BY MARDI LINK
---- — My first love was a poodle mix named Pepi. I was 10.
Pepi was tall, gawky and long-legged, just like me. Her big, curly tail was always in motion, and no glass of lemonade, cup of coffee or magazine innocently placed on a side table was ever safe from its wag. She accompanied me on all my suburban girl adventures, kept my secrets, and then kept my parents company after my brother and I grew up. He went in the army and I went away to college.
Next came Fitz, an Old English sheepdog I bought when I got my first job and my first apartment. College had given me literary aspirations and “Fitz” was short for “Fitzgerald,” after the author, F. Scott. I was a police reporter for a daily newspaper, and Fitz attended four-alarm barn fires, car wrecks, criminal stand-offs, and even press conferences with me. He arrived to these events in grand style, too. I drove a Renault LeCar with a ragtop. Regardless of the weather, I’d have that top rolled back so Fitz could stick his shaggy head out and feel the wind in his fur. He was a bit of a rebel.
When I moved out in the country and had children, I decided we needed a watchdog. When Fitz died at 15, I mourned him for weeks and weeks, but finally packed up a few of his un-chewed toys and an unopened bag of dog food and donated them to the Cherryland Humane Society. “I think I’ll just take a look at the dogs,” I told the woman behind the counter. There in the first kennel was Super, a 3-month-old Akita-pittbull mix, sitting calmly amidst the barking and whining of her neighbors, and sizing me up. I brought her home.
She was suspicious of stray dogs, UPS drivers, traveling salesmen and other assorted doorknockers, but became so devoted to my sons that she never stopped watching them. Her head would even go back and forth whenever they played on their swing set.
As the boys grew, I felt the need for a new small companion. Friday the corgi barked into my life with the gusto of a Tasmanian devil and the scruples of a used-car salesman. He was arrogant, opinionated and confidant. He loved me and annoyed almost everyone else. He lounged next to my desk while I wrote, chased bugs in the garden while I planted, and mine was the only lap he was ever willing to grace with his presence. He died in May and yet I still look for him almost every morning when I wake up. I miss him terribly.
“Why does it have to hurt so bad?” I asked my husband the other day.
“Well, honey,” he said, after thinking about it for a minute, “maybe loving a dog helps teach us how to handle death.”
As I write this, there is a German shepherd puppy named Gretchen sleeping on my feet.
Losing Friday made me remember all the dogs I’ve loved through the years. And I believe my husband only got it half right. I believe that loving dogs helps teach us how to live.