I have been thinking a lot lately about the dogs I have had over my adult life, and how they have always been the perfect fit for where I was in my life at the time. I don’t know why or how it turned out that way, but I am grateful. My dogs have been sentinels, watching over me and marking distinct transitions of my life, coming when I needed them most, leading me to the next chapter, with each dog handing me over to the next. They have always been such gentle companions and guides, helping me to navigate life’s challenges with love and humor.
The first dog that was ever really my dog ended up being my soul dog. During the second year of my first marriage, I had complained at being dogless for the first time in my life. My then-husband finally capitulated, “Fine. But the dog has to be small and short haired!” Before he could change his mind, I went with my good friend and fellow dog-lover Charlie to the Tampa Humane Society, where I fell deeply in love with the only dog not frantically barking behind the fencing, a quiet black and white Bassett- spaniel mix named ‘Domenic’. The dog who would become my Guinness was medium-sized and had longer, silky hair…not at all what my mandate had been for choosing a dog. Too bad – Guinness stared at me intently with his soulful brown eyes- we had chosen each other. The deed was done.
Guinness and I bonded from the very beginning, with a connection that transcended words. We communicated with our eyes and by touch, and with his gentle behavior and impeccable manners (nothing to do with me- he came that way), he was my anchor for sixteen years. He was there from a new marriage, to years as a middle school band director in Florida. From graduate school in Texas to a summer orchestra festival in Missouri. From my first college job in North Carolina to the rocky end of a marriage and a move to a new life in Birmingham- always a stabilizing and loving force. By that time, he was a wizened old dog, his only wish always to be at my side. He got me to Dan and then relinquished his duties as my caretaker. I thought my heart would literally break.
Before Guinness left us, he helped to transition Bailey into our household. Bailey was a big Doberman mix that I adopted when my first home in Birmingham was burglarized. Ironically, though he had a terrifying bark, he was the biggest chicken known to dogkind. He was afraid of squeaky toys, of the kitchen floor, of sudden noises, of strangers, of cameras, and of the cat. I’m pretty sure he had to turn in his Doberman card. However, he and I walked and ran the streets of Southside, Birmingham, and I never once felt afraid. People crossed the sidewalk when they saw us coming, not knowing that it was no Cujo that walked at my side, but a gentle giant.
Sophie came into our life via the Birmingham Humane Society as a companion for Mom, then eighty-four. She was a seven-month-old border collie, and she should have been the worst possible dog for an elderly woman living alone…except that she wasn’t. She was gentle and sweet, and Mom spoiled her endlessly. They were in cahoots big time, Mom sneaking her the special hot dogs she told me she wanted for herself. And Goldfish. And whatever else she wanted to give her. We always knew that Sophie would come to live with us one day, and she did. I never look into her gentle brown eyes without thinking of my mother. I promised her a wonderful life to thank her for taking care of Mom for over four years. I won’t let her down.
One other dog has been a part of this special canine lineage so far. As I drove down the alley behind our house to go check on Mom and Sophie before a recital in 2008, the tornado sirens began to wail, and rain began to fall. A tiny black blur ran right in front of my Bug…I had to stop and see what it was. Cooper stood shivering in the bushes in all of her 4 week old glory, a victim of some human who thought dumping puppies off in a city alley was a good idea. I scooped her up and took her to Mom’s, where we wrapped her in a towel. I took her to the recital, sitting outside the hall to listen as I held Coops in my arms and talked to her. I called Dan to tell him what had happened, and that I’d be bringing the puppy home. He met us on the stairs, and I said, “Honey, meet Cooper Gainey,” as I unwrapped the towel. Dan was smitten, and Coops brought the joy of puppyhood into our home for the first time ever. She worshipped Bailey, trailing around after the big dog, bothering him incessantly. As we expected, he was gentle and sweet with her, putting up with her craziness.
Coops and Sophie are here to carry on their work of bringing laughter and joy to our home with their antics. They protect us, they comfort us, they give us the ability to nurture and love them. They are best buds, never apart, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I love this connection of paws handing the mantle over to the next, these amazing animals that have been such an important part of our family and our lives. We are dog blessed.