delighted. My wife and I were hooked. Although we had narrowed the list down to two breeds, I predicted that we’d get the first dog we saw. I was right. We bought a Blue Merle Shetland Sheepdog—usually called a Sheltie—who was five months old and the only pup left. He was relieved and we were smitten.
One fall afternoon when Zerro was less than a year old we met with a group of mothers and children on a hillside field. Our daughter proudly displayed young Zerro. A little boy begged to hold the leash and promptly dropped it. Frightened, Zerro took off up the hill into the forest. I gave chase, but the puppy was scared by the clatter of the plastic handle dragging behind him. I was no match for the fleet-footed puppy. While my wife and distraught daughter headed for the car and alerted the police, I searched the forest.
The late afternoon sun faded as darkness fell. Still no Zerro. I feared he might be snagged somewhere in the forest. At last, my wife and daughter found him sitting in the parking lot at the exact spot where we started. He had returned to the place he remembered from earlier in the day. Smart? Is the pope Catholic?
Zerro was a cat chaser. One day, he chased the neighbor’s cat up a tree. Since the cat was too scared to come down, the neighbor had to bring a ladder and bring the frightened cat down. Did I tell him how the cat got there? No, I was too embarrassed.
Zerro figured out that if he brought a snowball to me I would throw it. He had me well trained. Many hours were spent with me throwing the snowball in the hope that it would reach the street. It never did, but my arm sure got tired.
When he was about ten, we figured he needed a canine companion. Millie, the ultra-independent sobel, entered the picture. As a puppy, she felt it was her duty to harass Zerro. Ever the gentle and patient dog, he downed her with his chin, but she’d get up and come right back and he’d down her again. Eventually, she grew up…or he got too old.
Little Millie fell in love. Our neighbor’s huge Leonberger was the object of her affection. As soon as she saw him, she’d race down the hill to lavish him with her enthusiastic affection. He ignored her, but the love continued until he died. Millie missed him.
As his fifteenth birthday approached, Zerro declined. On one occasion I had to carry him outside to do his duty beside the gooseberry bush where he used to pluck and eat the berries. I like to think he looked at me with appreciation. The medicine helped for a while but the vet told us Zerro was going to die.
Two days before he was to be euthanized, we took him for an outing in the country. The photo I have of him on that day shows an old dog, a well-loved family member, looking at the camera with a sad awareness that time was short.
On the appointed day, the entire family was there to say goodbye and reassure him. The smells of the animal hospital made him anxious. He was nervous and tense. The vet gave him a tranquilizing shot and he finally lay down and relaxed. We stroked him and murmured reassuring words as the final shot stopped his gallant heart. He was gone and part of me went with him that day.
I have told my wife that when Millie’s time comes to depart, I want her to be in her own home surrounded by the family who loved her.
To my final day, I’ll carry Zerro in my heart.
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