Back when dogs were allowed to roam around town a boxer named Schnapps came to our house every day at four pm. He sat on the sidewalk and looked up the street with big, soulful eyes. When my father came home from work Schnapps almost jumped into the car. He rolled and pawed and drooled and generally acted like a fool. I knew what happened.
The dog had fallen in love with him.
Schnapps had a home and no one ever gave him food at ours. There was no reason for him to be here but I had seen the effect my father had on any dog. Dogs couldn’t take their eyes off him. Maybe he was part dog, I don’t know, but when he pulled their ears and thumped their chests they grunted and panted and refused to leave.
More than once an owner watched in wonder. “I’ve never seen him do that,” he would say.
Schnapps the boxer’s days at our home came to an end. His master showed up one day with a leash. “I want my dog back,” he said. He took Schnapps home and that was that, and we didn’t see him afterward except when he was taken on walks by the house and if my father was in the yard the whole scene repeated itself, my father patting Schnapps and telling him what a good boy he was, the dog panting desperately, the owner shaking his head.
We never had a dog. But others passed through that attached themselves to us (or to my father, I should say), strays or lost dogs that parked themselves on the sidewalk and waited for him to come home. For six months we had a puny, undersized golden retriever living with us. I would take her out and throw a tennis ball for her at the golf course and once I threw the ball into a pond hazard and she refused to go in and get it. We weren’t poor but tennis balls weren’t just lying around and I wanted mine back. Being about as cruel as a twelve-year old can be I picked up the dog and threw her in.
She sank. I mean she sank right to the bottom, and would have drowned.
I waded in and got her and the ball. At home, I told my father she couldn’t swim. “Well, you shouldn’t make her,” he said. He was a big athletic easy-going man, patient, calm, very dark and very handsome and he had the same effect on people as he had on dogs, but not all people. Some people hated him, and I didn’t know why until I was well into adulthood. They were afraid of him.
We had a Dalmatian someone gave us. The dog went back to its owner, a heartbroken woman who requested her back when the dog’s mother was killed by a car. One brutal winter we kept a big stray that showed up by the back door, an old mutt that slept obediently in the kitchen and waited for my father to come home. Then we had a puppy named Pepsi, my all-time favorite name, who my sister gave to her best friend. Pepsi grew up to be one of the smartest and best-looking dogs anyone had ever seen. I think the name had something to do with it.
We pestered our parents for a real dog, a permanent dog, but they were tired from working all day and had a hundred excuses for not getting one, which I’ve long forgotten. There was not enough of something, not enough time or money, not enough room or energy or whatnot. The same story every year. Always not enough. Never too much.
It’s hard. My father died young. He went to heaven with his dogs.
When I was grown and on my own I got my own dog, a little skinny hunting springer with a pointy snout, a very loving dog who followed me everywhere I went. In the fall with the geese honking and the air biting cold she would sit by my hunting boots and whine.
I had my own troubles. I didn’t want to go hunting. But with the dog sitting there whining you swear under your breath and put down whatever you’re carrying and grab your gun and throw the dog into the car and drive to the nearest farm. It tells you about your relationship with a dog. You’re doing it for her. There’s a word for that.