Posted by: morrowsl | May 3, 2010

My Gal Sal

I grew up with a dog always at my heels.  Daddy raised Beagles and the puppies were our playmates.  We dressed them up and gave them rides in our doll carriages or dump trucks.  The sound of barking was no more or less than the sound of a house full of kids and all of it was just white noise to us.  Unregarded and virtually ignored.

When you grow up so, the animals are very much a member of the family.  They eat what you eat and when you eat.  They sleep in your bed or lounge at your feet when you’re awake.  There is never a question if the dog is going on the family vacation; easier to leave the little brother behind than the dog!!  And any harm done to them is harm to you as well.

Daddy hated long-tailed dogs and a right of passage in our house was the docking of all puppy tails.  A task made much more difficult once the kids caught on that the refrigerator door most certainly did not cut that puppy’s tail off.  Not when the tail in question is lying at the feet of your father who is holding a very sharp knife!!  But it is truly impossible to hold onto a genuine dislike of a man who lets you have puppies in the first place, so eventually we learned to accept the lost tails as easily as our dogs did and all was harmonious once more.

When our dogs died (and once the shock and tears subsided) they were usually buried in the back yard.  I don’t recall holding funerals for any of them, nor where the dog cemetery might have been located, but I do know that we gave them nothing less than any other valued family member.  We loved them well and mourned them long.  Dog Heaven was as assured as People Heaven for us.

When I married a farmer’s son, I learned a lot of new ideas about animals.  First and foremost, there is a very distinct difference between human family and animals, even if the animals are pets.  Money is no object when your child is sick.  But a sick dog or injured cat is really not worth the cost of a vet appointment.  A cow that brings a profit or a chicken that provides food needs to be cared for as much as rationally possible.  Barn cats are worthy of quality care so long as they keep the rodent populations down and their own numbers aren’t too great.  But money is much too dear to waste on a farm dog that spends most of it’s time asleep in the shop.

Or so he tried to teach me.

The question of having the vet put down a cat who’d managed to get itself hit in the street by a passing car and drag it’s mangled body back to the front porch was really a question of which parent was going to explain to the kids that Dad wanted to take the cheap route.  Luckily for him, the cat in question died of heart failure prior to the start of surgery.

But as the years have passed and our kids have grown, both of us have become much more tolerant and protective of the animals we keep.  There have been times the dogs have been to the groomers more often than the cars to the car wash.  We’ve spent no small fortune on pet treats and brushes and beds.  And vets.

The current pack sharing the house with us has just been reduced by one.  It is still a raw place on my heart, and likely his as well, to walk through the house and not have to negotiate a doorway with a rather large Black Labrador lounging across the threshold.  There are other dogs, it’s true, and they are just as important as she was.  But they aren’t her and even they understand that the pecking order hasn’t yet fully adjusted to the decrease in number.  My hand still moves to stroke her velvet ears.  And I had to put her bowl away in order not to try and fill it still.

When I was a kid our dogs ran the streets of town just like we did.  That doesn’t happen now.  There are leash laws and ordinances to be upheld.  Used to be a dog was more likely to be hit by a car than by disease.  But now, the number one killer of most pets is cancer.  And that’s what took our Sally.

We found her at the local SPCA when she was six.  Someone had loved her and trained her very well and she was such a sweetheart there was no question that we’d bring her home.  She was ten pounds overweight and walked like a linebacker.  Jumping into the car was a fine trick and often took a couple of tries, at least until we got her weight down to a manageable level.  Her eyes were always sad, even when she was happy.  And she could never get quite close enough to you to suit herself.  More than once she cleared the hearth with her giant tail.  And I’ve no idea how often I said to her “mind the tail!!” in hopes she’d cease wagging in time to avoid a disaster.  She never did learn that one.

Looking back, the only regret I have is that we didn’t have her the first six years of her life as well.  But I believe that animals find their owners when it suits both parties, and she needed us then the same as we needed her.  And so…

Yesterday I caught Mike looking at a Lab rescue website.  Not yet.  Maybe not for a long time to come.

When I was a kid there were always new puppies being born so that anytime we lost one we knew there would be a replacement.  I’ve learned that some of them are irreplaceable.  That’s my gal, Sal.

Godspeed.  Good girl.

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