“How come that one is off by itself?” I asked the handler. We were standing amidst the cages of the Vancouver dog pound where I would occasionally go to look at the dogs. I’ve always liked dogs and promised myself that I’d get one someday. Today wasn’t the day though, the adoption fee was fifteen bucks and in 1974 that was a lot of money for an unemployed car mechanic.
“He’s a runt. So the mother won’t show him any favoritism and the other puppies will push him away. He’s so skinny because he isn’t getting any milk.”
“So, you’re feeding him, right? I mean, you have someone here who takes care of little guys like that who’re rejected by their mothers and the other puppies?”
“No, I’m afraid not. It’s the way of things. We can’t really afford to intervene and so we have to let nature take its course. The puppy only has a small chance of survival anyway. I know it sounds heartless, but we just can’t take the time and expense when it’s such a risk that he may not survive anyway.” I looked at the little thing, horrified. It was a cute little puppy. He was all black save for a white diamond under his throat. He looked kind of like a bear cub. The handler told me he was a Doberman-Shepherd mix and full grown he’d probably only stand as tall as a Jack Russel Terrier.
A bell rang in another room and the handler went off to greet some new potential customers, leaving me outside the pen looking at the puppy. He was just so cute. I looked carefully in all directions, and not seeing anyone I opened the cage door and stepped inside. The litter of puppies, jammed up against the mother all started making noises, disturbed by my entry. The runt just looked at me with sad eyes. I was wearing a ski jacket, it being March and still chilly, and I was getting around on my Kawasaki 250 street and trail bike. I scooped up the puppy and stuffed him into an inside pocket of the ski jacket and stepped quickly back out of the cage. Now, normally I’m a pretty honest guy. Sure, I broke the speed limits while driving and a few other scofflaw kind of stuff, but I was pretty straight. But I couldn’t abide that this little dog was going to be left to starve and die.
Looking innocent as I could (I did everything except whistle), I made my way up front and headed for the door. As I was reaching for the knob, the handler, standing behind the front counter called out to me. “Hold up there, Bud.” he said. Oh man. “You want to step over here a minute please?” I tried to decide whether to go over there or bolt out the door. I sighed, decision made, and walked over to face him across the counter. “You forgot some stuff.” he said.
“Uh, I what?”
He set a box with a few cans of Enfamil milk replacement, a small sack of puppy chow, and a certificate for free shots and neutering on the counter. “You’ll need this.” he said. “Take good care of him now.” He smiled widely at me. I grabbed my booty and made for the door as fast as my shaking, embarrassed legs would take me.
I named him Papoon and I fed him with an eyedropper religiously. The dog grew up to be slightly larger than a Jack Russel and became my best friend. I glued some carpet to the gas tank of my motorcycle and the dog would happily ride with me, his legs dangling on each side of the bike, his muzzle often resting on the gauges (blocking the speedometer). His ears, which I refused to have clipped would flap backwards in the wind. I got a lot of smiles and waves as I rode around Portland and Vancouver, and even managed to get a date or two because of the dog. But his greatest value was as a friend. When I came home from work there was always the dog to greet me, happy to see me and would wag his tail so hard his butt would swoop back and forth with it. His expressive face carried a wide smile. I spent hours talking to the dog, and I knew he listened. He might not have understood every word, but he got the gist of things just fine. He celebrated with me, commiserated with me and we spent hours in companionable silence, his chin often resting on my leg.
My friends knew not to invite me unless my dog was welcome too, and he always was. Everyone thought the world of the dog. He knew how to open doors, but more surprisingly, would close them after himself. He never quite figured out dead bolts, but I have to think that given enough time he would have eventually. When he died on Christmas Eve in 1980 my heart broke and it took a long time for me to break the habits of looking for him when I came home, or placing a hand on his back as I leaned a motorcycle into a turn. It took two years for me to stop bringing doggy bags home for him when I went out for a meal somewhere, it had become automatic. I still felt the sharp pang of loss when I would toss the bag into the trash.
Dogs are amazing creatures. My wife thinks cats are, and so our home is beset with feline shedders who occasionally justify themselves to me by doing something cute or laying next to me purring like an Evinrude outboard motor. But there is no pet so loyal, so willing and so dedicated as a dog. I continually thrust and parry ideas of getting a dog, but practicality intervenes and prevents me from taking a trip to the shelters to see if I can find a furry little buddy. My age, my illness aside, I would get one in a flash.