Cumberland Times-News

February 23, 2013

Each of them found a Spot in her heart

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Inspired by the Westminster Dog Show, I decided to write about my dogs. You already know I have had eight of them but you tend not to know who they are so I will enlighten you. No column was ever wasted writing about dogs!

Spot was first in war, first in peace, and first in line for my heart, dating back to when I was seven or eight. And, as I may have mentioned before, my first sight of him was through tears, because I was so disappointed not to find a dog in that hatbox under the Christmas tree. I was 8 and stricken to discover there was nothing but a hat in it!

After all, I had put up quite a fight for a Christmas dog — but there was none under the tree. Tears might have been the least of it except that Mother, with a funny little smile on her face (she knew what she was getting into) pulled me out to the kitchen and opened the cellar door to reveal a wriggling little black puppy that took over my heart for the next five years. Always original, I named him Spot for the little white speck on his head — or was it his chest? Wherever.

He was a mix of cocker spaniel and police dog (as we called German shepherds in those days) and grew up to stand in for my father when necessary. A sweet dog. But, when he was defending the garage, someone broke his back, and we had to have him put to sleep, my first in so many miserable endings to wonderful stories. That’s the trouble with pets — there is always a sad ending.

Which is why I have to believe in some version of the Rainbow Bridge, like my editor who writes the column to your west. The energy of all that love simply cannot vanish into nothing.

Well, anyway, theology aside, I got my next dog when I was 12 or 13, and named him Jeep. (Obviously, this was during World War 11) He was a cocker spaniel, but a huge cocker spaniel, about the size of Spot, actually, and unlike other cocker spaniels he still had his tail. As I have told you, I snipped off the end of it with the back screen door, one day, but he didn’t care, and neither did I, since no pain seemed to be involved, and very little blood. I have always felt guilty about Jeep; I went off to college, leaving him without much concern, as college kids do.

My stepmother took fine care of him, but he had to have been confused by the switch in caretakers. And indeed after that my time with him was more and more restricted , since I worked the summers off from college and rarely got home. I do remember one interesting thing: when my future husband (My Husband The Bagpiper, as I have called him here) drove me home one time to meet the family, the first member he met was — Jeep.

MHTB opened the trunk to take out our suitcases — and Jeep ran out and jumped into it! We had trouble getting him out because he was in the mood for a ride. In those days we never thought of taking the dog in the car — you took them in the trunk of the car. (Didn’t you? Well, we did.) Poor Jeep eventually went blind but persevered for several more years. But I don’t remember visiting him. I hope I did. Forgive me, Jeep?

Then came Blitzen 1, who was a sweet little gold-colored mongrel, a gift from a veterinarian in our congregation in Washington, who heard that our little daughter wanted a dog for Christmas. Poor Blitzie died two weeks later of parvo To replace her as soon as possible, the same vet gave us this tough little mongrel pup, the color of spice, who had been found alive in a garbage can among her dead brothers and sisters. She was a keeper. Ginger lived, feistily for about 17 years, happily enduring through our stays in Washington, Pittsburgh, and our first years in Cumberland.

Then came Blitzie 2, a lovely little golden retriever. Don’t ever name a dog Blitzen — it’s bad luck, or at least it was for us. Instead of building a fence around the back yard we stupidly put her outside on the chain. One Sunday morning two young men appeared at the front door before we set off fo church, and sadly told us they had hit Blitzie in the highway. She had broken her chain and set out to see the world. We took her to the vet, but it was too late. The only ray of light about that story is the fact that two young guys cared enough to find out whose dog she was and come to break the bad news to us personally.. She was ten months old.

Piper followed, a springer spaniel we chose from a litter near Accident, and he was a trooper of a dog, as dear and loving as a dog can be. By then we had sense enough to put up a fence and he lived about 12 years, a sweetheart every minute of them. Then came Lexie, whom we tracked down from a newspaper ad. She was a golden retriever mix, another winner who never did one single bad thing in her life — she was a doggie saint. Her death (of cancer) was as traumatic for me as the loss of a dog can be and I I decided that was enough dogs in my life — but was overruled by someone who knew me well and insisted that I take Rusty, a small red poodle whose owner was looking for a new home for him.

Rusty is a good finish to my dog history, a goofball full of beans who doesn’t let me get away with anything. Like Piper and Lexie, he writes a column for me once in a while, and has a fan club. He is young and I am old, but we have learned to adapt to each other. He keeps me moving and I keep him fed, which seems to suit us both.

Dogs are the nearest thing I know to angels (if angels liked bones) I cannot imagine heaven without them.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.