Friday, October 14, 2011


Excerpted from Ting and I
It is said about Washington, DC, that if you want a friend there, get a dog.

Tina had not had pets while growing up, at least not the conventional dog or cat or bird. My childhood was the opposite, with dogs, cats, birds at various times. As noted above, my childhood favorite dog was Duke, a Retriever/Husky mix, handsome, intelligent, affectionate and protective. He was Husky-tough and Retriever-gentle. Tina and I decided, when Phil was ten or so, to get a dog, preferably a Golden Retriever.

When we were at Ledgewood Commons in Millwood, Tina and I saw an ad asking for someone to adopt both a German Shepherd and a Golden Retriever from a boarding operation, because their owner had died many months before. We got Muffin, an eight-year-old blond Golden Retriever, separating her from her companion, as we could not handle both. Tina fell in love with Muffin, who became a valuable member of our small household. Muffin could be protective, too, as a Shepherd-mix dog found one afternoon when he got too close to Tina and me. Muffin bit him and sent him off. Muffin usually spent much of the day in the kitchen with Tina. They had bonded.

Muffin was a good sport. Once, when Ted visited us, he and Phil arranged to put a disposable diaper (hole cut out for tail) on Muffin, who took it good-naturedly, without enthusiasm.

Muffin died in 1995 and we waited about five years to get another dog, A few months before retiring and moving to Lake Osiris, I told colleagues that we were moving to a country location and would like to have a dog there, preferably a Golden Retriever. Like being rewarded for casting one’s bread upon the waters, I soon was contacted by a co-worker whose year-old Golden that had turned out to be too much for her six- and eight-year-old children to handle, an unsolvable problem because both parents worked. The dog had “failed” obedience school. Brandy, having a coat as deep red as her name suggests, was indeed a headstrong alpha female; but she has grudgingly allowed me to be boss, at least sometimes.

Tina was using a wheelchair by then, and Brandy somehow knew she needed Brandy’s protection. Brandy liked to play tug of war with Phil or with me, but would not pull anything from Tina’s hand. She got between Tina and a physical therapist when Tina cried, “Ouch!” She preferred to sleep on the porch in cold weather, but many nights would find her indoors, asleep outside Tina’s bedroom door.

Brandy was Phil’s buddy but acted more like my partner. After only a few months in the new house, she came upstairs to alert me to something amiss: the propane heater was sputtering, as the tank was running out, and Brandy thought it might be dangerous. Smart. She is not allowed in the living room. I put a sign where she could read it: “No Brandy.”

She is my personal trainer and I am hers. In good weather, we “circum-ambulate” Lake Osiris, a scenic mile-long walk that once took twenty minutes, but now takes twenty-five. After our neighbor’s fierce Akita, a Japanese police dog, died, Brandy named herself boss dog of Lake Osiris, a position she has enforced since then with all the other dogs nearby. Recently, at age 11, Brandy put an obnoxious visiting pit bull terrier in his place, when the dog, running loose, came too close to us.

When Brandy wants something or when a change of nursing shift occurs, she finds me to let me know. Different looks and different motions convey different messages. She has a variety of barks, ranging from “I want to be on the porch” to “if this strange man [UPS delivery] tries to come in, I’ll tear him limb from limb.” Once, when she heard the MGM lion’s roar on the TV, she ran to the TV set to confront it. Even those nurses who are not generally comfortable with dogs have gotten to like Brandy and are reassured by her protective presence. The dog-lovers love her, too.

Brandy knows how to please. Some mornings, when she wants to get fed or go out before I am up, she stands ten feet from my bed and stares silently at me. If I wake up, I call her to me and then either get up and do as she wants, or tell her to go lie down, let me rest, which she does. If staring doesn’t wake me, she lies down and waits quietly for me to wake up. Such a good dog.

Tina also became very fond of the parakeets we had. Perry was first, while we were in Ramsey. He only lived three years, a bit short for a ’keet. We tried again, several years later, with Amy, whose cage was in Tina’s bedroom. Another delightful companion, who also lived only about three years. Too sad to try a third.

The dog my mother and sister have now is a Beagle, Russell. Rescued from a pound, he seems perpetually happy and grateful. My sister dotes on him, taking her marching orders from him. I, on the other hand, explained to the little person in a fur coat, as my sister sees him, that I am the Alpha Doug and he is the Beta Beagle. When he visits us, Brandy imparts much the same lesson. She lets him share our living space: Russell can be under the tables; Brandy has the rest.

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