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Living With Dogs, Back Then And Now

Ralph was groomed last week.

He “said” something about it by taking off for our back field, signaling, “Deer poop! I need deer poop! I must roll in deer poop!”

When he returned, wagging his newly trimmed tail to con me into giving him a biscuit, our 11-year-old dog was, shall we say, aromatic.

I think he was also pleased with his svelte summer look. Ralph got his l-o-n-g black coat from his Aussie Shepherd mother. It makes him look about 20 pounds heavier than his normal 60 pounds.

During a half-century of having dogs, I never had them professionally groomed, trimmed or shaved. I have always given our dogs plentiful food and shelter, but did not have enough money for doggie pampering.

In recent years, I noted how nearby dogs seemed to enjoy life more if their long coats were trimmed in hot summers. Now, we can cover the cost, so we have had Ralph trimmed.

Buddy is next. Buddy, a year younger, is a goofy cross: Collie and beagle. He has a beagle’s dainty feet and a collie’s solid body, giving him a tiptoe look when he walks. His coat is short like a beagle’s, but double-coated like a collie’s. He looks … unthatched. He, too, might like a trim.

Over the years, much has changed in dog/owner relationships.

Back in the 1940s Scotty the snappish wire-haired terrier lived with us during Dad’s misguided attempt to lessen my childhood fear of dogs. We kept the poor dog outside, chained to his doghouse, almost all the time. I was supposed to take him for walks, but his lunges and sprints nearly yanked my arm out of my skinny 10-year-old shoulder socket.

“Yep, I did take him for a walk,” became my cover story. My parents were too busy to check.

Scotty became a yapping burr of a dog, nipping playmates and anyone he could reach, until Dad gave him to a co-worker.

Looking back, I am ashamed that we did what was commonplace at the time.

In adulthood came Gilligan, a huge bloodhound-spaniel cross. He lived inside and knocked over everything. A young husband/father, I regularly stalked Goodwill for replacement lamps. He went to a neighbor when we moved to a no-dogs house.

Ralph the First delighted our toddlers. He drowned swimming the Allegheny River after escaping from inside for an amorous elopement.

Sissy won hearts as a puppy at the Humane Society kennel in Erie. Sissy was partly an inside dog, cavorting with young children or tucked into a recliner beside my lap while I read.

Outside, we fenced in a run rather than using a chain. I cobbled together a pretty snug doghouse from scrap lumber.

Sissy spent considerable time outside in that run, negating her tendency to chew shoes and slippers if left alone inside.

Food and water got supplied adequately.

But one of the chores for our children along with “wash dishes,” “dry dishes,” “clean family room,” was “scoop dog poop” from inside the run.

That chore met the same fate that my childhood dog-walk duty had encountered. “Sure, Dad; I did it!” I never more than glanced inside the run. I didn’t notice its ickiness as often as I should have seen it.

Sissy’s treatment was better than Scotty’s had been.

It took moving to our current old farmstead for me to see how dogs love their freedom, just as people do.

In my view, dogs like being outside and roaming freely. I don’t criticize people who keep dogs inside or treat dogs or cats as children or roommates. Indoors, pets can be cuddled, socialized, enjoyed, and serve as protectors and alerters of visitors, welcomed or otherwise. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It just does not suit my wife or me.

It took a solid year of nearly every-day training, a half-hour or so at a time, to teach Ralph and Buddy to run free yet stay at home, not crossing the rural state route than borders our property. That gives them about six acres to enjoy.

Do they always stay put? No more so than children do. “We not cross road? Young groundhogs there. Fun to chase. Yummy to eat. Him not look. We go. Have fun!”

You can almost see the words streaming across their faces as they flout rules they know in exchange for a short, quick exercise in elastic obedience. If spotted returning, they slink in abashed penance for what they knew was wrong, “but so much fun!”

Not everybody lives where free-running dogs are safe and allowable. But there are better choices between being chained 24/7, a miserable existence, and being free to roam.

I love my dogs. I also love my truck. But my truck is built to just sit there when I am not using it. Our dogs are built to live enjoyably, not just to exist. I “have” a truck. I don’t “have” dogs. We just sort of live together.

¯ ¯ ¯

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.

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